Eliška Žigová, the ambassador of Czech Republic for India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, was recently in Kathmandu to present her letters of credence to President Ram Chandra Poudel. In an interview with Tamish Giri of New Business Age, Ambassador Žigová talked about bilateral relations between Nepal and Czech Republic and shared her insights and plans for Nepal. Excerpts:
As a diplomat who has previously worked in various regions like the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe, and America, how do you feel about your new assignment in this region?
I was very excited when I was offered the position of ambassador in New Delhi which covers India and five other countries, including Nepal. I must admit that the point you mentioned has been a recurring theme in all my assignments. So, I consider myself a very experienced and seasoned diplomat. I am much more humble, and the South Asian countries can surprise me very much in a good way. This is something different from my previous postings, and it's very challenging as well.
What specific challenges have you encountered in your current role in this region?
First of all, this continent is going to be a new era. The new global shifts and power are moving now, and South Asia will be the leader. Second, this continent has a huge yet unused potential. We, in Europe and the Czech Republic, admire Asia a lot. But we really don’t understand who you are, what your mentality is, and what is the core of this. I am very happy that I can somehow put it closer to our leaders, and citizens, about South Asia.
How do you assess the relations between Nepal and the Czech Republic?
Our relations are very good; there are no problems or issues to address. Traditionally, we maintain a friendly relationship, and we are approaching the 30th anniversary of our official bilateral diplomatic ties next year. However, we aim to deepen our relationship further, not only in terms of people-to-people and tourism interactions but also by expanding our political and business contacts.
Can you tell us about some recent initiatives aimed at enhancing ties between Nepal and the Czech Republic?
We both went through the difficult times of COVID. Both of our countries successfully navigated through it. I recently presented my credentials to the President of Nepal, and it's worth noting that for the past two years, there was no Czech Ambassador to Nepal due to circumstances beyond our control. Now, we need to carefully consider how to proceed. I had a meeting with the head of the EU delegation in Nepal, who is also new to her role. We discussed what we can do both within the EU and independently as the Czech Republic. I believe we should identify specific areas and concentrate on them with the cooperation of the Nepali side.
The Czech Republic has been offering scholarships to Nepali students for higher studies every year. How do you assess the impact of this initiative?
These scholarships have been highly beneficial because education forms the foundation of every aspect of development, and Nepal is planning to graduate to a developing country in the near future. Educating our youth is a crucial step, and equally important is providing them with employment opportunities within their own country. This way, they can utilise their education here rather than abroad. I believe this is mutually advantageous as our universities are keen to welcome students from South Asia, and especially from Nepal. During discussions with agriculture universities, there were talks especially about Nepali students. It is important to provide a good education. But the next step is to provide them with jobs and good careers.
Many students from less developed regions who go abroad for higher studies tend to stay in the host country, leading to a brain drain. What is the Czech Republic's stance on addressing this issue?
As I mentioned earlier with regard to Nepal, it is very important to bring them back. While individuals naturally seek a prosperous future, it is important for them to return and work for their country. However, they should also have the opportunities and environment for their careers. It is very important to cooperate with Nepal so that these young people can return to build or develop their home country in a good way.
Nepal and Czech Republic signed an agreement in January 2015 aiming to enhance economic cooperation between the two nations. What is the current status of implementing that agreement?
This is a very difficult question for different reasons. We are open to implementation, but this agreement was signed during a visit by our trade minister. In diplomacy, there is a process where the minister of one country takes the initiative, and the minister of another nation must reciprocate. We invited the Nepali trade minister to our country on several occasions, but it never happened. The first step towards implementation would be to have the Nepali minister visit the Czech Republic. After this interview, I will meet with him to extend the invitation, and then we can kickstart the implementation process. But so far, unfortunately, it’s on the paper only.
The Czech Embassy in New Delhi has been supporting small-scale projects from various countries in the region. Can you shed light on such projects from Nepal?
We call these initiatives 'small projects', and they continue to expand each year. If I am not mistaken, we are presently overseeing one project in Nepal. We aim to add another in the next phase. In addition to this, we collaborate with several official development projects. Moreover, we extend support to non-governmental organisations through People in Need. I recently met with a representative of this organisation which has undertaken a very important project to support girls, women, and minority groups. We are also involved in initiatives related to natural disaster prevention and environmental causes. While one project is government-initiated, several others are done in collaboration with People in Need, one of the Czech Republic's largest non-governmental organisations. They also cooperate with Nepali governmental organisations.
Trade relations between Nepal and the Czech Republic have not reached significant volumes, resulting in a trade deficit for Nepal. What do you believe can be done to boost Nepal's exports to the Czech Republic?
The most well-known Nepali products in the Czech Republic are textiles and handicrafts. We have a network of textile and handicraft shops under the name 'Sanu Baba' which is very popular. However, these items have not yet become substantial exports. I believe it is essential for the Nepali business community to find out what is in demand in the Czech Republic and try to export them. Potential exports may include a wide range of products, but there seems to be a gap in terms of industrial exports. However, a valuable step would be to have Nepali entrepreneurs interested in exploring the Czech market participate in our business commission, which is scheduled for December, in collaboration with India. This aims to bring businesses together to identify needs and opportunities.
Nepal is renowned for its mountainous terrain, while the Czech Republic boasts a rich history and culture. What strategies and initiatives has the Czech Republic adopted to strengthen diplomatic and cultural ties with Nepal and promote Nepal's tourism?
The Czech Republic is home to many passionate trekkers who love Nepal. Following the devastating 2015 earthquakes, there was a huge wave of solidarity and love for Nepal. However, we need to promote Nepal more among the business community and tourists. Nepal needs to remind them that it is not only about mountains and has a rich history and culture. Nepal has beautiful temples and historical sites, and it is the birthplace of Buddha. We will promote Nepal from our side, but it is crucial for Nepal to promote these aspects. We can offer Nepal the opportunity to participate in our trade fairs to promote its tourism attractions. We would like to provide Nepal the platform with open hearts, but it is up to Nepal to take advantage of the platform and act upon it.
What steps are being taken to foster connections between our nations through sports diplomacy?
I think sports need much exposure because it is spontaneous and fans will always follow different teams and their matches, and they know it without promotion. If there is any special event, we of course will put together sports personalities from both countries. But it is not our priority. I think it is very much on the people and then comes with support. We are very lucky to have our Honorary Consul Vishnu Agarwal here in Nepal. He has been doing amazing work to promote the Czech republic in Nepal. He has been supporting us. We will work on the idea of sports diplomacy like other aspects of diplomacy.