INTERVIEW with H.E. Miroslav Toman, the Czech Ambassador in the Republic of North Macedonia and Honorary president of the 2019 DMWC International Charity Bazaar
Your Excellency, you have been working in the North Macedonia as a Czech ambassador, meeting lots of people and visiting different places. What are the main differences and the main similarities between our two cultures?
I have been here for almost 2 years now and I would say that our two nations are quite close to each other. Of course, there are differences in cultural habits and manners but on the other side, there are also very close historic ties, common historical persons like Cyril and Methodius, common roots of the languages and last but not least, there are many Macedonians who used to live or have close ties with the Czech Republic or formal Czechoslovakia. That means that wherever I go I meet somebody who knows lot about my country, about Czech people and Czech products, which makes my stay here very pleasant and enjoyable.
If you could name a single event or memory since your appointment in the North Macedonia, which one it will be and why?
It would be very difficult to choose just one single event. I try to participate on as many events as possible and people at our embassy are doing their best to promote Czech Republic its people and culture on everyday basis. I would like to mention the celebration of 100 years anniversary of establishment of Czechoslovakia that we organized together with our Slovak friends and colleagues last year. It was very pleasant and interesting event and we received very praising feedback from our Macedonian friends about the example and model for reconciliation and cooperation between countries that used to be and lived under one state in the past.
Which are the places in Macedonia that remind you the most of your country?
Every country is different and have its own specifics but for example, your hills covered by vineyards remind me of the atmosphere in south Moravia region. Your mountain middle-land with woods, lakes and rivers reminds me of my native part of the Czech Republic – Šumava or lake Ohrid which is a place where lots of tourists and locals go for taking a rest and enjoying vacations is a little bit similar to Máchovo jezero, in the Czech Republic.
Which towns or sites in Macedonia are the most interesting places to visit for the tourists from the Czech Republic? Which sites and places would you recommend to Czech citizens?
Everyone should start with Skopje where people can see many interesting places, find out how old and new things blend together. No one should also miss Old Pazaar, Matka canyon, beautiful view from the Vodno hill, and of course try the excellent food at various places around the city. For sure, I would recommend everyone to go and see Ohrid with its rich history and culture and hospitable people. For those who love the nature I would advise to go and see gorgeous nature parks like Pelister or Mavrovo, where they can explore their numerous mountain trails for bikers or hikers. We have been encouraging Czech tourist agencies to boost their interest about North Macedonia and bring more tourists from the Czech Republic. To help with the development of tourism we are preparing new project for next year to introduce and train local people how we mark our tourist trails and do maps for them.
The road to reach the European standard of the Western Balkans goes through greater cooperation, closer ties and better relationships between the countries. How will the ties between the Czech Republic and Macedonia develop in the near future?
I am sure that the relations between the Czech Republic and North Macedonia are excellent, very well-functioning and quickly developing. We had our Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Skopje this year already. Czech Ministry of Interior has a great cooperation with its Macedonian counterpart and has donated already 4 mil euros to support this country and European security with necessary equipment for Police. Support and cooperation between ministries of defence are developing and will be more and more robust on your way to get the army on the NATO standards level. Together with our partners here, we are working hard to increase cooperation in the area of economic and business cooperation by organizing meetings, forums, B2B discussions and hope that this will bring fruit in future. Czech Republic has fresh experience from entering NATO and EU and offers sharing all of the knowledge of this processes and help to everyone who would be interested. In the years to come I expect fast growing cooperation between our countries in all mentioned areas, culture not excluded.
What is your vision for this region for the next ten years?
Your country is already at the threshold of NATO and in ten years from now, I expect you to be a full member of EU where the Balkans countries belong for sure. I hope that all countries in the region will work and cooperate together to reach this target and prove that western Balkan is equal to the other parts of Europe. I also believe that people will prefer to live here than leaving these countries by that time and I have full confidence that your country will lead the way at this path.
As a part of the Visegrad Group, the Czech Republic together with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia is active in the cultural development of the region and the EU. What are the positive experiences you can share with us, and how the Visegrad group helped your country with the further integration in the EU?
Visegrad Group countries try to keep together within and outside the EU because they have similar historical roots. All of them suffered under the Soviet oppression and also have similar economic and social conditions. One of the experience that might be inspiring for Western Balkan countries was establishing and operating of the International Visegrad Funds, which focusses on cooperation among countries and support projects that promote reconciliation, youth development, social programs and others. Positive experiences led Czech Republic to suggest within V4 the support of the creation of Western Balkan Fund by initial financial contribution and sharing of the expertise. Czech Republic has recently taken over the presidency of V4 for year 2019/2020 and one of the biggest priorities during this year is support to Western Balkan countries on their way to European Union.
Would you please summarise for us your experience here in the North Macedonia, from your first impressions when you came, learning the language, getting to know the culture, to the present political reality. How has your accommodation in the local context developed?
My position in this is a bit specific because I came directly from Afghanistan where I spent 2 years. Everything there was focused on security and difficulties with movement. Therefore, I have enjoyed my stay in Skopje from the very first moment. I have my wife here with me and our children can visit us whenever they are free from university. We all love this country and we enjoy very much to travel around the country and get to know new places, hospitable people and culture. I already mentioned the similarities in the language so I do not have big problem to understand your language and I try to speak with people also in Macedonian. For the official purposes, I still prefer to speak English or use translation. I really enjoy working here and I am looking forward to my next 2 years that I will spend among friendly people, dealing with politicians on all sides with a great food and wine that I love.
How do you see the mission and activities of Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre, what future role can it aspire to have?
Macedonia Welcome Centre is doing an outstanding job in connecting foreigners and locals together. All events organized by the DMWC bring members of the international community living in the Republic of North Macedonia closer to your beautiful country and its people and have a great impact on mutual understanding and relationships. The activities of your Center like DMWC Coffee Mornings, Diplomatic trips, International Charity Bazaar or Diplomatic Charity Concert are always very well organized.
I very much appreciate the job that DMWC is doing and hope that it will continue in its activities. I will be always available and ready to help.
DMWC every year organizes Charity Bazaar. You served as a Honorary President of this year’s Charity Bazaar. What kind of experience it was for you?
First of all, I would like to thank to all organizers and participants of this great event. DMWC and all participating embassies did a remarkable job in bringing diplomats and locals together that allowed to present our countries, cultural habits and products, brought great cultural experience and above all allowed to raise awareness and financial support for the needs of the vulnerable groups of children in the Republic of North Macedonia. This year we tried to enhance the program with a concert of Czech artist Vladivojna la Chia and workshop for children that painted pictures. I hope everyone liked it. It was big pleasure and honor for me to act as an honorary president of the Charity Bazar and I am sure that it was a success for everyone who came and for the amount of money collected from the willing and charitable people also.