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Interview with Ambassador Otto Jelinek

“Opportunities in Canada and opportunities in the Czech Republic compliment each other”

Otto Jelinek. Businessman, former figure skater, and successful politician who became the Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic just a few weeks ago.

 You have just returned to Prague, this time as Canadian Ambassador. How do you actually feel?

I feel honoured and proud to be able to represent Canada in the Czech Republic. I am happy to be back in Prague, and because of the unique situation my past has created for me, I feel confident that I can once again contribute to improving Canada –Czech relations while expanding the many opportunities that exist.  These opportunities range from trade and commerce to tourism, culture and sport.

How long does it take to adjust in becoming Ambassador?

“In my case it’s a little different from the norm. I am not a career diplomat but my experience in business and politics in both countries, has enabled me to understand the mentality and the needs of the Czech people. This in turn allows me to begin the process of fulfilling my obligations smoothly and quickly - and so just after a few weeks, I already feel comfortable in my new position.  By the way, speaking Czech is a tremendous advantage. 

How do you feel about the visa issue now that you were able to lift it?

I am very happy that I was able to announce that visas for Czech citizens travelling to Canada have been terminated as of November 14th, 2013.

The process of eliminating visas began with bi-lateral and multi-lateral consultations shortly after they were imposed in 2009.

It was evident that Canada’s asylum and immigration systems had to be changed. To that end, massive reform did take place and the new system was implemented on December 15th of last year. After closely monitoring the results of these changes the government was finally in a position to terminate the visa requirements.

How do you feel about the visa issue now that you were able to lift it?

I am very happy that I was able to announce that visas for Czech citizens travelling to Canada have been terminated as of November 14th, 2013.

The process of eliminating visas began with bi-lateral and multi-lateral consultations shortly after they were imposed in 2009. It was evident that Canada’s asylum and immigration systems had to be changed. To that end, massive reform did take place and the new system was implemented on December 15th of last year. After closely monitoring the results of these changes the government was finally in a position to terminate the visa requirements.


What effect will the new system have?

The asylum changes that are in effect will speed up the process of dealing with all legitimate claims quickly and reduce the benefits and time frames in dealing with fraudulent applications. Prime Minister Harper and his government have been working towards this goal for quite sometime and I believe the new system will ensure that under current circumstances Canada will have no need to re-impose visas on the Czech Republic again.


What do you hope to achieve as Ambassador?

Now that the visa question has been settled, we can very quickly begin the process of rebuilding the relationship between Canada and the Czech Republic. Historically, Canada and the Czech Republic have always had very good relations. Because of the visa situation I think, some of those opportunities that have always been there, have been somewhat reduced. It is my wish and my objective to build on the historic traditions of building bridges, expanding trade, improving direct investments, encouraging tourism, as well as expanding cultural and educational programs. I feel very positive that if we continue to look historically on our relationship, that we should have no problem in building up the successful objectives that I just stated.


In 2006 you said “the Czech Republic is a good place to invest in and to visit.” Is it still true?

In terms of tourism, it is absolutely true. Prague remains one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the Czech Republic itself has become a destination centre for tourism. In fact, last year was another record year for tourism. In terms of direct foreign investment, the Czech Republic has unfortunately slipped in global ranking as a good place to invest in. This “slippage” is primarily due to the perceived political instability, ongoing corruption issues as well as a complex bureaucracy. Nevertheless, many opportunities still exist and I am confident that the Czech economy and direct foreign investment will rebound in the near future.


And what about Canada?

Canada has always been a great place to invest in and to do business with. We not only have vast natural resources but a solid manufacturing sector from aerospace products to the auto industry. Just as importantly our hi-tech sector is experiencing healthy growth as is our innovative research and development initiatives and programs. Canada’s key structures such as banking are strong and stable. In fact, according to the IMF and the World Bank, Canada’s banking system is the best and most stable system in the world.


You would like to create opportunities. Is the Czech business community interested in that?

It is not for me or the Government to create opportunities. What we can do is to create an environment that is less bureaucratic, less regulated, free of red tape. In short, more open for business to be able to identify those opportunities and follow them to successful conclusions. I intend to open the doors and assist Canadian business in finding those opportunities which may exist for them here in the Czech Republic.


Czechs are known for great technical skills. Are there any opportunities in Canada?

For sure there are opportunities. Canada is a world class science and technology nation and is highly respected among scientists and researchers worldwide. Key sectors we’re focussing on to develop new innovative technologies are health and life sciences, information and communication technologies, alternative energy and environmental technologies. International collaboration in science, technology and innovation is a priority for Canada and we look forward to supporting research and innovation linkages with the Czech Republic.


Are Canadian and Czech businessmen similar?

I believe there is an excellent compatibility and understanding between Canadian and Czech business people. Both are entrepreneurial, both are innovative, both live in export oriented countries and both have something to offer. Those are just some reasons why I think we can identify opportunities and find success for both sides. Basically a win-win situation.


What was the most difficult decision you made?  

There were many hard decisions. There was a decision after we won the world championship whether we should compete more or we should go on to studies or other things. A bigger decision was when I decided to move to the Czech Republic in the first place with my family. That was a big move. And now it was also a very important decision whether to accept this position or not, because we had just moved back to Canada, less than two years ago. We do not regret it, we’re happy to be here. I’m delighted that I’m in a position to serve Canada while contributing to the benefit of both countries.


You have had numerous successes in your life, have you experienced any failures?

Of course, I have had failures – numerous failures. In sports and in business. I think that is normal. Most people experience some failure in their life, but failure builds character and makes you a stronger and more determined person. I think I learned a lot from my mistakes and I feel that I am a more rounded and better person as a result.


Which place in Canada would you recommend to us?

Canada is blessed with a wide range of beautiful and diverse landscapes. From the quaint provinces on the East coast, through larger and beautiful lakes and countryside of Ontario and Quebec. The bountiful prairies and across the majestic Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast of British Columbia. All beautiful and unique. My favourite city (besides Prague) is Vancouver, because you can be swimming in the Pacific Ocean in the morning and skiing in the Rocky Mountains in the afternoon.


You are businessman – politician – sportsman. What fits most? Are you still an athlete in your soul?

Yes, I feel that way but my body doesn’t respond the way I would like it to. Winning the World Figure Skating Championship with my sister Maria for Canada, in Prague, city of my birth, was certainly a highlight of my life. Winning six consecutive federal elections in Canada was also a very big achievement for me. And obviously, coming here at this point of my life as Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic will certainly become a key highlight of my life as well. Particularly because it is here in Praha, here in the Czech Republic where my life began. So I suppose one could say that this is “closing the loop” or completing a full circle.


Source: Leaders Magazine - www.leadersmagazine.cz  Jaroslav Kramer