Fairy-tale fantasy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 October, 2011, 12:00am


The mere mention of the Czech Republic, and in particular the capital city of Prague, conjures up an image of a country steeped in history, rich in culture and full of romance and magic.

Located in the middle of Europe, the Czech Republic has become a highly popular tourist destination. About 10,000 Hongkongers visit the country every year and the number is growing.

While Prague is the number one attraction, there's a lot more to see including ancient towns, stone castles, splendid landscapes and the world's highest concentration of Unesco World Heritage sites in the Bohemia and Moravia regions.

Other tourist attractions include cultural events such as the Prague Spring International Music Festival, which offers performances by world-class musicians, symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles, and the Febiofest, an international festival of film, television and video works that showcases high quality cinematic productions.

Businesspeople around the world are also drawn to the country's large-scale major trade shows. Veletrhy Brno is a leading organisation that hosts fairs of international significance targeting the business sector across central Europe.

There's also fine food and wine to enjoy, and, of course, Czech beers are legendary.

The Czech Republic's Consul-General in Hong Kong, Jaroslav Kanturek, says the nation has plenty more to offer than being just a tourist attraction.

'Besides being an increasingly popular tourist destination because of its convenient central location in Europe, [the] Czech Republic is fast becoming a popular trade and industry partner for foreign investors as well as an ideal location for sophisticated investment,' he says.

The country is rapidly building its research and development (R&D) capacities and innovation industry. Hong Kong's total exports to the Czech Republic rose by 17 per cent in the first seven months of this year, after increasing by 8 per cent in 2010, according to figures from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Major export items included telecommunications equipment and components, computers, electric power machinery and parts.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's imports from the country jumped by 30 per cent during the same period this year, compared to a 7 per cent growth last year. Besides importing telecommunications equipment and other technology parts, Hong Kong is also fond of the Czech Republic's traditional glassware and its world-famous crystal glass chandeliers.

Earlier this year, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong signed a double taxation avoidance agreement, which is expected to boost closer economic and trade ties. 'We have a highly-skilled and educated workforce to help us to further develop the R&D and innovation industry to facilitate and strengthen our partnership with countries across the globe,' Kanturek points out.

As the country celebrates its National Day today it remembers its long, rich and eventful history. Since the early Middle Ages, this small nation has been crossed by trade routes.

At the beginning of the first millennium, Christianity emerged from the West, and at its end communism arrived from the East.

For 600 years, the country was an independent Czech kingdom; for 300 years, it belonged among the lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Emerging as the independent Czechoslovakia in 1918 at the end of the first world war, the country was later occupied by Nazi Germany in the second world war, and spent four decades as a satellite state of the Soviet Bloc.

In 1989, the whole world was enthralled as the Czechs regained their freedom in the Velvet Revolution led by V?clav Havel.

The Czech Republic, as constituted, is a multi-party parliamentary democracy that dates back to 1993, following a split with Slovakia.

In 2004, the Czech Republic joined the European Union. However, it is not a member of the eurozone and retains its own currency, the Czech crown (koruna), which - along with a relatively low debt-to-GDP ratio - provides a buffer from some of the troubles afflicting many of its EU partners.

The Czech community in Hong Kong may be small, with 150 people made up mostly of businesspeople working to further trade with Hong Kong, the mainland and partners in the region. However, Kanturek believes growing trade and tourism ties symbolise a closer relationship between the two places.

He points out that Hong Kong maintains constant links with the Czech Republic on the education front. The two places conduct annual student exchanges at secondary and university levels, while the university exchange programme involves three universities from the Czech Republic and five from Hong Kong.