Jiří Dienstbier: Ambassador with a mission
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Andrea Horská
Fourteen years after Jiří Dienstbier (66) became the first post-totalitarian Czechoslovak foreign affairs minister, he still has lots to do. He lectures at international conferences, teaches at Charles University, writes books and articles, and frequently comments on foreign affairs for the media.
AFTER 1968, when the invasion by the “liberators” put an end to the process of democratization, this radio commentator and foreign affairs journalist joined together with the many people who didn’t agree with the occupation and was forced to give up his profession. He held many typical jobs set aside for dissidents – file clerk, night watchman, and boiler stoker, among others. He signed Charter 77, and together with Václav Havel spent three years in prison. He returned to the spotlight in November 1989, when he became the spokesman for the Civic Forum’s Coordination Center, and in December he became Czechoslovakia’s chief diplomat. “There was absolutely no time for sentimental displays of glee over the new-found freedom,” recalls Dienstbier. “First we had to withdraw our intelligence agents from our foreign embassies and quickly find new people to fill various positions.” He adds that the greatest success was the agreement on the departure of Soviet forces, which was signed in record time – on 26 February 1990. “We were the first post-communist country to demonstrate such arrogance. The Soviet Union couldn’t have expected such a sudden revolt by its satellite,” he says with a laugh.
In 1992 he relinquished his positions as minister and vice chairman of the government. He then worked for three years for the Global Governance Commission, an international think-tank. He later taught at countless American universities, and from 1998 to 2001 he served as special UN envoy for the countries of the former Yugoslavia. He recently published a book on this topic, “Blood Tax”. Although he has already retired and has four grandchildren, no one would guess that he is already a pensioner. He has energy to spare. As “ambassador with a special mission” for the foreign affairs ministry, he frequently travels around the world, lecturing on, for example, the European Union or the subject of the Balkans. He also teaches one day a week at the Charles University School of Philosophy on international relations. “I really enjoy meeting people, reading, writing, and teaching. I hope to keep on doing it as long as my health allows,” he says.