Alexandr Vondra: (Not) accidental career

Photo: Martin Šára

The well-known pre-November dissident, advisor to former president Havel, ambassador to the US, and last but not least, government authority on convening the NATO summit, has completely withdrawn from the spotlight. After long public exposure he’s enjoying his new-found privacy as a college teacher, writer, and activist.

“IT’S GREAT not to have to wear a tie every day,” chuckles Alexandr Vondra (43). He wore lots of official clothes during his 13 years in service to the state. The paradox is that neither politics nor state administration were ever his goal. “I really became a state official by accident,” recalls this trained geographer, who was in the opposition under the socialist regime. He issued samizdat such as the magazine Revolver Revue, organized Polish-Czech Solidarity meetings, was spokesman for Charter 77, and even spent two months in prison. Shortly after the 1989 revolution, then-president Havel chose him as his foreign policy advisor and so the former night watchman, depository manager at the Liběchov castle, surveyor, and boiler stoker found himself at Prague Castle. After a year and a half and the partitioning of the Czechoslovak federation, he helped minister Josef Zieleniec establish the Czech foreign affairs ministry, where for five years he served as 1st deputy, and in 1997 he was appointed Czech ambassador to the US.
In 2002, the greatest challenge of his life awaited him in Prague – putting his head on the block to coordinate the Prague NATO summit, held one year after the tragic events in New York and just two months after the destructive floods. “It was a risky business. Nobody wanted to take it on, everyone was afraid of the responsibility,” says Vondra, recalling the event of unprecedented size in local history. “I was sleeping only four hours a night then, but the results were gratifying,” he says. Until last summer he was deputy foreign affairs minister, but today he lectures on the history of European-American relations at New York University in Prague and is writing a book on the development of society in the last fifteen years. Additionally, he is setting up Václav Havel’s library and coordinating a think tank called PASS (Program of Atlantic Security Studies) that deals with international political affairs. Although a native Praguer, he prefers staying with his wife and three children in their northern-Bohemian cottage, where he can write in peace and quiet. “Whenever I can, I flee from Prague to the country,” Vondra explains.






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