A commemorative plaque, which is placed on the wall of a house decorated with Chinese characters, announces that you have just arrived at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Taiwan. However, if you search for the position on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you will not find it. The Czech Republic has no official diplomatic relations with the island, and therefore no embassy. Czech artist Pavel Jestřáb calls for the opening of the embassy with his project.
The hawk calls Taiwan, an island in Southeast Asia adjacent to China, its second home. Even ten years ago, he didn’t know anything about him.
“I wanted to avoid repeating myself as an artist. That’s why, during my studies at the University of Applied Arts, I went to the study department dealing with stays abroad and asked where the furthest they could send me. And they said Taiwan.” he remembers for Aktuálně.cz.
“They asked me if I knew anything about him. I said that I only know that they made a flashlight for my mobile phone,” adds Jestřáb.
He found himself in Taiwan for the first time in 2014. At that time, the Kuomintang party was in power, and in many ways it was giving way to Beijing. Mainland China claims Taiwan as its territory and actively discourages other states from establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The official name of the island is the Republic of China.
Hastráb describes his trip to Asia as an “ordered culture shock”, which after two months brought him to a demonstration against the signing of a trade agreement with China. “The students dealt with it rather radically and occupied the parliament. My classmate and I ended up spending the whole night in front of the building on the road,” recalls the artist, who regularly returns to the island.
Do you own an embassy? Impossible
Radicality, for which he had no comparison at home, also inspired him in the current project called Embassy. The Czech Republic, like most countries in the world, maintains diplomatic relations with Beijing. For this reason, it cannot have relations on the same level with Taiwan. The opening of an official embassy is therefore impossible under the current situation. Its role has been fulfilled for 30 years by the Czech Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, which functions de facto as an embassy.
The Czech Embassy in Taiwan is an art project by the artist Pavel Jestřáb. | Photo: Pavel Jestřáb
The impetus for the creation of the project, which was postponed due to the pandemic, was also the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Prague in 2016. At that time, the leader of one of the most populous countries, which has been ruled by a single party for decades and which suppresses the human rights of its inhabitants, got into A warm welcome to the Czech Republic.
“It can’t be worse than under Zeman,” Jestřáb evaluates the former Czech-Chinese relations under former president Miloš Zeman. He hopes that a change in Czech foreign policy will come with Petr Pavlo.
Pavlo’s attitude towards China and Taiwan differs significantly from that of his predecessor. Zeman’s successor, for example, spoke on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Jing-wen after his election. “I have high hopes for him in this direction. He seems to have courage,” says Jestřáb.
A secret embassy
When creating the project, Jestřáb also had to reckon with possible retaliatory actions by China, which does not like to see improving relations between the Czech Republic and Taiwan. For this reason, he decided that interested parties will only be able to view the “embassy” in photographs and video. They also hide the location.
“For me, the ’embassy’ is open 24 hours a day and forever. Everyone knows that it exists physically, but no one can close it, spray paint or some pro-Chinese slogans. For me, that is more important than if it becomes a popular place where people are taking selfies,” describes the artist, who opened the “embassy” in his grandfather’s Slovakian costume.
The artist did not want to put the owner of the building at risk either. He consulted with the leading Czech Sinologist Olga Lomová in advance about the issue of their safety. “She told me quite openly that restrictions from China could be real in relation to all the Taiwanese who participated in the project.”
For example, they would be at risk of being put on a list of people who cannot visit mainland China. “That came across as a very real threat,” he says. At the same time, many Taiwanese go to the mainland to work, study or have relatives there.
The head of the Czech Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, David Steinke, whose role is the same as that of diplomats in other countries, has not yet encountered any reactions from Beijing. “I personally like art and am a fan of it. It must have been clear to any rationally thinking person, looking at the photo material from the installation, that it was an artistic exaggeration. Embassies don’t open like this in real life,” he explains to Aktuálně.cz. “There is no change in the Czech Republic’s relationship with Taiwan,” he concludes.
Video: “He immediately knew who to call.” Robert Fico strongly leaned on Peter Paul (February 3, 2023)
“He immediately knew who to call,” said Robert Fico to Petr Pavel. | Video: Facebook/Robert Fico