Newsletter Archive -- Winter 2000
Havel/Albright to Speak
Czech President Vaclav Havel will present U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with the AFoCR Civil Society Vision Award for her contributions to international justice and human rights at AFoCR's Sept.7 Gala in New York City. The award will recognize Albright's steadfast advocacy of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and a civil society in the Czech Republic and throughout the world. President Clinton has agreed to serve with Havel as Honorary Co-Chairman of the event for the first female U.S. Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in his Administration.
Havel will address the gathering, and Albright will make an acceptance speech. NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw will be Master of Ceremonies and will present excerpts from his book, The Greatest Generation, about the valor of Americans in World War II. The program will include a special video production paying tribute to Americans of Czech descent who have made especially significant contributions to America, as well as musical entertainment.
Frederic V. Malek, founder and Chairman of Thayer Capital Partners, is Chairman of the event and has pulled together an impressive array of leaders of American business as Co-Chairmen.
Clinton Hononary Co-Chair
The leadership includes Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of American International Group, Inc.; J. Willard Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Marriott International; and Sanford I. Weill, Chairman and CEO of Citigroup. Astronaut James Lovell, author/illustrator Peter Sis, director Milos Forman, TV personality Willard Scott, and actor Tom Hanks are helping produce the special video tribute. Many serving on the Honorary Committee and/or attending have made significant contributions to Czech/U.S. relations.
They include current and former U.S. Ambassadors to Prague, Czech Ambassadors to the U.S. and U.N., Members of Congress; and Czech and U.S. Cabinet members, as well as leaders in business, education, non-governmental organizations, the arts, sports, and entertainment.
September 7, 2000, at 6:30 pm
Plaza Hotel, New York, New York
Rooms blocked at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel
For reservations: (800) 221-4982, by 8/24/2000
For tables, tickets or information: Nicole Schiegg at (202) 338-6100
Fax: (202) 338-8182
As our plans for the Madeleine Albright Recognition Gala on September 7 move forward, I want to express my appreciation to the many wonderful people who have worked long and hard to make this dream a reality:
First, to Fred Malek, the Event Chairman whose leadership and inspiration have helped pull together the vital elements for a successful evening, and to his Co-Chairmen, Hank Greenberg of AIG, Bill Marriott of Marriott International and Sandy Weill of Citigroup -- the Chairmen and CEOs of the largest U.S. corporations;
To Orr Associates, Inc., who are helping us plan and execute the event; to the 50-plus individuals from all walks of life who are listed as supporters of the event; to Ambassador Sasha Vondra and his staff at the Czech Embassy in Washington; to Ambassador John Shattuck at the U.S. Embassy in Prague; to Czech Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Galuska, who graciously has offered his home for a reception in support of the event; and to Czech-American groups throughout the United States.
My gratitude, also, to astronauts Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon); Tom Brokaw of NBC, author/illustrator Peter Sis, director Milos Forman, TV personality Willard Scott and actor Tom Hanks, who are all helping us produce a program of which we will all be proud. Thanks, too, to the Chicago Bears, Disney and McDonalds for their help.
Finally, my deep appreciation goes to President Havel and President Clinton who have agreed to act as honorary chairmen and, of course, to Secretary Madeleine Albright, without whose support this event would not be possible. I hope you will be able to join us in what will be a once-in-a-lifetime celebration and tribute.
Milt Cerny - President
In 1920, George Halas and his Decatur Staleys football team joined the American Professional Football Association and the following year moved to Chicago, winning the League championship. In 1922, Halas changed the team name to the Bears and the League was renamed the National Football League, making Halas one of its founding fathers.
For 40 years, Halas served as the Bears head coach and owner, winning 324 games and six world championships while setting more records than any other coach in the history of professional football. The Bears were the Monsters of the Midway and the most feared and respected team of all time. Halas was a imaginative innovator and created the "T" formation. He became a charter member of the football Hall of Fame in 1963.
Halas was known as industrious, hardworking, creative and supremely honest, reflecting the Czech heritage that helped guide his life and make him the highly respected coach he was. A poor boy from a Czech neighborhood in Chicago, he held in his hands in the sunset of his life an enterprise that was valued at $12 million (almost $100 million in today's dollars). The son of a Czech tailor from Pilzen was to rewrite the history of professional sports. George Halas died in 1983, but the Bears tradition he established is carried on today by grandson Michael McCaskey, who had served as club president and chief executive officer and is now Chairman of the Board.
James A. Lovell, Jr.
Man's quest to reach the moon can be seen in the experiences of two men who achieved success in different ways. One reached his goal and the other came so close but was denied - while, nonetheless, setting a standard for heroism unequaled in space flight. James A. Lovell, Jr., the commander of Apollo 13, had prepared for his moonwalk by serving as the command module pilot on Apollo 8, the first manned orbit of the moon. He held the record for time in space when he got his turn to command Apollo 13, a mission that was to include his walk on the moon. Plans changed abruptly when an explosion aboard the ship forced the crew into the lunar module, in which they orbited the moon and flew safely to earth and into the history books of personal valor, as depicted in the movie Apollo 13. Lovell was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, by a mother of Czech birth, and fondly remembers his "Czech upbringing."
Eugene A. Cernan
Eugene A. Cernan was the pilot of a Gemini Space Mission, lunar module pilot of the Apollo 10 spacecraft, and commander of the historic Apollo 17 moon landing. Cernan is one of only five men ever to have walked on the surface of the moon. His NASA career spanned the entire Gemini and Apollo space programs. He was the first astronaut to space walk all the way around the earth and the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan's story also began in the Czech and Slovak lands. His maternal grandparents, the Chilars, came to the U.S. from Tabor, Bohemia and his paternal grandparents from Veysoka nad Kysucou in Slovakia during World War I. His parents were born in Chicago, Illinois, and he grew up in the suburb of Bellwood. Like his compatriot, Jim Lovell, he is the product of a family that put a premium on the education of their children and instilled in them the will to succeed and reach deep into a reserve of faith even against the most difficult of odds. Lovell and Cernan are truly American heroes.
As Ray Kroc explains in his autobiography, Grinding it Out, the concept for McDonalds restaurants had its origin in 1937, when Kroc purchased the rights to the Prince Castle Multi Mixer that could make six milkshakes at once. In 1955, at the age of 52, he packed up his six-spindled milkshake mixers and visited California, where he was intrigued with the fast-food hamburger restaurant operated by Dick and Mac McDonald. Kroc purchased the name "McDonalds" and opened his first store in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. From that humble beginning, McDonalds has become the largest quick-service hamburger business in the world, serving 43 million people at 25,000 restaurants in 118 countries with revenues in excess of $3 billion. Kroc never finished high school and didn't become successful until he was 60 years old. Born in Chicago of Czech parents, Ray Kroc is another American of Czech descent who, through determination and vision, succeeded beyond all expectations to become a legend.
Michael Damman Eisner, the President of Disney Productions, is one of the most innovative business leaders of our time. Eisner became the CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 1984, and in the process, took a collection of vintage animated films for children and two aging theme parks and melded them with acquisitions of Capital Cities/ABC, Disney World Resorts, the "Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast," and various internet websites to shape a vast, $23 billion empire. Eisner describes the four pillars of his success as (1) being an example, (2) being a "nudge," (3) being "there", and (4) being an idea generator. Eisner was born in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. His great grandfather made uniforms for the Boy Scouts and the military after arriving in America from Bohemia during World War I. Eisner's father was a lawyer, entrepreneur and government official. Eisner would agree that additional pillars of his success have been family and opportunity made possible by a democratic society.
Martina Navratilova is arguably the greatest woman tennis player in history. Martina's agility and skill earned her an encredible 56 grandslam titles (18 singles, 31 doubles and seven mixed). On July 15 she was inducted into the International Hall of Fame. She followed her dream and achieved it.
By Milton Cerny
Prague, March 6, 2000 -- As we stood in the rain on the grounds of Prague Castle to hear the words of Czech President Vaclav Havel and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Masaryk Tribute, and later in the venerable 14th century chamber within the Castle, I was struck by the historic significance of the moment. Here I was, an American of Czech descent honoring the 150th birthday of the Hero and President of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia with two leaders of the free world who were persecuted at the hands of totalitarian governments but who rose above that to lead their countries to a new dawn.
Albright appeared delighted to be there at that time and in that place. Turning to Havel, she said, "No one could better qualify to preside over the 150th Anniversary of Masaryk's birth than his spiritual and intellectual successor, Vaclav Havel. She quoted Masaryk's words: A Democracy is not an achievement but rather a never ending pursuit where individual suffering is felt by all. She summed up her respect for Masaryk this way: He is somebody whose memory I grew up with. He was somebody who looked like a president, acted like a president and thought like a president."
Brno, March 6, 2000 -- As the Constitutional Court filled up with guests in anticipation of the arrival of Secretary Albright, we heard rumors of threats and demonstrations against her. Indeed, an egg had been launched her way and fended off. My colleagues and I from the Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI) Institute awaited her appearance and her announcement of the establishment of this new Institute in Prague. We could feel excitement building. Our Czech Board, composed of outstanding jurists and educators, had met the day before and we were ready to proceed. We had worked in concert to shape the vision of the CEELI Institute as a graduate law center aimed at pulling together the efforts toward the legal reforms, administrative transparency and informed legal sector needed to build the indispensable infrastructure for a vibrant civil society and a stable free-market system.
Albright commended the CEELI representatives for having laid a solid foundation for the joint efforts of the Institute and outlined some of the important tasks that lay ahead for it. Following her speech, Albright spoke with us informally for a few minutes and expressed her gratitude for our being there. We, of course, thanked her for all her efforts on behalf of this important legal work and for her participation in the Institutes inaugural event.
A new Czech law that standardizes the tax and other investment incentives available to foreign investors took effect on May 1, 2000. The legislation, signed into law by President Havel, ended the government practice of negotiating individual incentive packages based on two 1998 government decrees. The new legislation will make the evaluation of incentive program benefits much simpler and clearer to potential investors. It will also provide a more transparent method of dealing with prospective investors. The specific areas covered in the law are tax incentives, job creation grants, training grants, and site-location incentives
The minimum investment required to qualify for the incentives is 350 million Kcs ($9.2 million). In regions of high employment, the minimum investment is reduced to 175 million Kcs ($4.6 million). The new law seeks to attract companies that provide production facilities rather than service industries. Only manufacturing projects qualify and 40% of the funds must go to investment in machinery. There is a 10-year tax holiday on all new projects and 5 years of partial corporate tax relief on expansion projects.
One net effect of the law is that foreign investors no longer need to invest through Czech subsidiaries in order to enjoy such incentives. Also, the law abolishes the tax on the "income" represented by the value of the tax breaks themselves, so all tax exposure on conferred tax benefits is eliminated. The Czech corporate tax rate on such benefits had previously been 31 percent.
The bottom line is that foreign companies now have greater incentives to invest in new manufacturing projects in the Czech Republic or to transplant existing operations from higher-cost countries into potentially more advantageous locations in the Czech Republic. This approach is especially promising as foreign investment has been increasing over the past year, apparently due to foreign investment incentives introduced in 1998. It is estimated that the newly enacted law will attract some $5 billion in foreign investment during this calendar year and provide much needed, long-term growth for the Czech economy.
AFoCR President Milton Cerny met recently with Prague's Lord Mayor Jan Kasl, who was visiting Washington in connection with the World Bank meeting to be held in Prague this fall. Kasl emphasized that this significant meeting is extremely important to Prague, which was highly honored to be selected as the host city. He noted that Prague has been hard at work preparing for the event and is creating a venue that will make the delegates comfortable and safe. Security and other organizational measures are being taken to prevent any reoccurrence of the disruptions that marred the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization.
Kasl expressed confidence that with proper planning such disruptions will be avoided. Cerny and Kasl also discussed the new Legal Center that is being developed in Prague by the American Bar Association in concert with the Central and East European Legal Initiative (CEELI) and the importance of this effort to the region. Finally, Kasl accepted AFoCR's invitation to attend the Albright Award Gala in September.
Czech Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Jiri Maceska, met with AFoCR Directors Milton Cerny, Vladimir Kabes and Thomas Gibian on June 7 to discuss current trade issues, initiatives for expanding bilateral trade and investment opportunities in the Czech Republic. One significant issue is the tariff differential under which Czech Airlines pays a 4.8 % import tax on U.S. civil aircraft and parts, which places U.S. manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage. This tariff has been waved or reduced by Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia and China. The Czech tariff is detrimental to both Czech importers and U.S. exporters, and the issue is currently being deliberated at the highest levels of the two governments.
Maceska also reviewed privatization initiatives being undertaken by the Czech government in the banking and energy sectors, progress in attracting new investment under the 10-year tax holiday, as well as the status of the improving trade deficit and balance of payments. The Czech government remains optimistic about achieving E.U. status by the year 2003. The AFoCR Directors emphasized the need for more information being disseminated regarding opportunities in high-tech and other telecommunications industries. Maceska indicated that information is needed for a broad range of Czech businesses on "doing business in the United States". The AFoCR Directors suggested a series of teleconferencing programs between Czech and American businesses and some trade-mission initiatives to stimulate such information exchange and discussion. Maceska and the AFoCR Board agreed to remain in contact and follow up on these discussions.
Milton Cerny and Secretary Ronald Bartek visited Capitol Hill again on April 17, in a continuing effort to meet with key members of Congress and staff to discuss current issues in Czech/U.S. relations. They met with Mark Gage of the House International Relations Committee staff, who is a primary advisor to Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-NY), especially on matters involving Central Europe.
Gage raised two topics that are currently of particular interest to Chairman Gilman: the Lauder/Zelesny case and the newly discovered Jewish cemetery site in Prague. Regarding the Lauder case, AFoCR informed Gage of the Czech Governments position, i.e. (1) the Czech Government had acted to enforce the law that prohibits unlicensed media broadcasts and forbids the transfer of a broadcast license; 2) the Lauder suit against the Czech Government is, therefore, unfounded, and 3) the Lauder complaint involves only its former business partner and is currently in arbitration with the appropriate international authorities. Gage expressed the hope that the Czech Government would help ensure that justice was served in the case.
Cerny and Bartek also briefed Gage on recent developments concerning the Jewish cemetery discovered in Prague, i.e. that the Czech Government had reached a settlement that will preserve the cemetery as a cultural monument and provide for expansion of the preserved area if necessary, while permitting the Czech insurance company to continue construction next to the site. Gage noted that the Chairman and the Committee had received a good number of inquiries from the international Jewish community on the matter and asked whether the Jewish community was satisfied with the resolution. Cerny noted his understanding that the Jewish community of Prague, the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of Americas Heritage Abroad, representatives of the Ashkenazi community, and U.S. Ambassador Shattuck had all expressed satisfaction with the settlement and that a meeting was scheduled to conclude the question. It was agreed that AFoCR will remain in contact with the Committee and provide updates on the issues discussed.
In late May, Bartek met at the State Department with Ambassador Larry Napper, Coordinator for East European Assistance. Napper is responsible for policies to implement the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989, which provides for U.S. assistance. He reported that, although the Czech Republic has successfully graduated from this assistance, the State Departments program still supports some select, joint efforts deemed especially critical in advancing Czech democracy. For example, the Department continues to help support the Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI), a public service project of the American Bar Association, which is supporting the legal reform process in CEE. With the assistance of lawyers, judges, and law professors, CEELI attempts to build the legal infrastructure indispensable to strong, self-supporting, democratic, free market systems. AFoCR has also been active in support of the CEELI effort.