The Czech Foreign Ministry has just presented its Gratias Agit awards honouring individuals and groups that promote the good name of the Czech Republic internationally. Among those recognised were the world-renowned plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahač and the Russian NGO Memorial.
Laureates included Boston-based surgeon Bohdan Pomahač, who led the team that performed the first full face transplant in the United States; Zuzana Ceralová Petrofová of the piano-making Petrof family; Dr. Miloš Krajný, who promotes Czech music in Canada; and Karl Peterlik, an Austrian diplomat who served in Prague in two key periods, 1968 and 1989.
They and the other recipients were presented with the prize by the Czech foreign minister, Tomáš Petříček.
“These people who have been awarded the Gratias Agit 2019 work selflessly for the good name of our country. They represent Czech culture, Czech literature, abroad. They have helped to connect people in other countries with Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. And they really, really do great work, without any reward until now.”
Surgeon Bohdan Pomahač said that for him the prize was a major accolade.
“I think that none of us probably expected that we would be nominated. And it’s really an expression of great honour. When you look at all the people that have received it in the past, and also today, it’s a tremendous company of accomplished people that have done a lot of important things in the name of the Czech Republic. So it’s a huge honour and I’m deeply grateful for it.”
Accompanying Boris Belenkin and Elena Zhemkova of Memorial was Prague-based historian Adam Hradilek. He explained the group's connection to the Czech Republic.
“Already before the fall of the Soviet Union, Memorial started to collect documents concerning political repression in the USSR. And among those that were repressed on Soviet territory were also Czechoslovak citizens. So due to their work we know of hundreds or thousands of people that were either imprisoned in the Gulag camps or executed by firing squad during the Great Terror. At the same time, in their archives we can find documents about people who took part in protests against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.”
The Gratias Agit prize was launched in 1997. Previous recipients include conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, gymnastics legend Věra Čáslavská, author and illustrator Peter Sis and ice hockey star Jaromír Jágr.