ILI: 25 Years of Focus on the Czech Republic (1989-2014)When the Berlin Wall was dismantled in 1989 with much fanfare and no violence, the world rejoiced that the Soviet bloc had finally collapsed. Since WWII ended, the nation states caught between politically free Western Europe and communist Eastern Europe had suffered a kind of colonial captivity*. Seen as the price of cooperation to end WWII, the giving of formerly-independent nations to Soviet control became the new normal. All US post-war diplomacy and military development was juxtaposed against Soviet power, leading to a theory that the Soviet bloc nations were a sad but necessary buffer between the two world superpowers. Very few gave serious thought to what would happen if the Soviet bloc nations were again free to participate in European economic, political and financial life.
Then the unexpected became reality. In the space of months, borders opened and people could move wherever they chose. The closed Soviet-modeled economies were thrown open, Russian soldiers went home, and anyone could get a passport. This sudden shift left the US in a state of shock and left these countries vulnerable to anyone with the will and means to imposed a new system.
|Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel, 1989|
ILI (the International Leadership Institute) had a stake in all this. President and CEO Jaroslav Tusek was a former citizen of Czechoslovakia, born there in 1941 under German Nazi rule, educated and employed there for 27 years until he left in 1967 to study in Norway and did not return. He came to the US in 1968 and gained citizenship in 1975, building a life in academia and business. But he never believed that the Soviets would hold power forever, especially when his studies and research at Columbia University (NYC), the World Council of Churches (Geneva, Switzerland), the International Peace Research Institute (Oslo, Norway), and the World Without War Council (San Francisco, CA) convinced him that economic stagnation under Soviet policies was eroding the ability of the Russian government to hold on to its empire.When the Wall fell, Jarda went to Prague right away. He saw his parents for the first time since 1983 (their passports has been confiscated, and he could not return without paying a huge fine and being imprisoned immediately). He visited with his friends and family to get a picture of the country as it stood at the moment. He witnessed the impact of 40 years of neglect on the buildings, streets and parks of Prague. He made up his mind to do something significant for his native country, and to use ILI as his vehicle.
|At the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Prague, signing the protocol for the EEP-CBL programs, 1993|
By 1990, ILI was in negotiation with the Czechoslovak government to work as partners on the Executive Education Programs for Czechoslovak Business Leaders (EEP-CBL), a project partly funded by the Czechoslovak government and American business firms who took on the visiting executives as business interns. This program received significant support from US and European Chambers of Commerce (in Jacksonville, FL and Bratislava, Slovakia after the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into two countries). It also received help in program content, logistics, social events and marketing from the World Trade Center, Chattanooga; the Chattanooga Business Journal; Covenant College; the University of North Florida; Jacksonville University; a group of volunteer host families in North Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and New York ; a group of volunteer Business Seminar presenters in North Florida; and a group of Business Intern sponsors that stretched across the US.
For ILI, the years 1989-2006 were devoted to helping Czechoslovak business and professional leaders make a successful transition to a market economy operating in a political democracy. In those years, ILI also worked with US AID, an international development project from the US Department of State, in which ILI assisted business and professional leaders from Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania and Macedonia in their transitions from the Soviet closed model to the free world’s open model. ILI programs helped more than 450 post-Soviet bloc executives in this way, with over a billion dollars in US-European business resulting from the business and personal relationships built by the executives.
|USAID executives from Bulgaria in St Augustine for their ILI program|
In those 17 years, ILI also assisted young aspiring leaders from the former Soviet bloc through American English Language Immersion Programs (AELIP). These young people had the chance to improve their English language skills, learn some leadership essentials and be challenged by life in a new environment. From these programs came inspiration to build international careers in Asia, Europe and the US, as well as enduring friendships and marriages.
|AELIP participants ride Florida-style|
From 2006 on, we shifted our focus to finding ways to assist in the establishment of what former President Vaclav Havel termed “civil society” in the Czech Republic. He urged the society to pay attention to morals, values and ethics while it was developing in more materialistic ways. Havel specifically noted the weakness of spiritual life among people living in the Czech Republic, and we decided to investigate his claims. We moved the ILI headquarters to Prague from August 2010-November 2013, living in that glorious city and doing all we could to understand the state of spiritual affairs there. Our conclusions are outlined in the report we are preparing (ILI: 25 Years of Focus on the CR), and will be expanded in our next book, 21st Century Christianity.All in all, we at ILI have built many meaningful and lasting relationships with people we’ve known and worked with in the Czech Republic. This country has been the focus of nearly everything we have done for 25 years, and we appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to the lives of people who live there. The report will detail some of our accomplishments, analyze their impact, make observations about the current situation in the Czech Republic and offer some ideas about the near future. It will be available on our website, www.ili.cc, on January 15.
*Soviet bloc states were Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, East Germany, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary and Lithuania.