The BCSA thirty years on
In November 1990 the BCSA was launched at a reception in what is now the Slovak embassy and in the presence of Alexander Dubček. The hero of the Prague Spring, by then Chairman of the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia, had been invited by the new Czechoslovak ambassador, Dr Karel Duda, who had been ambassador to the USA in the 1960s. About 400 people packed into the embassy’s reception area; the atmosphere was jubilant as was typical at that time.
Earlier that year, at a meeting in the Czernin Palace, the idea of creating a new organisation to link the two countries had been suggested and I became involved back in London. The ambassador was instrumental in bringing together representatives of the few Anglo-Czech organisations that existed in the UK at that time; of these, today only the Dvořák Society and Velehrad continue with their activities. Over several meetings at the embassy, the concept of the BCSA emerged and each organisation provided their contact lists for mailing invitations together with a membership form.
The BCSA played its part with a newsletter that promoted the many new initiatives that sprung up between the two countries in both directions. They covered the arts in the broadest sense, education, the environment and a whole range of professional training and exchange opportunities. Our postbag included requests from Czechoslovak companies for UK contacts and a business circle was launched by the BCSA to share the experiences of UK companies who had begun to establish themselves in Czechoslovakia. A regular events programme was established which the embassy supported by providing a venue, a tradition that continues to this day in both the Czech and Slovak embassies.
Looking back it’s hard to remember that there was no internet at that time; telephone/fax and post were the only means of communication. There was only one Saturday school for Czech children in London; today there are several teaching both Czech and Slovak, and many others around the UK. The BCSA Facebook group has members from all around Britain and overseas, just part of the Czech and Slovak UK profile on social media, where local communities keep in touch with day-to- day needs and everyone offers advice about the latest Covid news.
Building a future for the BCSA
During the early years of the Association, I served as its first treasurer and then became chairman. At this time a lengthy application process began to gain charitable status which was finally granted in 1995. By then the BCSA was well established and enjoyed the patronage of the Czech and Slovak Ambassadors in London and the British Ambassadors in Prague and Bratislava.
In 1992 our first annual dinner was held in the Czech and Slovak National House which we soon outgrew; since 1994 the traditional venue has been a hotel in Bloomsbury. A more informal fundraising event began in the summer of 1996, once again in West Hampstead. It transferred to the communal gardens of the Czech and Slovak embassies in 1999 where we have enjoyed our annual garden party ever since.
Following the devastating floods in Czechoslovakia in 2002, the BCSA made its first donation to Czech and Slovak schools who needed to replace their English language teaching materials. Our School Support Fund continues to provide a grant to selected schools in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia each year. We have also made donations to other worthwhile causes in keeping with our charitable status.
I became chairman of the BCSA for a second time in 2017. Our activities would not be possible without the hard work of the committee, most of whom have served for many years. Now we are a ‘mature’ organisation in every sense. It is time for a younger generation to join us and take up the challenge, to help us safeguard the future of the BCSA. If you know anyone who has appropriate skills and can volunteer their time, or if you are able to do so, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photo: Jarmila Karas
Karel Duda (left) Graham Melville-Mason (centre) Alexander Dubček (right)