How do you feel now that the long academic year is over and the summer holiday has begun? Are you happy to go home, or would you like to stay in Hungary?
I have been for one year abroad – in Hungary – so I am not going on any holidays this year. I have mixed feelings about the conclusion of my tenure here. On the one hand, I was and in fact I am still satisfied here in Budapest but on the other hand I am looking forward to meet my family and be home.
How was your experience as an International Chair at the National University of Public Service? What were your expectation and aims when you applied, and did you manage to meet them?
Since the very beginning I knew what to expect because Dr. Boglárka Koller informed me well about even before coming here. For example I knew already what kind of lectures I should hold for the students. Overall, I can say that I had very positive experience. I did not feel myself lost in the new institutions and I also made new contacts and friendships here with the colleagues at the department and with the students of course.
Did you have any professional/academic aims set that you wanted to achieve when you started?
Basically there were two separate things. One was the expectations of NUPS: what should I offer as a teacher and also what my research plans are. I would say I managed to fulfil 70% of my individual research plan so far. On the other hand I had some personal idea about what I would like to develop and focus on. I was reading and writing a lot, I am finalizing a book about the Visegrád Four with an Austrian colleague as co-author. I was also cooperating with colleagues at the faculty, and there will be a lot of follow up activities. I would say that when I officially leave the faculty 31 July, the work together will continue.
And from all those great things you have achieved what is the one thing that you are the most proud of and would like to highlight?
I managed to visit some really good conferences including conferences in the Czech Republic, Korea, Austria and soon I am going to the European Youth Conference in Poland. If I compare this to the previous period, it was a real success and something new in my professional career.
And now from the present, let us go back a bit into the past. Could you tell us a few words about your academic background? What were you researching and doing at your home university before?
I started in 1991 at the Charles University in Prague and studied political science with specific focus on Eastern Europe. After studying one year in Slovenia, I became the new leader of the department of political science in Pilzen where I spent almost 6 years and we developed BA, MA and PhD levels of political science education. Then I was elected for 4 years as a dean at the faculty of art at the same university. After this period I got a new challenge and went to the biggest private university in Czech lands, the Metropolitan University in Prague, I work there nowadays as a vice rector for research. My professional orientation is Central Europe with focus on political development, constitutionalisation, political actors, political culture, but also transdisciplinary studies, contemporary and modern history or transition to democracy. My researches include not only Visegrád Four, but also Slovenia, Croatia, or generally Wester Balkans. Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia are however out of my scope.
It seems that your academic role is a bit different in the Czech Republic from here and the International Chair program is also relatively new to us, so what do you feel were the strengths of the program and what could be improved.
As an academic leader this was a great and very useful experience. One of the strength of the program is the good organisation of networking possibilities. During this program you have one year to slowly develop and enlarge your network compared to other shorter conferences. I was meeting the colleagues repeatedly and could discuss sometimes very sensitive issues of Hungarian history or the mutual Central European history, which we very often see differently. Secondly I would like to highlight how useful it was for me to meet the students here. I got the opportunity to talk to Hungarian students and the many international students studying at NUPS and conducted very interesting debates with them. And I would like to also mention the excellent library. Ferenc Gazdag brought me to the Béla Király library at the Hungária Krt.
These are all great positive things to hear, but for the sake of improving the experience of the next International Chair here, what things should be changed or improved?
Together with my family we expected some inconveniences regarding bureaucracy which we experienced several times while living aboard. The most horrible thing for me was that I was not insured for almost 3 months. Based on our experience and discussions, Vice-Rectors Prof.Dr. Norbert Kis and later Dr. Judit Nagy prepared distinctive changes in the Int. Chair agenda and framework. Everyone is in the learning phase now.
How do you rate the work of the International Office?
In the beginning it was a bit difficult because the colleagues at the office changed so much and we sometimes got different information from different people. Later, there was one dedicated person handling all our issues and working with us, and this experience was really great. She was very helpful. Regardless the frequent personnel changes in the office, I had many positive experiences.
You already mentioned that you did not come here alone, but with your whole family. Did you work together with your wife while being here?
She also applied for this position and she also succeeded. She focuses more on international security and international relation. We have been working together for almost 2 decades since 1997, so we cooperated also here in Budapest. We are preparing joint articles based on our research done in Hungary. During working hours we didn’t talk much but naturally, I was really happy to have my wife here both as colleague and as a family member.
Was it somehow different working with her here than in the Czech Republic?
Yes it was a bit different. We have two kids, and the smallest one is really young so we shared the care for her thus we did not meet much. Here, thanks to the excellent nursery system we could spend more time together with my wife in the office.
Let’s talk about Hungary and your Hungarian experiences here. Were there any difficulties you encountered, for example because of the language barrier?
This is not my first time in Hungary so I know that the country is very similar to my home country. Of course the language is very challenging and it is different. Since the beginning we were trying to learn it. We were lucky in the supermarket as the information is often shared in other languages too. It is difficult to buy for example train tickets. But every time I left Hungary, I became more sensitive to such issues in other countries. For example in Czechlands, in the subway, they only say everything in Czech, and in Hungary sometimes they at least say it in English too. So my experience of Hungary is very positive form this point of view too.
We already talked about Czech and Hungarian people, so could you elaborate on that a bit. Do you think that the shared history is visible? How different are the two nations socially?
I would say that we are very similar, but that does not mean that we are the same. There are very important differences. One of them, is that you really feel when talking to Hungarians is the religion. Czechs are strongly atheist, and one could feel in Hungary that this is different. However, there are also some periods when we had really different experiences such as the Interwar years. However after creating independent Slovakia, and losing the common border, I have to say that younger generation does not know that much about Hungary anymore. I come from the city Pilsen and one of the oldest part of the city is name Kossuthka but nobody knows why?
You mentioned that you travelled to many places during this one year period. What other Hungarian towns have you visited and what were your favourite places inside Hungary?
I was in Pécs which I like very much. I was also repeatedly in Debrecen. I really like the puszta but not in summertime. I also went to Szentendre several times. I still have plans to visit Gödöllő and Esztergom. We visited the region north from Vác. This is another face of Hungary, more rural and poorer. But in the Czech Republic we do not have this traditional rural countryside anymore because it was destroyed during the communist era. I haven’t visited Szeged yet and I have to visit it next time, but we did not have so much time for traveling we initially hoped to have.
Talking about Hungarian geography and culture, one must also mention Hungarian cuisine. Do you like Hungarian food? What is your favourite dish and can you make it?
I can cook some dishes that I realized only here that are Hungarians. One of my favourite food is paprikás csirke, this is something that my father was cooking when I was a child and I thought it was a typical Czech dish. I like halászlé as well, and we don’t make it in Czechlands. I know lecsó as well. But there is also one thing that I know and do not like. This is fruit soup. I don’t eat that but my daughter loves it. And I also like töltött káposzta, but from my previous experiences, I think this is more western Balkan dish and Hungarian. Mixed dishes are also very typical for Central Europe.
And as for drinks I naturally like Hungarian wines and pálinka too. My favourite is körtepálinka.
My final question, you seemed to have enjoyed your experience here, so would you like to come back to Hungary, and when will you do so?
Frankly said, I was thinking about applying once again. My wife did and she succeeded. But there are two problems. One is the family and the other one is my job in Prague. Being vice-rector, I cannot imagine that my university would allow me to stay one more year abroad. I had to travel back every two weeks. I was using the night busses and it was exhausting for me. Secondly, our daughter is 10 years old and next year she is going to attend the 5th class in a Czech school. But from this class, you are applying to the entrance to the high school. If she stayed here, it would limit her strongly. If I were alone and without important promises I would apply again. It was a great year, and I am really happy that my wife applied and that she will stay and continue the work here.