On July 12-13, 1997, a conference entitled "Czech-Americans in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future" was held by the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU) in conjunction with the historic celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas (SPJST, one of the oldest Czech-American organizations in the United States) in Belton, Texas. Subsequent to that conference, Miloslav Rechcigl, Jr., the President of the SVU, and Howard Leshikar, the President of the SPJST, signed a proclamation proposing to establish a Cultural Heritage Commission, which would incorporate representatives of various Czech organizations in North America, in order to work jointly toward the preservation of the Czech cultural heritage.
On October 18-19, 1997, a conference entitled "The Czech Republic and Czech Americans on Their Way to a Common Future" was held at the Czech Embassy in Washington, DC. At the invitation of Alexandr Vondra, Czech Ambassador to the United States, officers and representatives of Czech American organizations from around the United States met with Embassy officials and government officials from the Czech Republic, including Senator Michal Zantovsky, to discuss strategies for broader cooperation.
We who participated in the Washington conference resolve to support the SVU and the SPJST in establishing the Cultural Heritage Commission. The Commission will aid already existing organizations in gathering and disseminating information, coordinating and publicizing their efforts to preserve Czech heritage, and suggesting new strategies for joint action (e.g., surveying historic sites of particular significance to Czech-Americans). The continuing neglect and destruction of archival records, gradual decline of the Czech language in America, and disappearance of some of the traditional Czech-American organizations make this an urgent mission.
The Washington conference reflected Ambassador Vondra's commitment to meet and confer with the guardians of Czech heritage, pride, and culture in the United States with the goal of strengthening cultural, economic, and political ties between Czechs and Americans. Topics of discussion included issues related to the preservation and development of the Czech heritage in the United States, including historical sites and monuments; the political influence of the Czech-American community; and the possibility of future economic and political cooperation between American and Czech business and political leaders.
United in a commonality of purpose, we believe that this historic event will strengthen ties between the United States and the Czech Republic. Like other citizens of the United States, a nation which thrives on cultural and racial diversity, the members of our organizations realize that there is no conflict between our loyalty to and love for the country where we live and our desire to preserve the rich and distinctive cultural heritage of our ethnic origins. We are also hopeful that activities such as this conference will enhance the social, cultural, political, and commercial relations between the two countries.
In this spirit, we will do our best to preserve the Czech cultural heritage in North America, and we call on all interested men and women to help us in this endeavor--particularly in efforts to encourage our children to learn about their heritage --and to establish and promote cultural and language programs throughout the United States, as well as educational exchanges with the Czech Republic.