Lauren Felvus, a scholar in the Garfield Center for Public Leadership, recaps her experiences on the group’s trip to Prague, Czech Republic, led by James Thompson, Ph.D., associate professor of political science. The Garfield Center for Public Leadership at Hiram College prepares students to assume the responsibilities of public leadership by developing expertise in matters of public policy, foreign and domestic, grounded in Hiram’s traditional liberal arts education.
During spring break, I, along with members from GCPL, had the privilege to travel to Prague, Czech Republic, for a week to meet with government, health, and educational leaders. Some topics we discussed on the trip were how the political system in Czechia works, the roles that different branches play, how the country handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and their contribution to Ukraine during the war against Russia.
On our second day in Prague, we had our first two meetings with the Ministry of Defense and the United States Embassy. At the Ministry of Defense, we discussed with the Director General of the Defense Policy and Strategy Division, Jan Jires, not only Czechia’s defense policies, but also their connection with NATO, the EU, and the war in Ukraine. Jires remarked that they are supporting Ukraine diplomatically, financially, and militarily in their fight against Russia. He also praised the Czech people for opening their homes to the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Czechia and now make up 4% of the country’s population. At the U.S. Embassy, we learned about the roles that U.S. ambassadors play in the alliance between the U.S. and their host countries, as well as hearing an outside, but knowledgeable, viewpoint on Czechia’s politics.
Later in the week, we met with Marketa Gregorova, a pirate member of the European Parliament, and diplomats from the Czech Foreign Ministry. The Pirates are a political party focused on domestic policies and civic liberties. One of their party goals is to gain political and government transparency and complete digitization of Czechia. At the Foreign Ministry, we met with both diplomats and diplomats-in-training. Some of the current global issues that the diplomats are discussing include the war in Ukraine, the potential war between Taiwan and China, and global warming. We also discussed how issues in the United States directly impact aspects of other countries and their policies, such as how Czechia has had to change the exportation of their goods because of inflation in the U.S.
In the following days, we met with Jacob Kajzler, chief advisor to the Prime Minister, political science professor, Lukas Hahejm, at Charles University, and the directors of the Health Insurance Supervision Department, the Health Insurance Funds Administration, and the International Coordination Union. Kajzler described Czechia’s relation with its neighboring countries and with Slovakia. He mentioned Czechia’s spending and how 30% of their budget goes to pensions but only 1.5% goes to defense. At Charles University, professor Hahejm explained the political system of Czechia and its systems of checks and balances as well as the judicial system and the main political parties. The directors of the varying health departments explained the healthcare system of Czechia, as everyone in the country has the right to free healthcare. There are different health funds that an employer might work with, but all coverage is the same. Healthcare is accessible 24/7, and there is a program in the EU where if an EU citizen cannot get the required treatment in their country, then they can still receive free care for it in another EU country.
Being able to travel to Prague with GCPL and meeting with so many high-ranking government leaders has been both a fun and educational experience. My biggest takeaways from this trip have been the importance of learning about other countries’ politics to not only better understand that country but to also be exposed to policies not implemented in the United States. I also learned about what works and what doesn’t, if there are policies that could be incorporated into the U.S. political system, and the importance of the Ukrainian and Russian war. Being in the United States, it is easy to feel removed from the war, but in Europe, it is a prominent part of people’s lives. Every person that we met with on this trip has reiterated the importance of Ukraine’s victory against Russia and how they have been supporting Ukraine every step of the way. The Czech government firmly stands behind Ukraine and will do everything it can to support them.