TROY – Former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Jenonne Walker talked to students at Troy University about the common challenges facing the nation's ambassadors and provided personal glimpses into the life of Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel.
Ambassador Walker served as this spring's Ambassador-in-Residence and spent the week meeting with students and lecturing to classes on international affairs in her first-ever trip to Alabama. Her Thursday address was conducted in the Hawkins-Adams-Long Hall of Honor on the Troy Campus.
"This has been a wonderful time with a very lively student body," she said, "one that is not afraid to express its opinions."
Her primary goal in the afternoon's speech, however, was to demonstrate what challenges American diplomats would face in the future, and her own experiences abroad. She served in the ambassadorial role from 1995-1998.
"Now and in the future, America's embassies will increasingly be in emerging nations – those struggling to transition from the rule of dictators to free democracies," she said.
In those countries, she opined the role of the Embassy staff was to "nurture and develop the grassroots underpinnings of democracy" and to end corruption both in corporate and political realms in those countries – both areas she concentrated on from her embassy in Prague.
She told students that often, while civil liberties and democratic processes can be quickly restored, ensuring the citizens participation in that process and their pursuit in free markets took time to build. Drawing from recent elections in Tunisia and Egypt, where Islamic Brotherhood candidates gained control of the governments, she said the group's success in the fair elections were based on the group having successfully provided social, healthcare, education and food to the masses under the former regime.
"The real question is that these groups don't know how they will react to pressures of governance," she said.
Former Czech President Havel, who died last month, saw his administration hampered by little power, but, she added, Havel preferred the theatrical side of the presidency.
First elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, where he served the Federal Assembly as chief executive, Havel resigned on the breakup of the country but was elected as the first president of the new Czech Republic, serving two terms in office and in a presidency without much real political power.
"He never lost his taste of the ridiculous," Ambassador Walker said. But, as in his essay "Power of the Powerless," he lived by "doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do."
"He was a moral icon, but didn't like politics, but when he spoke as the conscience of the nation, he was fabulous," she added.