PRAGUE — An arts professor is the first Thai national, as well as the youngest person ever, to be presented with an award from the Czech Republic for promoting Czech culture abroad.
The Czech government awarded Verita Sriratana, a professor in literary studies at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, the 2019 Gratias Agit prize on Friday morning local time for promoting Czech culture in Thailand.
“My life mission…is to introduce and strengthen the Thai public’s knowledge of Central Europe, particularly of Czech and Slovak cultures, histories and literatures,” Verita told Khaosod English. “If my students know more about Central Europe than I did when I was their age, then I can say I have accomplished something in this life.”
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has presented the Gratias Agit award since 1997. It is considered one of the most prestigious Czech awards for a non-Czech to receive. Verita, 36, was one of 16 people awarded the 2019 Gratias Agit in a ceremony at the Czernin Palace.
Verita does not only weave Czech culture and literature into her curriculums. In 2017, she translated “Too Loud A Solitude” (1976) by Bohumil Hrabal into Thai. A year earlier, she adapted the anti-war absurdist novel “The Good Soldier Svejk” (1923) into a Thai play with the B-Floor experimental theater troupe.
In an interview with Khaosod, Verita said she first “fell in love” with Czech and Slovak cultures while travelling around Europe as a PhD student in literature. She then decided to promote central European humanities in Thai academia, especially 20th century Czech literature.
Verita recommends Thai newbies to Czech modern lit to start with “The Joke” by Milan Kundera, for its themes of dissidence, censorship, and persecution – relatable to “my contemporary political landscape,” she said.
“The bitter joke lies in how each tyrant will not only find new pretexts for tyranny, but also bend, hijack or ‘make a joke out of’ the fates of others, and even the law, at will. Abject victims and fervent revolutionaries can also easily ease themselves into the role and position of tyrants,” she said.
Another springboard could be Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” (1978) which follows a greengrocer who puts up a communist poster he does not agree with so he can survive in the business world.
“We see Havel’s greengrocers in Thailand,” Verita said. “My hope is that people in Thailand…who come into contact with the story of the greengrocer will see that…even under tyranny and rigged rule of law, all has not been lost. Czech literature can give us hope and inspiration, which, in my opinion, are important today.”