The Czech Centre in Romania has a specific position based on its openness, informality, innovation

Exclusive interview with Robin Ujfaluši - Director of the Czech Centre in Bucharest.


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In an exclusive interview, Robin Ujfaluši – Director of the Czech Centre in Romania, who is preparing to end his 5-year mission at the helm of the centre, told us about the community shaped around the Czech Centre in Bucharest, about the centre’s innovative programs and events this year, but also about the challenges he faced during his term. Robin Ujfaluši confessed that the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine represented turning points that made a great impact on the cultural activity as well. As for the future activity of the Czech Centre, he revealed which are the two important issues that should be prioritized and integrated in the socio-cultural mission of the institution.


Could you briefly walk us through the 43-year history and vision of the Czech Centre in Bucharest?

The cultural centre was established in 1981 as Czechoslovak House of Culture, still in the context of ties within the Eastern Bloc. After 1989 and even more after establishing the Czech Centres network in 1993, the focus of the institute certainly changed, in the new context, when both countries became democratic and much more open to the world. Three years ago we put together an exhibition for the 40th anniversary of the institution (photo-documentation here), we installed all sorts of archival material in one room and it was fascinating to see not only how the programme has changed over decades, but also how the visual formats we use to promote cultural events were changing during this time. The Chronicle of the 80s next to online communication today, you can imagine how much the world has changed, and our cultural institute, too.


Cultural diplomacy often bridges diverse communities through the universal language of art, literature and multidisciplinary projects. The Czech Centre in Bucharest managed to build an audience for its events that became a community itself. How would you describe this community?

I still have the impression that the variety of projects we offer in and out of Bucharest attract different kinds of audiences. When it comes to the community around the Czech Centre events, it is probably mostly (not only) young people, but certainly people who are open-minded, curious and who appreciate the informal atmosphere which is somehow typical for our in-house events.


Documentary Mondays/ Photo by Petre Fall

Under your leadership, the Czech Centre has introduced several innovative programs. Which of these do you believe have gained the most popularity with your audience?

Honestly, I see myself more as a guarantor of continuity rather than an innovator. I inherited a very well-functioning institution, I came to Bucharest shortly before the pandemic of covid and continuity was for me more important during those years than the need to innovate. In terms of specific projects, I am proud of the cultural hub around the Cinemascop Festival which we organize every summer in Eforie Sud on the coast, together with our local partner Eforie Colorat and with colleagues from EUNIC Romania.

In Bucharest, our Documentary Mondays and Fiction Tuesdays film series remain popular. Among the new projects, I would mention the Václav Havel European Dialogues, which target university students across Romania and reflect on topics important to Europe as a continent. And last year we had a great photography project Collectives by Roman Franc, which showcased his long-term work with communities worldwide, but also originally involved and presented the Czech communities living in the Romanian Banat.


“Bohemian Jazz | Bucharest Classix” with Trio Bohémo. Photo credits: Alexandra Iftime

In 2024, you are celebrating the Year of Czech Music through a series of events that started with ‘Bohemian Jazz/Bucharest Classix’ – a vibrant concert by Trio Bohemo, organized in collaboration with the Classix Festival in Iași. Beyond this spectacular start, could you share with us other musical projects or long-term partnerships that the Czech Centre has fostered or initiated, contributing to the international appreciation of Czech music?

Trio Bohémo (CZ) performing @ “Bohemian Jazz | Bucharest Classix”. Photo credits: Alexandra Iftime

When I mention main projects, prepared both with Czech and Romanian partners, you will see that it is a lot about diversity of genres and about promoting young musicians, innovative approaches, fresh energy. Right now, we are preparing a tour of Brothers, whose music oscillates between catchy electronic dance and techno, so it is a project for Romanian club scene and they will perform in Bucharest, Cluj and Sibiu between May 23 and 25.

In early September Nikol Boková Quartet should come to Bucharest for Green Hours Festival, a project with elements of classical music and modern jazz. Nikol was in Romania already last year, we had some beautiful concerts and we are happy to have her back.

The last part will come in December, with another original duo and focus on the club scene.  It is called P/\ST (which in Czech means Trap), an alternative/experimental rap project with elements of electronic music.


Leading a cultural institution comes with its set of challenges, especially in dynamic socio-political landscapes. Can you share some of the significant challenges you’ve faced during your tenure and how you overcame them?

The main one was certainly the Covid pandemic, which significantly affected cultural life between 2020 and 2022 not only in Romania, but globally. We overcame this by focusing on formats that were possible to organise, be it open-air events or exhibition projects in the Czech Centre. In addition, we did more online formats – which can be a nice addition, but we all know that cultural life without physical presence misses something essential.

The second important milestone was certainly the war in Ukraine which influenced our activities also within the platform of European Cultural Institutes (EUNIC Romania) and made us think differently about solidarity and European cultural identity in the contemporary world. Ukraine has become a much more prominent part of our cultural landscape after 2022 and we as cultural institutes have become more aware of our core values.


As you prepare to conclude your 5-year mission in Romania, what advice would you offer to your successor to continue building on the Centre’s legacy?

I think the Czech Centre has a specific position in Romania – based on its openness, informality, innovation, proximity to the independent scene. As far as I know, it’s been going on for at least 15 years and in my opinion it works well, so my main advice would be to keep that general approach. With what specific themes and what programming formats, that will be certainly up to the new director to decide – it is a matter of a balanced mix of continuity and innovation.


Assuming you were about to commence another 5-year term at the Czech Centre in Bucharest this summer, which social or artistic dimension would you prioritize for immediate attention and enhancement?

I would mention 2 themes – we have worked with both in recent years, but I would probably be even more consistent in the future, if I had the opportunity. First, a complex reflection on a changing environment and a changing planet, which we are increasingly burdening and influencing with our actions, sometimes irreversibly.

And second, which is something we already discuss with colleagues in Czech Centres network – reflection on our inner safe space and our inner resilience through culture, art and social debate. In today’s world there are many factors that can contribute to feelings of threat (mass media focusing on negative events, economic and political instability etc.) and we should reflect more on sources of resilience and strength, sharing and building alternatives.

As you can see, both are rather universal themes we experience across countries and continents, not something specifically Czech what we could “export” ready-made.

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