Tereza Ulrychová is one of the youngest permanent members of the foreign editorial office. Although her territory is primarily the Balkans, thanks to which, by the way, she also recently received a BIRN grant, the agenda of all foreign journalists has been mainly driven by Ukraine and Russia in recent months. And they were the main theme of her last trip.
Teresa, what kind of trip was it?
First, as a journalist escort, I flew with the head of Czech diplomacy, Jan Lipavský, to Brussels, where a meeting of foreign ministers of NATO member countries was held. Among other things, the NATO-Ukraine Council met there for the first time in this format, so Ukrainian Minister Dmytro Kuleba also arrived.
Then we continued to Skopje for the meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The biggest attraction for all journalists there was the fact that it was discussed in advance whether or not the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would also arrive. Russia is one of the 57 member countries of this body.
And how did it turn out with Lavrov?
In the end, it really did arrive, even though Bulgaria did not let it through its airspace, as was originally planned, but Greece. Journalists who were waiting for the arriving delegations on Thursday morning, but did not have the opportunity to speak with him, just walked by. But he planned a press conference for Friday.
Some countries boycotted the participation and did not come, the Czech Republic, on the other hand, chose “just” not to be in the hall during Lavrov’s speech. Did you feel any (your inner) conflict about it on the spot?
I personally understand both camps. Whether people like it or not, the fact is that Russia is a member of the OSCE and its presence was essentially a barter for the organization to continue to function. The ministers who came to Skopje could at least confront him with the fact that he does not follow the principles of the organization he is a part of.
You can find Teresa’s texts from her travels below:
Of course, it is also a reality that Russia is the aggressor. His membership in the body that deals with security in Europe is, at the very least, bizarre at a time when he has been waging a war with Ukraine, which he himself started, for more than a year and a half. So I completely understand the ministers who did not come, because they do not intend to sit at the same table with someone like that.
How are the trips you accompany Czech politicians different from the ones you plan yourself? And which do you prefer?
Trips with politicians usually have a clearly defined scenario and schedule, which the journalist cannot influence. So everything revolves around what is happening on the spot, and the topics are mostly closely related to the reason for the trip.
On the other hand, when we go alone, we have a freer hand in this. We can travel where we need to, plan various unrelated topics and not be bound by someone else’s set transfer or departure time.
This is probably also why I prefer this second type of journey. Of course, the trip with the minister also has something in it, especially when it is interesting, as Brussels and Skopje were right now.
How is the preparation for such government trips?
As for the one that I have completed now, the most time was probably spent describing the various delegations whose ministers I tried to get for an interview. These meetings are a great opportunity to reach someone who would not have connected with me online.
In the end, it was lucky with Estonia, whose role was particularly interesting in connection with the OSCE. Margus Tsahkna was one of those who decided not to go to Skopje, and Russia also blocked the country’s presidency of the organization for 2024 for several years. In the end, the Russians even got their way and Malta takes over the baton next year.
Otherwise, the interview was very nice and carried on in a nice spirit. Before we got to the meeting room, where we had time to record, he even showed me a photo of Minister Lipavský that he had taken in Brussels when he was surrounded by Czech journalists.
And how is the journey itself? How many other journalists from the Czech Republic went and how did you work there?
This time there were only two of us in the press entourage, a colleague from Politika (not only) for young people joined me. In Brussels, for example, there are permanent correspondents of some media who met us on the spot, so for a while the number increased a bit.
As for the conditions, it depends on the location. Skopje had a bit of a wobble with organization, so if I had to choose where we had a better time as journalists, it would definitely be Brussels. However, it cannot be completely compared, in NATO they are used to the media and they have rooms equipped for them with everything. It was a one-time challenge for North Macedonia.
The atmosphere was otherwise great, both within the delegation and in general.
Different region, different manners. Did you encounter any weirdness on this trip?
The only thing that comes to mind is the lunch we had in Skopje. It is somewhat related to the organization I mentioned earlier. They didn’t quite manage to coordinate the times, and when hungry journalists flocked to their hall, there were only leftovers from the delegations and replenishment of the buffet was quite slow. A lot of people were talking about ham and cheese.
You mentioned that the interview with Margus Tsahkna was in a “nice spirit”. Do you remember an interview when the respondent took a surprising attitude towards you as a journalist?
I have to say that so far I have been lucky mainly with super respondents. But I could mention, for example, the meeting with Sir Geoffrey Nice, that is rather laughable today. It was my first major interview and it was about the war in Yugoslavia, as Nice worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic. Sometimes our roles were rather reversed and he asked me what I should know.
However, it once happened to me that an unnamed diplomat was quite (and perhaps unpleasantly) surprised that such a young person had been sent to him for an interview. It was just my impression and I could be wrong, but it shouldn’t happen that young journalists take this away from the meeting.
As a young journalist, you could boast that you recently received a grant from the BIRN Reporting Democracy Travel & Reporting program. What was it about?
It is a grant that is awarded to only five journalists from Central Europe per year and which allows journalists to travel to the Balkans – the journalist already proposes his own trip within the region in the application. Thanks to this support, I was able to spend two weeks in Serbia and Kosovo and compare with my own eyes how these two states are developing, and subsequently write several report articles about it.
It is interesting that as soon as you cross the border from Serbia to Kosovo, you immediately recognize the difference – Kosovo is trying to go in a modern direction, a lot of construction is going on there. And I noticed, for example, that although Serbia is generally attributed with an anti-Western mindset, many people, at least those I have met, are not anti-European.
The Balkans in general is a very remarkable region with a lot to offer, and I regret that we don’t perhaps pay more attention to it in schools. So I can recommend everyone to go to Serbia and Kosovo in person and see those countries with your own eyes.