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In Czech Republic, Some Hope a Trump Could Bring Star Power


Ivana and Donald J. Trump in 1989. Credit Swerzey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To many in the Czech Republic, she is celebrated as a local girl who went on to achieve global celebrity. Now Ivana Trump, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s first wife, says she wants to become ambassador to the Czech Republic, leading some in her homeland to hope that she can inject some glamour into the central European country and burnish its global image.

Speculation about whether Ms. Trump, 67, could become America’s top diplomat in Prague has been swirling in the Czech Republic since she told The New York Post that she would be well-suited for the job.

“I will suggest that I be ambassador for the Czech Republic,” Ms. Trump told the Post in an interview published over the weekend, noting that she was fluent in Czech and had a high profile in the country of her birth. “I’m known by the name Ivana. I really did not need the name Trump.”

If she were to become ambassador, Ms. Trump would not be the first celebrity to hold the post. Shirley Temple Black, the child star turned diplomat, was appointed ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989 by President George Bush. Her championing of the country before and after the fall of communism won her ardent admiration.

Yet Mrs. Black had experience in the world of diplomacy — she was the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976. Ms. Trump’s career has centered largely on fashion, writing and business.

To the president-elect, Ms. Trump is, among other things, the mother of three of his grown children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — who have been helping with his transition to the White House and will manage his businesses while he runs the country.

But in the Czech Republic, Ms. Trump, a former model, is perhaps best known as a native of the city of Zlin, in Moravia. Among her supporters is her mother, Marie Zelnickova, who still lives in Zlin. She recently praised her former son-in-law, telling Mladá fronta, a leading newspaper, that “Donik is the nicest person in the world.”

The Czech Republic has been seeking to raise its international profile amid annoyance that foreigners consistently confuse the country with its predecessor, Czechoslovakia, or erroneously conflate it with Chechnya. In April, Czech leaders proposed calling the country Czechia, in hopes that the pithier one-word name would more easily roll off the tongue.

Ms. Trump, a socialite, author and businesswoman, born Zelnickova, coined the term “The Donald,” and some Czech diplomats hope that, if appointed, she would embrace her country’s new three-syllable name. She married Mr. Trump, who was her second husband, in 1977. (She has had four.)

Ms. Trump, who left Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and became an American citizen in the late 1980s, has worked in Mr. Trump’s business empire and also appeared on “Celebrity Big Brother” in 2010. Despite an acrimonious divorce from Mr. Trump in the early 1990s, she has since expressed unstinting support for her former husband.

While her stance on foreign policy is not widely known, she revealed some of her political instincts by praising the immigrants her ex-husband has spent the last year and a half bashing.

“We do need the immigrants,” she told the Post. “They are fantastic. I actually had an Arabic woman wearing the scarf working for me for five years, and then she moved to Texas. She was wearing the head scarf and I said, ‘I really don’t care. As long as she’s doing a good job and in the country legally and is paying the taxes and speaks a little bit of the English.’”

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Czech Republic, a social democrat, welcomed the prospect of Ms. Trump’s becoming the ambassador, saying she could help solidify relations between the Czech Republic and the United States by providing a close connection to the future president. “If Ivana feels up for it and decides to do so, it would be a nice way to underline the link between the Czech Republic and Trump,” he told Czech Radio.

He added that there was a long history of the United States appointing ambassadors from outside the world of diplomacy and alluded to the current ambassador, Andrew H. Schapiro, a lawyer who was a classmate of President Obama’s at Harvard Law School.

After Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Sobotka noted wryly on Twitter that “Trump, unlike some of his predecessors, at least knows where the Czech Republic is located.”

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump questioned whether the United States should commit to defending NATO countries that failed to hold up their end in funding the alliance, sending chills through Eastern and Central Europe. But the Czech president, Milos Zeman, an outspoken populist who has railed against immigration and has been cultivating closer ties with Moscow, enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Trump for president.

Mr. Zeman’s spokesman, Jiri Ovcacek, said in an interview that the appointment of Ms. Trump as ambassador “would be an extraordinary confirmation of our alliance and friendly relations with the U.S.”

Not everyone is convinced. David Cerny, an influential Czech artist, called the idea of appointing Ms. Trump as ambassador a “joke.”

“It is a nightmare, what else could it be?” he asked. “After the disaster of having Hillary Clinton as a Democratic candidate, helped by the fact she was the wife of a former president, do we really need an ambassador whose main qualification is having been married to Donald Trump and being a good skier?”

Nevertheless, Erik Best, an American commentator who has lived in the Czech Republic for 25 years, said that appointing Ms. Trump could help thaw the frosty relations between Mr. Schapiro and Mr. Zeman. “Ivana Trump is well-spoken and, like Shirley Temple Black, she is seen as someone who could bring star power to the country,” Mr. Best said.

Petr Kolar, a former Czech ambassador to the United States and Russia, said Czechs should temper their expectations. “Even if Donald Trump sent Mickey Mouse to Prague, it is his solemn right as well as his responsibility and we should respect it,” he said. “It is important not to have exaggerated expectations.”

Ms. Trump, for her part, told The New York Post that she had no regrets over not becoming first lady, and that her townhouse in New York, and Trump Tower, were “much better than the White House.”

She further suggested that the president-elect could turn his private jet into Air Force One, and said she did not expect Mr. Trump to “do gold leafing in the White House.”

Source: NYT > World

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