Interview about the show in North Korea
Tomas, your participation at the exhibition in North-Korea evoked a lot of controversial response. What is your view on the issue? Here you can read the answer to this question and more.
"In the first place I feel really bad that everything got so out of hand. I was in North-Korea for 10 days and I had no idea what had happened. I didn't have access to my email, nor could I use my phone. Only when I came back to Toronto I found out what had happened and what people wrote back home in the Czech republic. The Exhibition in North-Korea takes place every year and this year was the 20th edition of this show. Last time I was there was 10 years ago. High ranked skaters skate there constantly, because figure skating is a very popular sport in Asia. This year for example Surya Bonaly skated there, as well as other figure skaters from France and Russia. In the past it was a competition they held, now it's a series of 3 exhibitions in a row and it's called the "Pektusan prize international figure skating festival."The exhibitions were open to the general public; there were even foreigners now living in North-Korea and 2 Czech flags were visible in the arena. Of course we noticed that they were celebrating the birthday of Kim Jong-Il in the country, but for sure he wasn't present at the exhibition and no one asked us to comment regarding that subject or take pictures with anyone. The invitation we got was an invitation to an exhibition that has a tradition of 20-years and which always has a high standard line-up. It did not appear like an invitation to some exhibition with a political context at all. I do realize that the media can misunderstand our participation in the show. "
Why did you decide to accept the invitation to the Exhibition in North-Korea?
I accept a lot of invitations to exhibitions, together with the funding I get from my sponsors, it helps me to cover the expenses for my training. Though of course the important competitions like the European and World championships come first. Financially the offer from North-Korea wasn't that exceptional, but it didn't collide with any of the important competitions and besides that I decided to go there because my girlfriend Nathalie Pechalat (French ice-dancer) would skate there too. Unfortunately I underestimated the consequences of this decision and the perception of others.
Would you have done something different now that you know what it has caused?
Of course I learned something for next time. I will have to take things more into consideration and not look at it just from sports point of view when I go somewhere. Although figure skating is very popular in Asia (China, North-Korea, South-Korea, Japan) In the future I will even take political and cultural questions into account. When I look back on it now I realize that people can take my participation in the show in North-Korea negatively. Therefor I would like to emphasize again that I did not want to promote nor support the North-Korean regime. I am also aware of the fact that as an athlete I represent the Czech Republic and I will consider my participation in events more carefully than before.
What does the reality look like in North-Korea? What did you do in the country?
I do not exaggerate when I say that everything looks gray; I see no color. Ten years ago I was looking at the world through different eyes, now I was looking for a sign of free will, a difference in expression. It's hard to tell who is really a soldier marching the streets or who is just a regular civilian, trying to blend in with the current population. Everything looks the same; gray and shabby.The show itself was very well prepared. We were training for the show during the training of local skaters. We taught some local children the basics of figure skating and I could feel their joy while we did that. Everyone was very nice to us, usually it's not allowed for foreign people to communicate with people on the street. I really hope that the situation there will change. These children we spent some time with the past few days, plus all other children in North-Korea deserve a better future.