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Distinguished graduate visits our faculty

Minister of Agriculture and the Environment of the Republic of Cabo Verde Gilberto Silva pleasantly surprises every Czech he meets with his flawless Czech. Not only can you converse with him about politics, but also microbiology or landscape ecology. That’s because Gilberto Silva is a graduate of biological studies at our faculty. During a rare visit to the faculty on May 26th we recorded the following interview.


Minister Silva, welcome back to the faculty where you studied for years. Could you tell us a little about your time here as a student and what your major was?

Altogether I studied at the Faculty of Science for 10 years. My studies at CU FS started in the late ‘80s when this was still the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. At the very beginning I was in Dobruška in East Bohemia where there was a language school to prepare foreigners to study at Charles University. I completed my studies after the revolution; my diploma reads the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. At that time I was studying general biology, with a later specialisation in microbiology.


So you experienced the revolutionary year of 1989 in Prague. Do you remember those days?

Yes, very well. One of the main student leaders, Šimon Pánek, was a classmate of mine. We had a lot of the same classes, such as a group microscope lab for practical botany. I also remember the demonstration on November 17th. It started out as a peaceful student event. I took part in the gathering at Albertov and then went to the dorm on Voršilská ulice where I was living at the time, so I was not there when they clashed with the police.


What was the relationship between Cabo Verde and Czechoslovakia under the communist regime?

At that time our countries were very close to one another. Like the Czechoslovak constitution of that time, our constitution also enshrined one-party rule. And when change swept across the entire socialist world, we also moved towards political pluralism. The first free elections, parliamentary and presidential, were held in Cabo Verde in 1991. Since that time we have had a functioning democracy and are considered to be a good example of democracy in Africa.


Did you bring any experiences from the fall of a one-party state back to your own country?

I certainly had a much better understanding of the entire process. Our first pro-democratic party, like Občanské forum, quickly fell apart. It was really a collection of people whose only common desire was to put an end to one-party rule.  I was prepared for this situation precisely because of my knowledge of the processes that happened here. A lot of things were also affected, not just by the change in politics, but the change in economics and the dynamics of the private sector. In our country the private sector had always existed, but there were also numerous state enterprises that needed to be privatized.


After finishing your studies you came back to the Czech Republic one more time…

After graduating I started working in Cabo Verde in the area of agriculture and the environment. First I was working in a laboratory, then I gradually began to assume administrative functions. Our main focus was the desertification of the environment, which is a real problem in Cabo Verde. Since this issue concerned a large part of the landscape and the environment, I applied to study at the Faculty of Science once more, eight years after finishing up my master’s degree. This time I studied Applied Landscape Ecology at the Institute for Environmental Studies. The supervisor for my dissertation work, which was focused specifically on the problems of Cabo Verde, was professor Karel Pivnička.


Where did you live during your studies?

I lived in three different dorms: Arnošta z Pardubic on Voršilská ulice – that’s where I was the longest. Then there were two years at 17. listopadu in Trója and finally I lived in the Budeč dormitory.


In what way were you able to apply the expertise gained here to your own country?

My basic approach is that a university teaches us how to learn. The basic scientific principles a person masters can be applied everywhere. My dream was to just do science once I returned home. But we are too small a country and I quickly understood that without administration it would not be possible. I started devoting myself to these matters and gradually became more of an administrator. In recent years I have also started to engage in politics, but I am more of a technocrat.


Are you a member of any particular political party?

Yes, I belong to Movimento para Democracia, MpD. This party won the election in 1990 and was the main instigator of the political changes.


Your visit to the Czech Republic is surely more than just ceremonial. What were the specific practical reasons for your trip to Prague? 

I was invited by Minister of Agriculture Marian to attend an international conference titled “Africa as a Partner”. In addition to the conference I also have several meetings, for example with the rector of the Czech Agricultural University, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of the Environment. And I have also met with the Chamber of Commerce and several business people.


Are you planning any personal time during your visit?

Yes, I would like to meet up with a few friends from my student days. My relationship with classmates is solid and long-term. After all, I spent 10 years of my life here and the Czech Republic is basically a second homeland for me. I look forward to the time when I will be able to visit Prague privately.


To conclude our interview I would like to praise your Czech – you really do speak perfectly. 

Thank you. I believe it’s due to two things. First off, you can’t be shy when you start speaking a foreign language. And the second thing is that you have to start thinking in that foreign language. I’ve been here for two days now, and ever since I arrived I’ve been thinking in Czech. It really does help a lot.


interviewer: Michal Andrle

Published: Jun 12, 2017 09:50 AM

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