Book-lift begun to meet prime need of Czechs

December 02, 1990|By Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON -- Czech readers will soon pore over previously banned texts, ranging from treatises on democracy to "Huckleberry Finn."

More than 25,000 books arrived in Prague from the United States last month, the first shipment of a million-count book drive whose contributors include U.S. libraries, universities and individuals.

This is the first operating project for Czechoslovakia made possible by the Prague Spring Foundation, an organization started by a California real estate developer, an airline flight attendant and a marketing agent for a natural-foods company.

The book drive began after flight attendant Terri New found herself in Prague last year. When Czechs were asked what the country needed most, she said, "The answer wasn't development loans or consumer goods or advisers -- it was books."

To help Ms. New meet her goal of 1 million books, her employer, Continental Airlines, donated flights and granted her temporary paid leave to work on the drive. She is currently working out wish-lists with Czech law schools, city libraries, reading rooms and elementary schools.

Packages have been streaming in from Americans ranging from a librarian in Kansas who fondly recalls a trip to Czechoslovakia to lawyers from big-city firms. Noted writers, such as William Styron and Edward Albee, donated copies of their works, with personal inscriptions.

In the past year, Ms. New joined forces with former marketer Patrick Cunningham and California developer Dan Zemanek, who have since developed other projects for Czechoslovakia. They hope the book-lift will draw attention to the country's simple, everyday needs and the foundation's capacity to help address them.

The foundation is planning an internship to bring young Czech professionals to U.S. plants and offices, as well as student exchanges. To spur interest in Czech investments, it will host seminars on business opportunities in Czechoslovakia, says Mr. Cunningham, director of the Prague Spring Foundation.

Miloslav Chrobok, charge d'affaires at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Washington, says the chaos of his country in transition from communism to democracy has made it difficult for would-be U.S. donors to connect with appropriate recipients. Groups such as the Prague Spring Foundation help to coordinate efforts that might otherwise be lost, he said.

"The fault is with us," he said. "But we are anxious for help from all groups, including churches and writers. Anything offered is needed."

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