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Czech journalists offer their take on polarized, often confusing America

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Czech journalists offer their take on polarized, often confusing America
Two Washington-based Czech journalists, David Mirejovsky and Jan Kaliba, share their impressions of the United States during a March 22 event at the Czech Embassy. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

David Mirejovsky and Jan Kaliba have covered it all—from the chaotic US presidential election of 2020 to the 17-year life cycle of cicadas.

Mirejovsky, 40, has reported from the United States since 2018 for Czech Television’s Foreign Desk. Kaliba, 38, has been a foreign correspondent for Czech Radio since 2017. Both men, who are wrapping up their assignments here, recently took time out to share their experiences with an enthusiastic audience at the Czech Embassy.

The March 22 event, “America Through the Eyes of Czech Foreign Correspondents,” attracted 70 people and was moderated by the embassy’s cultural attaché, Jan Woska.

Kaliba, a veteran sports reporter, said he’s found chatting up ordinary Americans on the street about issues of the day far more rewarding than “pursuing interviews with athletes who are guarded by the public relations apparatus of their clubs.”

“Our job is to explain how people in America are thinking, and report it in our language,” said Kaliba. “It’s not enough to report on politics, because anyone in the newsroom in Prague can do the same thing. Our value here is to speak to people and transport their experience via our reportage to a Czech audience.”

Czech TV correspondent David Mirejovsky; Jan Woska, cultural attaché at the Czech Embassy; and Czech radio correspondent Jan Kaliba at a March 22 event at the embassy. (Photos by Mary Fetzko)

Mirejovsky, who previously reported for Czech TV from Russia (2016-17) and Slovakia (2012-16), said Washington exists in “a completely different universe” than Moscow.

“I remember being stuck in a car in downtown Moscow in December 2017 because Putin was leaving the Kremlin. We didn’t make a move. It took us six or seven hours to cover a two-mile distance. They had stopped all the traffic,” he recalled. “And then I came here, and in my first week in the US, I ran into Mike Pence at a Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue. I was shocked.”

Mirejovsky’s father is an American citizen, and he has family in Virginia, “so for me, because of various connections to the US, it was not a new country,” he said. “But still, that surprised me.”

Memorable stories, from the US-Mexico border to rising seas

Since 2002, Mirejovsky has been editor of foreign reporting for Czech TV’s main evening news program, Události, and editor/writer for the interactive show Vedlejší efekty. In addition, he directed a number of short documentaries including Bulgaria on its Way to the EU, Obituary of Lech Kacynski and Yemen: A Forgotten Crisis.

He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Charles University (2002) and a master’s in management and marketing from Tomas Bata University in Zin, Czech Republic.

Czech TV correspondent David Mirejovsky and Jan Woska, cultural attaché at the Czech Embassy.

One of Mirejovsky’s most memorable assignments was reporting from the US-Mexican border, and filming so-called “coyotes” from a distance as they helped undocumented refugees climb over Trump’s controversial new border wall.

“For me, it’s not about reporting from the US or Russia or Slovakia or the Balkans. It’s also not about Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” he said. “It’s about average Americans and their personal stories, and what families are facing and how they’re dealing with it.”

Mirejovsky added: “Whenever I write, I think about my mother, who’s 70 years old, and how I would explain this issue in a way so that people like her would understand.”

Kaliba was a sports reporter and commentator for Czech Radio for 10 years before his current assignment. In that capacity, he covered the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014), the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and various other international sports events. Kaliba is the author of several radio documentaries and an audio book.

Additionally, Kaliba co-founded Football Club, a Czech quarterly magazine focused on soccer culture. He’s won several awards for his work, including the “Novinářská křepelka” award for talented journalists, and twice took first place in the Prix Bohemia Radio for his US reporting. Kaliba has a master’s degree in media studies and journalism from Prague’s Charles University.

Members of the audience listen to Czech journalists talking about their coverage of the United States for their viewers and listeners back home.

For Kaliba, the assignment that most resonates in his mind is when he reported on the impact of climate change on Virginia’s Tangier Island, whose 700 or so residents face an uncertain future due to rising seas in the Chesapeake Bay.

“The community there, which is shrinking, is descended from the original settlers, and you can see the effects of climate change with your own eyes,” he said. “I went with the mayor on his crabbing boat, and he showed me parts of the island that were nearly all underwater. I saw the maps of 150 years ago. There’s an underwater graveyard and you can still read the names on the gravestones, and you knew that people once lived there.”

Covering life outside the Beltway

Asked when he decided to become a reporter, Kaliba replied that he had always played sports, and he also liked reading newspapers—especially stories from abroad.

“At some point, I also wanted to be a social anthropologist, but didn’t have the patience or ability for that,” he said, explaining his decision to go into journalism. “I joke to people that it’s not so demanding that I’d need to actually study it.”

Kaliba said it always surprises him how different political views are outside the Beltway.

Cultural attaché Jan Woska moderates a March 22 panel at the Czech Embassy.

“Drive one hour and you’re in a totally different America. People think so differently than they do in D.C.,” he said. “This is the value of having a permanent correspondent here in the US who travels to places like Alabama and West Virginia, and talks to people on the spot.”

Mirejovsky recalled with humor the day Donald Trump said he wanted to buy Greenland from Denmark—a fun little story that some of Trump’s supporters nevertheless took quite seriously.

“Americans can express themselves very easily—even if their views are strange—which is great for a TV journalist,” he said. “When I was in Russia, I would ask a question and then get an hour-long speech. It was a Dostoyevsky novel, not an answer. Here, if I ask someone, he expresses himself.”

Even during the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising at the Capitol, he recalled, protesters were only too happy to tell Mirejovsky why they were there—and they did so quickly and without rambling.

“My biggest challenge during the 2020 elections was finding somebody who supported Joe Biden because he actually liked Joe Biden—not because he was voting against Donald Trump,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “I finally succeeded in finding someone who was not a Democrat but said, ‘I think Joe Biden is a good man.’”

Larry Luxner

Miami native Larry Luxner, a veteran journalist and photographer, has reported from more than 100 countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for a variety of news outlets. He lived for many years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Washington, D.C., area before relocating to Israel in January 2017. Larry has been news editor of The Washington Diplomat since 2005.