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President’s Address at the Ceremonial Gathering Marking the 70th Anniversary of the Death of President Masaryk

English Pages, 13. 9. 2007

Distinguished and esteemed guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have come together here to remember that tomorrow 70 years will have elapsed since the death of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a man whose name is indivisibly linked with modern Czech statehood. A man who belongs among the greatest personalities of our history. A man whose legacy is a permanent inspiration for our democracy.

„T. G. Masaryk merited for the state“. These were the words Masaryk’s contemporaries used in a special Act adopted by the National Assembly at the occasion of Masaryk’s 80th birthday in 1930 to assess our first president’s merit. We, too, profess these words for they articulate the credit of the man who in the critical point of our history did not hesitate to launch a seemingly hopeless struggle for national and democratic ideals, who was able to persevere in this battle and to become the head of the newly established Czechoslovak state, the creator and symbol of its democracy.

There is not enough room and time here for critical analysis of Masaryk’s personality and heritage. There will be surely other, more suitable occasions. I would only like to remember what is so positive, inspiring and exceptional. Masaryk-politician grew from Masaryk-scientist, pedagogue and humanistic thinker. With all his life he was a role model of purposeful, industrious and practical activity, critical thinking and public involvement. It was his own diligence that gained him education crowned with a doctorate degree in philosophy from Vienna University. He was open to the world and new ideas and had the ability to relate to people abroad and maintain these contacts. He rejected a promising scientific career abroad in favour of a post at the Czech branch of Charles University that was just being established. His marriage with the American Charlotta Garrigue provided him with contacts in and permanent ties with the United States and the Anglo-Saxon world as such. It was all unique in the then Czech, rather provincial, surroundings and it is also part of Masaryk’s heritage.

Throughout his life he was a conscious Czech patriot. His concept of patriotism is an inspiration even today, when we live in the era with prevailing opinions, attitudes and policies that at the first sight seem to be refuting his beliefs and endeavours.

We do know he rejected nationalist intolerance and populist nationalism prevailing in those days in our lands, in Austria and in Europe. His patriotism was positive, it was not directed against anyone. He strived to uplift the nation on the basis of hard work and truth, in the spirit of his own creed: “Nothing is great that is not true”. He despised empty populist patriotism. He would not accept the possibility of getting fooled by falsified legends about our own historical greatness. He criticised the clamorous anti-German sentiments that in fact masked considerable national complex. His endeavour to uplift the nation was based on his trust in man and his freedom and on his confidence in positive effects of open and liberal environment. We shall certainly agree with him in this as well.

He was a political realist not only by the name of the party he co-founded. He strived for politics based on firm moral principles, on knowledge and truth and he did not hesitate to defend them openly and courageously disregard personal risks. He was able to oppose anti-Semitic hysteria in the Hilsner affair, which may seem natural to us today, yet we cannot imagine the one sided character of the media and social atmosphere of the time. He got involved in the movement against the Austrian persecution of Southern Slavs as well as against the Austro-Hungarian foreign policy that was succumbing more and more to Germany. He rejected the illusions cherished by the Czech society whether it was the issue of so called “Manusctripts”, naïve and indiscriminate Russo-philia or Marxism.

He was not a born revolutionary. He believed in the possibility of reforming the society through moral self-improvement of individuals and of changing the circumstances in Austro-Hungarian Empire through political reforms. That is why he was a deputy in the Vienna Parliament till the beginning of World War I.

The break out of World War I. and the Austrian and German policy forced him to reconsider his position. At the age of 64 he was not afraid to transform his critical, yet loyal attitude, to that of an initiator of radical changes. He opted for emigration and devoted his entire energies to the struggle for an independent Czechoslovak state. He proved to be an extremely skilful and consistent politician and diplomat. He gained support of Triple Entente for his idea, succeeded in winning the ex-patriots as well as the authority and support on the domestic scene. His plans were facilitated also by the formation of legions that helped the newly established Czechoslovak Republic to take place alongside the war victors.

He put his newly gained status and position in the service of strengthening the democratic character of our country. As the head of the state Masaryk was not politically neutral. He maintained his firm opinions and knew how to enforce them skilfully and effectively on the political scene as well as in the society at large. He was close to humanistic socialism and understood the importance of social issues for the development of the society. Yet, he understood very well the dangers of communism, which had just triumphed in Russia and was seizing the minds of large groups of people in Europe at that time.

The first republic was far from the ideal as it may seem today, from the distance of many decades. It existed in a restless and stormy period between the two wars, marked by great economic crisis, social conflicts and the advent of Nazism. Even though it was established in response to the unruly and conflicting nationalist circumstances in the former monarchy, the country had not succeeded in overcoming the nationalist problems. The attitude towards the German citizens and the Slovak question became issues the subsequent solutions of which substantially affected also our current situation. Neither the political, parliamentary nor party systems were as open as they are today.

Despite of that the first Czechoslovak Republic provided all the nations on its territory with a chance to coexist in liberal and democratic environment and with a possibility to develop their national life under the conditions incomparable with the conditions in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire or under the following totalitarian regimes. It enabled the Slovaks to complete their national revival and become a modern nation with their own intelligentsia and broad culture. Even our then German compatriots, most of whom had emotional difficulties in accepting the inception of Czechoslovakia, lived in evidently more liberal environment compared to the German Weimar Republic or disorderly conditions in Austria.

Masaryk’s humanistic ideals, his authority of a scientist, philosopher and intellectual, his international renown of a democratic statesman, all that was giving the leading post of the new state an authority which contributed to the fact that Czechoslovakia was the most stable and democratic of all successor countries.

From our contemporary point of view Masaryk was in many ways a modern politician. He drew on his modest origins and he was not ashamed of them. He understood well his fellow citizens. He understood the importance of publicizing his political attitudes. Masaryk a journalist and Masaryk a politician are indivisible. Even as a president he would join, often under assumed names, public media polemics. He was one of the first to understand the role of a politician’s image and he was very skilful and clever in devising it. He knew our country and the life of the people and he permanently maintained contact with them. Rememberences of his visits can still be found in many of our towns and villages.

Nowadays Europe seems to be dominated by attempts for the fastest possible unification of the continent. Here, too, Masaryk may serve as an inspiration. Still, we should study him very carefully. We should try to understand the reasons that in his time discredited the possible coexistence of nations of the Hapsburg monarchy and that made Masaryk launch his radical political campaign. We should learn our lessons from the past and – in our own interest and in the interest of Europe – prevent the repetition of the phenomena that Masaryk so clairvoyantly fought against.

We should, however, study Masaryk and his works not only at the time of his anniversaries. President Masaryk bequeathed to us a state that we love, acknowledge and that we want to go on building and developing, not only for the sake of Masaryk’s memory. In this task Tomas Garrigue Masaryk serves as inspiration to us. Today, too, he is our contemporary.

Václav Klaus, Prague Castle, Spanish Hall, September 13th, 2007


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