English Pages, 23. 7. 2008
On October 28th this year, we will remember the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of the independent Republic of Czechoslovakia. The most important public holiday of our country is always an opportunity to think about our recent history and current orientation. This year is no exception. The birth of the Republic of Czechoslovakia and the restoration of its independence after many centuries in which the country was a part of the Habsburg Empire was the first and essential prerequisite of our future free development. The relatively quick and smooth takeover of power in 1918 and the next twenty years were a success.
The unquestionable symbol of the birth of our free and democratic republic is President T. G. Masaryk. A former university professor, he emigrated at the age of 64 as the leader of a small political party and achieved what many thought almost impossible. The civilian with “humanitarian ideals”, who had always believed that wars were an anachronism of the barbarian past, found enough determination to bring off revolutionary and constructive actions. He managed to turn the political attention of the world to the birth of the independent Czechoslovakia.
We could say today that the future president T. G. Masaryk became the Commander-in-Chief of the “Czechoslovak troops” there and then. He not only devoted a lot of time-consuming, travel-burdened, yet regular and concentrated attention to the formation of legions from ranks of Czech and Slovak prisoners of war and later to their valiant performance in the Battle of Zborov and other fights on the side of the Entente.
The extraordinary moments of our history were followed by ordinary days, with many different problems. The political developments in Bohemia and Slovakia were following divergent courses; the problematic nature of the idea of a united “Czechoslovak” nation was overlooked or underestimated; the influence of the revolution in Russia was also misinterpreted, as many of us can remember from their school days (as if the republic would not have been born without it).
The world in 1918 was indisputably different from that before the war. When looking for a suitable model of a national and democratic army, our country was drawing mainly from French experience, which was a valuable contribution to the process of building the Czechoslovak armed forces, one that the army of the First Republic could hardly have done without. Let us not forget that the first Chief of Staff of the Czechoslovak Army was an experienced French officer, General Maurice Pellé, who participated in the organization of the Ministry of Defence, was at the cradle of the military educational and school system, helped promote the introduction of conscription and, last but not least, arranged the necessary know-how and expertise for the new corps of officers of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
Thanks to Maurice Pellé and the high level of professionalism, expertise and patriotism of our officers and soldiers and our highly developed defence industry, the army of the First Republic was a first-class fighting corps, with deeply imbued determination to defend the motherland against increasingly imminent threats, coming mainly from the Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In spite of its readiness and high morale, the army, as a result of the Munich Agreement, could not fulfil its duty. Our soldiers thus became involved in combat actions of WW2 only as a part of armies of the anti-Hitler coalition. Their heroism and combat skills contributed to the ultimate victory and liberation of our country.
All these and other historical connections and implications are a permanent and lasting part of our historical memory and traditions of today’s military professionals. Citizens and soldiers of our army were fighting and dying in the global war conflict – on the banks of the Ondava River, over the Atlantic Ocean, at Sokolovo and Tobruk, over Normandy, in the Carpathian Mountains and Savoy Alps, and in many other places in Europe and overseas, sacrificing their lives for the country we all now live in.
However, there has been a different kind of experience as well, experience with forty years of a totalitarian rule during which the power was usurped by a single party and a single ideology. On the other hand, however, we have had almost two decades of freedom. Although Europe is presently our most natural cultural and civilization background, no less important is our transatlantic partnership within the North Atlantic Alliance and our relations with the United States, the country which manifests both its resolve to face today’s threats and challenges and its ability to stand up to its extraordinarily important status of the world’s number one democratic power. I would wish we would flesh out the partnership with tangible deeds and contribute our capabilities to the elimination of the threats.
Soldiers of the Czech professional army have already been doing this, and I am pleased they do. The present Army of the Czech Republic is a modern, mobile force, capable of responding to threats and challenges of today’s world in a flexible manner, and has repeatedly manifested its capabilities particularly in foreign missions, in the Balkans, Afghanistan or Iraq.
At the time we live in, our soldiers are not an isolated and hostile force unknown to their fellow-citizens. The public is kept informed about their dedicated work, and the recent casualties sustained in deployed missions have shown that our people react to every heroic death of our soldiers with deep emotions and sympathies.
I firmly believe that the men and women serving in the Army of the Czech Republic are professionally skilled, confident citizens who are not indifferent to our country’s history in the past ninety years and who also care about the world’s fate in the decades to come.
Václav Klaus, The President of the Czech Republic
(Czech Armed Forces Review magazine, published by Ministry of Defence)
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