March 7th is Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Day in the Czech Republic. It's a day which marks the birthday of Czechoslovakia's first president, and gives many a chance to remember his role in this country's history.
At the height of his popularity in the interwar era, he was called 'Taticek Masaryk,' or daddy Masaryk. The father and first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was born on March 7th, 1850—that is, 156 years ago. Given his important historical role, the Czech Republic recognizes March 7th as Tomas G. Masaryk Day. I asked Dr. Marie Neudorflova from Prague's Masaryk Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic to evaluate whether Czechs seem interested in Tomas Masaryk today:
"I think that the interest of the public in Masaryk is growing, especially among young people. For example, I teach Masaryk at some universities and I can see that the interest of young people is really growing. They felt some emptiness or some gaps as to their collective identity, and Masaryk is of course extremely important in this respect."
As interest in Masaryk in the Czech Republic grows, the first president's connections to America also shouldn't be forgotten. Dr. Jiri Kovtun, a long-established scholar and specialist on Czechoslovakia's first president, was for many years the anchor of the Slavic Division at the Library of Congress. Now retired, I spoke to Dr. Kovtun by phone in Washington, D.C., and asked him about President Masaryk's legacy for Czechs and Slovaks in the United States:
"Masaryk is certainly a major figure for the people of Czech and Slovak descent in America. The tradition of his relationship with America has been quite old, as you know; his wife was an American lady, he visited the United States before the First World War four times, and during the war and before the end of WWI his relationship with President Wilson was very friendly and also very fruitful. He may well be considered the man who in some way influenced several of the decisions which Wilson had made before the end of the war, and also his decision to participate in the final solution of the problem at the peace conference in Paris."
You yourself have written many articles and books about Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. What would you say is his most important political legacy for the Czech Republic today?
"Well of course the most important word that comes to your mind is democracy. To be specific, we can always learn from Masaryk about the real content of democracy. I would say that the first element of it in Masaryk's eyes was work, a decent effort to do something not only for yourself, but for your country, for the society, and something useful. The second important element would be to be a good man—good morality. Be good to your neighbours, to your family, be good to your nation. Which means you should love, but not in a sentimental way—you should love in a very practical way. You should do something for the other person."