One hundred years ago this autumn, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk stood atop the stairs of Independence Hall in Philadelphia – where both the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were adopted – to proclaim the creation of a new sovereign state, Czechoslovakia. But the seeds of liberty first took firm root in the spring of 1918 with the May 31st signing of the “Pittsburgh Agreement”, a memorandum of understanding between the Czech and Slovak immigrant communities to create an independent republic.
Czechs have only one president instantly recognizable by his initials: TGM for Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He was an icon of the newly-independent Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935. Venerated by most, denigrated only by some, he has always remained a powerful symbol of the Czech democratic state. I recently met with Charlotta Kotik, the great-granddaughter of the first Czechoslovak president, to talk about her family heritage.
Seventy years ago the new Czechoslovak government was fully in the hands of the Communists. After the Stalinist coup d'etat in February 1948, a wave of arrests started and all democratic opposition was suppressed. Unclassified documents of the US Department of State show the degree of naïveté with which the American diplomats and intelligence officers in Prague faced their communist opponents and the subsequent shocking realization that there was nothing they could do.
President Miloš Zeman laid a wreath at the grave of the first president of
Czechoslovakia Tomas Garrigue Masaryk at Lány on Wednesday morning to
commemorate the 168th anniversary of his birth.The acting Prime Minister
Andrej Babiš and the speaker of the Czech Senate, Milan Štěch have also
paid homage to the first Czechoslovak president.
The founder of the Czechoslovak state T. G. Masaryk was born on March 7, 1850 in the South Moravian town of Hodonín and died at the presidential Lány Chateau in 1937.
The official residence of Czech prime ministers, the Kramář Villa overlooks the Vltava from a wonderful vantage point between Prague Castle and Letná Plain. It was built in the 1910s by Karel Kramář, who himself served as the first prime minister of Czechoslovakia following its foundation a century ago this year. However, the politician had already been extremely well-known prior to 1918, guide Irena Saidlová told me at the Kramář Villa.
For around 40 years, so-called Victorious February was sacred for the Czechoslovak communist regime. The period from around February 17 and culminating on February 25 marked the party’s seizure of power when leader Klement Gottwald was finally named as prime minister of a communist dominated government.
On February 25, 1948, the Communist Party seized power in Czechoslovakia, marking the onset of four decades of hard-line, authoritarian rule. The Communist takeover was enabled by the party’s election success in 1946 and the resignation of the government’s remaining democratic ministers in February of 1948. President Edvard Beneš’ decision to confirm the Communists in power rather than dissolve the government and call new elections sealed the country’s fate for decades to come.
A ceremony at Prague Castle on Tuesday evening will launch the celebrations
of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia and 25 years
since the foundation of an independent Czech Republic.
The event at the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle will be attended by a number of political and public figures, including Czech President Miloš Zeman, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Czech president, along with Cardinal Dominik Duka, are set to open an exhibition called ‘Founded 1918 / At the beginning of the statehood’ at Prague Castle’s Imperial Stables, presenting unique documents and other objects relating to the beginning of the Czech State.
Most Czech state arts institutions are this year preparing events and
projects commemorating the centenary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia,
the Czech News Agency reported on Sunday. The government has earmarked CZK
322 million for a special programme that will also mark other significant
anniversaries this year.
The greatest portion of that funding is going to the Ministry of Culture while the biggest single event will be a joint Czech-Slovak exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. After a stint in Bratislava the show will move to the Czech National Museum, which by then will have reopened after major renovations.
Around 170 events are marking the centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 and the foundation of the independent Czech Republic in 1993.
Nominees for the new ANO minority government will lay a wreath at the tomb
of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk at Lány on
Wednesday morning before being appointed later that day, an ANO
spokesperson said. The ministerial candidates will travel by bus to the
presidential retreat, which is near Prague.
The ANO cabinet will be named by President Miloš Zeman a week after the head of state appointed the party’s leader, Andrej Babiš, prime minister. ANO are currently trying to find support or at least tolerance for the party’s minority government, which must undergo a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies.