THOMAS G: MASARYK AND THE CROATS*
Veritas liberabit vos
Tomaš G. Masaryk (1850-1937) was a very influential theoretician of the history of his country. He was partly successful in turning the Czechs away from romantic nationalism and in giving them a new ideology with roots in their own past.
In books such as The Meaning of Czech History (Česka otazka 1895), Jan Hus (1896), and Karel Havliček (1896), he outlined his philosophy of Czech history: for him the Hussite era was the pinnacle of the Czech past, and the Bohemian Brethren were the finest embodiment of the ideal of humanity. He considered the Czech national revival at the beginning of the nineteenth century a direct continuation of the Czech Reformation, and the modern Czech democracy the fulfilment of the Hussite tradition.
Masaryk, who began his career as professor of philosophy at Prague University by attacking the authenticity of the so-called Old Czech Manuscripts (forged chiefly by a poet Vaclav Hanka) and was effective (together with others) in demolishing this myth, in the process of time, when he became a politician and national leader, created many myths of his own!
To prove this point I will adduce the opinion of some respected Czech scholars.
Josef Kaizl (1854-1901), a former colleague of Masaryk in the Young Czech party, in his book Czech Thought (Česke myšlenky 1896), challenged Masaryk's views of Czech history. He argued that the Czech question was a national, not a religious problem. He emphasized that the "awakeners" of the early nineteenth century were liberals in the tradition of the French Enlightenment and not that of the Reformation. Even those who were Protestants (e.g. Jan Kollar, František Palacky and Pavel J. Šafarik) did not draw upon the Czech protestant tradition; they looked at the revival only in national and social terms.
From professional historians came even more serious objections to Masaryk's interpretations. One of the better known scholars, on account of his immense erudition, was Josef Pekař (1870-1937), who in his booklet Masaryk's Czech Philosophy (Masarykova česka filosofie, 1912; third edition, 1927) argued that the Czech national awakening was different from the Czech Reformation, that the ideal of humanity enunciated by Herder and accepted by František Palacky (1779-1876), the "father" of Czech historiography, had nothing to do with the Christian beliefs either of the Hussites or the Bohemian Brethren. Pekař regarded the Hussites as "enthusiasts", who, for the sake of their debatable opinions, went gladly to their death. He quoted Palacky who had written that during the Reformation the idea of faith and church was of the greatest significance, while for his contemporaries the most important concept was that of Czech nation. Pekař pointed out that Masaryk's beloved Hussites had accepted the feudal order and did not demand the emancipation of the serfs. Further, he denied that the outcome of the battle of the White Mountain (1620) should be explained by the moral decay of the Czech nation. Pekař repudiated Masaryk's philosophy of history as an artificial fabrication without support in reality and even in collision with it. Pekař concluded his attack against Masaryk's philosophy of the Czech nation by saying that he felt obliged to oppose Masaryk's mystical ideology and national mythology.
René Wellek (1903- ), one of the most competent critics of Masaryk's philosophy, who has remained a devoted admirer of the former Czech president, recognizes, however, that "Masaryk was not and did not pretend to be a professional historian doing research in archives ... Masaryk scarcely makes an effort to enter into the minds of bygone people, to reconstruct their outlook in its historical setting, for he does not care for the past in itself but mainly for the consciousness and conscience of his contemporaries and their descendants. The past for Masaryk must stay alive to shape the future".
The persistent theme of Masaryk's exhortations to his countrymen was that they should not be apathetic, that they should work and prove assiduous even in petty daily duties. He encouraged them to make their way in the contemporary world using both their muscles and brain.
Complete article: http://www.studiacroatica.org/jcs/28/2805.htm
Journal of Croatian Studies, XXVIII-XXIX, 1987-88 Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.