Sunday, 12 May 2013

An idealist who lived his ideals

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was the President of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935, during which time he was reelected three times and only resigned in 1935 due to his old age and poor health.

He was born as Tomas Masaryk in 1850, and when he married in 1878 to an American woman Charlotte Garrigue as well as she taking his last name as was customary, he also adopted her last name and became Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. This can be viewed in two ways; a romantic act of devotion to his new wife, but also as a symbol of a belief in gender equality. From learning about the history of Czechoslovakia, this act is not so surprising as there does not seem to be as strong a prejudice against women that is found in more Western countries; all women of Czechoslovakia got the right to vote in 1918 which was two years before American women and ten years before British women. Tomas had been raised as a Catholic believer, later in life converted to being a Protestant Unitarian; the same religion of his wife Charlotte. The couple had five children together; sons Jan and Herbert, and daughters Alice, Anna and Olga.

Tomas Masaryk is most prominently remembered for being the founder of Czechoslovakia who first came to public notice due to his championing for justice.  In 1899 Masaryk bravely denounced anti-Semitism in the famous murder case of Leopold Hilsner whose trial revived the myth of Jewish ritual sacrifice. Again in 1909, Tomas Masaryk defended a group of Croat nationalist leaders in a treason trial by proving that the Austrian Foreign Ministry had forged the evidence used against them. Masaryk made a name for himself as a man who stood by his principles and fought for justice even though popular opinion was strongly against him - his countrymen disliked him as Masaryk was showing the people how corruption was playing a large role in the law and government. Masaryk had Humanist ideals and held a strong belief in social reform; something which would lead to Czech independence.

In 1914 when the First World War broke out, as a prominent politician Tomas was sent into exile and started campaigning for his idea that it would be in the people's best interests if there were to be a separate country for Czechs and Slovaks away from the Austria-Hungary empire to help the oppressed people. In his travels across the globe, Tomas gathered the support of Czech and Slovak citizens living abroad, wrote numerous articles and gave speeches and also established a Czechoslovak army - Czech Legions - which served on the side of the Allies in WWI. In 1916 Tomas went to Paris to argue his case to the French government, then Russia and then in 1918 he went to America and managed to gain the support of President Woodrow Wilson. The Austria-Hungary empire fell in 1918 and on November 14th Tomas Masaryk was elected as the President of the Czechoslovak Republic, and then further reelected in 1920, 1927 and 1934.

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