Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Masaryk is one of the key figures of modern Czech history. Nowadays, he is virtually Czech statehood personified.
* 1850 Hodonín
† 1937 Lány
A remarkable man, who at the ripe age of 65 pursued the seemingly impossible: his believed the Czechs and Slovaks deserved a sovereign democratic State and strove to make it happen. He had embarked on a very onerous task, however – against the backdrop of the ‘Great War’ to address the US, the UK, France, Russia and Italy, to convince the decision-makers among the Entente powers. This tricky task was not one for himself alone; he gathered together several colleagues, who acted with him concertedly and patiently between 1914-1918. At last, the incredible came to pass, and on 28 October 1918 the Czechoslovak Republic was declared, in Prague.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was never just a politician, but always took a keen interested in public affairs. During his time in the Imperial Parliament he first pushed for autonomy of the Czech Lands within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When he realized the Vienna Government would never accept the idea, he went into opposition. On the brink of the First World War he radically overhauled his approach and its opinion and decided to initiate the formation of an independent State.
In December 1914 he worked abroad, seeking support for the project, which he clearly laid out on 6 July 1915 in Geneva. He resided for many months in London, focused primarily on getting the support of English-speaking countries and the formation of Czechoslovak troops abroad, the Czechoslovak Legion. In February 1916 he took part in the foundation of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris. This was to form the provisional Government of the prospective State. Once he got the Legion established in Russia, he left for the USA, where on 18 October 1918 he issued the so-called Washington Declaration – on the independence of the Czechoslovak nation.
On 14 November 1918 and then again in the years 1920, 1927 and 1934, he became Czechoslovak President. Although his actual presidential powers were very limited, his natural authority and non-partisan approach allowed him to win mutual respect and the cooperation of otherwise die-hard rivals.
His lifelong love was the educated, emancipated, naturally confident and tolerant American, Charlotte Garrigue. He took his wife’s name as part of his own surname, clearly reflecting Masaryk’s stance on the relationship between men and women. “Woman is Man’s absolute equal, with just a physical difference: she is the weaker.”