Is a president allowed to slouch?

Foto: ČTK

Last weekend Czechs marked the 160th anniversary of the birth of the co-founder of Czechoslovakia and the country’s first president T.G. Masaryk. Although Czechs fondly refer to him as “tatíček Masaryk” or papa Masaryk, there is no doubt at all that they have enormous respect for the statesman and philosopher who in 1918 laid the founding stone of a new state and gave Czechs and Slovaks their first lessons in democracy.

There is probably no one that Czechs revere as much as they do their first leader. On the 160th anniversary of his birth there seemed to be general consensus about the need to make this icon more human. An exhibition that opened at Prague Castle was intended to portray Masaryk not just as a great leader but as a man of flesh and blood, someone who wrote amusing letters, griped, cracked jokes and was not ashamed to take his wife’s name as a show of respect at a time when such a thing was unheard of. A TV documentary showed footage of the president playing with his grandchildren in the garden, his head stuck down a hole to try and fish out some toy they had dropped.

Photo: CTK
And, even the first ever equestrian statue of President Masaryk, unveiled outside his museum in the town of Hodonín – his birthplace –turned out to be more than informal. Masaryk was an excellent rider, often seen on a horse, straight-backed and dignified. His statue caused consternation among those who expected the typical Masaryk pose. The horse was grazing, clearly not in a hurry to get anywhere and the president, slouching on the horse’s back, appeared to be in a similar state of mind – pensive to the point of being depressed. It could have been a photo that someone had snapped at a time when the president was unaware he was being watched. It was definitely Masaryk the man, but some people were shocked. He was wearing a legionaries’ uniform but it might as well have been a track suit. Where’s his cap – some people asked. The president had done the unthinkable –he’d taken it off. His head looks too round, others pointed out. The horse also came under fire. What’s he doing - grazing or drinking from a puddle? Does the puddle look like a map of Czechoslovakia? Clearly there was a lot missing. People expected a man whose eyes looked into the distance, radiating wisdom. A man sitting ramrod straight on a horse he was fully in control of. Instead they saw a man slouching on a grazing horse, enjoying a moment of quiet solitude– such as there must have been few of in Masaryk’s life. Personally, I find it enormously refreshing and say the president has the same right to slouch as anyone else.