Charles University faculty dean-elect on honouring Milada Horáková, funding the humanities, and saving ‘small languages’

Eva Lehečková

Dr Eva Lehečková, a prominent linguist at the Institute of Czech Language of the Academy of Sciences, has been named the next dean of Charles University’s philosophical faculty. She is replacing as dean a historian who refused to allow a billboard be erected with the image of Milada Horáková – who was executed 70 years ago after a show trial – and the text “Murdered by Communists”. In a wide-ranging interview with Czech Radio, Dr Lehečková addressed the controversy surrounding the outgoing dean, Michal Pullmann, and laid out her strategy to develop the faculty.

By 1950, two years after the Communists seized control in the “Victorious February” coup, Czechoslovakia was in the grip of a Stalinist terror. Among those convicted in show trials was Milada Horáková, a democratic politician in Masaryk’s First Republic and a resistance figure during the war. She was the only female political prisoner executed.

Eva Lehečková, who takes up the post of dean of Charles University’s philosophical faculty in February, does not question the fact that Milada Horáková was a victim of judicial murder at the hands of the Communist regime.

'Milada Horáková - Murdered by Communists' | Photo: Gampe,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

But like the outgoing dean, she told Czech Radio, she feels there is a better way to honour Horáková’s memory – one that goes beyond simply stating that she was “Murdered by Communists”, although that is certainly true.

“It is not false. But as members of the faculty board pointed out, not hanging that particular billboard did not mean they questioned that fact. Furthermore, if we did not recognise the tragic fate that befell Milada Horáková and wish to honour her legacy, we would not hold memorials every year.”

While Dr Lehečková does not fault the outgoing dean for declining to hang the billboard, she does believe that her predecessor failed to implement some key changes to develop the flagship faculty of Charles University.

When applying for the post, Dr Lehečková spelled out her priorities in a Development Strategy for the years 2022 through 2026. They include introducing tools for the effective, transparent management of the faculty, including a system for allocating funds, and the career development of academic staff.

Michal Pullmann | Photo: Charles University

“I think each dean enters a different context. It is difficult for me to succeed Dean Pullmann, because our approach to leading the faculty is quite different. That’s one factor.

“also, in the coming four years, the faculty will continue to face the long-term problem of underfunding of the humanities. And the situation is getting worse rather than better. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic is changing how we teach at universities.”

As noted, Dr Lehečková is a prominent linguist. She is also a strong advocate of saving “small languages” and preventing the decline of linguistic diversity. As dean, will she push for the the teaching of endangered languages?

“That’s a good question. I think that in this respect, one must distinguish between speaking as the dean of the whole institution or as a specialist in your field. A dean can certainly introduce some strategic steps to develop certain fields, but this should not be purely in their specialization. That’s my approach. But I would be very happy if part of my time will be devoted to it.”