First Czech journalist Karel Havlicek Borovsky remembered at Prague ceremony

Karel Havlicek Borovsky

This Saturday, July 29, is the 150th anniversary of the death of Karel Havlicek Borovksy, regarded by many as the first Czech journalist. Born in the Moravian village of Borov in 1821, Havlicek Borovsky achieved a lot in his short life; he was also a newspaper editor and a very important figure in the Czech National Revival. Ahead of this weekend's anniversary, the Karel Havlicek Borovsky Institute held a ceremony at his grave in Prague on Tuesday. I spoke to the Institute's Vilem Tanzer about its aims, and the legacy of this legendary Czech journalist.

"Our institute was established in 2001, and we want to promote freedom of speech and to remind people of Karel Havlicek Borovsky, who was one of the most important Czech writers and journalists."

You say that one of the institute's goals is to promote the freedom of speech. What does that notion have to do with Karel Havlicek Borovsky, who lived in the early part of the nineteenth century?

"At that time he established his own newspaper the first free newspaper so he was independent of the government of the time. He was the first person who really worked for freedom of speech in the Czech lands."

"Yes, it's possible to say it like this. Yes."

What would you highlight as some of his most important contributions to journalism in the mid-nineteenth century?

"He was a very important critic of the works of other authors or writers, and this is one of his most important contributions."

Can you provide some specific examples? With whom did Karel Havlicek Borovsky engage in an important debate?

"He had a dispute with Josef Kajetan Tyl because of his novel "Last Czech" (laughs). Borovsky criticized the light manner in which Tyl presented Czech nationalism. Karel Havlicek Borovsky wanted a deeper approach."

"He established the first free Czech newspapers, which served as the platform for Czech Liberalism of the time, and he was also a politician. In fact, Karel Havlicek Borovsky was in 1848 the voice of Czech Liberals, and it was his most important role in this year which was important for all of Europe."

So he made a name for himself opposing the Germans that is, opposing German influence and dominance within the Bohemian and Moravian lands but how did Karel Havlicek Borovsky feel about Czech and Moravian membership in the Austro-Hungarian Empire?

"In fact he wanted to cooperate and to live together with the Germans here, in the monarchy. He considered the Austro-Hungarian monarchy a good protector against the influence of other large nationalities around us, especially the powerful Germans in the west and also the Russians, who are to the east. He saw the Austro-Hungarian monarchy as a good balance between Slavic nationalities and the Hungarians and the Austrians. He approved of the idea of federalism."

During and after 1848, Karel Havlicek Borovsky pushed for greater freedoms for Czechs within the context of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though unlike many Slavic national leaders of the time he did not look to Russia for support. In fact, Havlicek Borovsky was strongly opposed to the nineteenth-century notion of Pan Slavism. At the commemorative ceremony on Tuesday, Senator Svatopluk Karasek explained how Karel Havlicek Borovsky became convinced that the Russian Empire would not be the savior of the smaller Slavic nationalities.

"We could call it a serious case of disillusionment. He left for Russia with an enthusiasm for the idea of Pan Slavism, and with the impression that the Russian Empire was a powerful protector, a big brother who would support the Slavs, as Kollar said. When he arrived, to his horror Borovsky discovered that Russian society was in terrible shape, that respect for people and other basic principles were hardly visible. So he returned to Bohemia convinced that the only choice between Germany and Russia was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he began to fight for its improvement."

In the early 1850s, when Vienna tightened the reigns on nationalist activity in Bohemia and Moravia, Karel Havlicek Borovsky was forced into exile in Brixen, South Tirol. He died on July 29, 1856 - at the age of just 35 - and is buried in Prague's Olsany Cemetery.