Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner

Today we reveal the identity of August’s mystery Czechs and announce the names of the four listeners who will receive Radio Prague goodies for their correct answers. Listeners quoted: Hans Verner Lollike, Jana Vaculik, Charles Konecny, Imo-Obong Umana, Samina Javed, Helmut Matt, David Eldridge, Colin Law, Roger Tidy.

Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Today you’ll find out the names of August’s mystery Czechs as well as those of four Radio Prague listeners who will receive small prizes for their correct answers. It was once again a pleasure to read your answers, many of them so interesting and detailed that they would be worth quoting in full, but, unfortunately, we don’t have that much time on the programme. So let’s move on to your e-mails.

Hans Verner Lollike from Denmark wrote this:

“The founders of the Sokol Movement are Professor Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner. At the same time in Denmark a movement for gymnastics for all people was launched in connection to a spiritual and national movement... Today it is fully alive with a wide scale of exercise and fitness-type activities involving more than a quarter of a million Danes.”

Jana Vaculik from the United States has a personal experience with Sokol:

“My grandmother attended the 1938 Sokol slet in Czechoslovakia before the war and my father founded a Sokol jednota in Texas in the 1970s. I was a sokolka when I was little. Whether in the Czech Republic, Australia or the United States, the Sokol philosophy is felt all around the world.”

Charles Konecny from Ohio also has a personal connection:

“Tyrš and Fügner believed that group exercise was not only good for mind and body, but also in using the group for meetings and lectures on building nationalistic pride in the Czech and Slovak people... With the spread of Sokols, it did indeed raise nation pride and provided further yearning for becoming a sovereign country. Although independence came later, I think Miroslav and Jindřich can look down and smile with satisfaction for fueling the nationalistic hearts of the Czech and Slovak people of their day... Years ago, (in the 1950s) I used to dance in a Czech dance group at a Sokol hall in Toledo, Ohio. After the program, we danced to polkas and waltzes the rest of the day or night. That was our exercise part. Sadly, the hall closed years ago.”

Imo-Obong Umana writes from Nigeria:

"’Sokol’, the Czech word for ‘falcon’ is a Czech and Slavic youth movement. Its founding fathers were Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner – both ethnic Germans. It was established in 1862 in Prague as a fitness training centre. Sokol provided physical, moral and intellectual training for the nation and was considered a society above politics.”

Samina Javed listens to Radio Prague in Pakistan:

“Sokol was founded by Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner in 1862 in Prague. The first flag of Sokol was painted by Josef Mánes.”

Helmut Matt follows our broadcasts in Germany:

“The Sokol movement was also very popular in Serbia, Croatia, Poland and other Slavonic countries. It suffered from strong oppression and was abolished by Hitler’s Germany and later by the communist rulers. It found its revival in 1990 after the Velvet Revolution.”

David Eldridge writes from England:

“Soon after its foundation in 1862, training given by the Sokol movement took on a more militaristic character and it was more commonly known as the ‘Czech national army’. From 1866 Sokol members were hired as guards for public events during the Austro-Prussian war. Most of the leaders of Sokol originated from the ‘Young Czech’ party and when that began to decline most realigned to the Czech National Socialists. The Czech National Socialists eagerly challenged the Young Czechs for their loyalty and also attacked the Social Democrats.”

As usual, Colin Law from New Zealand sent us a very detailed answer:

“Sokol gatherings, called ‘Slets’ after the Czech word for ‘a flocking of birds’, include demonstrations and competitions of gymnastics and calisthenics which are central to the Sokol physical culture system. The first Slet was held in 1882... The Sokol uniform was designed with Slavic and revolutionary influences: Brown Russian pants, a Polish revolutionary jacket, a Montenegrin cap, and a red Garibaldi shirt, all symbols of the organization's nationalist and patriotic aims. The Sokol flag was red with a white falcon.

“With the onset of World War I, in 1915 the Sokols were officially disbanded. They flourished again in the 1930s and 350,000 Sokols attended a Slet in 1938. But in World War II they were brutally suppressed and banned during the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia.

“After World War II they held a Slet in 1948 but were then suppressed by the Communists who tried to replace the tradition of Slets with mass exercises, ‘Spartakiády,’ used for propaganda purposes. The Sokols were active briefly in the 1968 Prague Spring and were revived again in 1990 after the fall of Communism. However, many years of suppression had reduced their appeal and the 1994 and 2000 Slets resulted in attendances of only 23,000 and 25,000 Sokols.”

Roger Tidy from London delved into the British National Archives and found a report from Mr Newton, of the British Legation in Prague, commenting on the 10th Sokol Festival, held in Prague in 1938:

"The Sokol discipline is no mere mechanical discipline of the kind beloved in Germany, but is a free discipline designed to develop and not to crush human personality. No one is forced to join the Sokol... It is a voluntary organisation drawn from all classes regardless of sex, the only qualification demanded from its members being that they should be of good character, patriotic mind and Slav race. Exceptions to the racial qualification are indeed permitted. Indeed, judging by the large international contingent attending the event, the Sokol festival was a jamboree of friendship among nations, with participants from Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, France, Belgium, the United States, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania and 'The British Empire'.”

Many thanks for your effort and time devoted to the research. The four lucky listeners who will be sent Radio Prague goodies this month are: Avinash Premraj Cheekoth from India, Imo-Obong Umana from Nigeria, Samina Javed from Pakistan and Roger Tidy from Great Britain. Congratulations! As every month, I have a brand new mystery Czech question for you and this time we take a break from sports.

Our September mystery Czech was born in 1926 in Ostrava, into a Jewish family. At age 13 he was among the hundreds of children rescued from Czechoslovakia by Sir Nicholas Winton. He studied at Oxford and later became one of the leading directors of the 1960s new wave of British cinema.

Please send us your answers to [email protected] or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. I’d like to point out that answers copied and pasted from internet sources, such as Wikipedia, cannot be considered for prizes nor quoted on Radio Prague unless the source is duly credited.

I’m afraid we are out of time, thank you for listening today and until next week, bye-bye.