President Masaryk takes inspiration from George Washington

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk

Over the next six months we'll be looking at some of the most fascinating recordings to be found down in the Czech Radio basement. Czech - and previously Czechoslovak - Radio has been archiving its material since way back in the 1920s, and has built up one of the richest radio archives in the world, surviving war, invasion and even a German aerial torpedo in May 1945. We start the series with our very earliest recording, the first Czechoslovak President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, talking 79 years ago, on 28th October 1928. President Masaryk was born as far back as 1850, so the recording really is a bridge to another era.

In a crackly but clear recording, the president is addressing Parliament on the tenth anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia, and you can hear the coughs of some of the parliamentary deputies in the background. After centuries of authoritarian rule, he says, democracy is something that we are only now learning how to live with. There are plenty of forces that are trying undermine it and it cannot be taken for granted. Subsequent Czech history certainly proved the president right.

Interestingly Masaryk also talks about the specifics of "Slav democracy", suggesting that it should differ from the models of Northern and Western Europe.

Our earliest recording in English is also of President Masaryk. He was a great admirer of the United States, where he also lived in exile during the First World War, and here he is addressing the American people on February 22nd 1932. A radio presenter announces the president.

ANNOUNCER: "This is Prague, Czechoslovakia, calling the United States. We are giving you tonight a broadcast in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. The commemorative address will be delivered by His Excellency Tomas G. Masaryk, President of the Czechoslovak Republic, through the courtesy of the Czechoslovak Broadcasting Company."

MASARYK: "[...] When we severed the bonds binding us to the old Habsburg monarchy, I was aware that our decision must not be less motivated than the resolution taken by the founder of American liberty, and having recovered our liberty, we again follow the example of Washington in that we must no longer feel the old antagonism and anger, which originated in the suppression of our liberty. It is one of the great experiences of my life that I was allowed to claim the principles of our revolutionary liberation in the Independence Hall, the place where Washington and his friends used to meet. [...] My hearty wishes to the American people."

ANNOUNCER: "You have just heard Tomas G. Masaryk and you will now hear the Hon. Frederick P. Hibbard, Chargé d'Affaires of America."

HIBBARD: "Dr Masaryk needs no introduction to Americans, as he has spent much time in the United States, where he has become thoroughly familiar with our institutions and our peoples, for whom he has always expressed the greatest sympathy and affection, and I think it is singularly fitting that he has graciously consented to broadcast a message today, when we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. For in his own successful struggle for the independence and welfare of our sister republic, Czechoslovakia, he has paralleled the ideas and ideals of Washington."

Superlatives there from the American Chargé d'Affaires in Prague in February 1932, in praise of Czechoslovakia's first President, Tomas Masaryk. In next week's From the Archives, we'll return to President Masaryk and to his death in September 1937.