Sokol celebrates its 140th birthday on Saturday

Miroslav Tyrs

This Saturday the Sokol organization will celebrate its 140th birthday. Sokol has always been a sports organisation but it has also striven to create a healthy and strong Czech nation ready to fight for their national interests. Alena Skodova has more:

Dr. Vratislav Zbuzek, a senior Sokol official for many years, explained to me why Sokol was established in the Czech Lands, which back in the 1860s were part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy:

"Sokol was actually established as a patriotic organization to educate people in morale and physical activities for the defence of the nation, which could not be said at the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The founder was doctor Miroslav Tyrs, who was a professor of philosophy at Charles University, the other supporter and founder of Sokol was Jindrich Fuegner, he was someone whom we would nowadays call a sponsor. What does the Czech word 'sokol' mean? It means 'falcon', which was chosen as a symbol of a courageous and swift bird. Another interesting thing was a greeting of all members who called each other brothers and sisters. The reason was to establish a society of people who would not only call each other brothers and sisters, but who would also behave that way. And the official greeting of the organization was 'Nazdar!', which in English means 'to success'."

Sokol had been flourishing and more members kept coming, but quite understandably, its patriotic ideas as well as the ideal of freedom it believed in were a thorn in flesh for all dictatorial regimes. That's why Sokol was banned three times. First in 1915 during WWI, for the second time by the Nazis when Germany occupied the Czech lands between 1939 and 1945, and in 1948 for the third time: the Communists who came to power that year found the Sokol ideas highly unsuitable for the new ideology they introduced in post-war Czechoslovakia.

But Sokol did not die out. In 1990, after the velvet revolution, it was revived. Nowadays, Sokol's most visible activities are traditional 'slets' which are like smaller versions of the gigantic Spartakiada exercise displays which took place every five years until the fall of Communism. Sokol also organises many other events and activities.

"'Slet' means to get together, it's a kind of festival. These festivals have been organized traditionally since the 19th century every 6th year, except for the periods when Sokol was banned. We had now two Sokol slets after the revival of Sokol, in 1994 and in the year 2000. Originally, when there was the greatest boom of Sokol after WW II, we had over one million members, we lost many members in those 40 years - it represents at least two generations lost. So our organization now counts here in the Czech Republic close to 200, 000 members, abroad - if we add all existing Sokol organizations - it would be additional 50, 000 members. However, the number of members is not the most important thing, the quality of the programme is what we believe in for the future."