Sokol Was Vital For Czech Independence

Milan Kocourek

Milan Kocourek is a former colleague of mine, boasts an illustrious career as a BBC World Service producer and reporter. Later he worked also for the Czech National Public Radio.

Milan and I discuss what it was like when he as a young student on a study stay in Scotland in 1969 made the life-changing decision not to return to the communist Czechoslovakia and stay in Britain:

"It was a hard decision to make on that particular day. But when I reconciled myself mentally with the fact that I shall see my parents, my folk, again, it was easy."

Vít Pohanka with Milan Kocourek | Photo: Vít Pohanka,  Radio Prague International

But our conversation centers mainly on the Sokol movement, an integral part of Milan's life and a pivotal force in shaping Czech national identity. Sokol, which means Falcon in English, a gymnastics organization founded in the 19th century, was not just about promoting physical fitness but also played a significant role in the cultural and political awakening of the Czech people, contributing to the foundation of independent Czechoslovakia.

"It was vital."

Says Milan and shares his personal experiences with Sokol, from joining the movement in London to reporting on its international gatherings, or 'Slety', in Switzerland and Austria. These events were not merely athletic meets but a demonstration of Czech solidarity and heritage on the global stage.

Milan Kocourek's certificate | Photo: Vít Pohanka,  Radio Prague International

Interestingly, we'll also explore how the Sokol movement, while deeply rooted in Czech Slavic identity, drew inspiration from the German Turner movement. And founding fathers Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner actually came from German speaking families:

"Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner were both Germans when they were born. They became Czech patriots only later thanks to their acquaintances."

This aspect highlights the complex interplay of cultural influences in Central Europe and the universal appeal of using physical exercise as a means of fostering national consciousness and unity. Stay tuned for an engaging journey through history, personal stories, and the lasting impact of the Sokol movement on Czech identity both in Czechia and in the Czech exile community.

For more, listen to Czechast :-)

Author: Vít Pohanka
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  • Czechast

    Czechast is a regular RPI podcast about Czech and Moravian culture, history, and economy.