Sokol's 140th birthday


By Alena Skodova Today's Czechs in History focuses on the Sokol physical training and patriotic organization, and its two founders, Miroslav Tyrs and Jindrich Fugner. Sokol has always been a sports organisation but in its early history it strove to create a healthy and strong Czech nation ready to fight for their rights. In 1862 when Sokol was established the Czech Lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. To find out more about the organisation, I spoke to Vratislav Zbuzek, a senior Sokol official for many years:

Sokol flourished and more and more members joined. But, quite understandably, its patriotic ideas as well as the ideal of freedom it believed in were a thorn in the side of 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.

What is interesting about the two men is the fact that they both came from a German environment. As an orphan, Tyrs lived with his uncle in Prague, but as a young boy he was used to speak German. He only learned Czech during his studies at the Law and Philosophical faculties of Charles University. He studied philosophers such as Seneca, Kant and Schopenhauer, and his dream - to become a university professor - finally came true. Jindrich Fugner was a rich entrepreneur, who traveled to Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, England and Ireland, but he liked to read books and study history, and he too was taken with the humanistic ideas of his time. The two men were bound to meet: 27 Unfortunately, the two, who became relatives after Fugner's 19 year old daughter married Tyrs who was in his forties, both came to a bad end: Fugner fell seriously ill and he died at the age of 43. Tyrs is now believed to have had mental problems, or at least some kind of mental disorder - a fact which the Sokol organisation kept a taboo until the 1930s. He was a very sensitive man, who proved to be unable to cope with the amount of work he had to do. Moreover, he had problems with the Austrian authorities:

Even after all the turbulent events of the 20th century, Sokol did not die out. In 1990, after the velvet revolution, it was revived after 40 years of silence. 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.