Tomas Garrigue Masaryk - Czechoslovakia's first president

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk

On the 28th of October, Czechoslovakia's first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk is always remembered. By saying 'always' I mean since 1989, as in the Communist era mentioning him was almost taboo.

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk - the founder and first president of independent Czechoslovakia - is a figure whose significance and moral authority went unsurpassed at the time. He was a remarkable man not only because of his personal courage and devotion to democracy, but for the harmony between his personality and work and the unity of his words and deeds.

Masaryk was born in 1850 in southern Moravia and he took a long step from his father's illiterate serfdom to becoming a professor of philosophy, when he took a doctoral degree in Vienna in 1876. Six years later, he became a professor of philosophy at Charles University in Prague and lived in the city until 1914, when WWI broke out. But before that, in 1891, he was elected to the Vienna parliament as a deputy of the Young Czech Party.

Masaryk was a philosopher and a thinker and his thoughts mainly centred on the crisis of European civilization. He always believed that it was open minds which could make the future better than the past. He often spoke about the crisis as the decay of religious beliefs. The remedy offered by him to cure its consequences was simple: people must regain their religious faith, be they Christians, Jews or Moslems.

State symbol from 1920
When the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo triggered WWI in 1914, Masaryk, aged 64, went into exile. He became the leading opposition figure abroad, where he strove for the liberation of Czech and Slovak people from the Austro-Hungarian yoke. During the war, he was made commander-in-chief of the Czechoslovak Legions, Czech and Slovak troops who chose to fight against their own country - the Austro-Hungarian Empire - in order to win freedom.

Towards the end of the war, Masaryk visited American president Woodrow Wilson and succeeded in convincing him that it would be in the interests of the United States to help liberate the Central European nations from the Hapsburg Empire. The empire, indeed, started collapsing when the war ended, and in Prague, the revolutionary National Assembly elected Masaryk the president of Czechoslovakia.

The first independent state of Czechs and Slovaks was established on October 28th, 1918. During Masaryk's presidency - from 1918 to 1935 - Czechoslovakia became an island of democracy, a highly cultural country and the 10th biggest industrial power in the world. Masaryk died in his residence at Lany on September 14th, 1937. In addition to his legacy as a legendary president, he left behind dozens of books on philosophy, history and politics.