Thomas Garrigue Masaryk
After almost 300 years of Habsburg absolutism, Thomas Masaryk became president of a free Czech state. He was born in 1850 in Hodonin, a town in Moravia. He was learning to become a blacksmith, but his teachers noticed his talent for history and he was sent to study in Brno. He received a doctorate in philosophy in Vienna and became a professor. While working in Leipzig, he met a young American, Charlotte Garrigue, who was a very talented pianist. After they married, Thomas took her last name.
Charlotte and Thomas settled in Prague, where the modern Czech political scene was already forming. Thomas started publishing a magazine called “Atheneum” that brought information on science and culture. He enjoyed traveling and on his visit to Russia had the chance to meet Leo Tolstoy. He also became very political and helped form a wing of “realists” – those who didn’t agree with radicalism, but at the same time didn’t want to remain passive. In 1891 he entered the parliament in Vienna.
During his political career in Austro-Hungarian Empire, he openly criticized the anti-Semitic moods in the society concerning a trial with a young Jewish man called Hilsner, who was accused of a ritual murder. Masaryk’s comments on the case caused a further investigation and Hilsner was found not guilty. He was also the first one to step up and call the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina a crime.
When the First World War began, Thomas had enough authority to think of a better tomorrow. He wanted to prepare Czechs for autonomy both politically and diplomatically. His goal was to convince the Allies about the democratic future of the free Czech state. He traveled Italy, Switzerland, France, England and USA and helped establish Czech troops in France and Russia, mostly of soldiers who deserted from the Austro-Hungarian army.
In October 1918, these efforts resulted in the Washington declaration, a document confirming Czechoslovakia as a legitimate political force in Europe. Thomas Garrigue Masaryk became the state’s first president placing the centre of administration at the Prague Castle. He believed in plurality and supported the idea of quick changes in the government. This unfortunately led to an unstableness that later proved fatal for the young democracy.
Thomas was voted president three times, but resigned in December 1935 because of health problems and died two years later. He had many friends among the Czech cultural scene including Karel Čapek, who interviewed the president many times and gave the public a glimpse of his private life.