Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

From London, Masaryk went to Russia to build Czechoslovak legions. This part of his life was like an adventure novel: the October Revolution broke out in Russia and Masaryk led the new Czechoslovak legions – recruited mostly from former prisoners of war – via the trans-Siberian highway through Siberia to Japan, and from there back to Europe.

The corner of Salmovský palác, Hradčanské náměstí, 110 00 Prague 1
Public transport:
  • 22 23 41

Cross the street and walk through the castle to Hradčanské Náměstí.

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The bronze statue of the founding father and first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), was placed here on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth. This larger-than-life sculpture was based on the original work of Otakar Španiel (1881–1955). In 1914, when, at the age of sixty-four, Masaryk went abroad to emphasize to European politicians the need to replace the Austro-Hungarian Empire with several nation states once the war was over, he did not have a big mandate: he was the only elected parliamentary member of his party and had a reputation as a trouble-maker. He first proclaimed his request for an independent Czechoslovak state in 1915 in Geneva, and in 1916 founded the Czechoslovak National Council with M.R. Štefánik in Paris, while a warrant for his arrest was issued in Austria. He taught at King’s College, London, then went to Russia to build a Czechoslovak legion. This part of his life, as Masaryk recollects it, both in his Talks with T.G. Masaryk by Karel Čapek or in the book The World Revolution, was like an adventure novel: the October Revolution broke out in Russia and Masaryk led the new Czechoslovak legions – recruited mostly from former prisoners of war – via the trans-Siberian highway through Siberia to Japan, and from there back to Europe. In France he left the legions and went for diplomatic talks to the USA where he was welcomed by 250,000 Czech and Slovak compatriots. He was able to persuade US President Woodrow Wilson, who then stood up for Czechoslovak independence during the post-war negotiations. On October 28, 1918, the Czechoslovak Democratic Republic was founded and in December 1918 Masaryk, in great triumph, came back to Prague’s Wilson Station at the head of the victorious Czechoslovak legions and from there to the Castle to become the so-called President-Liberator.

T. G. M. (source: internet)

But in the midst of jubilation, one could not forget that Czechoslovakia was created against the will of 3.5 million Germans in a country where they outnumbered the Slovaks. In 1926, Germans were involved in the Czechoslovak government, but soon the economic crisis began and Hitler’s rise to power made the situation even more complicated. The bullying of Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia was rightly criticized by Milena Jesenská and Přemysl Pitter. To his credit, Masaryk was devoid of national prejudice and opened Czechoslovakia to refugees from Soviet Russia (i.e. IFOR’s chair Valentin Bulgakov and the poet Marina Tsvetaeva) and later for refugees from Nazism (i.e. writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann).

From Masaryk’s testament of hope, it is worth emphasizing his courageous confrontation with anti-Semitism. In 1899 he made a request to review the trial of Leopold Hilsner (1876-1928), an itinerant worker of Jewish descent who had been accused of ritual murder. Masaryk achieved a revision of the trial, and Hilsner’s death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. As Petr Pithart pointed out, what counts is Masaryk’s own confrontation with his conscience and his revelation of this struggle in Čapek’s Talks: “When did I overcome this traditional anti-Semitism? Never from my heart, only slowly through reason as it was my own mother who encouraged me to believe in the blood libel”. It is important also to highlight Masaryk as a feminist who, on marrying Charlotte Garrigue, prefixed his own surname with her’s, and to stress his perseverance: “A human being will endure much if he has a goal, and once he has taken the decision – once and for all – to pursue it.”

T. G. M. (source: internet)

Masaryk’s dialogues with the pacifist, L.N. Tolstoy, whom he visited three times in Jasnaja Poljana, are also inspiring. Masaryk reproached Tolstoy for his blindness to evil and emphasized the need to fight it, in order that “the man with evil intentions” would not have to be killed. “We have argued most about non-violent resistance to evil: Tolstoy did not understand that it was not merely a matter of physical violence, but a fight against evil on the whole front; he would not see the difference between defensive and offensive behavior.” And finally, there is Masaryk as a teacher: “And perhaps I was not a true educator because it was myself whom I educated my whole life.” All this is inspirational for today. Even though Masaryk’s own texts have become obsolete, Čapek’s Talks with T.G. Masaryk are an inspiring living testimony to the first Czechoslovak president, his pride and his courage.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk with his daughter Alice (source: internet)
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Where next?

A. If you want to make a short excursion via tram to Břevnov Cemetery (10 minutes by tram and one hour for the tour), then exit Hradčanské náměstí via Kanovnická which leads to U Brusnice, walk to the “Brusnice“ tram stop and from there take tram 22 to “Břevnovský Klášter” (Břevnov Monastery).

B. To continue straight along the peace trail to the Time Machine (known locally as the Metronome), go through Matyášova Brána and the second courtyard of Prague Castle, walk through the Královská Obora towards the renaissance jewel of Letohrádek Královny Anny. Continue along this path, cross the tramway bridge and then go through Letenské sady to the Metronome. The walk from Masaryk’s statue at Prague Castle to the Time Machine will take between 20 and 30 minutes.