Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

(1850—1937) Czechoslovak statesman, President 1918–35

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(b. 7 Mar. 1850, d. 14 Sept. 1937).

President of Czechoslovakia 1918–35 Born in Hodonín, the son of a coachman on a Habsburg estate had a brilliant career at school, which enabled him to attend the universities of Leipzig and Vienna. In 1882, he became professor of philosophy at Prague University, a post he held until 1914. In this position, he developed a theory of ‘critical realism’, a mixture of German idealism and western European positivism, to call for pragmatic policies of social action. He argued strongly against the creation of myths so prevalent in Czech nationalism at the time; but also criticized Austrian and Hungarian imperialism that claimed the Czech lands as part of Austria-Hungary. He served on the Austrian imperial council in 1891–3 as a member of the Young Czech movement, and again in 1907–14 as the representative of the Realist Party, which he had founded. His ability to unite Czechs and Slovak was demonstrated by his leading role in the creation of a common Czech and Slovaks national council in 1915. He helped organize a Czechoslovak legion in Russia to fight against Austria-Hungary in 1917, and promoted unity among Czech and Slovak emigrant associations in the USA. He had thus become a pivotal figure in the events leading to Czechoslovakia's independence as a unitary state. As President, the open-minded intellectual epitomized the sophistication, liberal individualism, toleration, cosmopolitanism, concern for justice, and modernity of the country's political elite, and of the self-image of the state as a whole. He retired owing to old age.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Politics.

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