TG Masaryk and Rotterdam

Frans Weisglas and Milan Štěch Speeches on the occasion of the unveiling, 05.11.2015
Max Dereta

Speech by Mr Frans Weisglas - former chairman of the House of Representatives of the States General

 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In 1922, the Rotterdam police confirmed to the Czechoslovakian embassy in The Hague on request that "TGMasaryk, professor, Praha" was registered at the 15 October 1914 in hotel Weimar, his departure date was unknown. The British Robert W. Seton-Watson came by ship from London to meet Masaryk in hotel Weimar. He wrote that he was surprised at the lack of passport control at his disembarkation and afterwards called this "a fortunate accident". Professor Masaryk did not want their meeting to become known.

We reflect on what at first sight would have been at most a “short message” in a newspaper, a meeting in the Hotel Weimar. This renowned hotel was then across the street, on the corner of the Haringvliet near the Spanjaardsbrug. Thanks to you, Mr Andeweg, the meeting between Professor Masaryk and Robert W. Seton-Watson has come back to life. An elderly philosopher and politician from Prague tells a young Central Europe expert from London his vision of Central Europe in the defeat of Austria-Hungary and Germany. He sketches the contours of a new state, Czechoslovakia. Via Seton-Watson's account, 101 years ago today, Masaryk's ideas reach the British, French and Russians, the Allies of the time. When arms are laid down after four years of war, the independence of Czechoslovakia is declared. It is practically Czechoslovakia that Tomas Masaryk sketched here in Rotterdam. He will be the first president of the new state, the "president-liberator."

On Friday, October 16, the First and Second Chambers of the States General met to commemorate the fact that they had been established 200 years ago. As the former President of the Second Chamber, I am delighted, Mr Štěch, that as President of the Czech Senate you have so convincingly supported the initiative to meet Professor Masaryk and Mr. To commemorate Seton-Watson here in Rotterdam, and that you are present here personally today.

Tomas Masaryk was someone who was inspired by the pedagogue, philosopher and reformer Jan Amos Comenius buried in Naarden. As a great humanist and democrat, Tomas Masaryk was the founder of a new democracy in Central Europe, with a House of Representatives and a Senate. You will agree with me that we must cherish the parliament. People's representations are institutions, but they are not static. It is the responsibility of those who represent their people to safeguard our democracies, it was like that in the past, it is now and it will be in the future.

When I was asked to unveil the Masarykmonument together with you, I wondered as a citizen of Rotterdam what significance this new monument will have. Jan Amos Comenius not only inspired Tomas Masaryk but also the later president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel. Comenius, Masaryk and Havel are often mentioned in the same breath. Comenius is buried in Naarden, Vaclav Havel is honored in The Hague with the so-called Havel bench on Lange Voorhout, and Tomas Masaryk is now being commemorated here in Rotterdam. We close the line, so to speak.

For Rotterdam, the monument also highlights part of the city's history. We are taken to the First World War. As a port city in the then neutral Netherlands, Rotterdam appears to be a meeting place for foreign agents and spies, have we ever known that?

Visual artist Hans Citroen has the monument TG Masaryk and Rotterdam not only designed but also the location thereof. From the monument on the Geldersekade we look across the Oude Haven to the place where hotel Weimar stood. We see the current buildings and at the same time an image of the hotel as Masaryk and Seton-Watson have known. As Rotterdammers we once again realize how devastating the German bombing of 1940 was, hotel Weimar was also completely destroyed.

The prelude to the memorial and its meaning are described in the booklet "TGMasaryk and Rotterdam, history of a monument". The art project is an example of shared responsibility between citizens and government. Not only did the work originate from a private initiative, Messrs. Goedhart and Henneman also obtained sufficient financial support and found an object owner. That is why it fits well with the policy of CBK Rotterdam and the municipality. The monument is an asset to the rich collection of images in the public space of our city. Thanks to all who contributed to the monument in any way in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the past year.

The meeting between Tomas Masaryk and Robert Seton-Watson, who would have been at most a "short message" in a newspaper in 1914, has proved to be of historical significance and is now being brought to our attention with this monument. As a Rotterdammer, I hope that many will reflect on the monument, not only Rotterdammers, Czechs and Slovaks, but also others who are interested in the history of Europe and want to learn lessons from it.

I thank you for your attention.


Mr. Speech Milan Štěch - President of the Czech Senate

 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

First I would like to thank all the organizers of today's meeting, above all the initiators of the very idea of ​​unveiling a monument to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk here in Rotterdam. Why precisely Rotterdam and why this very spot where the hotel Weimar used to stand, we probably all know. I will spare your time rather than repeating it. Anyway it was a great idea and I am glad in the end it could materialize after some issues. I have no doubt Czech visitors of Rotterdam shall include from this day the monument of the first Czechoslovak president in the list of sights to visit in your beautiful city. But they shall not be the only ones. The monument is interesting in itself thanks to its genuine conception, it shall certainly attract the attention of passers by. But it is above all Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, a personality still respected in Europe as I think. His name is connected with two terms: democracy and humanism. I remain convinced these two terms should not be separated. Democracy should be humane, or it is no longer democracy. And humanism means for Masaryk as well the social issue. I mention it as it is being often forgotten in the Czech Republic.

Masaryk was a great advocate of a close cooperation of smaller countries. And of European integration as well. It may seem surprising to some. He is at times depicted in certain circles rather as a destroyer who brought down the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At once the Habsburg monarchy is usually depicted as a forerunner of European integration. So according to these views a man who contributed in such a way to the abolition of this supranational entity could definitely not be supporting any integration. But it is quite the opposite - the Austro-Hungarian Empire had nothing to do with European integration as we know it. Unfortunately so. This is why Masaryk had to logically support the opinion, and I quote: “The independence of small and smaller nations is a condition for their federalization and is in tune with their ever closer union.” End of quote. The logic of this quote is as I think obvious and correct and there is no need to explain it further. When we shall unveil in a few moments the monument, the shape of a State that no longer exists will appear in front of us. We as Czechs are at times not ready to admit it, but Masaryk's State splitted up 22 years ago. The coexistence of Czechs and Slovaks ended. The relationship of Slovaks is obviously more ambiguous than ours, but this is understandable. I personally regret until today the end of Czechoslovakia and I still did not quite get even with it, but on the other hand it is obvious that relations between Czechs and Slovaks are since our "divorce" the best ever. And I do consider it is thanks to the positive environment of the EU, a fact we tend to forget. I do believe that in spite of all the problems facing European integration Czechs, Slovaks, the Dutch and other nations shall even in the future face with success new issues and challenges, many being very demanding. However I am convinced that we shall succeed and we shall not lose from sight these two key Masaryk terms: democracy and humanism.

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks once more to all those who shared in the creation of this dignified monument not only to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, but to the whole Czech Republic, and I remain convinced that the main thrust of Masaryk's ideas shall be preserved in Europe. Thank you for your attention.

 

Related artwork

TG Masaryk and Rotterdam (2015) Hans Citroen