A Seminar on Czechoslovakia Deals with Issues of Nationalism

On 29 October 2018, there was a seminar entitled “Slovakia and Czechoslovakia: Issues 100 Years After the Establishment of the Common State” at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the common state. The seminar was organized by the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University and the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

29. 10. 2018 15.25 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

The seminar was opened by the dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Jaroslav Šušol, who told the audience about the history of the establishment of Comenius University and the Faculty of Arts within the context of the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic. “The university was founded very soon after the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic as one of the key instruments of the cultural and intellectual emancipation of the Slovak people and its inclusion within the authoritative and mental structures of the new state. Just four weeks ago, our university began its 100th academic year and is proudly part of the tradition which began in June 1919, when the Czechoslovak National Assembly established the Czechoslovak State University,” the dean said.

Dr Gabriela Dudeková Kováčová from the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences responded to criticism from a part of the educated public which claimed that Czechoslovakia had not been adequately democratic or liberal, pointing out that they were judging that period by today’s standards. “When looking at the republic of 100 years ago, it was our intention to open up questions regarding Czechoslovakia in an international context, how Pressburg/Pozsony/Prešporok became Bratislava, and how the German- and Hungarian-speaking populations reacted to it.”

In his paper, entitled “Slovakia between Tradition and Modernity, Between Continuity and Discontinuity”, Dr Dušan Kováč from the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences covered several aspects of the period when Czechoslovakia was founded. Among other things, he focused on the significance of nationalism, which he described as the “new religion” of the 19th century. “When we compare the turn of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, we can see that these two periods were very similar. Whereas the end of the 19th century saw the formation of a modern world with features typical for the 20th century, today we are experiencing a period when we are bidding farewell to the traditions of the 20th century and encountering something totally new, something which the older generation cannot grasp. There is a certain parallel here,” Dr Kováč said.

Associate Professor Magdaléna Kvasnicová from the Faculty of Education at Comenius University gave a talk entitled “From the Regional Austro-Hungarian Army Headquarters to the Regional Office of the Seat of the Czechoslovak Government”, wherein she discussed the history of the building now housing the Faculty of Arts: “This grand building where we are now was the headquarters of the Austro-Hungarian imperial army and the government headquarters of the interwar and post-war Czechoslovak republics. Vavro Šrobár, who was the Minister for the Administration of Slovakia, had his office here. Since the 1960s, it has been a place where the cultural and social elite of Slovakia have met.” Associate Professor Kvasnicová also mentioned the personalities who played a significant role in the building’s construction and talked about its Art Nouveau style, which was inspired by the work of the Viennese architect Otto Wagner and which came into fruition as the result of a winning proposal from an architectural competition.

In addition to the above papers, Dr Gabriela Dudeková Kováčová gave a talk entitled “Struggling for the City: Pressburg/Bratislava at the End of the First World War and the Founding of Czechoslovakia”, and Associate Professor Jozef Tancer from the Faculty of Arts gave a talk entitled “In the Paradise of the German and Hungarian Languages: The Language Situation in Bratislava After 1918”. Myths and counter-myths concerning Czechoslovakia were presented by Dr Ľudovít Hallon from the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences along with Professor Roman Holec, who is from the Institute of History as well as from the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University. The closing paper, entitled “The Concept of Czechoslovakia as a Nation-State: Ideas vs. Reality”, was presented by Professor Jan Rychlík from the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. 

The unveiling of the memorial plaque

 The 100th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia saw the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the building of the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University, which is the former site of the Ministry for the Administration of Slovakia, which was the highest government body of the newly-formed Czechoslovak Republic in Slovakia. This initiative by Professor Martin Slobodník (the vice-dean of the Faculty of Arts) and Radoslav Števčík (the mayor of the Bratislava-Old Town city borough) was made possible by Soňa Halásová and Linda Paveleková, who are both students at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design.

Comenius University Rector, Professor Karol Mičieta, highlighted the connection of the history of the university and the state: “The historical buildings of Comenius University in Bratislava – including this one housing the Faculty of Arts – were the sites of turning points in Czechoslovak and Slovak history as well as in the history of Bratislava itself, which was made the Slovak capital in the same year that the Czechoslovak State University, later Comenius University, was established.”

Pavel Sladký, the chargé d’affaires of the Czech embassy in Slovakia, said: “I would like to point out that the office housed in this building was the cradle of modern bureaucracy in Slovakia in the best sense of the word. I am glad that this building houses Comenius University, whose activities include the training of future state officials.

The mayor of Bratislava-Old Town, Radoslav Števčík, expressed the hope that the memorial plaque on the Faculty of Arts building will be an inspiration for similar initiatives which will help increase historical awareness and memory. 

Photographs from this event can be found on Comenius University’s Facebook page.