On the Eve of the New Millennium
A Message from SVU President
As we are rapidly approaching the new era, it is appropriate that we do some reflecting on where we are and where we are going. The Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, or SVU, as we all call it, has been in existence for over forty years. Since its inception in 1958, the Society has grown into a respected international organization with membership throughout the world. Although the Society initially functioned almost exclusively in the West, ever since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, it has expanded its activities to Czechoslovakia and its successor states, the Czech and the Slovak Republics.
The Society was officially organized in 1958, at the initiative of Czech and Slovak intellectuals living abroad, at a time when the communist regime in Czechoslovakia had repudiated the country's historical traditions and suppressed free expression. The SVU wanted to provide a forum for free development of Czechoslovak culture in exile and make the world aware of the Czech and Slovak cultural traditions which date back more than a millennium. Its activities, as outlined in the original bylaws, consisted of supporting and coordinating the educational, scholarly, literary and artistic endeavors of the Czechoslovak intelligentsia abroad. However, the Society was subsequently broadened into an organization open to all individuals interested in fostering Slovak and / or Czech culture, regardless of ethnic origin.
Following the end of the communist regime in 1989, the SVU's functions greatly expanded. Now, in addition to its original mission, the Society has become a bridge between Czech and Slovak professionals and those in other countries. It allows scholars abroad to benefit from contact with their Slovak and Czech colleagues, as well as helping to reintegrate the intellectual life of these two nations into the mainstream of world science, arts and letters, from which they were separated by political barriers for so long.
As the newly established democracies in both Czech and Slovak Republics mature, and the Czech and Slovak professionals and their institutions form worldwide linkages with their counterparts, the role of our Society as a facilitator will naturally lessen. Although SVU still can play a role in promoting the good name of Czech and Slovak culture abroad, and to give a hand to our colleagues in the old homeland, the time has come to refocus some of our attention to the problems and issues facing the Czechs and Slovaks abroad. It is in this spirit that in April 1999 we held a special conference in Minneapolis on "Czech and Slovak America: Quo Vadis?" on the occasion of President Vaclav Havel's visit to America. With the assistance of the newly established National Heritage Commission, comprised of our major ethnic organizations in America, the Society has embarked on a new program of surveying historic sites, monuments, and archival material that have bearing on the life and cultural output of Czech and Slovak immigrants and their descendants. Our hope is that this joint effort may also lead to revitalization of our communities abroad. In this connection I would also like to bring the attention to the recently published SVU monograph, entitled Czech-Americans in Transition, based on the SVU Conference in Texas in 1997.
The SVU highest short-term priority is the organization of the SVU World Congress, 20th in number, to be held in the year 2000 in Washington, DC, at American University from August 9 to 13. This will be the pivotal event for the Czechs and Slovaks abroad in year. For the central theme we have chosen "Civil Society and Democracy into the New Millennium." The core of the program will be several plenary sessions, one retrospective, focusing on the last 1000 years and depicting Czech and Slovak personalities who made the difference. The second plenary session will be prospective with the look at the new millennium, with the participation of leading personalities concerned with Czech and Slovak matters. In concert with the central theme of the congress a special session is planned on the role of Czechs and Slovaks in the development of the democratic and humanistic thought throughout history. We look to our membership for ideas regarding potential speakers and suggestions for specific sub-themes. Apart from these emphases, the academic program will include the usual panel discussions, topical symposia and sessions arranged by various disciplines, and we call for papers, not only from our members, but also from the academic community as a whole. Exciting social and cultural events will complement the versatile academic program.
Among our long-term priorities, the SVU publication program is clearly most important. Above all, the Executive Board will make every effort to improve the management of its English periodical Kosmas, to assure its timely publication and restore the confidence of its readers. Furthermore, plans are under way toward publication of a new SVU monographic series. Specific suggestions from members on this matter are welcome.
As we approach the new century, SVU is making every to involve young people in its affairs and its activities, not only to revitalize its ranks but also with the hope that they will soon take over the leadership roles in managing the Society. Toward this end, we look for concrete suggestions and new ideas from our members, and would welcome any volunteers from our younger people. We want you to get involved, we need your help. One area where the younger folks would be especially helpful is with our Home Page. Although I am pleased to say that we have had our own Home Page for over a year, it is essentially a static page. I would like to have an interactive page which could allow us to make additions and other changes, whenever needed, where we could include our news and other announcements and allow interaction with members. Can someone out there help us with this?
Organizationally, we have made some strides toward revitalization of some of our local chapters, especially in the US and Canada but not to the degree we would like. The difficulty is that our membership ranks, which have consisted primarily of exiles, are not replenished by younger blood. Although we have had quite an influx of new members in the US, including younger people, these new members are individualistically inclined, too disperse and don't associate with local chapters. Realistically speaking, unless the aging population in our local chapters is replaced by younger generation, these chapters sooner or later will naturally phase out. These trends are even more pronounced in western Europe where we have not gained a single new member in the last six years. Some people explain this by the fact that it is relatively simple for Europeans to travel to and from the Czech and Slovak Republics which considerably lessens the role of local chapters which they once had. Nevertheless, in the US there are still "virgin or unploughed" areas, where Czechs and Slovaks immigrated at the turn of the last century, in states like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Dakotas, etc., which offer great potential for recruiting new members and establishing new chapters. The recently established chapter in Texas, comprised almost entirely of American natives with Czech or Slovak roots, is an excellent example. As has been shown by the success of the newly organized SVU chapter in Japan, there are also good possibilities for organizing new chapters in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In the Czech and the Slovak Republics, whose chapters in many ways have not followed the pattern of a typical chapter abroad, the situation is quite different from the rest of Europe, and, for that matter, from the rest of the world, and consequently we have been gaining new members there without much recruitment effort on our part. We are delighted about this and look forward to increased mutual cooperation with them.
Generally speaking, the Society has come a long way since the times of uncertainty in the early nineties, when voices were heard that SVU, having fulfilled its mission, should cease and desist.The SVU leadership wisely resisted this pressure, put the SVU finances on sound basis, "recharged its batteries," and made a concerted effort to bring the Society to higher horizons. Since then we have held four extremely successful SVU World Congresses, two in Prague, and one each in Brno and Bratislava, as well as several memorable conferences, particularly in Kosice, Texas and Minneapolis. Looking at the local trends and considering how to make a real impact it is becoming abundantly clear that one needs critical mass and that the most effective impact the Society can make is when it acts as a whole. There are, of course, many other ways we could make an impact. Apart from holding joint conferences, joint publication programs come foremost to mind. There is a paucity of English publications on Czech or Slovak culture and it seems that in the two Republics themselves fewer English titles appear now in print than during the communist era. To make matters worse, the books that have been published are written in poor non-idiomatic English. There is a need for authoritative books on Czech and Slovak history, literature, music, arts, etc., in world languages.
Personally, I look forward with great anticipation and optimism toward the new era. With respect to our old homeland, it is my fervent wish that both Czech and Slovak Republics return to the ideals of Masaryk's First Czechoslovak Republic and that today's uncontested varnished image of the two Republics, as portrayed by foreign press, be corrected by words as well as by deeds. SVU is ready to do its part toward bringing the prestige of Czechs and Slovaks in the world to the level they once enjoyed during the brief inter-war period.
SVU has clearly still an important role to play in the future. We are always open to new ideas and innovative suggestions, and welcome new members and volunteers to help us with our large agenda, especially the younger generation. We also look to the younger generation for future officers. Interested individuals should come forward!
Please send me your comments at: 1703 Mark Lane, Rockville, MD 20852; Phone: (301) 881-7222; FAX: (301) 881-9667; e-mail: email@example.com
Míla Rechcígl SVU President