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Masaryk, Tomas Garrigue

Masaryk, Tomas Garrigue (b. March 7, 1850, Hodonin [Austrian Moravia], Czech Republic; d. October 14, 1937, Lany [Czechoslovakia], Czech Republic) — Czech philosopher, sociologist, professor, political activist, and head of state. Masaryk began teaching at the University of Vienna (1879) and in 1882 moved to Prague, where he became a professor at Charles University, a publicist, and editor. His political career began in the late 1880s and he was soon known as a critic of the direction that Czech nationalism had taken at that time. By the end of the century he was leader of the small Realist party made up primarily of Czech intellectuals. Masaryk was the party’s only deputy (1907-1914) in the Austrian parliament, where he supported transforming Austria-Hungary on a federalist basis. He also spoke out against anti-Semitism and in defense of individuals persecuted for their national convictions, during for example the Zagreb trial against Croatian intellectuals (1909) and the *Maramorosh Sighet trial against Rusyn peasants (1913-1914).

At the outset of World War I Masaryk went abroad, where he became leader of the anti-Habsburg struggle and supporter of creating an independent Czechoslovak state. Together with Edvard *Benes and Milan Stefanik he established in Paris a National Council/Narodna rada (1915) to function as a provisional Czechoslovak government. Masaryk then set out for the Russian Empire, Italy, and France, where he established military units (legions) among Czech and Slovak prisoners of war. Between May and November 1918 he was in the United States trying to raise support for the idea of an independent state from the large Czech and Slovak immigrant communities and from the American government headed by President Woodrow Wilson. There, in the fall of 1918 Masaryk held talks with Rusyn-American immigrant leaders (in particular Gregory *Zhatkovych) regarding the possibility of joining *Uhors’ka Rus’ (Rusyn-inhabited lands in Hungary) as an autonomous entity within the proposed Czechoslovak state. Through the efforts of Edvard Benes, Czechoslovakia’s representative at the Paris Peace Conference, Rusyn-inhabited lands south of the Carpathians, in the form of an autonomous province called *Subcarpathian Rus’, were united with Czechoslovakia (*Treaty of St. Germain, September 10, 1919).

In the interim, Masaryk was chosen to be the founding president of Czechoslovakia, a post he held from 1918 to 1935. He considered Subcarpathian Rus’ to be of particular strategic importance as a territorial bridge linking Czechoslovakia with its allies, Romania and Yugoslavia. As president, however, he did not fulfill the promises he made to the Rusyns in 1918-1919 regarding autonomy for Subcarpathian Rus’. Masaryk certainly understood the potential dangers of the multinational composition of Czechoslovakia and he considered Switzerland, with its cantons based on nationalities, as a model for possible application to his own country. In the end, however, he concluded that such a system could not be implemented for at least half a century.

Perhaps the greatest criticism to be leveled against Masaryk in Rusyn matters is that he contributed to the division of Subcarpathian society into three rival and enemy national orientations—*Rusynophile, *Russophile, and *Ukrainophile. It was largely at his initiative that Russian and Ukrainian emigres were encouraged to settle in Subcarpathian Rus’, where they carried out their own political and national agendas and attracted to their respective causes a significant portion of Rusyn youth. As a result, many Rusyns became nationally disoriented, and this hampered the further evolution of a Rusyn self-identity and Rusyn national and political interests.

Nevertheless, Masaryk became a very popular figure in Subcarpathian Rusyn society during his lifetime as evidenced by the appearance of numerous Rusyn publications about him—T. Masaryk (1925); Nashi knyhy v chest Prezydenta T.G. Masaryka (1928); Mykhailo Brashchaiko, T.G. Masaryk iak uchytel’ (1930); Stepan A. Fentsik, ed., T.G. Masaryk: iubileinyi sbornik (1930); T. Masaryk z nahody 80 lit zhytia (1930)—and various other tributes in his honor, including the erection of a large statue of his figure in Uzhhorod (1928). After Hungary annexed Subcarpathian Rus’ (1938-1939), the Masaryk legacy was strongly criticized, while during the post-1945 Soviet regime he was transformed into a caricature of a bourgeois-liberal politician and head of a state that socially exploited and nationally oppressed the Rusyn people. Despite the shortcomings of his political policies, interwar democratic Czechoslovakia remains “Masaryk’s republic,” which for many older residents and informed intellectuals in today’s Subcarpathian Rus’ is still considered the brightest chapter in the history of Rusyns.

Bibliography: Evgenii Nedzel’skii, “T.G. Masaryk v karpatorusskoi poezii,” Tsentral’naia Evropa, VIII, 2 (Prague, 1935), pp. 90-98—in Czech: Jevgenij Nedzielskij, “T.G. Masaryk v podkarpatoruskem basnictvi,” in Jaroslav Zatloukal, ed., Podkarpatska Rus (Bratislava, 1936), pp. 249-255; Ivan Pop, “‘Politychni dity’: T.H. Masaryk i problema Pidkarpats’koi Rusy na zavershal’nomu etapi pershoi svitovoi viiny ta v period Paryz’koi myrnoi konferentsii,” Karpats’kyi krai, IV, 7-12 [106] (Uzhhorod, 1994), pp. 33-36; Ivan Pop, “Problema Pidkarpats’koi Rusy v lystuvanni T.H. Masaryka z E. Beneshem pid chas Paryz’koi myrnoi konferentsii,” ibid., pp. 37-39; Ivan Pop, “T.G. Masaryk a otazka Podkarpatske Rusi v zaveru prvni svetove valky a v dobe Parizske mirove konference,” in Prvni svetova valka, moderni demokracie a T.G. Masaryk (Prague, 1995), pp. 237-250.

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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