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A Hundred Years Since 1918 


Key Dates

January 8, 1918 – U.S. President Woodrow Wilson declared the “Fourteen Points,” a plan to end the war, including a proposal for autonomy for Austro-Hungarian nations.

April 29, 1918 – After traveling from Russia and through Japan, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk arrived in Vancouver, Canada.

May 5, 1918 – The expatriate community in Chicago enthusiastically welcomed Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.

May 31, 1918 - Representatives of Czech and Slovak associations in the U.S. and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk signed the Pittsburgh Agreement, declaring the intent of Czechs and Slovaks to form a new democratic nation in Europe.

June 19, 1918 - Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was received by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the White House.

September 3, 1918 - The U.S. government recognized the Czechoslovak National Council as the official representative of the future Czechoslovak state and Czechoslovak legions as part of the fighting armies of the Allies.

October 18, 1918 - In the Washington Declaration, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk proclaimed the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic, inspired by the ideals of American democracy and Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

October 28, 1918 - Czechoslovak independence was declared in Prague on October 28, 1918.

November 20, 1918 - After being elected the first president of the independent Czechoslovakia on November 14 in Prague, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk left the United States and returned home.



1918:Masaryk and America - The Origin of Czechoslovakia

When Tomáš Masaryk married American Charlotte Garrigue in Brooklyn in 1878, he never dreamed that 40 years later, in 1918, he would be leaving the United States for Europe again - and this time as the President and founder of the new Czechoslovak Republic.

The United States of America and its ideals made a lasting impression on Masaryk, both personally and politically. He was inspired by the religious beliefs of his wife and America’s need to separate church and state. The ideals of the American Revolution, representative democracy, personal liberty, equality of all individuals  and, above all, the Republican form of government formed the cradle of the new Czechoslovak state, fought for by the Czechoslovak legions under Masaryk’s leadership during the First World War and supported by the United States and President Wilson.

"I do not have to tell you how moved I was reading your statement of independence," wrote President Wilson to Masaryk in response to the Washington Declaration of Czechoslovak independence. Wilson and Masaryk, two university professors who became politicians and statesmen, two "philosophers on the throne," were the visionaries forming the foundation of this century of deep inspiration and reciprocity between the two countries.


1919: Richard T. Crane - First U.S. Ambassador to Prague 

Richard T. Crane, the first U.S. ambassador to Prague, was a member of the family responsible for the establishment of Czechoslovakia like no other family in America. His father, Charles R. Crane, a wealthy Chicago businessman, philanthropist, and supporter of President Wilson was instrumental in bringing Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk to America. 

Charles Crane’s daughter Frances also married Masaryk’s son Jan, who was the first head of the diplomatic office of Czechoslovakia to the United States (1919 – 1920) and later became foreign minister of Czechoslovakia. Crane's family supported Jan Masaryk already between 1906 and 1913, when he lived in the U.S. for the first time. 

In addition to supporting Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his entire family, Charles Crane also worked as a patron of the arts, sponsoring, for example, artist Alphonse Mucha’s Slav Epic, paintings portraying the history of the Slavic people. In 2017, on the eve of the centennial celebrations of Czechoslovak independence, Charles Crane was posthumously awarded the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, one of the highest state decorations awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to humanity, democracy and human rights.



1939: Edvard Beneš and World War II 

In February 1939, a new visiting professor began teaching at the University of Chicago — former Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš. Students chose his lecture series on democracy as the course of the year. Soon after, he initiated the struggle for the reestablishment of an independent Czechoslovakia in the pre-Munich frontiers. 

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Czechs and Americans were again on the same side, fighting against Nazism. Tens of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks fought on the side of the Allies both on the Western and Eastern Fronts, and many others supported anti-Nazi resistance at home. 

The extermination of the Lidice village by the Nazis in June 1942, as revenge for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by members of the exiled Czechoslovak army in Prague in May 1942, evoked strong emotions on both sides of the Atlantic. When Edvard Beneš spoke as the leader of the Czechoslovak exile in the U.S. Congress in May 1943, Lidice represented a powerful symbol of our common fight.

The liberation of Pilsen by the 3rd U.S. Army of General George Patton in May 1945 was the symbolic highlight of the joint struggle for freedom and democracy. As in the First World War, during which Czechoslovakia was founded, also in the Second World War, thanks to which Czechoslovakia was reestablished, our countries fought together for common ideals of freedom and democracy.


IV / 1949: Ferdinand Peroutka and the Council of Free Czechoslovakia

After the coup d'état in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 and the establishment of the communist dictatorship, many accomplished Czechoslovaks fled from imminent persecution and sought refuge in the United States. During the Cold War, the U.S. government supported the resistance of the exiled democrats against the communist regime.

The head of the Council of Free Czechoslovakia, established in 1949 as the highest exile authority, was Ferdinand Peroutka. Beginning in 1951, he served as director of the Czechoslovak section of Radio Free Europe, broadcasting to oppressed Czechoslovaks in his distant homeland. He was one of the most renowned First Republic journalists exiled in America and devoted to politics. 

When Peroutka died in New York in 1978, he might seem to have failed as an exiled politician and author. However, his work on the restoration of a free and democratic Czechoslovakia helped transform the country. After 1989, the renewed democracy in Czechoslovakia followed both the tradition of free journalism from the time of the First Republic and the ethos of democratic exile — both best represented by Peroutka. Even Peroutka's novels have been honored in time as a great example of Czech post-war prose.


V / 1964: Josef Korbel, Dean at the University of Denver

Josef Korbel, a former Czechoslovak diplomat, died in Colorado in 1977. He could not have guessed that his daughter would become the first U.S. woman Secretary of State and his student the second.                   

Korbel was a pre-war diplomat, co-worker of Edvard Beneš in exile during the Second World War and the Czechoslovak ambassador to Yugoslavia after the end of World War II. He became a recognized American political scientist and international relations expert. In 1964, he founded the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver and became the first dean of the school. 

His daughter, Madeleine Albright (born as Marie Jana Korbelová in Prague), became the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, appointed by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997. In addition to his daughter, his student, Condoleezza Rice, was the first African American woman to become U.S. Secretary of State, appointed by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2005. 

Josef Korbel, the father of one and mentor of the second, one Democrat and one Republican, was perhaps the most influential Czechoslovak diplomat in modern American history.

VI / 1968: Spring in New York

Prague Spring of 1968, an attempt to reform the communist regime in Czechoslovakia as "socialism with a human face," resulted in the tragic occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968 and the establishment of a hard, aggressive regime of “normalization.” 

Václav Havel, then a young star on the Czech theater scene, spent the spring of 1968 in New York City. Its cultural scene and free energy captivated him. In New York, he met legends of the Czech exile community — Ferdinand Peroutka and actor Jiří Voskovec, a member of Prague’s legendary pre-war Liberated Theater, popularized by Voskovec, Jan Werich and jazz composer Jaroslav Ježek. With American theatrical producer and director Joseph “Joe” Papp who created the revered Public Theater in New York, Havel arranged for the release of his plays. 

Havel’s first visit to America and its ideals left a profound impression on his life. He later spent the fall of 2006 at Columbia University in New York lecturing and working on the book “Please, briefly” and 2009 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where he penned his last play, “Leaving.”  

When Václav Havel's father built the first major film studios in Central Europe in Prague at Barrandov in the 1920s, his architects were inspired by the famous Cliff House in San Francisco. Like his father, Havel was inspired by the free American cultural and social scene, as well as the political tradition of democracy and active civic engagement.

VII / 1989: Velvet Revolution

Shirley Temple Black was the American Ambassador to Czechoslovakia at the time of the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, a revolution that non-violently overthrew the long-standing communist dictatorship. 

She strongly encouraged the Czechoslovak transition to democracy and the return to the alliance with the United States. She was very popular during the three years of her mission in Prague (1989-1992). Like U.S. President Ronald Reagan, credited as the man who won the Cold War peacefully, Shirley Temple began her career as a film actress and one of the biggest child stars in Hollywood’s history.

Václav Havel, elected in December 1989 as the first president of the democratic Czechoslovakia, had, as a dramatist, an extraordinary feel for the theatrical and film elements of politics, as did former actors Reagan and Temple Black. That was one of the reasons why Havel, together with Ambassador Temple Black, insisted on inviting U.S. President George Bush to the one-year anniversary celebration of the Velvet Revolution. On November 17, 1990, President Bush appeared in Wenceslas Square in front of enthusiastic Czechoslovak crowds grateful for the long-standing American support for the ideals of democracy and freedom. President Bush was the first American president ever to visit Czechoslovakia, and he did so symbolically on the first anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.



VIII / 1990: Speech of Václav Havel in the U.S. Congress

In February 1990, less than two months after his election, President Havel made his first major foreign trip. First, he symbolically headed to the U.S. Only after visiting Washington D.C., did he travel to where the past four decades of Czechoslovaks presidents headed first — Moscow in the Soviet Union. 

On February 21, 1990, Václav Havel gave a landmark speech in front of the joint session of the U.S. Congress, interrupted 21 times by standing ovations. Never before, had any Czech been admitted to the center of American political power with such respect and attention. Havel, who represented all newly liberated Central and Eastern European countries, urged America to support political and economic reforms, both in former Soviet satellites and the Soviet Union itself.

"When Thomas Jefferson wrote that ‘governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ it was a simple and important act of the human spirit. What gave meaning to that act, however, was the fact that the author backed it up with his life. It was not just his words; it was his deeds as well," Havel said before the applauding Congress. He also based his political creed   on the same pledge . 

In 2014, Havel's bust was unveiled in Congress in commemoration of his extraordinary speech to Congress after the fall of Communism and his contribution to the ideals of freedom and democracy shared by both countries. He has only been the fourth European after Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg and Lajos Kossuth, to have the honor of his bust being placed in Congress for his achievements.

IX / 1999: Accession of the Czech Republic to NATO

In 1993, Czechoslovakia divided into two independent states — the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One of the main political objectives of the independent Czech Republic was to anchor into Western political structures —the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1999, the Czech Republic fulfilled its first goal, becoming a member of NATO and thereby military allies with the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Czech born, represented the United States at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri, where President Truman spent his youth. Truman had governed the U.S. in 1949 when NATO was created. 

In 1999, a decade of intense relations between Czechs and Americans culminated with the entrance into NATO. The 1990s was an era of hope and transformation – of political and economic reforms, with an opening of society after decades of forced silence, with individual and creative freedom that the Czechs experienced last during the time of the First Republic. American President Bill Clinton symbolized Czech-American reciprocity when he visited Prague in September 1994. He drank beer with writer Bohumil Hrabal at his favorite pub, The Golden Tiger, and played at the Reduta jazz club on a saxophone he received during a visit from Václav Havel.

The Czech alliance with the United States, confirmed by NATO accession, remains strong. After the September 11th attacks in the U.S., Czech soldiers fought alongside U.S. troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, the alliance with the United States in NATO remains (together with our membership in the European Union and friendly relations with all our neighbors) one of the political pillars of the Czech Republic.

X / 2009: Obama's Speech in Prague

U.S. President Barack Obama gave his first major foreign policy speech in Prague. He visited Prague in April 2009 to meet other EU officials. The Czech Republic was admitted to the EU in 2004 and presided over the EU in 2009. Speaking at Prague Castle, Obama outlined his vision of the world without nuclear weapons.                   

“Sametová revoluce – The Velvet Revolution – taught us many things. It showed us that a peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire and expose the emptiness of an ideology. It has shown that small countries can play a pivotal role in world events, and that young people can lead the way in overcoming old conflicts. And it proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon,” said President Obama in Prague, not far from the T.G. Masaryk Memorial.                   

In April 2010, Obama returned to Prague almost exactly after a year. With then Russian President Medvedev, he signed the New START Disarmament Treaty in Prague, which further reduced the nuclear arsenals of both countries, and continued his efforts to achieve a safer world. For two consecutive years, Prague had become the center of world diplomacy.