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Masaryk Days 2023: intellectuals against injustice

Commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in March, Masaryk University organises Masaryk Days which, through lectures, discussions and cultural events, refer to the legacy of the president and strive for the reflection of the pressing social issues.

Vice-Rector of Masaryk University Břetislav Dančák presents to Jiří Müller and Miroslav Pospíšil the Roger Scruton Medal for their contribution to the defence of human dignity and human rights.

Taking place for the fourth time, this year’s Masaryk Days are held on 2–3 March and deal with social responsibility of academics. Indeed, social responsibility of academics should be, in addition to teaching and research, one of the pillars of university activities. The event emphasises several notable personalities who embodied this aspect within the framework of their activities, or they still do, and who have some ties to the university.

The “man of the day” of the first day was Roger Scruton (1944–2020), British philosopher, political scientist and author, as well as a recipient of MU’s honorary doctorate and Czech and British awards. During the period of “normalization” in pre-1989 Czechoslovakia Scruton was involved in underground universities, educational efforts organised by anti-communist dissent. Scruton’s widow Sophia attended the event. “It is nice to be among Roger’s friends. It is amazing to be able to share laughter and friendship, which is exactly what he enjoyed here – the sense of humour. He would have been honoured to learn about your efforts ensuring that his name shall remain associated with the university,” said the wife of the philosopher who once quipped that “he had lost his heart to timid but cynical Czechs”. “He was spontaneously generous. He would share everything he had. He never lost interest in the Czech Republic or Slovakia,” said Scruton’s former collaborator Barbara Day, director of a British foundation which used to help the Czech dissent. “He was not an ideologist; he was a genuine philosopher,” added philosopher Daniel Kroupa on how he appreciated Sir Roger’s help in discovering conservative thinking.

Jiří Müller, signatory of Charta 77, political prisoner and former member of the Board of Trustees of Masaryk University, and Miroslav Pospíšil, expert in English and German studies and former Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Arts, both have personal experience with cooperation and friendship with Roger Scruton during “flat seminars” in Brno, which included some bizarre encounters with the communist secret police.

The Roger Scruton Medal is a new addition to the portfolio of Masaryk University medals.

Both of them received the Roger Scruton Medal for their contribution to the defence of human dignity and human rights. “We all learned to come together to defend freedom in which we believe, being Europeans,” Jiří Müller said.

The room in the MU building at Komenského náměstí where the ceremony took place is now named for Sir Roger Scruton, as reminded by a plaque unveiled at the end of the ceremony.

Sophia Scruton, wife of Roger Scruton, at the plaque in the Masaryk University building at Komenského náměstí.

The current state of democracy and human rights in present-day Russia is the key topic of the Friday programme of Masaryk Days. Andrej Zubov, Russian historian and expert in religious studies who has long criticised the Russian regime and was forced to leave the country, will be the keynote speaker. Zubov now gives lectures at MU in modern history of Russia. Other lectures include that by Jaroslav Kurfürst, an expert in political geography, and that by political scientist Petra Kuchyňková. Following a discussion panel with the audience is the christening of a new book by Faculty of Social Studies faculty member Zdeněk Kříž Cesta z Ruska – Ruská agrese proti Ukrajině a její důsledky (literally The Journey from Russia – the Russian Aggression Against Ukraine and its Consequences). The Friday programme of the event will be hosted by the Faculty of Social Studies from 9:30 a.m. in room P51 at Joštova 10. Admission is free but subject to prior registration.

“We are reminded today what Masaryk was going through as an intellectual and as a politician,” said Vice-Rector Jiří Hanuš, himself an expert on Masaryk and his work and legacy, of this year’s programme of Masaryk Days. “Roger Scruton reminded us all what the idea of a university actually means,” Hanuš added.