The first events of the officially launched celebrations of the founding of Charles University were held on the 17th of November 1997. The university deliberately chose the 17th of November - the Day of Student Struggle for Freedom and Democracy - as the date on which it would enter its important jubilee. Today it recalls more than one anniversary - the 17th of November 1939 and 1989. You can find out about the first days of celebration in our reports on individual events.
At a press conference in the Imperial Hall the CU Rector Prof. Karel Maly told journalists that the academic, cultural and social events taking place in the framework of the celebrations of the 650th anniversary of the founding of CU were also conceived as a tribute to European science, scholarship and learning. The celebrations will continue until the 7th of April 1999. The central event, on the 7th of April 1998, will be a celebratory meeting in the Vladislav Hall at the Prague Castle. The President of the Republic will receive a CU delegation, there will be a commemorative ceremony at the tomb of the founder of the university Charles IV and an ecumenical mass in the Cathedral of St. Vitus, and then, in the Carolinum, the Rector of CU will present honorary doctorates of Charles University to leading world figures in science, culture and politics. The CU Pro-Rector for External Relations, Prof. Josef Koutecky, emphasized the European dimension of the celebrations, which will draw the attention of the academic world to Prague. The larger important evens will include academic conferences, the rectors of the oldest European universities will have a meeting in Prague, etc. The celebrations of the 650th anniversary of CU will not only underline the work and academic achievements of university teachers and students, but also aim to make the general public more aware of the historical importance of Czech learning and culture.
A celebratory expanded meeting of the CU Research Board took place in the Great Hall of the Carolinum. CU Pro-Rector Prof. Pavel Klener welcomed many distinguished guests, including Jiri Grusa, Karel Kuhnl, Jan Strasky, Otakar Motejl, Petra Buzkova, Jan Koukal and Rudolf Zahradnik. In an opening address the CU Rector Prof. Karel Maly spoke about the role that students have taken in the historical process of the moulding of Czechoslovakia. He recalled the tragic events surrounding the closure of Czech universities by the Nazis in 1939, the student movement in 1967 and 1968 and, of course, the recent past - the November revolution of 1989. The CU Rector emphasized that the celebrations of the 650th anniversary of the founding of Charles University are at the same time celebrations of European and world culture, freedom and democracy. In his address, devoted to the future role of universities, he also touched on the problems most often discussed in relation to university education: the high financial costs, shortage of teaching space and equipment and a shortage of teachers. The Rector emphasized that investment in education brings important returns, and is the guarantee of future economic and intellectual development. Rapid technological change, he said, does not necessarily mean that communication between people becomes easier, and for this reason we should continue to take care to maintain and develop education in the natural sciences and humanities. It is clear that a functioning society relies not just on economic and political factors but, most of all, a shared cultivated cultural atmosphere. The Czech Minister of Education, Youth and Physical Education, Jiri Grusa, spoke about the problems of our educational system and focused on a lack of independence among students, an inadequately developed technical background and limited access to information sources... He sees the future of Czech education in closer co-operation with universities abroad and the progressive reform of our school system, which should converge with the western system of education. The Director of the Institute for the History of CU and the CU Archives, Prof. Josef Petran gave a lecture recalling the historical development of Charles University from its founding to the present day. At the end of the celebratory meeting the CU Rector used the opportunity to present letters of thanks to students of the CU Mathematics and Physics Faculty - Stepan Francl, Petra Gladavska, Mgr. Tomas Jelinek, Lucie Korena and Lukas Polerecky for organization of help for the areas of the country hit by floods.
In the traditional assembly hall of Charles University's Philosophical Faculty, a meeting took place between the Czech Minister of Education, Jiri Grusa, and students and professors at CU. Before the meeting, the Minister of Education honoured the memory of Jan Palach, student of the Philosophical Faculty, by laying a wreath on his memorial. The discussions in the great hall were opened by the Chairman of the Faculty's Academic Senate, doc. PhDr. Zdenek Benes, CSc., and the Dean of the Faculty, doc. PhDr. Frantisek Vrhel, CSc. A whole range of issues were aired in the open, sometimes trenchant and sometimes amusing debate, and these included the proposed new law on universities, the question of student fees, possibilities of student visits to universities abroad and parallels with foreign educational systems. Minister Jiri Grusa (pictured here behind the chairman's table between the Dean of the Philosophical Faculty and the Pro-Dean for Study Affairs, Prof. Marie Konigova) responded with a general view of the critical, constructive and pungent comments of students and teachers and at the very beginning confessed that beforhehand he had bet that the first question in the discussion would be concerned with student fees. Apparently he lost the bet...
Seventy of the best students and postgraduates of CU, chosen by the leadership of their faculties, gathered in the Lesser Hall of the Carolinum to meet the Rector of CU Prof. Karel Maly, the Pro-Rector for Study Affairs Prof. Miloslav Petrusek and the Pro-Rector for Development Doc. Ivan Wilhelm. The meeting took place in a "working atmosphere". The Rector told students about the current goals and immediate aims of CU, and the students informed the university leadership about their academic problems. In a discussion which continued into the evening hours, the Rector focused attention on the changes that had taken place in the university since 1989. He mentioned the great increase in the number of students, the basic changes in personnel in the ranks of professors and docents, the introduction of hundreds of new areas of study, and the establishment of new university centres (e.g. the Institute for the Foundations of Education, the Centre for Theoretical Studies and CERGE). He drew attention to the new status of the university in the contemporary world, especially in the context of globalization, "internetization" and the fact that the various civilizations are meeting and confronting each other in ever closer proximity. The CU Rector also talked about the increasing intellectualization of the world, arguing that it will be the level of education "that will decide whether our nation and its greatest university will play an important role in the world, or decline into provincialism and insignificance". In a lively discussion the students raised major concerns about the planned credit system, the selection and assessment of lecturers and teaching in general, teaching space, library facilities, possibilities for study abroad and other issues. After the official conclusion of the meeting an informal discussion continued in the reception rooms of the Carolinum. In the words of CU Pro-Rector Prof. Petrusek, the meeting helped "both sides to a deeper awareness of many problems, and discussion inspired them to consider different possible ways of dealing with the problems that exist in the relationship between university, faculties and students".
At the formal signing of the sponsorship agreements in the presence of the Rector and Questor of CU (from left to right: Ing. Miroslav Tera, the Managing Director of Unipetrol inc., CU Questor Ing. Josef Kubicek, CU Rector Prof. Karel Maly, and Managing Director and Chairman of the Board of the Czech Savings Bank, inc., Ing. Jaroslav Klapal.
The complex and lengthy project for the celebrations of the 650th anniversary of the founding of Charles University, involving many dozens of events, could not have been realized fully without support from sponsors. It was emblematic that the day of the launch of the celebrations (the 17th of November, 1997), saw the signing, in the reception rooms of the Carolinum, of sponsorship agreements between Charles University, represented by its Rector Prof. JUDr. Karel Maly, and representatives of the general sponsors of the celebrations: Ing. Jaroslav Klapal, Managing Director and Chairman of the Board of the Czech Savings Bank, and JUDr. Filip Sedivy, Chairman of the Board of Unipetrol. We asked both to answer the three following questions:
New medals for the 650th anniversary of the founding of Charles University, which will be important symbols of this major cultural event, will be awarded to many figures in science and culture from both the Czech Republic and abroad. The first new medal is the Jubilee Commemorative Medal for the 650th Anniversary of CU for distinguished Czech and foreign representatives who have benefited CU. Its design symbolizes not just the act of founding the university in 1348, but, above all, the role that the university has fulfilled down the centuries of its existence. The Rectorate of CU announced a competition for the best medal designs two years ago, and after several months the competition jury announced the winner. It was Prof. Jiri Harcuba, a former Rector of the Academy of Applied Arts 1991-1994, distinguished glass-maker and medal maker. Prof. Harcuba (1928) integrated into his design his relationship to the university and to education in general. The obverse and reverse sides of the coin carry a portrait of Charles IV, a gothic initial "K" in a form taken from Charles's Founding Charter and a series of names of important rectors, teachers and students who helped to create the traditions of the university. "Around the edge of the medal I added statements which in my view are the essence of all knowledge: beauty of thought, wonder in discovery, the search for truth and finally sacrifice to truth and understanding." Prof. Harcuba believes that the university should create a universal view of the world. For him the peak of the understanding of the world is art. "Man as part of the whole continually confronts a mystery which transcends him and remains inaccessible to him." The university of the next millenium should not encourage mankind in its exaggerated ideas of omnipotence and should not permit "the rule of businessmen over philosophers and poets." For decades Prof. J. Harcuba has successfully competed in every competition for the design of Czech coins. What is important to him is that he should take the theme of the commission as his own. "The technique and form is established by the commission and many people regard that as a limitation. But one must retain maximum freedom of approach and one does no have to give in to pressure from the commissioner. I myself don't see it as a handicap. On the contrary, it interests me to see how different designers respond to the same commission. It's really an eternal education."
The designer of the second new medal, named the CU Commemorative Medal for achievements by outstanding members of CU staff for the 650th anniversary is artist prof. Jozef Soukup (1919). On one side of the coin is a portrait a young woman, a contemporary student, who is finishing her education at the university. Her head is symbolically winged with thought. On the reverse Prof. Soukup has depicted the maces of all the current faculties of CU, with a linden leaf as the symbol of slavonic identity and the laurel, the sign of glory. In his view a medal symbolising the famous Czech university should be timeless. "The composition and lettering may be modern, but it must be lasting, and more than a response to a contemporary trend in the ideas of art dealers," is the way he explains his approach. Prof. Soukup spent thirty-five years at the Academy of Applied Arts (Prof. Harcuba was one of his first students), headed the department of glass and sculpture and has created a whole series of medals, engravings and jewelry.
He has worked jointly with institutions of higher education other than CU. Since 1952 he has made maces and rectorial chains for several other universities. His work in the Prague Castle precincts is also important.
It may sound incredible, but the first all-university CU Ball was only held this year. The occasion was the launch of celebrations of the 650th anniversary of the founding of CU, and the first ball took place on the 21st of November 1997 on Prague's Zofin Island. To judge from the warm reactions, good mood and satisfaction of more than a thousand guests, the event was a great success. The entertainment was provided in all the assembly rooms on Zofin by a succession of well-known musicians - the Vaclav Hybs Orchestra, the Josef Hlavsa Orchestra, the Prague Original Syncopated Orchestra, the Dobry Vecer Quintet, the Varmuz Dulcimer Band, and Ivan Hlas with the group Nahlas.
The organ in the Great Hall of the Carolinum resounded, on the 11th of December 1997, not with the tones of Gaudeamus Igitur, but with the no less traditional Mass by Ryba. No one who came with the idea of enjoying the pre-Christmas atmosphere could possibly have been disappointed. Prof. J. Koutecky, Pro-Rector for CU External Relations, greeted all present in the name of the Rector and declared that it was necessary to find, in "this every more complex labyrinth of the world, at least a short while spent in tranquility", and that Christmas should certainly be one of these periods of calm. In his view this year's pre-Christmas concert seemed, naturally, even more glorious than its predecessors: ..."this year's Christmas concert is not simply a customary university pleasure, but is made even more splendid by the start of the 650th anniversary of the university, and the 649th Christmas, which shows and celebrates its founding." Finally the Pro-Rector wished success to all endeavours in the New Carolinum Year. He then welcomed the University Arts Ensemble of Charles University, directed by A. Melichar, which introduced the right advent "note" to the packed hall with melodic and heartfelt Christmas music by Adam Michna sung a capella. The programme kept to the Czech repertoire with the following rendering of the composition Reges de Saba by F. X. Brixi, in which the ensemble was joined by a foursome of soloists and the Musici de Praga Orchestra. After the interval the musicians, in orange robes combined with black-tie, reappeared and the audience finally heard the well-loved notes of Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass, interpreted in the appropriate way - with enthusiasm and humility.