Forum IV Digest 1 - Reflections

My Decalogue

The celebrations through the eyes
of Prof. Josef Koutecky

It was on a Saturday morning in the spring of 1949 that I first set foot in Charles University, or to be more precise, its Prague Medical Faculty. This was shortly after the celebrations of the six-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the university had been grossly spoiled and defiled by the new communist regime. It could scarcely have occurred to me then that my fortunes for most of my working life would be linked to the Medical Faculty and especially Charles University and that fifty years later I would even have the honour to be organizing the celebrations at the 650th anniversary of its founding. For me the one and a half year of our current celebrations are a fifty-year anniversary of honour and love for Prague's university. The academic community, and also the general public, are certainly expecting dignified celebrations that might also, in a sense, redress the wrongs committed fifty years ago. Permit me here, under ten brief headings, to express the ideas that fill my heart and my efforts to prepare celebrations worthy of such an anniversary.

  1. Dignity. An institution as important for the state and the development of national education and learning as Charles University after 650 years, which makes so major a contribution to the general level of culture in the state, deserves worthy and dignified celebrations. I have no doubt that it will be given such reverence.

  2. Tradition. I see this in the same terms as G.K. Chesterton: "Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, but that the dead are living." Through their principles, their deeds, and their legacy. Not just the university but the whole nation should be aware on the occasions of its major anniversaries, that without tradition there can be no progress. The wide spectrum of our celebrations guarantees an emphasis on the importance of the ancient traditions of the university and its leading figures, at a level which should address the nation.

  3. Contemporaneity. Charles University is not an institution that takes pride only in its long history. The university today is a creative organism, one of the largest in the Czech Republic, which has a fundamental impact on the training of a new generation of educated people and which jointly creates science and scholarship at national and international level. It has shared in the creation of modern educational systems and in the development of the present state of knowledge in world science. In the framework of the celebrations more than a hundred congresses, conferences and symposia (mostly international in character), and the publication of a series of academic and scientific works, provide testimony to this contemporary role.

  4. The Future. One of the most important aims of the celebrations of the university anniversary is to look forward into the near and more remote future, and this aim is symbolically emphasized by the approaching turn of the millenium. Global problems cannot be approached let alone solved solely by politicians. The significance of the university in facing up to the innumerable problems of the world is clear. Some of the events in the celebrations are concerned with visions of the future - to make it visible and to try and find some acceptable solutions.

  5. Presenting Charles University to the World. The celebrations of the university anniversary represent a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the cultural world that the Czech Republic is an important, integral and equal part of that world, and rightfully belongs in its community. No institution is better placed and suited to this task than Charles University. From November 1997 to April 1999 there will be more than enough opportunities, some unrepeatable.

  6. Presenting Charles University to the Nation and State. This might appear unnecessary, but, to be honest, how many of our citizens and government representatives notice Charles University and how many of these are aware of its importance? I am very much afraid that objective statistical survey would yield depressing results. We now have a rare opportunity to set this right, and we must not waste it.

  7. The Importance of Learning. The not specially cheering situation that I have just mentioned confronts me with the challenge of using the celebrations to underline the importance of general education and learning for the nation and the state. There is no doubt that these can only flourish when the citizens are educated. In this regard, too, the university celebrations can become a significant stimulus to the leaders of government.

  8. Science, Scholarship and the Arts. Human culture is not created just by science and scholarship. The arts have an equal share in it. For this reason science and the arts interact and overlap throughout the whole course of the celebrations, representing two of the three basic principles of a good and happy life for humanity.

  9. The Right Mutual Relations. Interpersonal relations, but also relations to nature, to animals and plants, things and places, and all that makes up a happy human existence. I am deeply convinced that the demonstration of this fact is one of the major tasks of the university, which must show it in many ways in the course of the celebrations.

  10. Honour and Love. It is scarcely possible that the celebrations of the 650th anniversary of the founding and survival of Charles University should be anything less than a profession of the deep honour and love in which we all hold her. Contemporary rationality does not encourage emotional relations, but their absence is that which impoverishes the individual and mankind and sets confines to the perception of the world. We must show that we honour and love our university, and that she is for us truly a "gracious, beneficent mother" (alma mater), without whom we would not be what we are and where we are.

Prof. MUDr. Josef Koutecky, DrSc.,
CU Pro-Rector for External Relations

(Volume IV, no. 4, 1997)
Photo for Forum: from the Archives