100 Years of Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic – the Legacy of Democracy, Humanism and Responsibility
30 November 2018
by Professor Tomáš Zima
Rector of Charles University
Charles University together with the European University networks, the Coimbra Group, UNICA, LERU and Europaeum, organized an international Rectors’ conference on 24-25 October on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Czechoslovak/Czech Republic in 1918. Czechoslovakia was a highly industrialized and socially stratified society and served as an example of a democratic state in Central Europe. More than 120 representatives of leading European educational institutions participated at the event.
The objective of the conference was to discuss the important topics such as the Legacy of Democracy, Humanism and Responsibility (with presentations from the Universities of Oxford, St Andrews, KU Leuven, Zurich, and Geneva) in relation to the significant “figure-eight anniversary” of independence of Czechoslovakia from a global perspective. Representatives of Charles University, Czech and international universities debated in three panels, I. Legacy of Democracy, II. Legacy of Humanism, and III. Legacy of Responsibility, with contributions from José Manuel Durão Barroso, former President of the European Commission and Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of the Higher Education Unit, DG Education and Culture about the role of universities in contemporary society and politics, as well as the influence universities have on the development of democracy.
I stressed in my introductory address that the current society is facing increasing intolerance and popularity of various populists who offer quick and easy solutions to complex problems. The role of universities in this respect is the same as it has been in the past: to defend the principles of democracy, humanism and knowledge. In the current relatively disturbed world with many new influences, we are facing increasing intolerance; many populists are looking for simple solutions, black and white with universities being here to guard democracy, humanism and wisdom.
I proclaimed: “How is this to be achieved? We have to take responsibility for the development of our alma mater, our academic community and contemporary society.” Universities have to explain, and we have to appeal to society! A lot is at stake. Open and democratic Europe is what we are concerned for!
This is the reason why the representatives of the four associations play an important role in enhancing the cooperation of their member universities in international cooperation, research, education and innovation activities: the Coimbra Group, Europaeum, LERU and UNICA all agreed to sign “the Prague Appeal” regarding the conditions for a successful development of science and higher education in Europe.
The statement expresses concern about the current political situation in Europe, which could lead to undesirable developments in education and scientific work in the European region. The signatories of the Prague Appeal have pointed out that if the development in science, research and education is to be pursued in the future, cross-border and international cooperation must be preserved, especially the mobility of students and academic staff. The Prague Appeal called on EU decision makers to ensure that the future European programmes, Erasmus and Horizon Europe, will continue to allow, and even further develop, Education and Research agreements with non-EU countries. In particular, a “Europe First” approach is genuinely undesirable.