During this special anniversary year of 2018, a number of events have been held, most recently in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., commemorating the historical events of 100 years ago. The major event, a gala reception commemorating the ‘Pittsburgh Agreement’ was held on May 31 in Pittsburgh, at the Heinz History Center. It was organized by the Slovak and Czech honorary consuls and the embassies of both countries. Nearly 300 attendees and guests heard from local officials and Czech and Slovak government officials commemorating and interpreting the event that took place 100 years ago in downtown Pittsburgh. There, Prof. Thomas G. Masaryk met with representatives of the Slovak-and Czech-American communities to endorse an agreement that Slovaks and Czechs would support the formation of an independent republic following the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire. From this ‘Pittsburgh Agreement’ and a number of other keys events, the nation of Czecho-Slovakia (or Czechoslovakia) emerged. The resulting nation experienced both a glorious and torturous path within Europe throughout the middle of the 20th century (1918-1992).
The event was emceed by well-known Pittsburgh public TV personality and Slovak-American, Rick Sebak. The national anthems of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the U.S. were sung by local Czech and Slovak young people’s groups, and Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh gave the invocation. Local officials, including Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto welcomed the attendees, and spoke of the influence that Czech and Slovak immigrants had on the social and economic development of Pittsburgh and the United States. Honorary consuls (and FOS Chairman) Joseph Senko (Slovak) and Carol Hochman (Czech) then introduced the guests from the Czech and Slovak governments. The ambassadors of each country, Peter Kmec (Slovakia) and Hynek Kmonicek (Czech Republic) then spoke, with Amb. Kmonicek noting that despite the ‘Velvet Divorce,’ Czechs and Slovaks can never be foreigners to each other. Government officials followed, with Miluse Horska, Vice President of the Senate of the Czech Parliament, speaking about the significance of the Pittsburgh Agreement for the history of Czechoslovakia. Next, Slovak government officials spoke: Katarina Csefalvayova, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, and Lukas Parizek, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Both echoed comments about the significance of the Pittsburgh Agreement for the development of the Slovak nation. Ms. Csefalvayova in particular, looked to the future and spoke of the need for continuing vigilance in the face of current threats to democratic values.
Closing the event was a wreath-laying ceremony at a display of plaques honoring Prof. Masaryk and Pres. Woodrow Wilson that was shown by live video, and a benediction by Bishop Zubik. The attendees then enjoyed interacting, while also viewing an exhibit of panels entitled, “Czechs and Slovaks on Their Difficult Road to Peace and Independence.”
Earlier that same day a symposium, organized by American Friends of the Czech Republic and co-sponsored with FOS, focusing on the historical background of the Pittsburgh Agreement, was held at the University of Pittsburgh. Speakers included: Prof. Milada Polisenska, of Anglo-American University, Prague; Mgr. Matej Hanula, Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava; and Dr. Hugh L. Agnew of George Washington University. Among the topics discussed were the roots of the “centralists vs. autonomists” debate that involved Slovakia, and that eventually led to the Velvet Divorce in 1993.