By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser
These are three questions in one – and answers depend on three different concepts that I will try to relate to each other. One is what we actually know – in our case about the Czech and Slovak republkics that we have learned from school or experience that is “stored” in our brain. For most people that knowledge about the Czech and Slovak Republics and their people is very skimpy. The second concept is one of motivation to learn new things. The answer depends on the priorities people establish in their minds regarding the immediate or future use of such knowledge, the priority they attach to other kinds of learning and the perceived relevance to our daily lives. Again for most people knowledge about two small countries far away does not appear to be very important and as long as the Czech and Slovak republics are not in daily news, almost irrelevant. Other people might know a little and believe therefore that they know what is there to know. This leaves the third concept, namely what we should know – and the answer to this question exposes a gap between what most people know and what they should know.
This discussion raises three questions: 1) how much and what kind of knowledge is enough, 2) why should we want to learn it, and 3) if we should, how do we bridge that gap? For people who have special interest in the Czech and Slovak Republics either because of their own ethnicity or other connections, these questions ring a different tone, which is what I am doing to my readers in this article.
The first and the third questions are simple to answer. The Czech and Slovak Cultural Center spends a great deal of time to organize regular lectures on selected aspects of these two republics and their roles in the world (which includes us). The topics are timely, do not require any prior knowledge or preparation, and are limited to the most important issues and events. Speakers are well prepared and now, thanks to the modern technologies, we can bring any speaker to the Twin Cities on the SKYPE system; this proved effective and we will be doing much more of that. This technology is also extremely cost effective because most voluntary associations do not have sufficient funding to bring prominent speakers here from abroad.
For the next two years we have prepared a tentative list of topics that will be refined and augmented when people contact us with their additional recommendations. We in fact solicit the readers’ suggestions urgently.
Some of the topics are controversial or thought provoking as the three “curses”: Munich, Yalta, and the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans. Others are designed to explain what happened to the people and their organizations, including SOKOL and the churches, during the two most horrendous occupations, Nazi and communist. One program may be devoted to the legacy of Lidice while another will feature the “crimes of communism” – findings of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism. This Institute prepared an excellent exhibit of the methods used by the secret police – which we hope to bring to the Twin Cities. Additional sessions will focus on the positive aspects of how people are building and improving their democratic institutions and through them a civil society, rebuilding religious institutions, and catching up with the rest of the world in the European Union, NATO, the Atlantic community, and the world society at large. We do have many connections in both republics and plan to bring some prominent personalities on the SKYPE to discuss such topics as the revival of SOKOL and its role in the development of these two republics, or the survival of the religious organizations. For people interested in tourism, the SKYPE system enables us to present our audiences with the beauty of these countries by way of a virtual “tour” of the Czech and Slovak Republics, going way beyond the capital cities.
The answer to the second question, why we should want and feel we need more knowledge, must remain with individual people to answer. This article does challenge each person who might read it, to respond to it at least mentally. I hope the answer will be consistent with the demands of the information society in which we now live, that requires more knowledge and skills to connect different pieces of it. This way we will not be surprised when events happen around the world that we did not expect because we were ignorant of the conditions that create these events. These events are happening constantly and affect us and our own society.