CZECHOSLOVAK SOCIETY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
The New Millennium:
New Vistas and New Challenges
January 1, 2001 marks the beginning of the third millennium. As the old
millennium ended, it is time for some reflection on what we can learn from our past
successes, as well as failures, and plan for the future.
The Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, or SVU, as most of us affectionately call it, has been in existence for almost half a century, long enough to make some generalizations as to its usefulness and effectiveness. It was established during the era of the Cold War, when former Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Stalinist regime.
Many Czech and Slovak intellectuals and other freedom loving people were forced to abandon their homeland and seek asylum in the West. It was these intellectuals who conceived the idea of establishing SVU. Their aim was to keep alive the country's treasured historic traditions that had their beginnings long before the second millennium began and which had been repudiated by the oppressing regime. Although the Western world was disturbed by the ongoing events behind the Iron Curtain, it was hopeless to change their course. It was these circumstances that led the Czech and Slovak intellectuals abroad to establish SVU. Some people erroneously thought that the Society was established out of pity or desperation. Not so, according to the late Dr. Jaroslav Nemec, who is generally recognized the SVU founder.. As he used to say, the Society was created out of anger to the world's indecision and inability to stop the inevitable disaster.
The SVU wanted to provide a forum for free development of Czechoslovak culture in exile and make the world aware of the Czech and Slovak cultural traditions which date back more than a millennium. Its activities, as outlined in the original bylaws, consisted of supporting and coordinating the educational, scholarly, literary and artistic endeavors of the Czechoslovak intelligentsia abroad. This concept was soon broadened to open the Society to all individuals interested in fostering Slovak and / or Czech culture, regardless of their ethnic origin.
Our accomplishments to date speak for themselves. In brief, the Society has organized twenty world congresses, six European conferences and twenty regional conferences, over thirty art exhibits, more than fifty musical and drama productions, and more than twenty book displays. Furthermore, it has published over eighty books and monographs, and four periodicals, besides sponsoring or providing support to some fifty other publications. In addition to the above, each chapter has organized meetings, lectures, discussions, exhibits and local functions. It should be pointed out that all of this has been accomplished by its own effort and with its own financial resources. The Society is not dependent on anybody, does not owe anything to anybody and it stands on its own feet.
Following the end of the communist regime in 1989, the SVU's functions greatly expanded. Now, in addition to its original mission, the Society has become a bridge between Czech and Slovak professionals and those in other countries. It has allowed scholars abroad to benefit from contact with their Slovak and Czech colleagues, as well as helping to reintegrate the intellectual life of these two nations into the mainstream of world science, arts and letters, from which they were separated by political barriers for so long.
In the last six years the Society has witnessed unparallel rebirth and remarkable growth. Among various Czech and Slovak-related organizations, SVU now clearly holds the leading position. The 20th SVU World Congress held in Washington last August was an unqualified success, both in terms of its overall program and financially, and in the opinion of many it was the pivotal event of the historic year 2000 for everybody interested in the thing Czech or Slovak.
The newly elected Executive Board which took over the helm of the Society at the SVU General Assembly meeting last August has immediately engrossed itself in mapping its agenda and priorities for the next two years. Notwithstanding the enormous progress the Society has made in recent years, there was the realization that the Society is aging fast and that remedial action is needed
to put a stop to this trend. As a result, the consensus among us is that the time has come to rejuvenate SVU and revamp its leadership ranks with young people.
Our local chapters have already been admonished to start the process in earnest. "Accent on Youth" is now clearly our highest priority. In this connection we have appointed a special Youth Advisory Committee. which is working on establishing a young people database. To be effective we need full cooperation from every member. Members are urged to enroll their children in SVU and encourage them to get involved in our work. We welcome volunteers among our younger generation to participate in various SVU activities and any initiative they may come up with.
Young people can greatly benefit from membership: by presenting papers at SVU conferences and congresses, submitting papers to SVU English periodical Kosmas, get advise on dissertation topics, participate in student essay contests, periodically report on their progress, activities and success
stories in SVU Newsletter, etc. Our newsletter Zpravy SVU now regularly brings biographical sketches of selected young people in a special column "Focus on Younger Generation."
There are also many opportunities for our young people to get involved in SVU activities. The organizers of the forthcoming SVU Conference in Nebraska in August would be pleased to have interested young people work with them on the program, as would our collaborators in Plzen, Czech Republic who are in the midst of preparation of the next SVU World Congress to be held there in the year 2002.
Apart from rejuvenating the Society, we are putting great emphasis on publications which have always been considered "SVU imperative" We are pleased to see our periodical Kosmas back in business. We encourage the authors within, as well as outside the Society, to submit their papers for
consideration. Our new editor, Clinton Machann, and his Editorial Board are prompt in their response. To make it a viable enterprise, we would like our English periodical to eventually be self-sufficient. To accomplish this goal, we need new subscribers, from individuals, as well as from institutions, libraries, etc. All members are urged to subscribe and publicize it among their friends and university libraries.
We are also anxious to get our monograph series going and would welcome suggestions from our members on possible titles, authors, etc. We normally don't publish books ourselves but rather in cooperation with other established publishing houses which are better equipped for the purpose.
We are also putting great emphasis on improving communications with our members. We have improved our newsletter Zpravy SVU in its content and also speeded up its publication schedule. We now carry a regular feature "SVU Calendar", bringing news of the forthcoming activities of individual Local Chapters. For its maximum usefulness it is imperative that the Chapters keep sending in their updates.
The most effective communication, however, is done via e-mail and that is the way SVU Executive Board members communicate with one another. I am pleased to note that most of our Local Chapters have their own e-mail and have access to INTERNET. Those Chapters that don't have e-mail access have been urged to include among their officers individuals with such capability.
SVU needs to use the latest technology to move forward. After a few years of experimentation with a Home Page, we now have our own Web Site, which is highly informative, continuously kept up to date, user-friendly and interactive. Members who haven't seen it yet, should look at it. Our URL address is relatively simple and easy to remember: www.svu2000.org
Two more areas were added to SVU priorities, i.e., preservation of our cultural heritage abroad and work towards the development of civil society. With reference to the former, SVU has already made considerable progress. In cooperation with National Heritage Commission, comprised of major Czech ethic organizations, it has conducted a comprehensive survey relating to historic sites and archivalia. The result of this survey were two draft reports, "Czech-American Historic Sites, Monuments, and Memorabilia" and "Czechoslovak American Archivalia." This work is obviously only a beginning. From the reports it is apparent that most ethnic organizations have not as yet deposited their documents in any of the established archival repositories and most of them haven't even inventoried their private possessions.
With reference to the last priority, work on the development of civil society, this was, of course, the central theme of the last SVU Congress in Washington, DC. This is an area which will be further pursued in our future conferences and publications. We have also initiated a new Elias Humanitarian Award which will be awarded annually, together with an honorarium.
I hope these words will give you some "Food for Thought." I look forward to your comments and suggestions, and especially welcome any new initiatives and volunteer help from interested members.
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