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My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Memoirs, 1993
Postscript, 1994

Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at and a copy of the paper, if possible, as we would like to know when this material is of interest and we are curious as to how it is being used. We'd like to hear from you.
© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families


I am writing this obituary on the last day of 1992. As of midnight today Czechoslovakia will cease to exist. I was present at the creation--now I am present for the burial.

Strangely enough I, and I believe most Czechs, have mixed feelings about the split into a Czech and a Slovak Republic. On the one hand, I had a strong attachment to the old republic since its formation in 1918. On the other, I thought for some time that a divorce is preferable to continuous wrangling. When visiting Prague in the summer of this year, I answered questions about this division routinely by saying, "The sooner the better." I did so even though some members of the Civic Forum, the agent of the Velvet Revolution, thought otherwise. Among them was President Havel, who did not want to go down in history as its last President, as he finally did.

It actually was not the first time Czechoslovakia fell asunder. It was liquidated once before in 1939, when Hitler occupied what by then remained of the country. It again changed its skin in 1948 when it succumbed to a Communist putsch, and once more at the time of the Prague Spring when it was invaded by Soviet armies.

Every time it went under it got good obituaries. As the leader of Sudeten German social democrats Wenzel Jaksch put it in 1938, "Czechoslovakia was an island of human rights and a safe haven of persecuted humanity." At least from 1918 to 1938, it was politically stable, economically successful and generally prosperous. In 1937, before Munich, savings per head of population were twice as high as in Austria and 15% higher than in Switzerland.

It is ironic that even now a majority both in Czechia and in Slovakia would actually have preferred to remain a common state. That was one reason why the two leaders, Klaus and Meciar, in the end rejected the plan to leave the decision to a referendum. At the same time most people are glad that there is a final answer, which somebody has called "a divorce with mixed feelings." And so, what once started with a bang, ends now with a whimper.

At a time when other parts of Eastern Europe are ravaged by fierce civil wars, it is remarkable that the separation was accomplished without a single person killed, or even wounded. There was no fighting, only quarrelling. Compare it to Yugoslavia. Czechs are different from Serbs: sober, pragmatic, practical, unheroic. Serbs are a heroic people and proud of it, for better or worse, with consequences that last for centuries.

The prognosis is fairly good, or at least fair, for Czechia, much less so for the Slovaks. Czech Republic is just a new name for the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia and it still has the same coat of arms with a double-tailed lion since 1158. Slovakia, on the other hand, has never been independent, for the last 1000 years it was a part of Hungary. It still has a substantial Hungarian minority, leading to a possible confrontation with Hungary, especially if it becomes, as I think it will, another authoritarian and chauvinistic regime.

It also happens that Slovaks, unlike Czechs, fit more the pattern of Eastern European populations, being less pragmatic, more swept by ideologies and more emotional. Their economy, too, is more vulnerable, as shown by the fact that unemployment in Czechia is about 4%, whereas in Slovakia it exceeds 12%.

I ought to add something about my personal involvement with ex-Czechoslovakia. In a previous chapter I outlined my participation in the political life of the first republic, the one which lasted from 1918 to 1938. I continued my active participation during the Second World War with relations to the Government in Exile in London and its representation in the United States. As an example, I wrote a pamphlet at their behest analyzing the problems which Czechoslovakia will face after the war.

I visited Czechoslovakia at least twenty times after the war, beginning with December 1945, only some six months after its liberation from the Nazis. Frequently after the Communist seizure of power I was refused a visa by the Embassy in Washington, but always got it, with no questions asked at the Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. In later years I was regularly accompanied by Nadia and we usually spent a month in Prague and in the Czech countryside including my birth place of Kutná Hora.

In this country, I was active in the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, composed for the most part of Czech and Slovak academics teaching in American universities. Twice I was asked to organize political science sections at Congresses in Pittsburgh and Toronto, and at a meeting of its Swiss subsidiary near Bern.

To summarize: the demise of Czechoslovakia is an important event of the last few years of my life, and I believe in the life of Europe. It symbolizes the breakdown of the achievements of 1918, of Wilsonian diplomacy, and of the entire structure created by the Versailles Treaty and the treaties which resulted from it. It also marks the end of several ideologies upon which the treaties were based, in the first place of Slavism, known here as Pan-Slavism. It was believed that all people speaking a Slavic language are destined to work together in order to stop the Germanic push to the East and South. It was this ideology which led to the creation both of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Another ideology which crashed was, of course, Marxism-Leninism, with its proletarian internationalism. It was the fall of this "false God" which caused the breakdown of the Soviet Union, a super-state based on this particular set of ideas.

Their replacement by other philosophies, namely democratism and the belief in Free Markets, by no means guarantees the future of Eastern Europe. On the contrary, the transition will be extremely difficult, both internally and internationally, leading to civil conflict and international wars. The post-Gorbachev world will be much more unstable than the post-Versailles and post-Roosevelt, post-Stalin world, especially in East Europe. The Czech Republic, however, may remain what it was for the last 74 years, an island of democracy and relative prosperity in a sea of trouble. And let us hope that it will continue to harbor the ideals of humanity, decency, and human rights which it inherited from its founder, President Masaryk.


The books listed below provide additional background on this period of history around the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the sister nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia to help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.


The Czech Republic and Economic Transition in Eastern Europe; Jan Svejnar (Editor)


America's New Allies: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in NATO; Andrew A. Michta (Editor)


The Czech and Slovak Republics: Nation Versus State (Nations of the Modern World); Carol Skalnik Leff


The Czech Republic (Nations in Transition); Steven Otfinoski


Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe: The Influence of the Communist Legacy in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Romania (East European monographs); Wendy Hollis



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