Prague, Czech Republic – 1937. Two years after stepping down as President of Czechoslovakia and handing over the reigns of the state he founded to his long-time ally Edvard Beneš, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk – commonly known as “TGM” – is living his remaining weeks in his beloved-retreat of Lány, Central Bohemia. Passing away in September of that same year, TGM left behind an immense legacy, the foundation of modern Czechoslovakia – a legacy reignited by the search for Masaryk’s last words.
What were Masaryk’s last words?
Despite their 1993 break-up, Czechs and Slovaks still look up to Masaryk as their common founding father and a highly-respected political, moral and intellectual figure to turn to in times of uncertainty and doubt.
Before passing away, TGM left something else behind. Although Orson Wells’ camera wasn’t there to capture his dying words – and the Lány castle doesn’t have much in common with Xanadu – his son was present. Jan Masaryk, who later became Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister (1940-1948) and whose own death remains shrouded in mystery, wrote down his father’s last words in a closed envelope with rather plain instructions: “Seal until 2025”. The very existence of this envelope remained unknown for a long time and only came to light in 2005, when Jan Masaryk’s former secretary handed it to the Czech National Archives.
What could have been the dying thoughts of this renowned sociologist and philosopher? What could have been the last words of this skilful politician who lobbied years long all over the world to pave the way for the foundation of Czechoslovakia? Could he have foreseen later events, he who died before the Munich Accords and World War II, before Soviet domination and the Cold war, before the Velvet Revolution and the 1993 divorce? Or did it have nothing to do with the great events of history? A personal advice to his son? A childhood memory?
Hiding in plain sight
Rosebud… Or rather, poupě růže…
As if waiting seven years to discover the content of this envelope wasn’t hard enough, Czech authorities have decided, as part of the cycle of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia, to exhibit the envelope… while, of course, keeping it sealed. So close… and yet out-of-reach… Tantalus punishment, Bohemian style. Starting April 30, visitors can frustratingly observe this valuable historical artefact at the Prague Castle’s Imperial Stables.
“The truth prevails, but it’s a chore”, used to say Jan Masaryk.
A chore, and a very, very long wait.