Jiří Müller student leader from 1964 to 1969 and political prisoner from 1971 to 1976 drafted the proposal, an extract of which follows:
“The extent to which Roger Scruton contributed to intellectual and cultural development in the Czech Republic is exceptional for any citizen of a foreign state. The City of Brno particularly attracted and interested him. He left an indelible mark on it. Roger Scruton was one of the founders of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation (hereafter JHEF) in Oxford. From 1980 to 1989 this foundation made it possible for “islands” of independent education and an open culture to emerge in Czechoslovakia by means of an international network of leading scholars. The French Association Jan Hus (hereafter AJH) made similar efforts, as did the other Hus Foundations in Canada, the USA and Germany, founded on the inspiration and model of the JHEF.
The activities of all the Hus Foundations undertaken on behalf of education, culture and freedom in Czechoslovakia are described in Barbara Day’s book The Velvet Philosophers, Doplněk, Brno 1999. Roger Scruton was intensively involved in the organisation of the home seminars in Prague from 1979. His first visit to Brno was in April 1981, when he had a meeting with Jiří Müller, student leader from 1964 to 1969 and political prisoner from 1971 to 1976. Scruton and Müller agreed together on secret cooperation on behalf of independent education, culture and thought in Communist Czechoslovakia. They expanded and coordinated this cooperation up until 1990. Although the JHEF had already been operating in Prague (and from 1987 operated in Bratislava), in these years it was Brno that became the site of its most extensive operations in Czechoslovakia.
Between 1984 and 1989 the JHEF sent 46 British lecturers to the secret seminars (held in the apartments of Petr and Eva Oslzlý and of Miroslav and Yvona Pospíšil). From 1985 the French AJH sent nineteen French academics to seminars held in the apartment of Milan and Jana Jelínek and from 1987 there were seven seminars with German intellectuals in the apartment of Jaroslav and Marie Blažke). In the course of these years, dozens of independently-minded people who did not belong to dissident circles had regular access to the free flow of ideas at more than a hundred gatherings. Topics expanded from philosophy, political science, theology, ethics, through ecology, visual arts and music into architecture; there is nothing that can be compared with this Brno network of independent education with its circle of students and six-year operation. In this sense it can truly be described as an underground university. As symbolic evidence of its impact on Brno, we can point to the fact that the attendees and organisers included five post-1989 university rectors (emeritus rectors of the Masaryk University in Brno Professor Milan Jelínek, Professor Jiří Zlatuška, Professor Petr Fiala, emeritus rector of the Silesian University in Opava Professor Martin Černohorský, and rector of the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in Brno Professor Petr Oslzlý).
The cooperation between the JHEF and Brno, encouraged by a growing awareness of its effectiveness, rapidly expanded beyond the framework of the secret seminars and extended into three further circles.
The first circle penetrated by the JHEF was the artistic life of the city of Brno. The British visitors lecturing to the home seminars also met non-conformist and banned Brno artists and members of the Theatre on a String. The visiting lecturers were interested in the conditions for artistic work and sought ways to help. In this way for example the JHEF organised an exhibition of the work of the sculptor Jan Šimek in London and, through its secretary Barbara Day, also involved in the theatre, an invitation for the Theatre on a String to the Bristol Czechfest in October 1985, including a financial donation.
The JHEF provided funding for the purchase of video cameras and video recorders which enabled the cameraman Aleš Záboj to make uncensored films about the life and work of Gustav Mahler, and a documentary about the current state of Christian and Jewish monuments in Moravia. He also filmed up to nineteen unofficial exhibitions by Brno painters, sculptors and photographers. These exhibitions took place in public, always an hour before closing time in the chemist’s shop on the corner of Kotlářská and Bayerova streets in Brno, from November 1986 until 1989 (a joint project by Petr Oslzlý, Rostislav Pospíšil and the Drahomír Svatoň Gallery — Reduced Price Drugstore).
In January 1986 the leading British composer David Matthews, recruited by Roger Scruton, visited the secret seminar in Brno. He made contact with Brno composers (Miloslav Ištván, Pavel Zemek, Peter Graham, Michal Košut) as well as with Dr. Alena Němcová from the Leoš Janáček Memorial, who was also head of the Department of Music History of the Moravian Museum. He was invited to be guest of honour at the International Music Festival in Brno in October 1986. In July 1987 he presented the music of the Brno composers at the King’s Lynn Festival in Britain and in March 1988 in the Purcell Room in London. A number of British orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, began to play the music of the Brno composers (some of whom could not be heard in their native land), while David Matthews’ music was heard in Brno (most recently in April 2018 when his orchestral composition New Fire, op. 148, was given its world première by the Brno Philharmonic).
The second circle of influence for the JHEF consisted of the English-speaking public in Brno. From 1986—1989 the British lecturers who came to speak at the secret seminars also spoke to audiences of over a hundred in the English Club, where once a month a talk was given by a native English speaker. The English Club, a popular pre-war organisation, was revived in the Bedřich Václavek Club for Education and Science in a building belonging to the Trades Unions by a trio consisting of Miroslav Pospíšil (who interpreted for the home seminars and for the British visitors), Petr Antonín from the State Language School, and Don Sparling of the J. E. Purkyně University. From April 1987, members of the English Club were also invited once a month to the University Club organised by the South Moravian Youth Services Enterprise. Films that were otherwise unavailable in Czechoslovakia were shown in the original English versions, provided on videocassette by the JHEF, for what were known as the home cinemas. The Brno public gradually began to show more interest, and from September 1987 each film had two showings. Alongside films based on George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, it should be mentioned that several war veterans managed to see the film Battle of Britain.
The third circle to experience the breaking of the barriers to freedom in Brno was the underground press. The JHEF transformed Czechoslovak samizdat by providing computers and printers for the Brno publisher Prameny (see Michal Přibáň et al., Český literární samizdat, 1949—1989, Academia, Prague 2018) through which it considerably simplified and modernised the process of the unofficial publication of translations of important academic works by non-Marxist authors (Raymond Aron, Karl R. Popper, Victor E. Frankl, Erwin Schrödinger, Alexis de Tocqueville, J. L. Talmon and others). Thanks to this, the first Czech computer editor originated in Brno, prepared for Brno samizdat by Jiří Zlatuška. It can be mentioned symbolically that several judges of the Municipal Court in Brno were among subscribers to the Prameny editions, which aimed “to contribute to overcoming the political and ideological division of Europe and its return to cultural unity”; they included Miloš Holeček, who in 2003 was to become president of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic.
During the years of normalisation, small groups of non-conformist citizens were forming in many towns in Czechoslovakia, consciously striving for a more independent life. In Brno however such an independent life was supported in a systematic and coordinated way for six years from abroad in the various ways mentioned above.
In February 1990 Roger Scruton published a comprehensive article in the British press which was very well received. In “A Catacomb Culture” (Times Literary Supplement, February 16—22, 1990), see enclosure, he disclosed the decade-long underground operations in Czechoslovakia. After this, information about the underground university was widely reported in the western media (the BBC, The Listener, The Spectator etc.).
The President of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic Václav Havel, in a letter of 21 May 1990, thanked the JHEF for its long years of work on behalf of Czechoslovak education and culture. Roger Scruton’s article “A Catacomb Culture” ends with the words:
Is our work now finished? We were half-inclined to hope so. But our Czech and Slovak colleagues had other ideas. Their educational system, standing for decades on the brink of annihilation, has at last been placed in the hands of the people who can save it. But they need expertise, books and equipment; they need to rebuild the curriculum in all those subjects where Marxism was an obstacle to learning, or where party privilege ensured that only favoured children could be accepted for study. They need to restore those disciplines – law, economics and political science – which were effectively stifled by political decrees. Our work, they tell us, is not ending but beginning.
Roger Scruton decided that he would set all his other work aside for a year, and devote himself to Czechoslovakia alone. In 1990 Barbara Day, secretary of the JHEF, moved from London to Brno.
Eva Oslzlá, Jiří Müller and Miroslav Pospíšil founded the Československá vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa (hereafter VNJH) in Brno. President Václav Havel attended the opening of the Brno office at the beginning of 1990.
The Brno foundation could count on the western world’s extraordinary response to the underground university, on the public recognition of its role by President Václav Havel, on the extensive contacts of the British JHEF (and naturally the French AJH) within western universities, and on a wide range of helpers and well-wishers in Brno.
It turned out after the political changes that the cooperation of Brno’s non-conformist citizens with foreign countries initiated by Roger Scruton’s first visit to Brno in 1981 was to be of immense value to current independent public life in Brno and in Czechoslovakia. In the new atmosphere, those who wanted to help to overcome the isolation of our country from the free world were able to turn to the three foundations. The foundations organised visits by foreign specialists from very varied fields, instructing them to try to create long-term cooperation instead of one-off activities. They organised the import of several tons of high-quality textbooks, literature and journals for which there was a tremendous hunger, and which were distributed to academic and municipal libraries. They helped our university departments to find partners abroad, obtaining funds for these activities from foreign sources such as the European Community, Charity Know How, Atlantic Philanthropies, Phare, the National Endowment for Democracy, the British Council, Open Society Fund, Tara Consultants Ltd., the Ford Foundation, the Charles Douglas-Home Memorial Trust, Shell and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation).
The Brno Foundation set up offices in Prague, Bratislava and Košice. The JHEF found volunteers in the UK who were willing to come to Czechoslovakia and work for expenses only, or who earned their living by teaching English.
In the first years after November 1989 Brno became a centre of support for all Czech and Slovak universities. From 1991 to 1996 the Foundation supported the emergence of new disciplines, the innovation of new subjects, and the publication of textbooks, translation and publication activities. It placed English teachers throughout the country and from 1991 to 1996 organised an English Language Summer School. During the same period it organised placements in Great Britain for young business people, journalists and cultural managers. The French Summer School in Philosophy, originally a secret seminar in the Brno apartment of Milan and Jana Jelínek, has continued to this very day, being held alternately in the Czech and Slovak republics, and has its 29th anniversary this year.
The lists of institutions supported include many from Brno (see Ve službách české a slovenské vzdělanosti, www.vnjh.cz): the Masaryk University (hereafter MU), the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts (hereafter JAMU), the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Culture (hereafter CDK), ecological organisations (Veronika, Lipka) and even the Brno Municipality.
However, despite the variety of their activities, the priority of the JHEF, AJH and the Brno VNJH has always been the disciplines most affected by the Communist regime. The renewal of the rule of law required the reform of legal education and the development of disciplines which were not taught at the faculties before 1990 (international law, European Community Law, human rights). It was also crucial for the humanities that the study of a subject that had not previously existed – political science – should be established.
We organised a two-day conference in Bratislava for representatives from all the Czechoslovak law faculties and leading experts from Britain, France, Germany, Austria and the USA as early as autumn 1990. Its starting point was to map the situation and to set the priorities for assistance. The JHEF in Britain set up a special working commission for the management of the law programme, and the AJH named Marie Christine Lagrange at the head of its law programme. This programme remained one of our strongest of the whole decade. (Miroslav Pospíšil, “A Decade of Restoration — an evaluation of the work of the Vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa in 1990—2000”, March 2001, VNJH archive, Brno).
At the beginning of 1990 two British professors of political science, Frank Bealey and David Regan, visited the Czechoslovak universities (both had already lectured in the underground university). The outcome of their mission was a three-year project of qualification studies for teachers of political science, and support for newly founded departments of political science. It was one of the first applications to be submitted for a Tempus grant, financed by the European Community. Its anticipated expenses were between £70,000 and £100,000. According to the proposal, submitted in August 1990, the partnership between the universities of Aarhus, Aberdeen, Bochum and the Czech and Slovak universities was based “on the activity of the JHEF, which tried to keep independent political thought alive for many years under the former repressive regime in Czechoslovakia by providing books and equipment, and organizing (secret) lectures and seminars.” (VNJH archive, Brno).
The programme, which every participant had to undergo, consisted of an intensive summer school lasting twelve weeks whose content corresponded to a year of postgraduate study at a western university. After having completed this successfully, the participants spent one semester at a western university of their choice. Every political science department received essential textbooks, readers and a basic library of political science literature. The programme lasted three years and almost every teacher of the newly emerging subject in the Czech and Slovak republics took part. (Miroslav Pospíšil, “A Decade of Restoration — an evaluation of the work of the Vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa in 1990—2000” March 2001, archive VNJH, Brno).
Sir Roger Scruton’s personal engagement and leadership places him first among those women and men from the free world who for a decade demonstrated their practical solidarity with people from a part of the world where freedom was suppressed and who afterwards facilitated the transformation of Czechoslovakia into a free country.
The Czechoslovak secret police had opened a file on Roger Scruton in March 1984. He was detained on 7 June 1985 by the District Police while talking to Jiří and Bronislava Müller in Zábrdovice Park in Brno, and after some hours at the police station, he was expelled from the country, being ordered to leave Czechoslovakia without delay. That same day the Müllers, followed the whole time by police cars, took him to the border post at Mikulov, where he crossed on foot to Austria.
He returned to Brno on 9 January 1990, to deliver a speech to Brno judges in the Palace of Justice on the Restoration of Law. He thus made his first appearance in public on the Czech cultural and intellectual stage, and thereafter never left it.
Having acquired an exceptional knowledge of the Czech language and literature, of Czech music and philosophy, and of many Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak personalities, the author of more than fifty books and two operas was prepared for this.
In later years he was, inter alia, for five years the guest of Forum 2000, which originated in Prague in 1997 on the initiative of President Václav Havel, and to which international personalities were invited to discuss the challenges mankind was facing on the threshold of the new millennium.
Roger Scruton was a leading conservative thinker and the founder of the British quarterly of conservative thought, The Salisbury Review. A number of his texts were published in samizdat before November 1989, thus contributing to a deeper understanding of conservative thought. The most important of these were A Dictionary of Political Thought and The Meaning of Conservatism, both translated by Petr Pithart. In 1986 Brno samizdat published Scruton’s Thinkers of the New Left. In 1989 A Dictionary of Political Thought, was prepared for publication, and later published by the Brno printing house Atlantis.
Roger Scruton always lectured for the students when he came to Brno after 1990.
I was trying to build a department of political science at Masaryk University and one of the first books available in the Czech language was Scruton’s A Dictionary of Political Thought. When Roger visited Brno I often asked him to lecture to our students. He never refused. He lectured in Czech, having learnt our language in order to understand us better. It was important, as at that time very few people knew English, and Professor Scruton’s lectures were very significant. He did not however talk only about politics, the rule of law and legal institutions but also about such things as the quality of the university. (Petr Fiala, O Rogeru Scrutonovi osobně (On Roger Scruton in person), Kontexty 1/2020, CDK, Brno)
Many Czech publishers have now made Roger Scruton’s works and thinking available in print. However, here again the City of Brno plays an exceptional role. The Brno review Proglas, and subsequently CDK and its journal Kontexty, of whose editorial board Roger Scruton was a member, has, since 1990, devoted itself long-term to Scruton’s work. CDK, whose aim is to contribute to the development of a democratic political culture in the Czech Republic, forms a link in the chain connected to the independent culture before November 1989, and two of its three founders, Petr Fiala and František Mikš, attended the seminars of the underground university. Scruton’s texts and commentaries were published regularly in both the review and the magazine. The history of the British educational seminar, including the texts of some of the lectures given, is told in the book Podzemní univerzita (The Underground University) published by CDK in 1993. In 2015, CDK in cooperation with the Moravian Museum, published Scruton’s novel, Notes from Underground.
Although the VNJH operates throughout the country, the number of projects it has supported at the Masaryk University has considerably exceeded the number at other universities. The MU benefited from the fact that the Foundation had its seat in Brno and many of the university staff had been connected with the home seminars. The Foundation enabled many departments of the MU to carry out projects with international cooperation. In the words of the Vice Dean of the Law Faculty in Brno, Dalibor Jílek, when he presented the VNJH with the Faculty’s Commemorative Medal for its services to the development of the faculty in 1993.
Up until 1989 out faculty had partnership agreements on paper with universities in Socialist countries. Occasionally, once a year, there would be an official visit from someone from some Bulgarian university. There were no international relations. Today we have so many contacts and so many international projects that we and our teachers have problems in making the best use of them all. If we look at these international activities in more detail, we can identify that the name of the Vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa is there at the beginning in every case. (Miroslav Pospíšil, “A Decade of Restoration — an evaluation of the work of the Vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa in 1990—2000”, March 2001, archive VNJH, Brno).
There are up to today 32 departments, institutes and other independent workplaces belonging to seven faculties of the Masaryk University on the lists of institutions supported by the Foundation (see Ve službách české a slovenské vzdělanosti [In the service of Czech and Slovak education], www.vnjh.cz).
In 1998 the Arts Faculty of the Masaryk University presented a proposal for the academic degree of doctor honoris causa in the field of philosophy to be awarded to Roger Scruton as a leading philosopher and author who had devoted himself to Czech history, philosophy and culture and to promoting them. The ceremony took place on 2 October 1998.
In May 2004 Roger Scruton gave a lecture in the Law Faculty of Masaryk University, “What I believe in and why”:
Brno has a special significance for me. It was here that I made some of the closest and most important friendships of my life. It is here that I found the most trustworthy opponents of communism in the years when I had decided to fight against it. It is here that I was arrested, nearly twenty years ago now, and from where I was expelled from Czechoslovakia as an enemy of socialism and the state. It is here that, together with friends and colleagues, I joined in the work of the newly legalised Jan Hus Educational Association. It was here that I came in 1996 to receive the doctorate honoris causa, from a university whose first such degree was conferred on my hero, Leoš Janáček. And here I am again, to celebrate my sixtieth birthday among old friends. So you will not be surprised if this lecture is a kind of thank you for all the support and affection that has come to me in and through this town.
On 20 November 2012 Roger Scruton made an extraordinary gift which demonstrated the uniqueness of his relationship with Brno. At his home, Sundey Hill Farm in Great Britain, he handed over to Dr. Mgr. Martin Reissner, Ph.D., at that time director general of the Moravian Museum, the archive of the British Jan Hus Educational Foundation. This unique evidence of the decade of secret cooperation of the British, Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks across the iron curtain is today in Brno in the Department of the History of Anti-totalitarian Culture (ODKAZ) of the Moravian Museum and is well used by researchers from the Czech Republic and abroad.
Roger Scruton demonstrated a deep friendship towards our country, its culture and its people. When he died on 12 January 2020 the music of Leoš Janáček was played at his funeral in the former monastery Malmesbury Abbey. With the departure of Roger Scruton, we lost a great friend. This year, forty years will have passed since he came to Brno for the first time. It would be of deep importance for his legacy to remain in Brno.
For the inspiration permanently provided by his life and work, for the benefit our citizens received from his operations and which will last for ever, we propose that Sir Roger Scruton be awarded Honorary Citizenship of the City of Brno in memoriam.”
Signatories to the proposal:
Jiří Müller, Eva Oslzlá and Miroslav Pospíšil
Founders, Vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa
Lenka Pazdziorová and Martin Šimsa
Deputy Chairmen of the Board of Trustees, Vzdělávací nadace Jana Husa
Rector, Masaryk University
Rector, the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts
Director General, the Moravian Museum
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Culture, o. p. s.