People who have lived in a democracy like ours all their lives often fail to appreciate all the advantages they have acquired by their heritage, and often become complacent of their responsibilities as free citizens. I have had a unique opportunity to realize what democracy means and how easily it can be lost. Although I am an American by birth, all my adult life I have maintained interest in the land from which my parents came, Czechoslovakia. I have witnessed the tragic story of a people who, in my own short lifetime, have experienced five types of government: feudal despotism of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, to democracy in Masaryk’s Czechoslovakia; Nazi conquest under Hitler; twilight democracy after World War II; and finally, Communist slavery.
In addition to this experience, there is another important factor which taught me to shape my beliefs: that is the life and the character of Tomas Masaryk. When Czechoslovakia’s great leader ended his successful struggle for the freedom of his country, he patterned his government and political concepts upon the experiences he acquired in the USA, and established such a democracy in Czechoslovakia that became the envy of Europe, and brought that people a proud nickname, the “Yankees of Europe.”
Masaryk was not afraid to give his people complete freedom, even in the early beginnings of the republic. He believed that when people are left alone, invariably they will be honest with themselves, their nation, and their ideals. Masaryk believed that people should always be told the truth, because in the end it will always prevail. The greatest enemy of democracy is ignorance, and Masaryk’s first task was to try to stamp it out by establishing good schools, because they can lead to enlightenment, to interest in democracy, to good leadership, which then will result in good government. How much better would democracy be if we had followed the simple lessons of this great philosopher, who earnestly believed that, in the end, not Caesar, but Christ, will prevail.
I have learned from him that we must deserve democracy, and we must continuously nurture it, so that democracy can grow. We cannot neglect democracy or misuse it. Often we must make sacrifices, in order that the great principles upon which democracy rests should be triumphant. Complaints, gripes, discontent, and selfishness are not the remedies of the ills of democracy; they are the cancer of freedom.
I’ve heard it said that one of the greatest illnesses of democracy is expediency—nationally or internationally. In my own personal experience, as well, I have observed that expediency, even though attractive, is not a satisfying way of life. The very values which Masaryk taught me to be the lifeblood of democracy are those which also make most sense in meeting the problems of everyday living. Though I’m sure that I had not always succeeded in living by this creed, I know that when I have it has served me well.