As part of this year’s celebrations of the centenary of modern Czech statehood, Czech president Miloš Zeman and his Slovak counterpart Andrej Kiska undertook a joint ride on a historical train to mark the anniversary of the declaration of independent Czechoslovakia and also to commemorate its first head of the state Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
The symbolic journey started on Sunday morning in the south Moravian town of Hodonín, the birthplace of Czechoslovakia’s first president, professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The two heads of state laid wreaths at a memorial to the founder of the Czech and Slovak common state born from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War. From Hodonín, the presidents of the two successor states of former federal Czechoslovakia headed across the border to the town of Topoľčianky in neighbouring Slovakia, President Masaryk’s favourite summer home. Thousands gathered along the tracks to watch the vintage train make its way across the rural areas of South Moravia and Western Slovakia, accompanied by a police motorcade along its route.
“I took a deep breath and inhaled the smoke and fumes exhausted by the locomotive and recalled my youth,” said the 73-year-old Czech President Miloš Zeman during the re-enactment of the presidential train ride. The 200-kilometre journey on the vintage train complete with a coal-fired engine and President Masaryk’s parlour carriage from 1930 took four hours, with a half-hour water stop to replenish the steam engine with water.
The presidential carriage only barely escaped being sent to a scrap heap in 1969 when everything to do with the “bourgeois” first Czechoslovak republic was deemed undesirable by the Communist regime.
Nowadays the village of Topoľčianky, President Masaryk’s summer home between 1923 and 1933, has no passenger train connection, but the Slovak railway authority made it possible for the presidential train to stop at the local station in order to mark the centenary of the two countries’ republican tradition.
Talking to journalists at the historic castle in Topoľčianky, Slovak President Andrej Kiska officially thanked “the founders of Czechoslovakia, of modern Czechia and modern Slovakia”, for what they had done in their time, a time which was not easy.
“Czechoslovakia was born one hundred years ago. If it hadn’t, Slovakia as we know it, wouldn’t exist today. A hundred years ago, the founders of Czechoslovakia, Mr. Masaryk and Mr. Štefánik, completed their efforts in order for Czechs and Slovaks to have their own territory and statehood. And exactly 95 years ago, President Masaryk first arrived at Topoľčianky to start a fine tradition of spending a month or two here in Slovakia and governing the Czechoslovak state from here.”
At the Topoľčianky meeting, Czech President Zeman said he had invited his Slovak counterpart to a ceremony at Prague Castle on October 28th, the day of the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Czechoslovakia. There, among other distinguished personalities, he said he would decorate one of the founding fathers of independent Czechoslovakia, its first interior minister and later prime minister Antonín Švehla.