Eastern Slovakia
Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research

Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU)
Special Conference on

Organized by the

Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU)

in cooperation with the

Center for Austrian Studies, College of Liberal Arts Department of Educational Policy and Administration
College of Education and Human Development
Fulbright Association of Minnesota
Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and its
Center for Nations in Transition and its International Fellows Program
Immigration History Research Center
Minnesota International Center
Office of International Programs
MTS Systems Corporation and Pharma Nutrients

on the Occasion of the Visit of

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic

University of Minnesota Medical School 516 Delaware St. SE, Minneapolis, MN

April 24-26, 1999

Those of us, who attended the special SVU Conference in Minnesota, will forever savor the moments of those three memorable days. The SVU Conference was part of a three-day program organized on the occasion of President Vaclav Havel's visit, culminating with his address on civil society and his meeting with the Czech and Slovak American community. The standing ovation President Havel received from some 3,000 onlookers was electrifying, which gave everybody who could claim origin in the Czechlands a great sense of pride. When the President proudly acknowledged his membership in SVU, while addressing the Czech/Slovak community, it increased the pulse of many a member of our Society and when he subsequently presented SVU President with the Vaclav Havel Commemorative Medal, in recognition of the Society's work, our members were elated. The program was concluded with songs and dances by performers of the local Sokol, dressed in the authentic national Czech/Slovak costumes , which left the audience in awe and tears in their eyes.

Our two-day conference started in earnest on Saturday morning, April 24, on the campus of the University of Minnesota and proceeded in two parallel sessions in two large auditoria until late Sunday afternoon. After the words of welcome from Robert Bruininks, Executive Vice President and Provost of the University of Minnesota, the conference was officially opened by Miloslav Rechcigl, SVU President. The ceremonial opening was concluded with the official greetings from Milan Spacek, Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Relations with Czechs Abroad of the Czech Senate and Jaroslav Karas, representing the similar committee in the Czech House of Representatives. From Slovakia came official greetings from Mr. Sustr, Mayor of Kosice and Prof. Alexander Tkac, representing SVU Chapters in Bratislava, Kosice and Presov.

The overall theme of the Conference was "Czech and Slovak America: Quo Vadis?" with the aim of examining major issues that confront us today. This included the questions of historic settlements and present-day communities of immigrants from the territory of former Czechoslovakia and their future, preservation of cultural identity and heritage and mutual relations with the Czech and Slovak Republics. A special panel was devoted to human rights in the Czech and Slovak Republics from the external as well as internal point of view. There was also a Business Forum addressing the questions of trade and business opportunities in both republics. There was also a journalist panel with the participation of newspapermen from both sides of the Atlantic, and a panel comprised of the younger set discussing their perspective in viewing the new millennium.

The Conference was attended not only by academics, but also by businessmen, students and community leaders, as well as by official spokesmen of the Czech Republic. Among the guest speakers was Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous, Vice President of the Czech Senate Petr Pithart, Vice Chair of the Senate Permanent Committee for Relations with Czechs Abroad Frantisek Mezihorak, and Rector of the Czech Technical University Petr Zuna. The Czechoslovak Foreign Institute in Prague sent its two highest officers, Jaromir Slapota and Josef Kolinsky, President and Director, respectively.

All major Czech ethnic organizations in America were represented. A special Conference Presidential Symposium on the past and future of Czech and Slovak organizations, with participation of their presidents, featured presentations from CSA Fraternal Life, American Sokol Organization, Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas, Czechoslovak National Council of America, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Council of Free Czechoslovakia, American Fund of Czechoslovak Relief (Refugees), Czech and Slovak Heritage Association of Maryland, National Alliance of Czech Catholics, Czech and Slovak Association of Canada, and American Friends of the Czech Republic. Never before were so many prominent Czech American ethnic leaders seen together on the same platform.

Actually, there were many other ethnic organizations represented at the conference, including Czech and Slovak Solidarity Council, United Moravian Societies, Moravian Historical Society, Bohemian Benevolent Literary Association of the City of New York, Masaryk Club of Boston, Council of Higher Education, Czech Educational Foundation of Texas, American Czechoslovak Club of North Miami, Czech Heritage Foundation, Bohemian National Cemetery Association of Baltimore, Nebraska Czechs of Wilber, Oklahoma Czechs, California Czech and Slovak Club, Friends of Czech Music, Society of Czech Philately, etc. At the state level, there were representations from most areas where Czechs and Slovaks live, i.e., Arizona, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as Canada.

The lectures were well prepared and of high quality and many of them generated lively debates. The panel discussions on human rights in and the relations with the Czech and Slovak Republics brought out a number of controversial issues which will require a follow up, both in terms of clarifying different points of view and providing actual data in order to prove or disprove specific claims.

The Conference ended with the crescendo of young voices with their panel discussion on "The Perspectives of the Young in Viewing the New Millennium." It was an enthusiastic group comprised of Czech and Slovak students in the US, as well as former American students in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Everybody who listened to their ideas must have left with the good feeling that the future rests in good hands.

All in all, the conference and all the related activities in Minneapolis / St. Paul were a great success. It was truly a pivotal event and a historic occasion which will remain in our minds and hearts for many years to come and, beyond that, we are convinced that it may generate increased interest for the preservation of our cultural identity and heritage and, hopefully, lead to the revitalization of our ethnic communities in America.

Read about the Conference

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