Slavic Saturday

Today again a little crossover with the Behind the Iron Curtain series.

Jan Hus and Jan Žižka are to this day considered great figures of Czech history. Even the communist regime venerated these two men to a great degree, so much so that it was during this regime that one of the largest bronze equestrian statues in the world was made to commemorate Jan Žižka in 1950. And movies were made about both. Today, we also have a national holiday on the day Jan Hus was burned at the stake.

We were taught in school that Jan Hus was a great reformer who has challenged and criticized the corruption within the catholic church, and that was true. We were taught that he has sparked a national movement that has fought against the hegemony of said corrupt, hypocritical, and oppressive church, and that was also true. However what was ignored was that he also sparked a fanatical religious movement that was not solely inspired by a desire for a better and juster society, but also by a merely different interpretation of holy writ.

As for Žižka, he was and is considered to be one of the greatest Czech warriors there was, and perhaps in history, as this short video suggests.

We were taught about his military successes, especially about the fact that he was able to take a bunch of peasants and merchants and convert them into a fighting force capable of defeating several crusades consisting of professional soldiers who trained in combat from childhood. What we were not taught was that he also burned at stake several dozen of “heretics” who took reinterpreting the scripture way too far for his liking.

To this day there is a lot of people who romanticize Jan Hus, Jan Žižka, and the whole Hussite movement. Perhaps there is some value in that. But I think it is also important to remember that whilst they were somewhat progressive in their times, today they would probably both be considered insufferable religious fanatics. They certainly would not approve of today’s Czech atheism.


  1. says

    Pondering escapes from AmeriKKKa, I’ve thought about moving to Czechy before. I’ve heard a couple of things that put me off, curious what you’d say about them. One) Tons of cigarette smoking -- hard to get away from it. Two) US-style libertarian free market politics are very popular. Personally I think that shit is going to be the thing that we point to and lament as a species while we’re drowning in blood and fire less than a century from now. Three) The language is incredibly difficult to learn.
    None of that is to say I think Czechy is a bad place or has bad people -- I live in the USA lol -- but I am seriously thinking about where to go, if I get the chance, and would appreciate some inside info.

  2. says

    @Great American Satan, answers to your questions:
    1) Czechs smoke at about an average rate for Europe (33 % of the population) and it seems to go down. There was enacted ban on smoking in restaurants and in some public places in 2016 and I think there is significantly less of stink around in public. But I do not get out that much. It is definitively more than in the USA and it is not uncommon to encounter cigarette smoke in public.
    2) Libertarian free-market politics is popular, in part as a reaction to 40 years of oppressive communist rule. But healthcare is universal, funded from taxes with only symbolical co-pays, education is free until 26 years of age, and firearms are strictly regulated.
    3) For an anglophone, the language is incredibly difficult to learn. I have written about Czech language in some older Slavic Saturday posts. here, here, here and here. Our visiting English (as in from UK) teacher in highschool has managed to learn enough to get by in the two years he was here, but our English was probably better than his Czech by then whilst he has put a lot more effort into it.

  3. lumipuna says

    What you wrote about Jan Hus sounds exactly like Martin Luther is framed for modern audiences here in Finland. I imagine they were very similar to each other in real life, the main difference being that Luther lived later and had modern information technology (printing press) to spread his teachings in way that couldn’t be suppressed.

    Ironically, Luther would be almost unknown today if he’d actually succeeded in just reforming the church rather than breaking it.

  4. Gelaos says

    As a Czech myself, my opinion on Jan Hus and Jan Žižka changed throughout the years. When I was little (6-10 years), I viewed them in a romanticized way. For a little boy me, stories of Žižka’s success against professional armies were really cool stuff and Hus was simply the “good guy” who got burned because of some big baddie. I didn’t grow up in communist Czechoslovakia, so the facts presented to us in school weren’t intentionally skewed, but still I mostly encountered just the good or neutral parts about these two men.

    Later, when I learned more about them, I changed my opinion, mainly about Žižka. While his historical importance and place in czech history is completely justified, I do not like him at all -- the main reason being his religious radicalism. While many other great figures were also radical (e.g. Joan of Arc, Saladin, Charlemagne), I personally can’t seem to find any “redeeming quality” of Žižka. For example while Joan of Arc was also a religious fanatic, had some negative personality traits and commited her own share of bad stuff. But her story (which is quite well documented, not merely a folk legend) of a poor young girl (!) from a small village who managed to defeat English army several times; who, despite lacking formal training, fought side-by-side with other French troops; who gave hope to French people and ultimately died as a sort-of-a holy woman, is -- at least to me -- historically breathtaking. But unlike her, Žižka to me is simply a fanatical brute, although a clever one.

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