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Sokol Movement – from sport to pan-Slavist revolution

Despite the fact that the Slavs were the most numerous people of Europe, the only independent Slavic state in the first half of the XIX century was Russia. Yet the tendency to preserve and develop their own culture were present in all Slavic countries. These ideas were especially strong among the Czechs who were constantly exposed to the process of Germanisation. Doctor Miroslav Tyrs founded the first Sokol organization in Prague in 1862, an organization dedicated to physical exercise and sports culture. The creators of Sokol movement believed that sport can contribute to the quality physical and spiritual development of young people bodies’. Spiritual growth has involved the cultivation of language, culture, and generally national rebirth of the Czechs. Sokol movement since its origins plead the Slavophilic ideas what causes concern of the Austro-Hungarian authorities, which hampered their work on many ways.

The organization was named after the bird falcon (sokol/soko/ sokół), which in folklore of many Slavic nation represent a symbol of bravery and integrity. The first Sokol’s flag was painted by renowned Czech artist Josef Manes, the flag was officially presented to the public on June 1, 1862 in Prague. Members of the Sokol society encouraged mainly from the middle class, in a later period the organization becomes extremely popular among the working class. Czech sokols were often attending public events dressed in traditional costumes which positively influenced the raise of national consciousness of the rest of the population. Commitment to the country was one of the main reasons why the Sokol movement was banned three times in the Czech Republic (Slovakia). During World War I it was abolished by the German occupation authorities, Nazis banned it again few decades later, and last time the Sokol movement was banned by the Communist leadership of Czechoslovakia in 1948.

Shortly after the establishment of the Sokol movement in Prague, similar associations occurred in other Czech cities, Poland, Russia, Slovakia. Noble Sokol’s ideas were also accepted by the South Slavs. Sokol movements were established in independent principalities of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as the in the South-Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire. Czech and Slovak immigrants founded the Sokol organizations in the USA, from the ranks of these sokols encouraged a significant number of successful US team members in gymnastics. Sokols became agents of an organized system of exercise in their communities, organizing exercise demonstrations and promote healthy lifestyles. Their motto is: “A sound mind in a healthy body ‘, or the progress of individuals and the nation as a whole is not possible without the hard physical and mental work.

Their skills Sokol members demonstrated on large public events that were organized in the open stadiums. This events were named slet, slavic word for landing. Audience had the opportunity to enjoy in the gymnastic exercises, sports competitions, public speeches and dramatic pieces performed by Sokols. The first slet was organized in Prague with the presence of a large number of citizens in 1882, despite obstructions of Austro-Hungarian authorities. The peak of Sokol movement was in the early twentieth century, that led to the magnificent organized slets in 1901, 1907 and 1912 with the participation of thousands of sokols from the Czech Republic, another Slavic lands, France and the United States. Before the outbreak of World War II in 1938 was held one of the largest landing in the history of Slavic countries, over 350 000 members of the Sokol movement gave a great atmosphere for visitors who were more than two million. The significance of this event is the fact that Nazi Germany received a clear message from Czech Republic’s and other sokols that they wouldn’t quitly observe the German occupation of Slavic countries.

Communist authorities banned slet in 1948, so the new one was organized couple years after collapse of communism in 1994. Since then the intention is to organize this kind of event every six years in Czech Republic. Today Sokol movement in the Czech Republic has about 180 000 members, the number of members in other countries rose significantly in the past few years thanks to the dedicated work of prominent individuals. Sokol idea outlast the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazism and Communist totalitarianism, based on a sound basis it resisted numerous temptations. The reasons why today in the modern times new generations find themselves within Sokol movement are preservation of own and respecting of others culture, physical training and Slavic solidarity.

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