Defenestration - The Czech Way of Death

Trip Start May 20, 2005
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Trip End Jun 07, 2007


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Thursday, May 26, 2005

I always thought the word was just a nifty addition to the old vocabulary. Defenestration....tossing something out of the window. Well, the Czechs have made something of a cottage industry of defenestration.....paper, wood, trash, night soil and, well, er....people. Nothing like ridding your society of the flotsam of life. Open the window and toss them out.

I had heard of the famous Defenestration of Prague at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, but it turns out that there have been at least three major political executions or attempted executions over the centuries that have employed this unique method of dispatching inconvenient or unpopular leaders.

Defenestration #1:

In the wake of proto-Protestant preacher Jan Hus' execution by the Council of Constance in the Spring of 1415, his Czech followers grew in numbers and determination. In fact, the Hussite movement began to exhibit nationalist as well as religious overtones. Resentment at outsiders, especially Germans, and Catholics in general swept Bohemia. Over the next few years tensions in Prague got so heated up that on July 30, 1419, several hundred really irritated nobles stormed the Nova Mesto Town Hall, seized the Mayor and his councilors and threw them out of the window to their deaths.

This brings a whole new meaning to concept of a bounced Czech. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Defenestration #2

Over the two centuries, attempts, either through persuasion, negotiation or military conquest by the Habsburg Emperors and the Roman Catholic Church, to suppress the Hussite movement and bring Bohemians back to the fold, were met with defeat, resistance or indifference. Matters began coming to a head in the second decade of the 1600s. On May 23, 1618, a delegation of Protestants marched to the Old Royal Palace at Prague Castle, seized the Emperor's Catholic councilors, Slavata and Martinic, and threw them out the window. Fortunately, for the councilors, there was a dung heap right below. They survived. I guess you could say they were sullied, but unharmed, or is that splattered but unbowed?

Defenestration #3

After the Nazi defeat in 1945 and the explusion of Germans from Czech lands, highly respected President Edvard Benes thought he could work with the pro-Stalinist Czech Communist Party. He was wrong. The pressures from Moscow were too great. In 1947 Stalin refused to allow Czechoslavakia to accept American aid as a part of the Marshall plan and in February 1948 with party popularity declining, the Communists acted. Party leader Klement Gottwald sent his party goons (workers militia) into the streets, the police were ordered into strategic points and opposition party offices, the army was cowed by the presence of disloyal elements and the Soviet Army lurking just over the horizon. It was a coup d'etat, a major putsch. Benes, dying and no longer capable of resistance, agreed to an all-Communist government even though he refused to sign their new "constitution." For the second time in a decade, Czechslovakia descended into totalitarian darkness. It would not emerge until 1989.

In the meantime, Gottwald began to clean up the resisters. One important political hurdle was the existence of the previous government's leaders. The most important of those was former Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, son of Czechoslovak founder, Tomas Masaryk. Shortly after the coup, he "fell" (as in suicide) from his office window in the hated Cernin Palace. He was dead on arrival. Unfortunately, for the purveyers of this unlikely story, the window from which he allegedly jumped was tightly sealed.

Hey fellows, I know you like to wear those nifty leather, oops sorry, you guys are Bolsheviks, cloth trench coats. It makes you look cool and all, but it is REALLY DUMB to close the window after you toss some famous person to meet his maker. Leave it open next time, people won't laugh so much behind your backs. Remember, even totalitarians can survive the snickers for just so long.

The moral of this tale. Should you encounter an irrate Czech, try not to get between him and the window.

Best,

Dan Roberts
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