100 Years Ago, a Nation was Born in Pittsburgh


Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

In 1918, center of Europe was a warzone, a ravaged land of conflicting peoples and dying empires. At the center of this territory, the heartland of the once-mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, were the Czechs and the Slovaks. Two closely-knit peoples, their leaders in exile saw an opportunity as the war drew to a close to align with the victorious Allies and secure freedom for in their lands. Touring around Europe and the United States, men and women like Professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk attracted huge crowds and met with Woodrow Wilson as they spoke to the Slovak and Czech diasporas.

Two cities were especially important to independence: Chicago, Illinois, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Chicago was home to the largest population of Czechs anywhere in the world except for the Czech homelands, while Pittsburgh held the greatest numbers of Slovaks- it still retains the highest percentage of people of Slovak ancestry of any region in the United States. 100 years ago today, 29 prominent Czechoslovak expatriates gathered in Downtown Pittsburgh to put their names behind a resolution affirming the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia as soon as the war was over; essentially, the Czechoslovak declaration of independence. This united nation of the Czechs and Slovaks came into existence on October 18, 1918, when Masaryk declared the independence of Czechoslovakia. He would go onto become the nation’s first president a month later, in part because of his dual Czech and Slovak heritage, which guaranteed him acceptance by both ethnicities in the newly free nation.

The actual Pittsburgh Agreement rests in the Heinz History Center, where it is adorned with the signatures of every one of those 29 leaders- affixed after the fact, because the document was originally not signed by anyone. Although the nation of Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into Czechia and Slovakia on January 1, 1993, after more than half a century of Communist control, memorials to the agreement remain. There are plaques throughout Prague (the Czech capital) and Bratislava (the Slovak capital) commemorating the document, and in Pittsburgh a small blue sign marks the spot where the Czechoslovak delegates agreed on the resolution.

Today, commemorative celebrations will take place throughout Czechia, Slovakia, and the United States. In Pittsburgh itself, Mayor Bill Peduto will probably send a tweet or two, but things will probably seem pretty quiet otherwise. One event that will happen for sure is a panel discussion at 1:30 this afternoon at the Posvar Hall, Room 4130, on the Pitt campus. Three academics from Czechia, Slovakia, and the US will be speaking about the Pittsburgh Agreement and its historical significance. Admission is free, and students are welcome to attend.