London, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies is 90 years old and still flourishing. The proof was the opening of a new wing during anniversary celebrations yesterday. The dedication was performed by Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the Queen’s daughter, Princess Ann, who is also the school’s chancellor.
Malcolm Grant is president and provost of the University College London, with which the school merged in 1999.
"It was wonderful today with the opening of the new building to have President Klaus, as it were, standing in the shoes of Masaryk from 90 years previously to the day, to open this building. It’s architecturally quite outstanding, and for us a great symbol of the importance of the study of Eastern Europe within a major university in London," Grant said.
Grant said the school still proudly displays a quote from Masaryk’s inaugural lecture on 19 October 1915. He says the quote is as relevant today as it was then: "Europe is getting more and more federalized and organized. And it is in this given situation and development that small nations reclaim the right of being peaceably inserted in the growing organization of Europe."
Czech President Vaclav Klaus told RFE/RL that he was proud to have been invited to speak. "I was extremely honored to be asked to repeat Masary
k’s lecture, which he delivered 90 years ago -- the very same day," Klaus said.
Klaus noted that Edvard Benes -- who would also become Czechoslovak president -- spoke at the school's 10th anniversary in 1925, and that Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski laid the new wing’s foundation stone during a ceremony one year ago.
Klaus linked his speech with Masaryk’s by pointing out that smaller European nations are currently going through a development not dissimilar to that of 90 years ago. They want to belong to a democratic continental community, but there are identity problems.
Ordinary people, he said, cannot quite identify themselves with a single European nationhood imposed from the top. So, Klaus argued, there is another European crisis taking place, one which Masaryk would have been able to recognize.
Klaus said he was pleased to discover that Masaryk’s theme was relevant enough to be revived for his own speech.
"To discover that the topic of the Masaryk speech at that time -- 'the problems of small nations in the European crisis' -- is exactly along the path to use as the substance of my speech here today. I was extremely flattered by this opportunity," Klaus said.
Professor Julian Graffy from the department of Russian language and culture noted that the school has branched out since its incorporation into University College London in 1999. Today’s curriculum is much broader in scope, he said, and there is a lot more interaction between departments.
"We do have a number of students now from the former Soviet Union. They come and study in all our departments and at all levels. But the majority study politics, study economics, business. And we’re very pleased to have this range of students, because they are also involved in our language study, and they help our own students in that respect," Graffy said.
Graffy added that Masaryk’s interest in questions of national identity and self-determination, rooted in language, history, culture and society, remain at the core of the school’s programs.