Jan Hus Educational Foundation

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Jan Hus Educational Foundation
Jan Hus 2.jpg
Founded May 1980
Founder Several philosophers from the University of Oxford
Focus Underground education network
Website Jan Hus Educational Foundation

The Jan Hus Educational Foundation was founded in May 1980 by a group of British philosophers at the University of Oxford. The group operated an underground education network in the former Czechoslovakia, at the time under Communist Party rule, running seminars on philosophy, smuggling in books, and arranging for Western academics to give lectures. It was deemed a "Centre of Ideological Subversion" by the Czech police, and some of the visiting philosophers were arrested or placed on the "Index of Undesirable Persons."[1]


The foundation was created after Czech dissident philosopher Julius Tomin, unable at that time to hold a job in a university because of his anti-communist views, wrote in 1978 to four Western universities asking them to support philosophy seminars he was holding in his apartment in Prague; the seminars were known as bytové seminảři (home seminars). Tomin called his discussion group Jan Patocka University, after the Czech philosopher who died after being interrogated by police in 1977.[2]

The letter was sent during a period when correspondence from the Eastern bloc was slow and uncertain (one commentator compared it to sending a message in a bottle), and only one letter is known to have arrived at its intended destination, the philosophy sub-faculty at the University of Oxford, one year after it was sent.[3] It was read out to the faculty by William Newton-Smith of Balliol during a meeting in January 1979. Those present voted to send two philosophers to address the seminars, and to offer financial support.[4]


Kathy Wilkes of St. Hilda's and Steven Lukes of Balliol were the first philosophers to visit Tomin, in March and April 1979. Wilkes took books and gave several seminars, the first a talk on Aristotle at Tomin's apartment in Keramická Street from 6 pm to midnight, and another a few days later, to 25 people, on "Identity of Human Personality." When she returned to Oxford, she asked its Literae Humaniores Board for financial support, and urged other philosophers to pay a visit, to be coordinated by William Newton-Smith. An article appeared about the seminars in the New Statesman in May; Wilkes wrote one for The Guardian a few days later; and another appeared at the end of May in Isis. The philosophy sub-faculty agreed to send Charles Taylor of All Soul's, and books were purchased with a grant from the Literae Humaniores Board.[4]

Others who became involved included Alan Montefiore and Anthony Kenny from Oxford; Ernest Gellner from Cambridge; Roger Scruton from Birkbeck College, London; Anthony Savile from King's College, London; and Thomas Nagel from New York University.[3] Branches of the Foundation sprang up in France and Germany. Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, and Ernst Tugendhat, who was born in Brno, all travelled to Czechoslovakia to conduct a seminar.[5] Several were detained by the police or expelled from the country. Newton-Smith was detained in March 1980; Anthony Kenny, then Master of Balliol, in April. Kathy Wilkes was escorted to the airport in June.[6] Jacques Derrida was arrested in Prague in December 1981, supposedly for drug smuggling, after the police planted drugs in his suitcase.[5] Roger Scruton was detained in 1985 and placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons.[7]

The underground network was active until the Velvet Revolution saw the overthrow of the Communist Party in 1989, though the foundation continued to support education initiatives in the new Czech Republic. In October 1998 at Magdalen College, Oxford, President Václav Havel awarded Commemorative Medals of the President of the Republic to the foundation, as well as to Kathy Wilkes and Barbara Day. Roger Scruton was awarded the Medal of Merit (First Class) of the Czech Republic.[8]





See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barbara Day, The Velvet Philosophers, The Claridge Press, 1999, p. 5.
  2. ^ "Prisoners that Moscow tries to hide", Associated Press, October 11, 1979.
  3. ^ a b Day 1999, p. 33ff; p. 45 for Scruton and Savile; p. 16 for Gellner.
  4. ^ a b Day 1999, pp. 33–39.
  5. ^ a b "French Philosopher Is Seized in Prague", Associated Press, 1 January 1982; also see Day 1999, p. 92ff.
  6. ^ Nicholas Hills, "Oxford dons battle Czech secret police", The Montreal Gazette, 4 June 1980.
  7. ^ Day 1999, p. 255.
  8. ^ Day 1999, pp. 281–282.
  9. ^ a b c Day 1999, pp. 283–284.

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