Pan Riaditel Kuruc
June 18, 2015
This piece was written in May 2015 and published on 52 Weeks in Slovakia in June 2015.
My friend passed away. He was a leader of men. His passing is an important opportunity to recognize his strength as a leader in what was certainly very challenging times. His name was Dr. Ludovit Kuruc.
Note on pronunciation:
K in Slovak is a hard K in English
U in Slovak is an OO in English
R in Slovak is a lot like an R in English only rolled a little like some Scots do it
C in Slovak is a lot like the TZ of Switzerland or the TS of Roots
So, like the English word for the cooing of a dove and the roots that hold a tree in the ground, the Slovak last name Kuruc is pronounced in English Coo-Roots
A school in Bratislava – Evanjelicke Lyceum – was the home to many Slovak intellectuals over the last four hundred years of Slovak history as well as many who went on to teach and influence others. The school closed in the early 1920’s. After the World War II takeover of Czechoslovakia by the communists, the communists naturally saw no need for a school like this. It was a church school. Successful church institutions were generally frowned upon by communists then and today. Successful institutions run by intelligentsia were also generally frowned upon by communists then and now.
It’s no mystery why this school was not permitted to re-open for so many years, but make no mistake, the Bratislava Lyceum was the home of Slovak intellectuals ranging from Milan Rastislav Stefanik – one of the founding fathers of Czechoslovakia following WWI – to Ludovit Stur and his ardent followers the Sturovci – the group that led the Slovak National Revival of the mid-1800s. The revival, in its least controversial form simply instructed: Slovaks were a different nation, not just stupid versions of Hungarians who have such a hard time learning that strange language (a common narrative of the time), that Slovaks were a nation unto themselves, that the Slovak people had a beautiful history, beautiful people, beautiful language, and beautiful culture.
I would like to think that this website, 52 Weeks in Slovakia, walks in the footsteps of Ludovit Stur and the Sturovci by highlighting the beauty of Slovak language, culture, and people in the context of Central Europe and the rest of the world in the early 21st century. I would like to think a unique record is being kept in these pages that will be read for many years hence whenever a snapshot of Slovakia at this moment in history is needed.
After the fall of communism, in 1989, a group of people got together and moved to reopen Bratislava’s Evanjelicke Lyceum. It’s not the same focus of study that other schools of pedagogy from the past insisted upon, but they sought to provide among the best educations that could be provided in Slovakia. They sought to provide a home for a segment of Bratislava’s intelligentsia, teachers, and students, they sought to provide a home for Christian growth. They sought to provide a home for the institution that nurtured Stefanik, the Sturovci, the great Ludovit Stur and many others. Stur even held a seat there and was banished from the school, a formational moment in his life. Ludovit Kuruc emerged from that group seeking to re-open the Lyceum and was made the director of the Lyceum.
In 1989, a glorious moment in which the government was overthrown in an idealistic movement, remembered as the Velvet Revolution, gave way to a tremendous vacuum of power. No one knew what the next day would look like – as impoverished Czechoslovakia suddenly had unfettered contact with the West and no inkling of what path the government might take going forward.
The 1990s were like the Wild West for Slovakia. Anyone with potential was being taken aim at, on top of that there was a brain drain drawing people West. In that environment, Ludovit Kuruc and others under his lead, focused on reopening the amazing Evanjelicke Lyceum.
Today, the Lyceum is among the finest schools in Slovakia, a crown jewel of church schools. In the early 1990s, there was no idea that some 25 years later that would be the reality. The founders of the school in those early years by necessity operated one year at a time and had little luxury to dream of the future. Even today to some extent, there is a somewhat tenuous future for the Lyceum. It is difficult to imagine a Lyceum existing without the firm Kuruc willing it into existence and building it that stable foundation.
Ludovit Kuruc built an international reputation around the school. The Lyceum is unquestionably the school Kuruc rebuilt. For all his critics who found the man too authoritarian, especially when he was being authoritarian to them, there are many more who understood that he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time for the Lyceum to become that grand institution that it has become.
On Friday, May 15, 2015, that man, Ludovit Kuruc passed away, my friend, my former boss, the man who rebuilt the school that attracted me and hundreds of other Americans to Slovakia. The man who built the school that thousands of young Slovaks went through, young Slovaks who have a tangible effect on Slovakia, and are doing amazing things in the world, partly because of the opportunities created for them when Kuruc and his team made this dream of his a reality.
On a more personal note, because without Kuruc there is no Evanjelicke Lyceum, and without the Evanjelicke Lyceum, I would never have spent years in Slovakia. It’s unlikely I would have been anything more than an occasional tourist taking a run through the tourist traps every decade or so. I would not have taught the fantastic students who inspired me, much like I’ve been told I inspired them, I would not have had the colleagues who were so formational for me, or the connectedness to the culture that I did. You can understand in addition to the grand contribution to the world this man has made by insisting that the Lyceum be great, I am grateful as well to the way this school shaped my own existence. I am grateful for what he did for many others, and it is also important to be grateful for what he did for me.
Of the many things the man did for me, I will illustrate just one: The fact that he attracted me to Slovakia. In 2000, a teacher there named Matthew Kraft started writing me about his experience at the Lyceum, writing and encouragement that I found so interesting, adventurous, and even comforting to a post 9/11 American youth. At that time, like many of my generation, I was likely afraid of the world and with a chip on his shoulder still about 9/11. By 2002, I was at the Lyceum working under Dr. Kuruc for a year, which soon became three amazing years, and as the pages of 52 Weeks in Slovakia testify to, I have not been able to get Slovakia out of my system since then. Of the most important hours of my day – the time I get to spend writing – at least half of my writing time still focuses on Slovakia.
The Lyceum was an intellectual home for me. It was relatively stable footing in an unstable place. It was a place where anyone would answer any question and intellectual debate and cultural investigation surrounded me everywhere I went on the Lyceum campus. At this school, in the Slovak capital, less than half a mile from the Slovak-Austrian border, less than half a mile from the border of East and West, where English and Slovak were the predominant languages of instruction along with some German, one could imagine this environment perfectly eclipsed the “somewhere-in-betweeness” that constitutes Central Europe.
In the early 1990s, Kuruc probably did not intend for Allan Stevo or anyone like me to walk through the door and be inspired, but he created the home, the team, the inspiration for exactly that to happen and my life has been changed, because that man followed that dream of his. I cannot imagine a situation in life that will cause me to forget the overwhelming gratitude I have for Kuruc for that impact he had on me. So much of my life has been affected because I was able to walk into the Evanjelicke Lyceum in August of 2002. With 13 years of hindsight, I know that I can praise this man’s impact on me confidently. Ludovit Kuruc changed my life.
Emotions can be hard to translate into words. Your feelings are unique to you. Sorrow to me does not mean the same as sorrow to you. We do not experience it the same way. No two humans do. Gratitude to me does not means the same as gratitude to you. These are exactly the two emotions I want to express over the passing of Dr. Kuruc – sorrow and gratitude. Even saying the words sorrow and gratitude feel so empty and brute, like words that are so far removed from the feelings I have and the limited words that I am left with to express those feelings. Translating those emotions into words and hoping the words are impactful enough to translate back into those same emotions for the listener is an impossible task. We can only hope for a small fraction of the emotion to be conveyed, for a verbal approximation of our own feelings to translate into the same approximation of feelings in another person. I know enough to know what a challenging task that is. It’s enough really to simply expect the listener to feel ’emotional’ at hearing words at such a sad moment. Emotional too feels so vague. Add another layer of complexity by running my feelings through my English language thought processes, communicating them into Slovak as a non-native speaker, and then to a person whose mind is operating in Slovak, before translating those into feelings.
I write these words 30,000 feet over the Atlantic aboard Aeroflot flight 101, on my way to the funeral of Dr Kuruc, Pan Riaditel – Director of the Lyceum. I am crossing the Atlantic to spend 36 hours in Slovakia, for no other reason than to be at the funeral of Dr. Kuruc, because it’s vital that man be honored. It’s vital that man’s family know much he meant to me.
I only wish I had a better way to communicate that.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.