Yes, that’s right, that funny sounding place that nobody’s ever heard of, never mind can point to on a map. Well, I’ve just been reading about the Moravians, a religious group which had an impact on the world far beyond their origins. But then I looked up the place on Wiki to find out where it is, and nearly fell off my chair when I discovered the list of famous Moravians – that’s the country, not the religious folk.
Let’s start with Oskar Schindler, he of the ark or list, depending on whether you can stand Spielberg’s cheesy take on the original, so the country saved thousands of Jews in the second world war.
Then there was Comenius, philosopher, teacher, and forerunner of Rousseau and other educators, who promoted the Baconian notion of pansophy, ie the knowledge of everything, and tried to develop a language in which it was impossible to lie. A UNESCO medal is awarded in his name for achievements in education research and innovation.
Sigmund Freud – you must have heard about him.
Bohomil Hrabal, one of the finest authors of the 20th century. He often wrote of protagonists falling from 5th floor windows; he died falling out of the 5th floor of his hospital, apparently feeding pigeons. Spooky! Milan Kundera is a far more famous fellow writer-countryman.
Tomasz Bata founded the Bata shoes company, whose motto was ‘We Are Not Afraid of the future’. He pioneered the notion of benevolent capitalism, building towns for his employees which are still held up as models of urban design. Several years ago a film was made of a coach trip organised for some of Bata’s former employees from Britain to the Czech Republic, which is part travellogue, part investigation into the human spirit. “Bataville: We are not afraid of the future” Wonderful stuff, wonderful man.
There is also physicists Ernst Mach (of speed fame, ie Mach 1 etc) and George Placzek who worked on the Manhattan Project, Architect Adolf Loos, composer Leos Janaceck, and lots more.
But I started this post with the Moravian brethren, whose role in history has been largely ignored. Their leadership was largely aristocratic, but they believed strictly in the New Testament, were expected to experience a profound conversion experience and, made decisions by drawing lots which they believed showed God’s will. Women were given equal power in decision making, and were prominent in preaching and education. All property was collectively owned and nobody earned a wage. They were also the most successful settlers and missionary groups. They were both transcultural and transracial, skilled in adapting their practices to include those of locals. By the end of the 18th century, most African Christians were Moravian; over half their membership today is African.
At a time when mass printing was an integral part of the Enlightenment, they were producing a handwritten newsletter called “Gemein Nachrichten”. This suggests it had a limited readership, but special services were held for it to be read aloud, so served as a means of binding their communities together whilst connecting them with all the others around the world. The copy sent to Gothenberg in Sweden was passed on to over 20 groups and families in Western Sweden. The Basel copy went to towns villages and individuals throughout the canton. Copies were sent throughout Europe, to North, South and Central America, Africa, which probably makes them the most widely read series of documents ever.
George Whitfield and John Wesley had extensive contact with the Moravians before they broke away from the Church of England to found Methodism. Like the Moravians, they worked with the poor, and some claim that if it had not been for them, England would have suffered a French-style Revolution at the end of the 18th century.
So, next time you’re stuck for conversation, ask, where would we be without Moravians?