Pioneer of Civil Society in Czechia
I was horrified as the chauffeur of Thomas Bata allocated to me, a South African diplomat, was speeding from Prague to Luhacovice where I was expected by former supervisor of Bata shoe factories across the Globe – also in my home country –, Jan Pivecka.
I relayed to him how scared I was during the journey, fearing for my life. He laughed and said that Bata had never complained about his driver excessively speeding, but it could be because he is always exhausted after the long flight from Toronto and sits and sleeps peacefully in the back unaware of the danger.
When communists came to power in 1948 while Pivecka was representing Bata in India my host refused to return home. In retaliation, his Czechoslovak passport was repealed and he suddenly found himself a homeless person.
As Bata’ s net of business embraced nearly the whole world at the time, he was swiftly sent by the boss to Senegal where, according to his company’s knowledge, the process of naturalization took only a couple of months. With his new passport Jan then operated in the rest of Bata’s Africa, namely in the Maghreb, Belgian Congo, Kenya, Rhodesia and in my country. Here he stayed only a few months as the activities of foreign companies were soon suspended in line with the policy of sanctions against the apartheid system. Three years ago, when I visited the Pivecka domain in Moravia, the Bata business in South Africa was flourishing again and African apprentices attended courses at the International School of Modern Shoe-Making in Zlin co-founded by Jan, who returned to the Motherland after 44 years of living in exile.
Back in Slavicin he retired and acquired other concerns than sheer shoe production, involving himself up to his neck in civic activities, encouraging the evolvement of civil society in his birthplace, a concept that was unknown during the era of the Marxist „dictatorship of the proletariat". I found some activities of the young Jan Pivecka Foundation quite amusing as Jan related it to me, coloured by his sharp sense of humour.
Saving the Frogs
At my place of residence in Pretoria, which is located next to a stream, my family and I share the rocky banks with a community of bullfrogs. Each time after a rainstorm when they put up a full choir as if they are giving a recital, I am presently reminded of Jan Pivecka and his Frog Project at Slavicin.
One day, he was approached by a group of ecology students to help them save thousands of frogs who were killed annually when crossing a speedway skipping between their habitat and the pond where they were to breed in springtime. Thus, Jan, a lifelong industrialist, became involved in nature conservation by funding the students’ proposed scheme of erecting a fence to catch the frogs before reaching the road and then carrying them in buckets to the water. By coincidence, an Australian TV crew was around at the time when the project started and made it world famous. The frogs were not marching „en masse" at the very moment the picture director called for action, remembers Pivecka. The crew and student volunteers sat warming themselves in the TV van throughout most of the cold night: the frogs decided to emerge just before dawn for their film debut.
The Globe Trotter
Pivecka’s energy was unequeled, perhaps because he took life in his stride, not stressing unneccesarily. I recall how he reclined behind the wheel of his car with a relaxed casualness while telling about his adventures across the Earth as a representative of the Bata shoe reign and later of the UNIDO or the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Apart from carrying out his work expertly, often under difficult circumstances, he always had a time to help others, such as an impoverished and exiled Chinese ballerina for whom he arranged to study in Europe and who eventually became quite well-known.
Pivecka Forest Park
The main aim of the Foundation is to offer assistance to deserving young students and apprentices in the shoe industry, a chance to further their studies and gain experience abroad.
A part of Pivecka’ s house in the main square of the town of Slavicin is being used as the office of the Foundation where a number of young persons work in their free time. During my stay, a young lady accompanied us to explain the activities of the Foundation and the culture of the region. Pivecka treated her as an adopted grand-daughter and it was clear that he was her role model.
Jan’s other pet project before he unexpectedly died this January was the Pivecka Forest Park. He made it his task to rejunivate nature in the area by offering the community of Slavicin a natural wood park where children can play on hand-made wooden merry-go-rounds and see-saws, while large stone and wood statues displayed along the winding footpaths, provide a backdrop for people to meet and enjoy nature without travelling far.
Jan had his motto, Never give up, printed on postcards with the picture of a stork swallowing a frog; only the dangling legs of the poor frog are visible sticking out from the long beak of the stork, yet the implication is that the frog had not given up yet!
While spending the most enjoyable weekend with this indomitable man, I tried to learn from him and finally on returning home I took his motto back to Africa with me where I now strive to apply it.Marlet Venter, Pretoria
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