Monday, May 23, 2005

Victor Miroslav Fic

Czech exile, scholar of Asian political culture, eternal optimist, lover of cats. Born January 5th, 1922 in Damborice, Czech Republic. Died February 2, in St. Catharines, of stroke, aged 83.

As a university student in the late-1940s, Victor became active in the nationalist movement to resist the Soviet Union’s imposition of a puppet rĂ©gime in Czechoslovakia. He eventually met with President Edvard Benes to press his case but only after leading thousands of demonstrating students to follow him “To the castle!” This subsequently led to a show trial on charges of treason resulting in Victor being sentenced to 10 years of hard labour. In prison he developed a strong aversion to carrots and black coffee, the culinary staples. After 9 months of solitary confinement he made a dramatic escape while labouring in a coal mine. He fled to Canada via Germany. He completed his B.A. at the University of British Columbia in 1950, partially supported by working as a lumberjack. This was followed by an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. In New York he supported his studies by working as a longshoreman unloading bags of sugar from Cuba. His adventurous spirit led him to India where he studied Indology at the University of Bangalore, eventually obtaining a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1964. While there, he married Rama Kapur, a scholar in her own right. Alexandra (as she later became known) for her part mastered Czech cuisine and later Chinese as well as her native Indian fare which allowed Victor to indulge his passion for fine dining and good wine over more than 40 years of happy family life.

In 1961 they settled in Burma where Victor taught political science at the University of Rangoon. In 1963, Victor took a job at Nanyang University in Singapore as well as lecturing in the Faculty of Law at the University of Singapore. He also served as Russian language tutor to Lee Hsien Loong, now Singapore’s Prime Minister. In 1994 Victor was honoured by a private dinner hosted by Lee Kwan Yew in recognition of Victor’s work in the early years of the Republic.

In 1971 Victor returned to Canada with Alexandra and their two young children, Jana and Victor, Jr. to teach at Brock University. He touched the lives of thousands of students in his legendary first-year Politics course with his enormous breadth of knowledge, combined with great generosity of spirit, dignity and humour and sartorial elegance. Victor was in his element behind a podium lecturing about the great movements of cultures and politics to a room of hundreds. He served as President of the Canadian Asian Studies Association from 1974-76 and reconnected with the community of Czech exiles in Canada. He wrote and published prodigiously right up to shortly before he died, completing 19 books and a long list of other publications in English and Czech on a wide range of scholarly topics.

Shortly after transformation of his homeland by Czechslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution” in 1989, Victor was asked to “come home.” He was offered a university rectorship to oversee a massive overhaul of the nation’s post-secondary education. But by this time Victor was already retired and preoccupied with his writing. Moreover he felt that as a returned exile who had been absent over the 40 years of Communist rule there, that he would always be perceived as an outsider. Seeing the formidable task of routing the old Marxist guard from their University sinecures as better suited to someone else, Victor declined the offer. In 1998 he was decorated with the T.G. Masaryk medal by President Havel in recognition of his scholarly writings on the Czech legions and his very active support of the Charter of 77 movement.

Victor lived an epic life stretching across the continents and the great civilizations. He unremittingly fought for justice and for understanding and reconciliation between peoples through his teaching and writing on Asian political culture.

 And he was ever cheerful in adversity. In the St. Catharines General Hospital during his illness, Victor’s dinner tray again featured the carrots he had come to revile in prison 55 years before. The irony of it brought him a final chuckle.

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