Professor Jiří Marvan F.A.H.A. (1936-2016)

Jiří Marvan (1936-2016)
Jiří Marvan (1936-2016)

Jiří (George) Marvan, a distinguished Slavist, Professor of Slavic Languages at Monash University and a great friend of Ukrainian Studies in Australia, died in Prague on 13 April 2016.

Jiří Marvan was born on 28 January 1936 in Prague. He graduated from Charles University, Prague, with a Masters degree in 1959 and a PhD in 1969. His formation as a linguist reflected the influence of the Prague Linguistic School and its members Bohuslav Havránek, Vladimír Skalička and especially his mentor Pavel Trost.

Jiří Marvan’s scholarly career was an international one. He  worked at the Institute of Czech language of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (1960-63), at Uppsala and Stockholm Universities (1963-67), Portland State University, Oregon (1968-1969), the University of California at Davis and at Santa Barbara (1969-1972) and at Pennsylvania State University (1972-73), before coming to Monash University to accept the Chair of Russian which, through his efforts, became a Chair of Slavic Languages. At its peak under Marvan the Department taught sequences in Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian (Serbian and Croatian were then regarded by most scholars as variants of the one language) and Ukrainian, as well as individual subjects in Czech, Lithuanian and Old Church Slavic.

J. Marvan and J. B. Rudnyckyj at Monash, 1975
J. Marvan and J. B. Rudnyckyj at Monash, 1975

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Marvan negotiated with the Ukrainian community in Melbourne establish of a full academic position in Ukrainian Studies at Monash. To this end he co-operated with the chair of the Ukrainian Education Council of Australia, Tetiana Slipeckyj, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of Melbourne Dr Ivan Prasko, the president of the Association of Ukrainians in Victoria (AUV) Stepan Lysenko and the AUV’s external affairs director Dr (later Professor) Michael Lawriwsky. He held talks with Professor Jaroslav Rudnyckyj (University of Manitoba, Canada), who visited Australia to advocate for the establishment of a Ukrainian Studies centre at one of Australia’s universities. In 1980 he chaired at the University of Melbourne the third in the series of Ukrainian Studies courses under the auspices of the Sydney-based Ukrainian Studies Foundation in Australia. Marvan’s efforts, together with those of Victoria’s Ukrainian community, resulted in 1982 in an agreement between Monash University and the AUV on whose basis Ukrainian language and culture courses commenced at the University in 1983.

Eugenia and Joseph Pona, early donors to Ukrainian Studies, Jiří Marvan and Marko Pavlyshyn, 1985
Eugenia and Joseph Pona, early donors to Ukrainian Studies, Jiří Marvan and Marko Pavlyshyn, 1985

Marvan was a remarkable linguist, fluent in twelve Slavic languages, and a prolific scholar. His publications while at Monash included the books Modern Lithuanian Declension (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1978), Prehistoric Slavic Contraction (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979), České stupňováni [Comparison in Czech] (Munich: Sagner, 1986) and, of particular interest to Ukrainian linguists, Pivnichnoslovians’kyi kontekst ukrains’koi slovozminy [The North Slavic Context of Ukrainian Inflection] (Adelaide: Knyha, 1983), the basis for his presentation at the International Congress of Slavists in Kyiv in 1983.

Jiří Marvan made a significant contribution to scholarship in Ukrainian Studies. He supervised to completion two PhD candidates in Ukrainian linguistics, Dr Olesia Rosalion (1985) and Dr Linda Sydor (today Sydor Petkovic) (1993). He was a driving force behind a special issue of the Toronto-based Journal of Ukrainian Studies titled “Monash University Scholars in Ukrainian Studies” (Vol. 10, No. 1, 1985).

Marvan played a key role in dealings with the Victorian Department of Education that resulted in the introduction of Slavic and Baltic languages into the school curriculum. These efforts were successful in 1975, when Ukrainian, alongside Czech, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Serbo-Croatian were added to Russian as matriculation subjects. Macedonian and Slovenian followed suit. The languages also became available as matriculation subjects in New South Wales and South Australia.

In 1991, as the post-Soviet transformation began in Central Europe, Marvan returned to Prague. In 1994-97 he served as the Czech Republic’s first ambassador to Greece. He resumed his academic work, teaching at Charles University, where in 2005 that university’s professorial title was conferred upon him, and at other Czech universities. His commitment to  language diversity and the maintenance of languages with small communities of speakers remained unabated and found expression in his book, intended for a broad audience, Introducing Europe to Europeans Through Their Languages (Prague: School of Czech Studies, 2008).

Students and alumni of Ukrainian Studies, 1985. Front row: Rober Slonek, Olesia Rosalion, Marko Pavlyshyn, Jiří Marvan
Students and alumni of Ukrainian Studies, 1985. Front row: Robert Slonek, Olesia Rosalion, Marko Pavlyshyn, Jiří Marvan

Marvan was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1990. His awards included the Gold Cross of Merit, conferred by the President of Poland, and a decoration within the Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas, conferred by the President of Lithuania. Marvan’s 70th birthday was marked by a festschrift, Europeica – Slavica – Baltica: Jiřímu Marvanovi k 70. narozeninám, ed. Helena Petáková and Hana Opleštilova (Prague: Národní knihovna České republiky, 2007).

Jiří Marvan is survived by his wife, Ph.Dr Mira Marvanova, their son Jiří, and his two children by an earlier marriage to Elishka Marvan: Dr Elishka Marvan and Tomas Marvan. His funeral service was held on 22 April 2016 in the Evangelical church of St Clement in Prague.