The State That Failed (Part 1)
The first impression of the book is very good: the author carefully explains her method of naming the cities and spelling. The author is obviously well educated, knows the terrain and its history. As a foreigner, she will treat it objectively.
The first disappointment comes on p. 16. Her treatment of Dvorak as a composer of polkas, as a reviewer already mentioned it, is sad.
Didn’t Dvorak also compose many symphonies, choral works, the New World Symphony? Wasn’t he invited to the States to further American music? This way, she seems to be following in the footsteps of Zdenek Nejedly who disliked Dvorak, because his daughter refused his advances, and for the temporary Soviet line, he was too “cosmopolitan”. She devotes - like Nejedly himself - much more attention to Smetana, stressing that his first name was German, OK.
But when she comes to TGM, she slants everything, by suggesting that his changing of his name was showing a poor character. She does not seem to realize that she is dealing with territories whose populations were forcefully Germanized and Magyarized. She feels sorry for Slovaks for their change into Czechoslovaks and claims that the difference between the West and East remained unchanged, in spite of the fact that until then Slovaks did not have any high schools or a university, till the Czechs helped to build them up.
From her text it seems that obviously she would have preferred survival of the two imperial monarchies that provoked a long war, systematically decrying the efforts of the “Czech nationalists (who) insisted” (p.17) on building their state. She does not like the ‘nations’, always putting them in inverted commas. On p. 18 she even talks about “chauvinistic competition”. She does not appreciate the need for their own identity that people had and need. She prefers the territorial “French nation” as a state determinant of nationhood. But that was impossible in Central Europe. She even dares to call the Czechs in Czechoslovakia “Austrian Czechs” (p.53).
Would she dare to call great German writers like Rilke, Kafka and others, or many Moravians, who settled in Vienna and created out of it a great musical, philosophical and psychiatric center, like Mahler, Freud, Adler, “Czech or Moravian Germans”? And how about the famous Viennese school of cooking that was in fact created by Moravian and Czech cooks? These parts of her book are offensive and painful to read not for our own nationalism, but for the systematic slanting she gives to so many things.
The author wanted to prove that the state failed, and so she tried to prove it on many pages, stubbornly. In order not to rightly evaluate the greatness of Tomas G. Masaryk, she tries to present him as a hypocrite, by putting the two ‘causes celebres’! (p.21) - only in the footnotes, although they defined him much more than name changes. (Nothing about his other defense of the Serb students.) She just stresses that it made him known and thus he could use it for his political aims! One has to ask himself why she undervalues, misunderstands, and possibly hates Masaryk so much. As of a Jewish origin herself, she should at least appreciate his defense of Jews.
Masaryk really inspired generations of Czechs and Slovaks to be better men and women. Did she read him at all? In Central Europe, he was a revelation. She criticizes him for his efforts to help for reform and form the character oh his nation. Didn’t other great leaders of nations, like Lincoln, Washington, Kennedy, Obama, tried to help to form and reform their nations to a better model? - To my pleasant surprise, she did not mention that Masaryk was most probably the son of the German official who then systematically took care of him as with his other son, who looked very much like Tomas. His German speaking Moravian mother (and not a German as she calls her) was in last months of her pregnancy when she married her much younger Slovak, and she cooked for her master and probably seducer. I see it as one of many beneficial Czech/German entanglements. For a Czech, Masaryk always showed more typically German systematic work and concentration on his tasks. But he decided to be a Czech, although he never managed to learn the language completely. The author feels sorry for the Germans who lost so many men in war - that they provoked and led!!! Masaryk talked to them “bluntly”. She is not ashamed of her argument about the multinational composition of CSR by quoting the Fascist dictator Mussolini!! On p.37 she talks about one of Masaryk’s formal submissions as Masaryk’s “latest propagandistic tract”! - The destruction of the Virgin Mary column is discussed twice: it was “impious vandalism” - and that in a nation that for three centuries was being forcefully turned Catholic and the column was put there as a demonstration against the Hus monument!
On p. 49 the author talks about “an abstraction called ‘the nation’” - for her, her own nationality created no problem, for millions of people in Central Europe, however, it was a basic problem. On p. 50 her treatment of the Munich agreement is atrocious.
Czech Constitution to her just “looked liberal”. Nothing about the incredible progress it signified in this part of Europe. The CSR was surrounded by illiberal states on all sides - with the temporary exception of Austria.
Then the author vilifies the efforts of Masaryk and his friends to form a democratic state according to their own principles - anti- catholicism was necessary, TGM was searching in the past for better principles; secularization of schools, the division of state and church, of education and church bothers her, while in the USA it is OK? Masaryk was looking for better ideals in the States, not only in the Protestant Czech history. For instance, I like his “Mejte uctu k dusi ditete” in a country where children were mercilessly beaten every day not only at home but in schools too, and were supposed to be seen, but not heard! On p. 86 she blames even the Czech part of republic for “its own idiosyncratic variant of Fascism.”
The chapter devoted to “A Republic and a Protectorate” is sad, but basically right. Still, she devotes 24 pages to a period of less than half a year, and does not even mention that similar vulgar attitudes and expressions are quite regularly appearing in disappointed and defeated populations (see today’s dangerous hateful attitudes and incitements among parts of the opposition to the health-care bill in the US). She rightly states that Czech Jews (many of whom switched to Czech because of their admiration of TGM) did not face the same problems as German speaking Jews - the mutual antagonism was based more on language and culture, not on race. I lived there: Czechs were lukewarm Catholics and lukewarm anti-Semites. Slovaks were much more Fascist. Again: do not all nations feel uneasy about foreigners who come in great numbers, and settle in their countries? Do not Brits, Frenchmen, Italians, Americans have problems with growing numbers of settling foreigners, for instance, Moslems?
How does she know (on page 94) that Benes, when he rightly prophesied future German aggressions, did it “with malicious satisfaction”? Could she witness it? Isn’t that a cheap attack?
I see no problems with her chapter 5 until we come to the 120’s pages. She is wrong on p. 123 when she claims that both Germany and the Soviet Union attacked Poland on 1 September. Stalin waited some time before he also struck. Then comes up again her embarrassing hate for Benes! Although by quoting other people’s books she demonstrates that he was very smart in politics, and obviously a capable leader, she uses very cheap slurs against him: twice “he rattled off” cables (pp. 122 and 123). Her objectivity disappears when she comes to Masaryk or Benes! What personal reasons or prejudices lead her to this stupid loss of historian’s objectivity?
I cannot find anything basically wrong or malicious in her chapter 6. It was a horrible time and many Czechs behaved brutally. The expelling of Germans was not only spontaneous, but officially encouraged and organized. I very much disliked it. At the end of the late Prague uprising I saw people kicking a bleeding German soldier sitting on the floor, putting fire to the hair of soldiers hanging from lampposts; I risked lynching by protesting. Only two people were then publicly complaining about the brutality: Mares and Jesenska, Kafka’s mistress, and Peroutka published it. In 1949 I invited and published in my exile journal Skutecnost in Geneva several serious denunciations of the expulsions, and in 1970 in Horgen (Switzerland), at the first meeting of 1948 and 1968 refugees, in a long (“stateman’s like speech” ?!- well accepted!) I declared that “poskvrnili jsme se barbarstvim vyhnanim Nemcu” /we stained ourselves by barbarism of expelling the Germans/ - so I cannot blame her for narrating the true story. Even the conclusion that might upset many Czechs, does not shock me.
However, there is the eternal ethical problem of ‘should crime be answered by revenge, or mercifully forgiven?’ She mentions that enraged people were trying to show the Germans how the persecuted Jews must have felt by treating them the same way (rations, luggage, etc.) Even some political realism can be rather upsetting: Benes. as I believed then, acted as the last Czech King: let us get rid of the Germans who caused us so much trouble; I did not agree. But looking back: Czechs were able to create their own (however much less democratic!) state, and the Reich’s Germans accepted it quite willingly; they needed more citizens and took over much of the Czech by investing in its economy, economy, newspapers, etc. by peaceful means!
(It will continue in next issue...)Peter Hruby
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