The Bohemian Review
Jaroslav F. Smetanka, Editor, 2324 South Central Park Ave., Chicago.
|Vol. I, No. 1.||FEBRUARY 1917|
10 cents a Copy
Masaryk and His Work
A patriot desires but one reward: that he should live to see his labors bear fruit. On January 12, 1917, thousands of Czechs in the United States found time in the midst of their joyous celebration of the dawn of Bohemia’s independence to remember the grand old man of Bohemia, Thomas . He it was who put the ancient kingdom of Bohemia once more upon the map of Europe. On the day when the Allies’ answer to President MasarykWilson was published, he surely was happy, for he had proof that his titanic labors, his tremendous personal and family sacrifices were not made in vain. Bohemia's right to independence was clearly recognized by the Allies and the liberation of the country from foreign domination was made one of the conditions of peace.
For centuries no one in Bohemia did more than dream of independence. This Slav country had been subject to the Hapsburgs for so many generations and so thoroughly was it repressed that even the boldest spirits among its leaders regretfully put aside all thoughts of absolute freedom as visionary and aimed merely at securing for the lands of the Bohemian crown the widest possible autonomy within the confines of the Austrian Empire. On several occasions during the long reign of Francis Joseph the Czechs came near to the realization of these moderate ambitions, but always the emperor drew back unable to give up his ambition to be the German ruler of German or Germanized subjects.
Of late years the struggle of the Czechs for a certain amount of liberty at home and for the right to participate in the government of the Empire was growing more and more hopeless. The general European situation was undergoing a change greatly to the disadvantage of Bohemia. The Hapsburg realm was losing its standing as a great power, due mainly to the constant internal dissensions and language disputes, while the truly national states of Europe were growing in population, wealth and military power. Above all Germany, excelling in industrial and military preparedness, aggressive and domineering, was looking for new worlds to conquer. America was out of the question, for the United States was guarding jealously against the invasion of the two western continents through its Monroe doctrine. Germany’s African colonies were unsuitable for colonization by white men and constituted merely a financial burden. Only Asia offered an undeveloped field—the ramshackle Turkish Empire—and to that land of promise the road from Germany led through the dual empire and the Balkan states. Prague was the first stage on the Berlin-Bagdad highway, and the Czech people were the first obstacle to German expansion. It was a part of Germany’s plan to reduce Austria to complete subserviency by the exaltation of its German minority and a more thorough repression of the Slav and Latin races, with the assistance of the Magyars.
There were not lacking statemen in Bohemia who saw whither things were tending. Two of them stand out above the other Czech patriots: Dr. Charles Kramar and Professor Thomas G. Masaryk. Kramar, the leader of the Young Czech party, for years representative of the middle class of Bohemia, yielded to no one in his devotion to the race from which he sprang or in the sincerity of his intentions to serve the Czech people to the best of his great ability. But being a wealthy manufacturer, a “practical” man, intent upon gaining results in the Vienna parliament, he failed to draw the only conclusion necessitated by the changed European situation which he so well understood. He realized that Germany was “peacefully penetrating” the Danube monarchy, that the very existence of the Czech nation was imperiled; on the floor of the parliament and in the Austrian delegation he admonished the powers ruling in Vienna that the fate of the Empire and of the dynasty was just as much at stake as the fate of Bohemia, should German designs prevail. But knowing his own impotence and the helplessness of his people, aware of the gigantic forces behind the schemes of Germany, he still clung to the Austrian Empire as the only political structure under which the Czech race could exist and prosper. As persecutions multiplied in Bohemia and cabinet succeeded cabinet in Vienna, each more unfriendly to the aspirations of the Czech race for free national development, Kramar lost much of his former popularity in Bohemia and Moravia. The Czechs resented instinctively his conciliatory attitude toward ministers who took away bit by bit political concessions secured in times more favorable. But the tragedy of Kramar’s life consists in this: the man who spent his career in trying to establish Austria on the firm foundation of justice to all its various races was taken into custody some months after the war broke out, was accused of high treason, convicted on flimsy and falsified evidence, and finally saved from hanging only by the accession of the new emperor, who out of his royal mercy commuted Kramar’s death sentence to fifteen years’ imprisonment at hard labor.
Masaryk is a stateman of a different type. He possesses few of the qualities usually associated with successful politicians; he is not a stirring orator nor a magnetic personality nor a clever manipulator of men. One might describe him as a great intellect energized by love of his country and a passion for justice. Two incidents of his earlier public life illustrate what manner of man is this great Bohemian. As a young university teacher he denounced for forgeries two celebrated manuscrips that had been treasured by several generations of Bohemians as precious monuments of the earliest literary activity of their race. He proved his contention, but not till he had been attacked for years as an iconoclast and almost a traitor to his people. Again he incurred the utmost unpopularity, when he championed the cause of a Jew, named Hilsner, whom the courts convicted of ritual murder and who was universally and fanatically held guilty.
It is not to be wondered that a man who chooses to fight against popular delusions does not become the official leader of his nation. Masaryk who was chiefly a scholar and teacher of young men took up parliamentary work not from inclination, but as a matter of duty. In the Vienna Reichsrat he was the leader of a small group of Czech deputies who called themselves originally realists and later progressives. But although the party gathered around him remained always small, Masaryk himself with his wonderful insight into the intricacies of politics, his ability to shove aside the subterfuges and uncover the heart of the question, his merciless logic and the absolute integrity of his mind and character was the one man to whom the deputies and the whole Czech nation looked in a crisis.
What was at the bottom of Masaryk’s mind, as he saw the European catastrophe approaching, no one in this country can tell. It is certain that he, not less clearly than Kramar, realized the growing subordination of Austria to its stronger partner, realized the German ambitions upon the Balkan Slavs as a bridge between Germany and Anatolia, realized the inevitableness of a general European war. But Masaryk, whom no one would call a dreamer, saw more clearly than the brilliant leader of the Young Czech party what his people were to do, as the storm was gathering: fight the ambitious German plans to use Austria as a tool in the Balkans; oppose boldly Vienna cabinets controlled by Berlin; vote in parliament against the so-called state necessities and above all against the army increase; ignore the wishes of the emperor and brave the anger of the archdukes and the generals who made and unmade ministers. Kramar hesitated to act resolutely lest he should bring about a definite break between the dynasty and the Czech nation. Masaryk was not halted by this fear. He dared to say with Palacky: “We were here before Austria, we shall be here after it is gone.”
In the strenuous years since the annexation of Bosnia in 1908, years occupied by warfare against the dishonest, bullying “high politics” of Vienna and Budapest and by constant endeavor at home to arouse the Czech people to unite their ranks and for get their differences in view of the probable cataclysm, Masaryk’s most significant accomplishment was his exposure of the forged documents by means of which fifty Serbo-Croats were convicted in Zagreb (Agram) of plotting high treason against the monarchy for the benefit of Serbia. Masaryk proved at the celebrated Friedjung trial in Vienna that the Austro-Hungarian legation in Belgrade manufactured the evidence by means of which the prosecuting attorney convinced the court of the guilt of the accused. But neither the exposure, with its European scandal, nor the most severe attacks delivered by Masaryk in the Delegations against the foreign minister, Count Aehrenthal, availed to turn the ruling circles of the Dual Monarchy from their mad policy of crushing Serbia. Germany approved and would back Austria to the limit; that was all the big men in the two capitals of the Hapsburg empire cared to know.
When the long impending war finally came, Masaryk was the one man in Bohemia who was prepared for it and knew what to do. The entire Czech nation was furious at the crime committed by their rulers; they, the Slavs of Bohemia, were ordered to shoot brother Slavs for the great er glory of Germany. The country seethed with discontent, reservists mutinied, whole Czech and Slovak regiments surrendered. But armed rebellion in Bohemia would have been an act of madness. Little could be done in the land ruled by bayonets and machine guns. Masaryk, a man sixty-five years old, fled from the accursed Austria never to return to it. He knew he could come back to his native land only when it was free.
His plans are revealed in the document he gave out to the world in the fall of 1915. The future Bohemian state will look upon this document with the same reverence which Americans accord to their Declaration of Independence. In it he says: “All Bohemian political parties have up to this time been fighting for a qualified independence within the limits of Austria-Hungary. But the occurrence of this terrible war and the reckless violence of Vienna constrain us to claim independence without regard to Austria-Hungary. We ask for an independent Bohemian-Slovak State.”
It was a full year before he took this momentous action which will forever remain one of the landmarks in the history of Bohemia. There was much preparatory work that had to be done first. He needed assistants and he needed money. Great man though he is, the task before him could not be carried out by one man alone. He found Czech exiles in Switzerland; he established relations with emigrants in Paris and London and Russia. He told them that the hour had come to strike a blow for free Bohemia. Let those that are physically able enlist in the Allied armies and thus fight for their native land; let others collect money and care for the families of volunteers and let others still assist him in his work of making Europe hear the cry of enslaved Bohemia.
His call reached across the ocean. Nearly ten per cent of the Czech people live in the United States. The war roused them from their absorption in earning a livelihood, it swept away their bickerings and petty disputes and inspired them to render some signal service to their unfortunate native land and to their enslaved, perishing brethren. On the very day when Austrian cannon were first fired against Serbia, Bohemians in Chicago organized a relief fund which in a few months collected nearly $20,000. But it was soon evident that it would be useless to send this money to Bohemia, for the Austrian Government would appropriate it for their Red Cross and save its own money. As a matter of fact most of these relief funds have been since applied for the benefit of Czech prisoners of war in Russia and Serbia.
Bohemians in the United States realized that the fate of their people was in the balance. Sympathizing absolutely with the cause of the Allies they held no doubt that in the end it would be victorious. But what would even Allied victory avail the Czechs should they alone of all the Slavs be left under the Hapsburgs having the Germans and Magyars for their partners? So the emigrants in America felt that something must be done by them. They organized the Bohemian National Alliance, collected some money, renounced forever Francis Joseph and all his works, protested against the German campaign in the United States for an embargo, but all the time they felt the insignificance of their efforts. With great joy they accepted the definite task which Masaryk assigned to the Bohemian speaking people of America, namely to furnish the money for the prosecution of his mission in the Allied capitals to gain them for Bohemian indepedence.
One man against the Hapsburg Empire. For Masaryk’s plan for the liberation of Bohemia involved the total disruption of that “mosaic of nations” which had occupied the central place on the maps of Europe for four hundred years in substantially its present form. Long before the German Empire arose, when Italy was but a geographical expression, when few people knew ought of Muscovy, the Austrian, Bohemian and Hungarian lands composed a powerful realm in the heart of Europe under the sceptre of the Hapsburgs. It had existed so long that age alone seemed to justify its existence, and statesmen could not conceive of a map of Europe without this ancient monarchy. In fact in the earlier days of the war English and French political writers seeking for means to do away permanently with the menace of Prussian militarism generally suggested the enlargement of Austria by the inclusion within its boundary of Catholic South Germany in the vain hope of restoring the ancient rivalry of Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns and reducing in that fashion modern Germany to impotence.
Masaryk had to convince the statesmen and the people of the Allied Powers that this archaic solution of their great problem was quite impracticable.
Just as Napoleon III. built false hopes on the separation of the South German Federation from the North German Bund, so would the Allies deceive themselves if they counted on a permanent division of a Prussian Germany and an Austrian Germany, especially if the Teuton minority in the latter country were turned into a majority. The way to make Germany powerless to disturb the peace in the future, argued Masaryk, is to take away from it its control over fifty million Hapsburg subjects. Germany that would not command the resources of the Dual Empire in men, war supplies and food stuffs, Germany that would have potential enemies instead of a willing vassal on her southeastern flank, would not be strong enough to upset the arrangements which the Allies expect to establish at the close of the war. Such was the argument Masaryk addressed to the selfinterest of the Powers grouped against the Teutons. But even more powerful was Masaryk’s appeal to the sense of justice of the men that professed to fight for the rights of small nations. To leave Bohemia under the Hapsburgs would mean turning them over to the tender mercies of their ancient oppressors made savage because of the substantial assistance furnished by the Czechs to the Allies during the war. And here Masaryk could point to Austrian defeats in Serbia and Galicia which were due in great measure to the unreliability of the Czecho-Slovak soldiers, he pointed to the absence of any expressions of loyalty on the part of the Czech people at home, to the many Czech volunteers in every Allied army, above all to the Czechoslovak regiments in the Russian army, made up of prisoners of war who were eager to avenge the wrongs of their country by fight ing on the side of their brother-Slavs.
Such were Masaryk’s weapons with which he set about the liberation of his native land. The hopes, fears, anxieties, disappointments, successes of the two years 1915 and 1916 he will perhaps describe to us some day, when his work is finished and his country will be able to spare him. In a general way it can be said that he lectured in universities, talked to statesmen, gave in terviews to journalists, wrote to the reviews, established a French periodical in the interests of his country, enlisted gifted writers and generous friends of freedom in the cause of Bohemia. In two years’ time he persuaded Europe that it could exist with out the old Austria and that the Czechs and Slovaks should be set free. He did all that with the help of a few faithful fellow-exiles and a few thousand American dollars.
Masaryk’s work is not done. No one who knows him doubts that far from all thoughts of rest he aims to double his activities. He toils day and night, and when he retires sleep does not come to him. The burden of his great work, constant thoughts of wife and children persecuted by revenge ful officials, anxieties over countless details tax the great strength of this patriot who judged by years alone is an old man. He has one daughter with him now to bear him company and look to his personal wants. A little remark made in a confidential mood to a friend illuminates like a flash of light the heavy soul of this man of burdens: “I did not sleep three nights since I left Bohemia two years ago.”
Not until the Czecho-Slovak people isset free by the future peace conference will Professor Masaryk rest from his labors, and even then he will get little rest, for his country will need him. But the first part of his work has been done, when the Allies promised freedom to Bohemia.