The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Slovaks and Magyars
Slovaks and Magyars
Revolution in Bohemia was carried out smoothly without the least bloodshed. It was a more complicated process in Slovakia for the slavery to which the Slovaks had been subjected was far more severe and debasing. In Bohemia the people had their Sokols, a highly developed national culture, strong economic and political organizations, a competent staff of public officials; but in Slovakia the entire public administration down to the last village constable was in the hands of Magyars. All the schools served principally the purpose of making Magyars out of Slovak children. No industrial concerns, no trading or co-operative societies, no social or educational associations were permitted to the Slovaks. The whole industrial and commercial life was in the hands of Magyar and German aristocrats and Magyarizing Jews, and so was more than half of the arable soil. Under such circumstances a revolution against the terrors of the old regime was bound to have many complications and cause some disorder.
Under Magyar rule governmental oppression to the majority of the people was personified by the village notary who executed the policies of the people higher up. This petty official was in the majority of cases the local despot. His most arbitrary actions he would back by “a decree” of the county authorities or even of Budapest government, and as the decree was in Magyar and the notary was the only man in the village who could read Magyar, there was no one to question the genuiness of his decree. One of the notary’s duties was to draw contracts and deeds, and again his exclusive knowledge of the only legal language of the country made it possible for him to insert clauses in the document quite contrary to the understanding of the Slovak signer. The notary was frequently in a conspiracy with the local Jewish dealer and thousands of cases occuredof Slovak peasants being cheated out of their little land through such conspiracies. For sometime prior to the war Galician Jews were migrating in large numbers to Upper Hungary and learning the Magyar language they identified themselves with the Magyar regime. During the war this group furnished the largest number of informers and many Slovaks were executed or sentenced to prison on the testimony of Jews who heard them express sentiments hostile to Hungary. The notary, too, saw many opportunities of enriching himself during the war. He made out all the last wills, and when a man was killed in the war it was very easy for the notary to change the testament to his personal advantage. The village notary was also in charge of military requisitions and he requisitioned for himself as well as for the state. Some of the notaries became millionaires during the war.
It was no wonder, therefore, that when the state authority broke down, the oppressed Slovak peasants turned on their immediate tyrants the notaries, district commissaries, the Jewish merchants and innkeepers, and the Magyar aristocrats. Thefled from Slovak districts immediately upon the outbreak of the revolution and the people began to clean out Magyar officials and renegades. This was a simple procedure in districts bordering on Moravia; the notaries and gendarmes ran away, or if they did not they were beaten and driven out of their houses. In the northern counties, where the Czechoslovak troops could not get so easily Magyar officials determined to hold on to their privileged position and many skirmishes were fought between the people and the officials. Some regrettable incidents and local disorders continued for a month, until Šrobár, as representative of the Czechoslovak government, sent out emissaries to all districts calling on his countrymen to maintain order at all costs. On December 6th the provisional Slovak government made its temporary headquarters in Skalice near the Moravian boundary, and for a while everywhere in northern Hungary the Slovaks celebrated their emancipation.
But soon the Magyars got over their first scare and planned a campaign to save as much of Slovakia for Hungary as possible. The old officials returned north, of course to towns in which they were not known, and the Budapest government sent north regiments which had in the meantime re turned from the Italian front. These forces orders to oppose the occupation of Slovakia by Czechoslovak Armies and to destroy all property which was in danger of capture by Czechoslovaks. Thus they attempted to destroy the oil wells at Gbely, but fortunately a Czechoslovak regiment which had been fighting on the Italian side got to the spot in time to drive away the Magyars. In Trnava, a city of 20,000 people, Magyar sailors were masters for a while and used their power to plunder stores. In Bratislava sailors held up pedestrians at night and robbed them of money and jewelry. Of course many citizens were killed in connection with these robberies. In charge of the sailors detachment was a certain Lt. Heltay, formerly a vaudeville actor who later stole two million crowns from his government and robbed the safe of the Budapest railroad station. This was the type of men appointed by Count Karolyi to defend Hungarian territory .
At that time the Allies had not drawn a demarkation line between the spheres of Czechoslovak and Magyar occupation, and the Prague Government was reluctant to push further into Slovakia and bring on war with the Magyars without expressed authorization by the Supreme Allied Command. Magyars employedperiod to kill the Slovak nationalist movement by terror; thus in the Trenčín county twenty peasants were shot without a trial for expressing the desire for union with the Czechs. The cries of the Slovak victims of brutal oppression induced the Czechoslovak government to organize a company of 180 gendarmes to assist Minister Šrobár. This small force was driven back by Magyar sailors, but a week later it was re-inforced and as the local people were rising in the rear of Magyar detachments, they had to fall back. Much scattered fighting all over northern Hungary resulted and lasted until early in January, when the Czechoslovaks captured Bratislava and Col. Vix notified Karolyi that the Allied Command insisted on the withdrawal of the Magyar armed forces from most of the territory claimed by the Czechoslovak Republic. Before their withdrawal the former rulers of the country sent away all valuable objects that could be moved, including machinery and furniture; and like the Germans in Belgium and Poland they destroyed what they could not carry away.
Not even then did the so-called democratic government of Budapest give up its hope of keeping Slovakia under Magyar rule. Only the tactics changed, and all of a sudden the Magyars made out that they were the best friends of the Slovaks. Secret agents were sent north for the purpose of creating discord between Czechs and Slovaks. They told the people that the Czechs were Protestants and infidels and they would take away the Catholic religion from the Slovaks; on the other hand the promise was made that the ministers in Budapest would give Slovaks full autonomy. It was too much to expect that the people would forget so quickly the deep wrongs suffered by them. Everywhere meetings were held denouncing the Magyars and pledging loyalty to the Czechoslovak Republic. The attempt of the Magyar agents to create an independent Slovak republic met with a fiasco. Even the Rusins to the east of Slovaks declared that they wanted no autonomy in a Magyar state, but asked for inclusion in the Czechoslovak Republic.
The perseverance of the Magyars did not end there. The next step in their campaign was sabotage. It is a misfortune of the Slovaks that under the former oppressive rule they could not produce enough professional men, and when Magyar officials were expelled, the void could not be easily filled. Many qualified men came from Bohemia, but in the less important positions, and particularly in the railroad and post office services, Magyars had to be retained, if they were willing to swear allegiance to the new government. Even village notaries could not be immediately dispensed with, although those retained had to be sent far from their former posts. In February these state employees secretly organized themselves and false rumors began to sweep through Slovakia. The people were told that the Allies decided to leave the country to the Magyars and that all Slovaks who were not opposed to Czechs would be punished later on. Airplanes were sent to scatter handbills calling on workers to strike and commit sabotage. In several cities strikes resulted from this agitation and in Bratislava seven people were killed in the quelling of a disorder. In Komarno Magyar strikers killed a Slovak who would not go out and strike with them. When one remembers that some 130,000 Magyars were employed in Slovakia in official positions in the post-office, telegraph offices, rail roads, the amount of damage that was done by them can be imagined.
Dr. Šrobár was finally compelled to declare martial law and order has now been restored. Slovaks everywhere are engaged in cleaning out the last remnant of Magyar rule. Bolshevist agitation took no root in view of the social program of the new government; expropriation of large landed estates, separation of church and state, introduction of universal franchise, eight hour work day and higher standard of living.
The outbreak of red revolution in Budapest will find no echo in what used to be northern Hungary. If the Allies are firm and do not yield to this last trick of the Magyars, the Czechoslovaks, if only sufficient foodstuffs arrive, can handle the new danger.