The aged mister Cernovski from Cernova (1898-1987) speaks as follows:
"After all, my darling, even when I talk about it, the injustice is a remembrance from long ago. And the reality is that a man forgets, and a Slovak wants to forget as soon as possible. But I know that it's good to force ourselves to a nice chat. Thank God, I'm still here and alive between you all, and I have a tongue to speak.
Of course we speak with it. But for how long? Because it happened to many people already, that the tongue sticks fast in the throat. Then you should cut out my tongue and I still should be glad, for it would be worse if I didn't survive.
But when you must cut out my tongue, it would be as if you disarm me. Men already long ago came to the decision that the tongue is a weapon. The tongue has no bone, but it can break bones.
Let us take a walk along my path of life. I am a little boy of about two years, only a child in a frock, when for the first time I'm helping my mum with the water. And I am a big boy, when for the first time the Czechs come to us, to teach us how to work. Because we don't know yet how to work. We have to learn that. Among the Czechs there is the following saying: these local people are not bad, but they think slowly, and therefore we ask you to teach them how to work. As to them Czechs, if they ever learn something from each other, it is to know what a trap looks like. For, please understand me, we didn't learn to work in the field or in the forest, but in a factory. With us at least, them Czechs were like that."
"But you were only tinkers."
"No! There were no tinkers in Cernova. There were raftsmen and woodcutters. When they arranged the wood, they made a raft. And then we, boys, went on the loose in the spring, as far as the water reached. Whoever was skilful, went hunting, two or three trips in each spring."
"Sure, as I was telling you. Whoever didn't saw, carried freight for the family, and the family felt all the better. We have now, say, about the fifteenth of May. What comes next? Let us go to chop wood. Till the fifteenth of July. And thereafter? We mow on the fields. Next we sprinkle water, and the harvest is already ripening. Autumn comes, and we pick blackbeetles. Then at last comes the winter, we are all around the circle, and another year has gone by forever.
In 1880, they built in Ruzomberok a cellulose and paper factory. And later on, in 1895, they founded the Mauntner textiles factory in Rybarpolis. That Mauntner was a tiny little Jew, but to be honest, I am glad to have a little chat about him.
About this time, it won't be long before I am born myself, and I am only ten years old, when I go to Rybarpolis to clean the iron cloth and the Anglia."
"Sure. Because we did that too in our textiles factory, which was continuously building and expanding. However, as a matter of fact, the textiles factory could only employ workers who didn't work too hard. They needed people with endurance, or I'd better say poverty, so that the Slovak employee could be a mere instrument. For in those olden times, they made fun of all the folks in the factory, like this: Hey! Lazy rascal! A real worker stinks! . And more such talk.
But whoever loses his very last property, if he doesn't even have a shelf of his own, how can he ever carry supplies to himself? And supplies were small. In short, whoever was poor, had little choice. And still there was not yet much beggary. But what did the authorities give? Only beans, or something like that. For, hell may fetch me, if they saddled the families up with some kind of food, it was bad indeed.
And in the fabric, people were even laughing at you. They made offers. They offered housing. You could freely choose where you wished to live. Look, they say you may live in a colony! And then they laughed. We would rather go to the wood and burn down our huts. You could smile about it, but that would change nothing. At least, this was something we could do.
Of course, I'd prefer to be rich and lie down next the furnace and guzzle fat meat, and burp like a cowboy. Or to be a king, carrying a staff studded with gold, burping like a shepherd."
Mister Cernovsky fell silent, and I reached with my hand to my bag: "Are you awake?"
"How could I be not awake?" My narrator stretched out his hand to the liquor somewhere next his stool. "I can now already see, that I must dictate you everything like a textbook!"
"Then we come to the Ugrian Parliament."
"There already?", I asked, surprised.
"Yes, nowhere else! There's hardly any place where such scenes could be seen as there. Assaults on the members of parliament, fights, dropouts from the opposition in the government ... Only about one thing there was much unanimity in the assembly: about the attitude against members of parliament who acted for their own nations. The Slovaks too had their own members of parliament. There were four of them, and that was really a small number, because the assembly counted more than three hundred members. You need to have a fair portion of the members, to be able to present yourself as a Slovak on the rhetorical platform.
For example, look at the ethnic law. Which reaction was there on that law? The Hungarian members of parliament were shouting: In the Ugrian empire there can only be one language, the Hungarian language. In America, the Slovak learns English, and here he doesn't want to learn Hungarian!
The assembly sentenced one member of parliament, because he said that the Hungarians should go back to Asia and not spoil Slovak children with Hungarian words. Another one said that the law placed many obstacles for our language, but that was really better, because we had already twentyfive magazines. Somebody shouted the following answer: It's sad enough that you have them! Why? The growth of Slovak journalism caused much headache to the Hungarians. It is wellknown that a certain Hungarian became nervous and cried: What a crazy Slovak talk! Rubbish! Worthless Panslavs! Miserable gang! You don't even mind to sell the whole Ugrian empire to Russia and send all of us, good patriots, to Siberia!
Rights, law, justice, everything flew away in the air. Cries, quarrels and wild emotions couldn't help to reach mutual understanding and clarification of the diverse opinions.
Will Pustacat lick clean her thirteenth program point? - wrote the Slovak newspapers, referring to the Hungarian authorities, and thus to the Ugrian popular party, which had proclaimed that unfortunate thirteenth program point, saying that we should show good manners towards the diverse ethnic groups. If the popular party doesn't improve it - continued the newspapers - we must form a new party of our own Slovak nation, that does speak up more sharply for broader foundations of that program point.
Well, that's what I know and how it was, and eventually there evolved from this a Slovak popular party. The popular newspapers enumerated all sins of the Ugrian popular party that forced the Slovaks to separate themselves. They wrote that this high-society party only dropped dandies in our region to fool us, thinking that they could seize us by the nose and guide us forever, and even give us old brooms as candidates for the elections, and that we would let them pursue us and pester us like before. That was the final end of it. The Slovaks and the Hungarians both went their own way. It could not be else.
To cut the matter short: the Ugrian parliament was one big quarrel that only the army could disperse. They issued new elections. The Slovaks were now awake and began a heavy electioneering campaign. Their program took the following slogan: For our Slovak language! Later on, when the new parliament assembled for the first time, the Hungarian members of parliament focused their attention on the incredible number of Slovak representatives. Seven! They considered six already much, but seven Slovaks in parliament seemed unbelievable. That was simply an affront. They insisted that the Slovaks should be removed from parliament. When a Slovak spoke, an Hungarian member of parliament could jump up and scream: Any Hungarian farmer talks better at the trial of a murderer, so let's send the farmer to parliament instead of the Slovak. But the Slovak didn't let that man silence him. He continued with even more pleasure.
This was completely new, and these parliamentary orations met with a wide response among the public. The Slovaks now began to collect themselves, not with a stick in the hand like bandits, but with political means. The Hungarians had to ponder, how to extinguish that little spark of awakening Slovak national life. And thus, after all, history records that the elections brought the Slovaks success, although at the cost of a persecution as nobody had ever seen before.
But I must not wander too far away. With us in Ruzomberok, they sentenced the Slovak candidate doctor Vavro Srobar to one year imprisonment and a fine of nine hundred crowns."
"Was that much or not?"
"Well, the price of a pair of boots was twelve crowns at that time ... The tribunal at Ruzomberok was severe. Because this tribunal had much work all the time."
"Why, why ... Simply because Ruzomberok was the main city of the political movement."
"Was the repression successful?"
"No! But wait, I'll show you something."
Mister Cernovski rose to his feet. He opened a cabinet. He first took glasses out of it, and then a bundle of papers. Almost solemnly, he put them on the table, untied them, and sat down again. Now he was searching a while, browsing in the bundle.
"Look at this schedule", he said, "It is an overview of political trials in Slovakia from the first day of January 1898 until the fifteenth of October 1907. Here is a column with a number of processes, sentences and punishments.
For comparison, in the first line Budapest - eleven processes, eleven sentences, altogether three years of imprisonment and fines summing up to more than five thousand crowns. In Bratislava thirtyfive sentences, in Banska Bystrica twentyseven, in Nitra nine and in Trencin one. In Kosice, Presov, Malacky, Myjava and Bytca altogether sixtyseven verdicts, but only fines of money. But now, hold on! In Ruzomberok there were fifty processes, two hundred and thirtyfive sentences, altogether fourteen years of imprisonment, and fines summing up to six hundred and sixty-one crowns."
"Thank you very much. Then Ruzomberok was really a Slovak Chicago!"
"Yes! But none of them was a gangster. No crimes, but only political agitation, and that is a big difference. The headquarters of this political movement was the parish house in Ruzomberok of the parish priest Andrej Hlinka."
"And I must believe that?"
"Whatever you want. Certainly, here was the heart of national life as well. In the district Stupava appeared Ferdis Juriga, in upper Orav came Ferko Skycak, and in other places there showed up even more of them. They formed a new generation, which, in contrast with the old nationalists, knew how to speak in such a way that common Slovaks could understand them. They avoided the outdated inactive aristocracy, and that was perhaps the secret of their success.
Slovak students woke up as well, who in their universitary cities came into contact with more diverse ideas and orientations, and with personalities of political life, or professors like Masaryk. But these contacts didn't diminish the meaning of the parish house in Ruzomberok. Andrej Hlinka came from a poor farmer's family. He graduated thanks to the sweat of his own pregnant mother. Thus his star naturally raised, primarily on account of his diligence. In the first year of this twentieth century, he already wrote a pamphlet, in which he explained among other things:
I will live to bring about that humble work, which shall ennoble us, abandoned people, and bear us. I will work unnoticed for improvement of the people, and fight for culture and learning. I will elevate the morality and the prosperity of all. I will wean them from boozing, and accustom them to sparingness, gentleness and virtue. I will fight for their rights, their truths and their laws. I will fight and work, so that they may be healthy both in their bodies and in their minds.
When Andrej Hlinka came to the parish house in Ruzomberok, this simply was a man who from the very beginning spoke a clear language, and could frankly and fearlessly fight for the national cultural and economical rights of the Slovaks. Before the elections, they proposed him as a representative, but he didn't accept the nomination and he suggested his own friend Vavro Srobar as a candidate instead of himself. In earlier years, Hlinka gave to Srobar the money for his study. He would send it to Prague, so that Srobar could maintain himself and do his best. And Srobar really did the best he could. He studied medicine, and was in Prague president of the Detva, the Slovak youth society, which counted among its members for example Milan Ratislav Stefanik and Jozef Gregor Tajovsky and others. Under the direct influence of Masaryk, Srobar unfolded in the opinion-magazine Hlas plans for a revival of political and cultural life in Slovakia. He was only in the margin yet, but it seemed that Srobar was brilliant. However, when this Slovak candidate lost the elections (he then was in fact already a physician in Ruzomberok), the Hungarian party decided to settle its account with him, not only as a mere nominee, but also as a Panslavonic agitator.
But you don't know what all this has to do with Hlinka, do you? Well, I don't want to annoy you, but even when you have a damned lot of education, here you find no clue. But listen. It isn't all black or white, there is a whole rainbow of colours in between. In what I tell you, you may hear things which you can only guess. And exactly those things are important, which you elaborate and deduce in your own head. They are even more important than my words. Every man lives in his own time, so it is not right to judge of him by comparison with a different time. The Slovaks make things complicated for themselves, because they have no selfconsciousness. They don't know about history what I still know myself. I don't know myself what I would wish to know. I am like a crow among the birds, but crows long for the same branches as other birds do. The truth, however, is that they don't make many mistakes about the facts of history, but they have no feeling for the atmosphere in times of yore. They distort the things that were, and invent things that didn't exist.
Why is there so little knowledge about their own ancestors even among those people, who live now, and reflect and decide upon their own personal situations in life? We have to pose the problem differently. We have to look at the connections between all the historical facts. I would pose the coherence in the very first place. When we don't consider the causes and the consequences, we understand nothing, and when there is no coherence in our study of history, we eventually don't even understand that profane Slovak national uprising. It is then useless to fill whole shelves with books about it. It is then useless to get history in a classroom. Then they don't understand it. Just because they don't understand it from the beginning. When you consider these things only from the end, then you will never understand them. Do you see what I mean? I'm not sure about it.
Here, take another drink. I am with one foot in the grave already, but I am still born for Slivovitz. I want to serve it all my life, as I have put it on the earth. Or else I would be angry with you. Although we are talking for the first time, I do know a little bit about you. Your parents are from Ruzomberok, and still you know nothing. And maybe you don't even believe the things I told you, because you are very young with regard to them. You are from a generation that grasps all second-hand information in one breath. Some things go against the grain with you, other things make you nervous - Hlinka and uprising, pipe and tobacco, or bullshit, it is all the same to you.
However, it is good that you came here. I see that I'm not yet dying, and that I am the oldest citizen of Cernova, and that I'm not yet ready with telling you all these things. But write them down, because I don't believe that you will remember them just like me. Where did I stop?
Aha, I know it again, I was telling about this Hlinka. Let me tell you something else. In that time there was a weekly magazine in Ruzomberok, Rózsahegy és vidéke - that is: Ruzomberok and its surroundings - which wrote in such a way that all people were furious with Hlinka, bleating into his face: you villain traitor of your country! But whose country? The Ugrian empire? Which relation could a Slovak then have with the Ugrian empire? Think about it!
I tell you this: when we went to school, we learned Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus, that is: let us praise Jesus Christ. Then we prayed: Az atyának és fiúnak és szentléleknek istennek nevében amen - that is the sign of the cross, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. In the Slovak language, we learned only the catechism and the bible, on Wednesday and Saturday. On other days, we had only Hungarian books. The teacher would point with a stick to a board, and then we had to recite a few words: Ablak, kilincz, and so on. And that for a child? When we came home, it was just the other way round: I will give you this ablak, till it flies out of your nose! - they cried to him, and made him stop to be able to count up to ten. But that's enough about the Hungarian language.