(The aged mister Cernovski from Cernova (1898-1987) speaks about Slovak history and father Hlinka)


   After that, the revolution was accepted in this sense, that the Slovak national party was standing at the unconditional and unreserved standpoint that the Slovak nation had a right of selfgovernment, and on this base was claiming that the Slovak nation should be allowed to participate in the formation of an independent state consisting of Slovakia, Moravia, Czechia and Silesia.
   A bit later on, in October, when everybody was feeling that the war would soon come to its end, doctor Ferdis Juriga came forward in the Ugrian parliament and delivered a historical address. Meeting with much resistance from the Hungarian members of parliament, he summed up during almost two hours all wrongs that the Hungarians had done to the Slovak nation, and finally he proclaimed:"
   We do require, for natural and historical reasons, that we will be allowed as a free nation to form our own free national society in the lands in which we are resident.
   The parliament began yelling outcries like Away with them! Knock him down! Yokel! Hang them high! But Juriga fearlessly continued his own speech. He declared that the Slovak nation didn't see why the Hungarian parliament should be competent, since there were only two instead of forty Slovak members of parliament. The Slovak people wanted the right of selfdetermination, and only a Slovak national council was competent to speak on behalf of the Slovaks."
   "Did we then already have a Slovak national council?"
   "Certainly not, are you mad? However, exactly for that reason, the speech of Juriga presented the council as an accomplished fact. Whoever had been hesitating up to now to advise the institution of a national council, hurried to speak a clear word about it after the speech of Juriga. At the end of October, representatives of all Slovak national parties came together to celebrate the day of Saint Martin of Tours and to form a Slovak national council. At the thirtieth of October they issued a separate declaration that the Slovaks should break with Ugria and ally themselves from their own initiative with the Czechoslovak state.
   The Saint Martin declaration was an important historical document, but from a political viewpoint it was rather imperfect. In fact, one could even say that it was a lyric. It did not provide the people with any rights. But it was sticking like a straw in someone's shoe: being nearly a law, it had the effect that we could earlier slip the Hungarian yoke. It said nothing, however, about the relation between Czechs and Slovaks in the future state."
   "Why didn't it, according to you?"
   "There would be too many things disagreeing with the sanctity of the moment. That saint Martin assembly pronounced the separation from Hungary. They couldn't ask to speak openly about the conditions of the future life with the Czechs. They talked only in small isolated circles about that subject, because God forbid that there would arise any quarrels between them.
   To the declaration, which they delivered in Prague, they allegedly attached a separate resolution, saying that the relation between Czechs and Slovaks should be arranged within ten years. The reason for this precaution, however, was not made public at all."
   "That was a little mistake, wasn't it?"
   "Mistake? You shouldn't judge like that. It is true without doubt that every error is pinning us onto some penalty bench. But it's also true that errors are human, and that we learn from them. No man is without faults and no way of life is irreproachable. And in our country we use to say: let's go where we have to go. Limping with one leg is better than limping with both.
   But today, people don't easily understand why these men, who were assembled on the day of saint Martin of Tours, didn't know anything about the Pittsburgh agreement and the clear guarantee given by Masaryk. The American Slovaks continued their life in America, and the Czech foreign employees, when they were coming home, didn't inform the Slovak politicians of the promises and agreements that had been made at the other side of the ocean. They remained completely silent, and life in the new state took from the beginning a course which was contrary to the Pittsburgh agreement.
   From this perspective, the saint Martin declaration seems weak, vague, even a mere airbubble. In the declaration it wasn't evident at all whether we were a nation or not. It said something about the industrious and talented Slovak nation, but the same declaration was also speaking over the Czechoslovak nation. It was a jumble. The woollen clew of ideas concealed a danger that would come out very soon and very painfully. The equality which was intended to be the base of the republic, became slowly but doubtlessly a chimera. We wished to be equal, and yet, some wished to be more equal than the others. Doctor Kramar said it his way in a Prague newspaper: You Slovaks need a blank paper if you want to write down your stipulations. But where on earth was such a blank paper, on which we could freely write some of our demands?
   Vavro Srobar became minister for the government of Slovakia. But from the beginning, he was working with a handicap that originated from an unforgivable mistake. The Slovaks didn't listen to any advice from the Slovak national council.
   After the war, when we came back from Italy with our comrades, Slovakia had very few experienced and conscious civil officers. In Czechia there were too many of them. The government began to send them to Slovakia. In fact, whoever was more or less capable, was not allowed to stay at home. Everybody dared to come to us, even without enough education or ability. Even Czech workmen left their occupations and went to Slovakia as civil officers."
   "So, we ourselves weren't very clever, if anybody was good enough to work in Slovakia."
   "Some of us were clever, but others were not. For us there came some jobs out of the official mill as well, but not very good ones. The Slovaks were in the new state the fifth wheel on the wagon, they were scattered so far as to become invisible. If we have to describe Slovakia in that time with one word, we'd best say that it was a Czech colony. Hlinka was among the first people who noticed that dangerous tendency. He paid a visit to Masaryk and asked for Slovak autonomy. Masaryk said to him:
   You want autonomy? You will have it.
   When the American president Wilson asked the Czech minister Benes, how he wished to solve the Slovak problem, he gave a similar answer:
   On the base of the Pittsburgh agreement.
   Take a man at his word, but a dog by his ear, people say. However, you can't take a Czech statesman by his ear, nor at his word. He always behaves as best suits him. Hlinka did another almost final attempt to set things right. When that didn't succeed, he went with a false passport through Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia and Italy to Paris in order to secure the fulfilment of the Czech promises during the peace conference that was taking place there."
   "Did he speak French?"
   "It is good that you ask me this. Hlinka spoke German, Russian, Polish and Hungarian. But he didn't speak French. He presented to the representatives of the victorious western countries a facsimile of the Pittsburgh agreement and a memorandum on the injustice done to the Slovak nation, which had been redacted in French by one of his assistants - doctor Frantisek Jehlicka. It is a pity that Hlinka didn't recognize how Jehlicka redacted that text in French. Hlinka, with his good intentions, didn't know anything more than what Masaryk had promised to the Slovaks and what Benes had said to president Wilson. After his bad experiences, he wanted to have a warranty in the peace agreements. But Benes didn't want this. It should be enough that he had given the promises, why should he give a warranty as well? He arranged that the French police summoned Hlinka to leave Paris. And Hlinka went home, to his own parish house in Ruzomberok. In the night from eleven to twelve October 1919, the secret police came with soldiers, they put him in a truck, and took him to the prison in Mirova. He had done so much for the birth of the new state, and now he had to sit behind bars again for seven months.
   "So you must have been right angry with them Czechs."
   "Not really. But in the beginning Czecho-slovak state, there was too much deceit and manipulation. And on that base we couldn't build anything durable. You may object that it wasn't quite as bad as I am stating it, because in the first government we really had a Slovak representation: the minister of national defence general Milan Ratislav Stefanik and the minister of health doctor Vavro Srobar. Okay, let's say that we weren't real poor cousins. But Stefanik fell down with his aeroplane near Bratislava in very mysterious and hitherto unexplained circumstances, shortly after his return from abroad, so he didn't set foot on earth alive in the republic. And what about Srobar? In the beginning of the republic, he was an important man, he was the only Slovak representative in Prague. But thereafter? Like Masaryk, he soon was standing out of the circle of main representatives, who were promoting Czechoslovakism and Prague centralism. Then he made a turn and went into the camp of the centralists, like Masaryk. He was even the inventer of some naive arguments against the Pittsburgh agreement that reputedly had no validity at all. I still know that they signed this agreement on an American national feastday, and American citizens signed it too. It was no miracle that he soon got an offensive nickname. Do you know which one?"
   "I must tell you that. He got that nickname in Prague, but it had its background in the old time, when he was still living and working as a physician in Ruzomberok. At that time there occurred the following incident. People pulled a corpse out of the river Waag. They supposed that it was a man. It had no clothes and was terribly mutilated. The hands had been chopped off from the wrists and the legs amputated below the knees. It had a big belly, certainly full of water and sand. People were talking about it. They took the local physician doctor Polgar to the corpse, but doctor Polgar called doctor Srobar for help. The doctors confirmed the postmortem examination on a paper, writing that the corpse was a man indeed, that the body had been lying in the water during a long time, that it was in a state of decomposition and the fishes were already treating themselves with it. They ordered to bury the poor drowned man. So people put him in a coffin and gave him a proper burial. Not in the graveyard, for drowned people and dead foundlings couldn't be buried there, but on a factory site along the river Waag, close to the place in Cernova where now the benzine station is. Not long ago, there was also a playground with iron playthings for children on that spot.
   But what had really happened? Near Liptov Castle, hunters had shot a bear. They cleaned up the spoils, chopped off the paws, took off the skin, and dragged the rest of the body into the water. The torrent drove it to Ruzomberok, where people conferred all possible honour on it.
   Polgar got most of the blame. People said: He is a Hungarian. Budapest sent him to Ruzomberok, and now he shows his true colours. He is so dumb that he cannot distinguish a skinned bear from a man. Srobar was only his assistant and his consultant. So, when he smelled the corpse, he only glanced at it and then he immediately walked away in agreement with doctor Polgar. In the eyes of the people, Srobar was to blame less than Polgar. But Srobar has been suffering quite a lot as well. After many years, when he was already working in Prague and had converted himself to the idea of Czechoslovakism, people stuck on him the nickname Srobar-hrobar, that is: Srobar the gravedigger. For he didn't only bury a bear, but also the freedom of the Slovak nation."
   "And ever since then, they call the Ruzomberok people connoisseurs of the honey bear?"
   "Yes. But something else jumps into my mind. About this Czechoslovakism. You have to consider the case from another side as well. I had a flashback to the events after the return of Hlinka from Paris. I was then twenty-one years old, I saw everything with my little eye, and I remember how certain suspect people came from Ruzomberok to Cernova .. for what? People said that these men would steal Hlinka from us. I held fast immediately, and many others did the same. From the wide surroundings, people came together on the Ruzomberok market square. I listened what they said to each other. They stole Hlinka in the night and took him to prison, and one man called Lichardus revealed that it were Czechs who did it."
   "Lichardus? I have heard that name somewhere before ... the steel constructions in Bielo Potok!"
   "Yes. He built them. But that was later on, in the Slovak state. And he gained a lot of money with it. He produced swords and sabres and more such things for the army. But people say that Lichardus did also reveal the following.
   When there came noise from a balcony, a gang of youngsters captured the balcony at once. They talked with the Saint-John's guard who was standing near that place. There were also some elder people among them. In Lichardus' house they broke all panes. And after that, they did the same in the house of Jancek below, because they had heard his name too in the rumours. The crowd grew ever more numerous, and it already looked like a revolution. The army had to come to maintain order.
   But what was really the background of Hlinka's nocturnal abduction?
   The prison of Mirova is still preserving notes that Hlinka wrote himself. It is interesting that these notes don't blame the Czechs or Prague for the imprisonment, but his own Slovak political adversaries. Prague gave the order, and Hlinka confirms that in his notes, but nonetheless he tells everywhere that it were Slovaks who put him in jail. He writes that these Slovak usurpers were against him and against an autonomous Slovakia, and that these people had little vision. But he says also from the beginning that he was sitting alone among Czechs in the car that carried him to Mirova.
   Hlinka has recorded what he had been thinking in the car: It is night all around me, the dark night of Slovak freedom. This freedom has been born just one year ago, and is now already dying. Why must we beg for freedom like drones, who don't bring honey at all and don't work? Traitors are taking Slovak freedom away. O Slovak people, will you ever understand that your own sons are selling your freedom and language to gain authority and profit only for themselves?
   In his Mirova notes, Hlinka is sinking into deep thoughts and contemplations. He is also examining his own conscience. It grieves him that he was so unwary at that thirtieth day of October 1918, the holiday of Saint Martin of Tours, when the Slovaks delivered the Declaration of the nation. In the prison of Mirova, he discovers that the Slovaks can't be enthusiastic about the idea of Czechoslovak fraternity. And yet, he had promoted this idea among Slovak people.
   Why had he done that?
   He gave the following answer, literally:"
   Only to take care that the nation wouldn't die, I gave to the people the following thought as a bitter poison in a sweet waffle: it's better to be and to live with somebody whosoever than to die all alone.
   "And he also wrote the following:"
   If I can repair the mistake that I made one year ago, then I'll have gained a lot. I didn't work without success, I don't live in vain.
   "Hlinka knew very well what he was regretting. The Saint Martin declaration was so imperfect that it became in practice a sort of trap for the Pittsburgh agreement. If it had been formulated differently, more thoughtful, then the development of the Slovak people in the new republic might have gone along quite better ways. So the Slovaks had set their own home afire, so to speak. Their situation was precarious indeed. The Pittsburgh agreement with the signature of Masaryk did exist, but on the other hand, Hlinka or the other participants couldn't change the Saint Martin declaration any more."
   "And you didn't meet Masaryk by chance?"
   "We did! I remember him as well as if I would have seen him today. At the twentyfirst of September 1921, he came with the train into the Ruzomberok railway station. Representatives of all offices showed up before his wagon. The city president was the first to welcome him. After that, president Masaryk answered that he intended to come to Ruzomberok once more, and that's why the city president said to him: Goodbye!
   In the city hall, Hlinka spoke to Masaryk. He said that Ruzomberok knew its obligations to the state and its head, and that the president could rely upon the help of the Catholic Slovaks when building up the republic.
   The president answered with a long speech, in which he made reference to Saint Augustine's doctrine that learns In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus autem charitas - that is: in all things necessary we should be united, in all things dubious we can be free, but we must always act with love. After that he continued:"
   Sir deputy, I am glad that you emphasize that you have to support the state. Centralism and autonomy are two antipodes, but on the same sphere. It is a mistake to think that centralism predominates over autonomy. Or process of automy is guaranteed by the constitution, and that's another reason why the government has to guide us as soon as possible to autonomy. I myself appreciate the peculiarity and individuality of Slovakia. And I will be happy, sir deputy, when the Slovak nation will secure, consolidate and elaborate its own peculiarity and individuality. May God give that you will attain this goal.
   "After the speech of the president there was music, and he took the train to Kosice.