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


   Well, the performance wasn't very satisfying. The coming of autonomy was delayed again. I wish that things were different. People said, ironically: Masaryk didn't speak for nothing. Our own brother promised us more Freedom from Tax."
   "I don't know. It seems to me that he said enough. I am surprised to hear how well he did speak."
   "Sure, what you say is right. You can think for yourself. But you have to think it over again. Truth is precious for a man, and thinking about these things is like walking on a rope. Doctor Benes was prime minister of the new government that president Masaryk mentioned in his speech. Srobar came into his cabinet as minister of education. They changed cabinet seats, and life was like before.
   But hold on. There was one thing that did happen. The Russian revolution had its influence with us too. Communists began stirring in Ruzomberok. I remember one meeting of them with Milo, next that old wooden bridge. I don't know exactly what happened, but he was orating to them and he became angry and at last he said: At this place in Ruzomberok, the mob has thrown us little people together with our pulpit into the river Waag!
   And that was true. This man had already come before that time to speak, all of a sudden, in front of the people of Ruzomberok, and then some people really captured the pulpit and crashed it and threw it together with the worthy communist into the Waag. Fortunately, there didn't happen anything worse. But it was enough to disperse them. And that's why I really don't know how the Slovak socialists and their comrades from the Ukraine this side of the Carpathian mountains managed to organise just in Ruzomberok a constitutive marxistic congress. Before long, there was a base of the KSC situated in nearby Lubochna."
   "Maybe it happened in a way like what the sport commentators sometimes talk about - if you don't give away any goal, you will always score yourself."
   "That is possible. But the time to score flies quickly away. Three years later on, in 1920, Hlinka was already celebrating his sixtieth birthday. All Slovakia was celebrating his birthday. Hlinka said on this occasion that .. , although he was already an old man and the sixty years were heavily weighing upon him, yet he felt that there was young and lively blood streaming through his veins. But in the same way he thought that the youth he was feeling resembled a blooming tree in autumn: there will be no fruit from such a blossom. The wind will come, and the frost of autumn, and the flowers will shed their leaves and bloom in vain. When a man is growing old, he cannot know the day when his strength will leave him. For you can't ever give a program of future. He himself had delivered a program consisting of the works he wished to do in his own life. He didn't want to be a leader or a general or a father of the nation. He didn't want to be a candidate deputy in 1906. That should have been doctor Srobar. He campaigned for Srobar, travelled and made every effort ... However, when the people gave the mandate to him instead of Srobar, he would exert all his strength to fulfil this duty. Now he came at his sixtieth year after many a hard trial. He had fought for the freedom of the people. And he insisted to say that the Czechs were not the enemies we should fear the most. Our most dangerous enemies were the Slovak Czechoslovaks. We had to crush them with our voting papers in the battlefield of politics, with our labour organisations in those of economics, and in culture with cultural magazines of all kinds. In this fight we should be noble warriors, persisting and without compromise. And to wind up with, we should all be united and strive forever after the same goal: prosperity and freedom for the Slovak nation. "
   "Remarkable. As if he was already saying goodbye. And what happened next?"
   "There came new resident people in Slovakia. If they couldn't find employment in Czechia, they readily found it in Slovakia. There was a paradox. While Czechs were coming to us, Slovaks had to look for work abroad. In the years from 1922 till 1926, about one quarter of a million Slovaks emigrated to North and South America, France, Belgium, or even Australia and New Zealand. Slovak schools were full of Czech teachers. The Czechs were not willing to understand that this process was a danger for the development of the whole Czechoslovak state and that it reinforced with the Slovaks the tendency to revolt. Furthermore, Czech arrogance was touching on a very tender string: Slovak religious conviction. We can even say that Czech Hussitian tradition clashed with Slovak Catholic tradition. For example, you could see that by the way Czechs knocked down a statue of virgin Mary that was standing in the Prague Old-town market square. Today there is standing a statue of Jan Hus on the same spot.
   Thus, one diamond cut the other.
   In fact, the popular party began increasing just after that. That was understandable. Wherever there was pressure, there was counterpressure as well. Most of the circumstances were stimulating the idea of autonomy. That's why Slovak nationalism began expanding. In the 1925 elections, the popular party was suddenly the great victor, and in Prague they had to pay regard to this political party. The regents in Prague began tentatively inviting the popular party to abandon opposition and join the government. This party had already added the name of its leader to the name of the party, which became wellknown under the name Hlinka's popular party. Hlinka himself wished to establish that his party shouldn't have an oppositionist program and shouldn't strive for cabinet seats but for fulfilment of its conditions. That's how his popular party came into the government after fulfilment of at least some of its conditions. It achieved a reform of the domestic national administration."
   "Was that reform okay?"
   "The whole area of the republic was divided into four administrative units, called regions. The Slovak area became an autonomous administrative unit with the name 'Slovak region'. It could choose its own regional representation and it could, within the borders of the autonomous region, take care of Slovak economy, traffic, social care, health and culture.
   The first president of the Slovak region was Jan Drobny, born in Ruzomberok. After the accession to his function, he also visited Cernova. I myself was there, that day. The firemen had to assist. School pupils had a day off. The burgomaster ordered to sweep the road. He was the father of my friend Jan Urban, who had been fighting with me in Italy, and grandfather of Stefan Urban, who often walks to Cutkov with you. Now he had got new clothes from the taylor and went into a closed room to dress up. Curious people saw through a little window how he was standing before a mirror. In one hand he was holding a hat, in the other a paper, and he was mumbling something. He crammed his speech into his head, and that was apparently very difficult. Somebody must have written this speech for him. At last, the important guest came to Cernova. The driver turned from the dyke to the village on the usual road. There were still laying many stones, and the car of the president came springing and shaking downward. Finally, the car stopped and the quivering mister president Drobny stepped out of it. The burgomaster ran to him, took off his hat, began gesticulating, but he couldn't remember his speech. He tottered and stammered, and yet, we didn't hear any understandable word from his mouth. He was all confused and sweating, till he said at last:
   Mister president, I am sorry that you came here!
   Then Andrej Hlinka appeared in front of the regional president. The grey-haired old man began his own fluent and beautiful speech. But it was too late to clear up the uneasy atmosphere caused by the bad start of the welcome ceremony.
   So we weren't that clever.
   But the confusion of the burgomaster was a vivid symbolical demonstration of truth, wasn't it? Because the genesis of a Slovak region was not a smart solution. The representation of the region had not the competence that the Pittsburgh agreement meant to give it, and what kind of president had Slovakia, if he was subordinate to a minister in Prague?
   To make things worse, the Hungarians then began again to claim their alleged historical right to rule the Slovak area, for they supposed that the Slovaks, who were so obstinately fighting against Prague centralism, would forget what they had to bear under Hungarian domination just because of this new injustice. As if the Slovaks themselves weren't really present. The Hungarians couldn't understand that the same Slovaks were just rising as a selfconfident nation in this fight against Prague centralism. Hlinka was rejecting Prague centralism and Hungarian revisionism with equal determination.
   After the establishment of the regional administration, it seemed that there would come a change in the relation between Czechs and Slovaks. But you should see what happened! In connection with the tenth anniversary of the Saint Martin declaration, there came an article by a certain Tuka in the newspapers, which brought to memory that the Saint Martin assembly had accepted with the declaration a clause saying that the alliance of Czechs and Slovaks should be amended after ten years of cohabitation. Tuka proposed his own idea that the Czechoslovak republic should be transformed into a federal union of two perfectly equal states, Czechia and Slovakia.
   This idea, which was at first sight as clean as the word of God, had one blemish: namely the very person who affixed his signature to it. Tuka had a very radical character and his behaviour caused more damage than the Slovaks would think useful. Later on, in the Slovak state, he would show up primarily in connection with the deportation of Jews. Eventually it turned out that he was an undercover agent of the Budapest propaganda from revisionists like Horthy. Listen. I think that Hlinka wasn't always lucky when choosing good fellow workers. In Paris, Jehlicka was as useful for him as a mad bear, and ten years later on at home, he got this Tuka, who caused an earthquake in Hlinka's popular party. Tuka's article evoked a giant storm of resistance from all Czechoslovaks, who threw themselves upon the author like sparrowhawks. They called Tuka a traitor and began to recklessly chase him and the whole Hlinka popular party. Tuka got fifteen years of jail, and this sentence was for all Czechoslovak parties a strong weapon against Hlinka. The electoral campaigns of the centralistic parties in 1929 looked very much like the terror that used to prevail in olden times during the elections for the Ugrian parliament. But Hlinka's popular party continued to be the most important political party in Slovakia. The Slovak national party even got a representative like Martin Razus in the Prague parliament. This man was always defending the interests of the Slovak nation against Prague centralism, both in literature and in politics.
   After these elections, Hlinka's popular party didn't participate in the government, because it knew for certain that this wouldn't lead the Slovaks to their destination. Moreover, it couldn't traffic with the Slovak problems of life. So the party joined the opposition to continue the fight for legalization of the Pittsburgh agreement with all means.
   When Hlinka bothered Masaryk again and again, the president said to him, using the Czech language:
   You'd better mind your own people, that they might learn more to sustain themselves.
   In a letter to Andrej Hlinka, he also called the Pittsburgh agreement briefly, openly and directly a falsification, a piece of paper that had no validity at all and that politics couldn't refer to. He couldn't be clearer. He was like a stealing magpie, flying away in the air with his booty.
   After that, the struggle of Hlinka's popular party collapsed. But the Czechs couldn't consistently solve the difficulties in the relationship with us. What they tried was too transparant, we could see with closed eyes that they were trying to draw us over. Among these attempts was also a political allurement: the establishment of a Slovak council in Prague, which had to answer all personal questions concerning Slovakia. The boss of that council had the same alias as that mayor of Cernova: doctor Cerno was his name. So he officially appeared as a real man, but in fact he stayed a mere symbol. In Slovakia there didn't change anything. Rather the opposite happened. The Czechs began to speculate how they could get the better of the Slovaks. And they did it with much refinement. They created certain positions for themselves in the Slovak cultural League, and wished to use it to impose a new orthography upon us. I remember an oration of Hlinka in that period. He said:
   Come on, Slovaks. We don't say twinty (dvacat) but twenty (dvadsat)! It won't be long before we have to say twintig (dvacet), and then we shall be Czechs! We should never corrupt our Slovak language!
   Slovak writers too were opposing plans to make everything Czech, and they cleaned the League from Czechs. They had a lot of work!
   It's a pity that Slovaks mostly couldn't settle things as quickly as in the League. Whatever the Czechs were holding in Prague, they didn't let go. We can read what Milan Hodza said in the assembly of agrarian workers:"
   How can we explain that we cann't stick to our position in the tariff question any more? How come that our wheat is over 300 crowns cheaper than what our Slovak farmers need to pay the transport? How come that with us in Slovakia thousands of kilometers of wood are rotting, while the Ruzomberok cellulose factory is importing wood from Poland? Because the import is much cheaper, and the Czech lands are still importing wood for their own need from Austria? These are the politics of the unified Czechoslovak state, but isn't it an attempt upon the life of our union? Can we work like slaves and pave the way to our destined Czechoslovak union, when the armed Prague authorities attack our very backbone and hold us on the wearisome path that we are walking on?
   "Was Hodza in Cernova?" - I asked.
   "Sure. He took part in the festivities on an anniversary of the tragical events. There were a lot of people! One moment is sticking fast in my memory: when they offered to Hodza bread and salt. He cut off a slice of bread, put salt on it, and broke it into two pieces. He gave one half to Hlinka, and said:
   We were suffering together, so together we shall eat.
   He shared the bread so graciously. It was only one moment, you know, but it seemed so precious to me. He did the breaking of bread so exceptionally well. Whenever there was a bread sharing ceremony, feelings of disagreement and irritation were mostly prevailing over feelings of tender emotion. Because the Slovak tradition of sharing bread was very often on the programme of some festivity. Whoever wished to do it anywhere, could easily grab it. For example, a certain English count Rothermere made gratuitous use of Slovak bread-sharing.
   Our festivities staggered the Poles and the Hungarians, and they shook hands above us from both ends of the river Waag, agreeing that they would tear us apart. And the Czechs charged at Hlinka, saying this and that, and asking whether he wished to separate the Slovaks from the Czechs. And Hlinka said:
   No. But I know what danger is threatening Slovakia, and you can see it as well.
   He arranged with several political parties that they would awaken people in all places, beginning in Ruzomberok. In the middle of a big meeting, he climbed upon the pulpit and said:
   Brothers, Slovaks, people of Liptov and Ruzomberok. Do you wish that this square will be called Föter square again? - that was the Hungarian name of the Main Square. Imagine, he was standing like the conductor of a choral group before the crowd, and first gave the answer alone:
   NO - he exclaimed.
   And do you wish that Ruzomberok will be called Rózsahegy again?
- cried the crowd.
   Do you hear, you counts of Hungary, do you hear? We are called SLOVAKS, aren't we? We will nevermore go along with the Hungarians. And you, count Rothermere, divide your own county instead of our Slovakia. We will defend Slovakia and we won't give it away!
   And he added: But you, Czechs, be careful! Warszaw is offering autonomy to us, and so does Budapest. So will we have autonomy or not?
   Deputies of other parties came forward to Hlinka as well, and among them there were some communists too. He didn't anyway address himself to them in public, but sometimes somebody cried something to him. When that happened again, Hlinka once said:
   And you, little owl, what are you tuwhooing about? Just don't! Just go away. We don't fight, so nothing will happen to you.
   And of course, people were laughing.
   That was some day in the years from 1930 to 1933. The Slovaks began to realize that they should advance together and without discord for the sake of their own national interest. So the popular party and the national party went together. Their leaders, Andrej Hlinka and Martin Razus, declared during a large fusion assembly of these parties that they would fight jointly and harmoniously for Slovak autonomy in the spirit of Ludovit Stur and Slovak tradition."
   "So Slovak Catholics were demonstrating unity with Slovak Evangelicals?"
   "They certainly were! One of the most ardent Slovak manifestations in that time was the great festival of Nitra in 1933. In remembrance of the first Christian church in our country, more than hundred thousand Slovaks came together after one thousand and hundred years. Considering the historical meaning of that church, they came there to pay reverence to the remembrance of prince Pribina and to show their determination to support the development of Slovak national independence. From the cradle of Nitra we had come through a whirlwind of events to the fight for Slovak autonomy. Both Hlinka and Razus orated. There was much enthusiasm, which spread like a mighty wave over all Slovakia.