SearchScriptoriumArchivesSponsor

Czecho-Slovakia Within.
[22]
Chapter 5

The narrow enclave in the extreme east of Czecho-Slovakia bordered on the north-east by Poland, on the south-west by Hungary, and on the south by Rumania is known as Ruthenia. It is often referred to by the Prague Government as Carpathian Russia though the inhabitants are no more nearly related to the Russians than they are to the Czechs. These Ruthenians, or Ukrainians, are of quite separate blood; their manners and customs differ widely from those of Russia.

Ruthenia is a country possessing a very distinct individuality of its own. Official figures published in 1933 show that of a total population of 685,000, 624,000 were indigenous Ukrainians. The remaining 61,000 was made up of 30,000 Jews, 20,000 Hungarians, and some 10,000 Germans. Inasmuch as Ruthenia is a completely self-contained province it seems a little difficult to understand why its government should be entrusted to Czechs.

Consciousness of nationality is of comparatively recent growth among the Ruthenian population; in fact, it may be said that its rise has only become apparent during the last ten years. The Ruthenians are small farmers in the main. Prior to 1918 they formed part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy; [23] consequently the formation of the new republic meant only to them the substitution of one foreign overlord for another. Their dormant feelings of nationalism were aroused by Czech ill-treatment.

Ruthenian inclusion in the Czecho-Slovak State was announced on May 8th, 1919. The Ukraine, or Ruthenia, as it was now called, had never any relations with the Czechs; no historical nor ethnographical reasons can be adduced in support of this inclusion. Nevertheless, the Ruthenian Congress held at Scranton, Penn., on November 19th, 1918, decided to throw in their lot with Czecho-Slovakia on a federal and autonomist footing. The Treaty of St. Germain confirmed the rights of the Ukrainians, giving them local self-government by their own elective Diet, having jurisdiction over all religious, educational and language questions. It was also expressly laid down that Ruthenian officials were, in as far as possible, to be of Ruthenian blood. The Czech authorities, however, succeeded in postponing this autonomy on the grounds that the country was not ripe for self-government and would require at least twenty years of tutelage.

A further breach of the Peace Treaty was committed in 1926, when the official language of the country was declared to be Czech. The Ruthenians by this act, indefensible as it was, lost their last illusions as to the Republic's good faith. Their voluntary union with Czecho-Slovakia had been conditioned by the promised grant of autonomy. No part of this autonomy had been granted, in fact, [24] with the minor exception of the appointment of a Ruthenian Governor. This apparently important concession has always been tendered more or less void by the selection as governors of men notorious for their weakness of character. In almost every case these Governors have been under the thumb of their Czech Deputy Governors. The present Deputy Governor, M. Meznik, is a particularly intransigent Czech whose desire to absorb Ruthenia is well known; he has been in office for the past three years.

Over 40,000 Czechs have been introduced into the Ukraine since 1919. Revenue administration to the extent of 98% of the local officials is in the hands of the Czechs.

The Czech Premier in March, 1937, promised autonomy to "Carpathian Russia" in the terms of the Treaty signed at St. Germain en Laye.

On April 4th, 1937, a bill was put forward whose ostensible aim was Ukrainian local self-government. This Bill was duly passed in spite of the protests of the Ruthenian deputies. Other minority members also went into the Opposition lobbies. This opposition rose from the fact that for the promised Diet was substituted an advisory council.

Of the twenty-four members allotted to this Council no less than nine were to be Czech governmental nominees. This pretence of autonomy was rejected by a M. Fensik, the Ruthenian leader, as valueless.

Ukrainian discontent in the face of Czech immigration had been on the increase for some considerable [25] time; this disappointment of their cherished hopes of self-government brought it to a climax.

The Ukrainians began to organize politically in 1928 and 1929. Of the 300 Ukrainian students at the University of Prague in 1929 only ninety were identified with the Ukrainian political party; this figure had risen to 230 by 1937.

The Czechs use the Ukraine as the Russians use Siberia. Inept officials and those guilty of misdemeanours, together with those who for some reason or another have fallen under official displeasure, are banished to the Ukraine. This hardly makes for the better government of that province.

It is symptomatic that very close contact is maintained by Czecho-Slovakia's Ukrainians with their compatriots on the other side of the Carpathians.

The Union of Ruthenian teachers is solidly Ukrainian in politics. Fourteen hundred out of their 1,800 members proclaimed their adherence to national ideals in 1931, when they passed a resolution desiring the abolition of the name "Carpathian Russia" to be met with a flat refusal by Prague. The fight for nationality is now being waged in the schools. Imposition of a bastard Carpatho-Russian language has long been attempted by the Central authorities, although it bears as little relation to Ruthenian as does Dutch to English. Ukrainian school books were printed in this language, and in a script which is a mixture between ecclesiastical and normal Russian alphabets. This script, not unnaturally, aroused the greatest discontent. Parents refused [26] to allow their children to attend schools using these books and demanded that their own tongue should be used. Last Christmas a plebiscite was held on the question. The Czechs promised that areas polling more than 50% of the votes cast in favour of Ukrainian should have the language they desired. The results of the plebiscite in the various areas showed an average of 85% of the whole in favour of Ukrainia. Prague thereupon declared the plebiscite null and void. In February of this year another plebiscite was held under the strict supervision of specially imported Czech police. The Ukrainians are a simple people, easily terrorised; many voted consequently in favour of the alien tongue. With the departure of the police came repentance; sporadic and endemic school strikes took place. It should be remembered that Ruthenia contains a small number of true Russians, immigrants from their own country who have become settlers in the Czech Ukraine. Since the Ukrainian teachers were not conversant with the synthetic alphabet used in the new school books some of these were appointed in their place; the schools over which they presided were boycotted.

The Ukrainian Press has only been in existence for a matter of weeks. In the whole of Czecho-Slovakia the Ukraine possessed no newspaper of its own until May 15th of this year. The Ukraine, poverty-stricken as it is, managed to collect the relatively amazing sum of 21,000 Czech crowns. With this money a paper was started; its name is Nowa Sloboda. Since then a second newspaper, run by [27] the Ukrainians, has come into being. There is also an opposition journal published in the Ukraine whose policy is anti-national; its list of subscribers this summer amounted to as many as 136. A newspaper with a subscription list of such a size can hardly claim to be self-supporting.

The Ukrainians have started an institute of national education, among whose departments are to be found libraries and which hold educational courses all over the province. There is a branch whose business is the encouragement of dramatic and musical art. Ukrainian folk plays arouse much enthusiasm. There is a Ruthenian national theatre where performances are given to full houses; Prague has recently founded a Russian theatre but its performances are only sparsely attended.

The Ukraine is mainly an agricultural and pastoral country, whose inhabitants are country rather than town dwellers; trade in the towns is largely in the hands of the Jewish community. The Ukrainians are a friendly race who take a great interest in all forms of sport. Association football is their favourite game, though they have produced some internationally well-known tennis players. The Boy Scout movement is making great progress.

Town Hall and Church of St Egidius, Bardejov
Town Hall and Church of St Egidius,
Bardejov

[www.e-bardejov.sk]
Relations between the native population of the Ukraine and the few thousand German settlers are of the best. The Ukraine owes an architectural debt to these alien immigrants, for the beautiful Gothic cathedral at Bardijov was erected to the design of a German in the seventeenth century, when the town [28] in question had an almost exclusively German population.

Their acknowledged failure to absorb the Ukrainians into the Czech race has caused the latter to adopt the method of treating inhabitants of Ruthenia as Russians - a method which arouses the strongest resentment. Had it not been for the stupid and provocative nature of Czech rule, the Ukrainians, whose main desire is to live a peaceful life; would no doubt have been content with their subservient position for many years to come. Consciousness of nationality has been brought to the surface by persistent ill-treatment and supremely tactless methods. The present-day unrest is entirely due to the inability of the Czech mentality to appreciate the views and desires of peoples other than their own.



 
[29]
Chapter 6

There is a compact Polish minority in Czecho-Slovakia on the Polish frontier consisting of the Freistadt and Cesky districts. While official figures show a high proportion of Czechs in these areas their voting strength is, remarkably enough, comparatively insignificant. This fact scarcely tends to strengthen one's faith in Prague's official statistics (Ref. Table C). An example of such statistics may be seen by reference to the town of Lomna Dolna. In 1921, 94.2% of the population were Poles. The figures given by Prague for 1930 reduce this percentage to 67.4; this statement is, to say the least of it, somewhat unconvincing. Many districts in the area had a population more than 50% Polish in 1921.

It is difficult to understand why these areas were allotted to Czecho-Slovakia at the time of the creation of that State. Mr. Lloyd George, in the course of a series of articles in The Daily Telegraph in July this year, wrote:

    "President Benes drew attention to the exposed situation of the Czecho-Slovak nation as the advance-guard of the Slav world in the West and therefore constantly threatened by German expansion."
Oppression of Polish, Slovak and Ukrainian minorities all of whom are claimed to be of Slav origin, by the Czechs, hardly bears out M. Benes' claim [30] on behalf of the "Czecho-Slovak nation" to the position of "advance-guard of the Slav world." It would appear that the only Slavs in modern Europe whom the Czechs are not in a position to oppress are the fortunate citizens of the Soviet paradise. One can only presume that M. Benes regards his country as the advance-guard of the U.S.S.R.

It is remarkable that the menace of German expansion was conjured up at the moment of Germany's complete disarmament when she was in possession of neither war-craft nor aeroplanes and her prospected collapse appeared to be more probable than any chance of expansion.

However that may be, Prague obtained the Polish areas. Czech official figures in 1921 placed the number of Poles in the Republic at 23,562 plus a number of Poles who had obtained voluntary and Czech naturalization, making a grand total of 92,529. In addition to this there are 25,000 other Poles whom the Czech authorities classify as "Silesian Czechs." On the other hand, Warsaw claims that there were 118,000 Poles in Silesia in 1921. They state that there were 112,000 Poles among the 205,000 inhabitants of Freistadt and Tesin, giving a proportion of 54%, as against the Prague figures of 30%. The rest of Czecho-Slovakia seems to have contained upwards of 137,000 Poles in 1921, if one ignores their paper nationality. Nor must we forget the 9,000 odd Poles in Moravia. In the years that have passed since 1921 the population of the Polish-speaking areas shows a large increase; consequently the [31] Polish minority is larger than generally believed. The Polish minority, in common with all the other minorities, is gravely discontented. They have no liking for their position as "the advance-guard of the Slav world." Quite on the contrary they view with no favour the close relations of "their" Government with Moscow, and would prefer to be merely Poles.


Previous pageTable of ContentsNext page

Czecho-Slovakia Within