THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

5 posts categorized "Slovakia"

16 February 2017

Short waves and new waves: Dobroslav Chrobák

Add comment

In a week which begins with World Radio Day (13 February),it is appropriate that we should also commemorate the 110th birthday on 16 February of an author and critic who was one of the leading figures of the early years of Czechoslovak broadcasting – Dobroslav Chrobák.

ModernyTradicionalistaDobroslavChrobakTitle-page

Portrait of Chrobák from Jozef Bob, Moderný tradicionalista Dobroslav Chrobák (Bratislava, 1964) X.908/15392.

Born in Hybe, Slovakia, as the second of four children of a tailor, Chrobák was educated in Rožňava and Liptovský Mikuláš before proceeding to the higher technical school in Bratislava and the Czech Technical University in Prague, graduating in 1934. He was still a schoolboy when, in October 1918, the new independent republic of Czechoslovakia came into being. It was an exciting time not only in politics but in the arts, with the emergence in 1920 of the Devětsil movement with its fascination with the transformation of language into visual art and the possibilities of technology. In 1925, when the student Chrobák was writing his short story ‘Náraz priam centrický’ (‘Centric impact’), Jaroslav Seifert published his verse collection Na vlnách TSF (‘On the waves of the TSF’; British Library Cup.408.kk.11.), laid out by Karel Teige as typographic poems, celebrating the power of wireless telegraphy to transport the reader to Paris, Australia, New York and back again.

On graduating Chrobák returned to Bratislava to work for Československý rozhlas, the national radio company which had begun broadcasting in 1923, as editor of its publication Rádiožurnál. By 1945 he had risen to become the director of short-wave broadcasting throughout Slovakia, and two years later he was appointed as the principal director of the Slovak division of the organization.

However, Chrobák’s writings were not concerned with technical advances but reflected his interests in nature, folklore and the Naturalist movement in fiction. As a student he had collected proverbs and examples of folk wisdom, but also admired authors such as Hermann Hesse and Knut Hamsun whose example encouraged him to turn away from descriptive realism in favour of evocations of the primeval and mythical quality of the natural world. He was also a skilled translator, particularly from Russian (notably of Turgenev’s Home of the Gentry as Šľachtické hniezdo, 1934) and the editor, with Štefan Letz, of the Slovenský literárny almanach (Prague, 1931; X.981/1419), illustrated below.

ChrobakAlmanach

His 1932 history of Slovak literature, Rukoväť dejín slovenskej literatúry provided readers with a concise guide to writing in Slovak from the earliest sources through the Hussite era, the Reformation and the Enlightenment to Romanticism and Realism.

ChrobalRukovatCover

Cover of Rukoväť dejín slovenskej literatúry (Prague, 1932) X.909/645.

The British Library also holds modern editions of Chrobák’s major prose works, including the collection of short stories, Kamarát Jasek (1937), which established him as a writer of fiction (Bratislava, 2000; YA.2003.a.10244), and his 1943 novel Drak sa vracia (‘The Dragon Returns’; Bratislava, 1971; X.989/12935), one of the most significant examples of Slovak naturalism. The ‘Dragon’ of the title, Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, is found in the forest as a small boy by the potter Lepiš who raises him to be his assistant. When old Lepiš dies, the villagers blame his foster-son for his death, beat him and drive him away as a Jonah-like figure associated with other misfortunes such as drought, sterility, and the death of a village woman in the fields. The novel begins with Simon, a farmer, reporting to his wife Eva that the Dragon has returned to the village, and suspecting that she may take the opportunity to visit him, as she had been in love with him before the villagers drove him out. Eva, although she still loves the Dragon, keeps away from him despite the lack of any genuine emotional bond with her husband, with whom she has little in common apart from their shared work on the farm. Further drought causes a fire to break out in the mountains where the villagers’ animals are wandering in search of food. The Dragon proposes a way of saving them, and the villagers join forces with him and Simon; the latter, however, suspects the Dragon of selling the cattle and sheep to the Poles and, running back to the village, sets his potter’s hut on fire. When the Dragon finally reappears with the herds and flocks, accompanied by his sweetheart Zoška, Simon acknowledges his mistake and begs the Dragon’s forgiveness,while the latter in turn admits that he had wronged Simon by abandoning Eva when she became pregnant. Seeing him with Zoška, Eva realizes that it is time finally to abandon her feelings for him and appreciate Simon and the life which they have built together, and the novel ends with an epilogue which reveals that the whole story was narrated by Eva to her little grandson: ‘...And then? And then – that was all. They loved each other and lived happily together until the end of their days... Sleep, little son!’

ChrobakWithSonPhotograph of Dobroslav Chrobák with his son Ondrej in the High Tatras from Jozef Bob, Moderný tradicionalista Dobroslav Chrobák (Bratislava, 1964) X.908/15392.

Chrobák was also a prolific contributor to the fields of art and literary criticism, and this, together with his professional duties, gave him less time than he might have wished to devote to fiction. His premature death at the age of 44 on 16 May 1951 followed an unsuccessful operation to remove a brain tumour, and his funeral took place three days later in his native Hybe. His achievements in connecting this remote area with the main currents of European culture – both literally and figuratively – remain considerable and deserve wider recognition.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services

 

28 October 2015

A life for a language: Ľudovít Štúr (1815-54) and the Slovak nation

Add comment Comments (0)

28th October is celebrated annually in the Czech Republic as a national holiday commemorating the establishment on that day in 1918 of the independent state of Czechoslovakia under its first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. With the ‘Velvet Divorce’ of 1993, the peaceful dissolution of the union between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it is no longer a holiday in the latter, although many Slovaks continue to feel that it should be. Instead, Slovakia remembers 1st January 1993, the first day of the existence of a separate Slovak state. However, in 2015 the Slovaks have an additional reason to celebrate on 28th October – the bicentenary of the birth of the man without whom the Slovak language as spoken nowadays might never have existed.

Ludovit_SturPortrairWikipedia                   Portrait of Ľudovít Štúr by Jozef Božetech Klemens (From Wikimedia Commons)

Ľudovít Štúr (1815-1856) was born in Uhrovec (in the same house, incidentally, which was later the birthplace of Alexander Dubček) as the second child of the schoolmaster Samuel Štúr and his wife Anna. The area was strongly Lutheran, and the religious tradition into which he was baptized would exercise a powerful influence on him throughout his life. After receiving a good grounding in Latin and other subjects from his father, the young Ĺudovít was educated at the Lutheran Lyceum in Bratislava (then known as Pressburg), where he became acquainted with the writings of Slavonic patriots including Ján Kollár, Pavel Jozef Šafarík and Josef Dobrovský, and joined the Czech-Slav Society. Rising to become its vice-president, in 1836 he approached the well-known Czech historian František Palacký, appealing for his support in the creation of a unified Czechoslovak language and claiming that the Czech spoken by Slovaks in Upper Hungary was no longer intelligible to their countrymen elsewhere. In the interests of Slavonic unity and impartiality, he proposed the acceptance on both sides of a number of Czech and Slovak words, but this proved unacceptable to the Czechs, leading Štúr and his circle to mount a campaign for a new standard Slovak language. They travelled through Upper Hungary to canvass on behalf of this after a meeting on 24 April 1836 at the ruined castle of Devín (Dévény, near Bratislava) where they not only swore an oath of loyalty to their cause but chose new Slavonic names, with Štúr himself adding Velislav to his own.

Slovakia-Devin_castle6        Castle Devín, Bratislava (Devín village), Slovak Republic (Photo by Radovan Bahna from Wikimedia Commons)

The Slovak language movement might have seemed to be doomed from the outset because of the threefold opposition which it faced. Not only had it experienced a rebuff from the Czechs, but as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the territory in which Štúr grew up had had German imposed on it as the language of bureaucracy and officialdom, and there was also an increasingly vocal movement in promotion of the Hungarian language.  Štúr was fluent in German, and studied from 1838-1840 at the Protestant University of Halle, while continuing to maintain contacts with Czech patriots and, in 1839, publishing an account of his journey to Lusatia, the ‘smallest Slavonic nation’ centred around Bautzen.

While teaching grammar and Slavonic history at his old school, Štúr acted as co-editor of the literary journal Tatranka (Pressburg, 1832-45; British Library PP.4874.bbh), and planned to start a Slovak political journal. However, his application for a licence to do so was rejected in 1842, when he also launched a petition against the persecution of Slovaks by Hungarians in Upper Hungary. The following year he was compelled to leave his Lyceum post after an investigation into the activities of its Institute of Czechoslovak Language, and to publish his summary of the Slovaks’ grievances against the Hungarians, which no Hungarian publishing house would touch. At the same time, however, he and his followers were working on the codification of a new Slovak language, which gradually came into literary use in 1844. Advocating the Slovaks’ right to their own language, schools and political independence within Hungary, he was chosen in 1847 as a deputy in the Hungarian Diet in Bratislava, representing Zvolen (Zólyom), two months after the formal adoption by both Roman Catholics and Protestants of the new standard Slovak language.

The events of 1848, however, interrupted his political career, as the Diet ceased to meet after April. Instead Štúr visited Prague to establish Slovanská Lipa, an organization to foster cooperation between Slavs, and took part in the first Slavic Congress there. His involvement in the presentation of the petition Žiadosti slovanského národa (Requests of the Slovak Nation) in May 1848, including calls for the abolition of serfdom, universal suffrage and freedom of the press, led to a Hungarian warrant for his arrest, and in September he and the other members of the Slovak National Council proclaimed independence from Hungary. After organizing the Slovak military volunteer campaign, Štúr headed a delegation which on 20 March 1849 formally presented the Slovak nation’s demands to Franz Josef II at Olomouc, but when, after lengthy negotiations, the Slovak volunteers were disbanded in November he returned to Uhrovec. His spirit remained unquenched despite further obstacles and tragedies (he was placed under police surveillance in Modra, where he moved to care for his seven nephews and nieces following his brother Karol’s death in 1851) which did not prevent him from publishing several more important works on Slavonic songs, myths and culture, including O národných povestiach a piesňach plemien slovanských (On the national songs and myths of the Slavonic races; 1852: YA.2002.a.21123) and Das Slawenthum und die Welt der Zukunft (Slavdom and the world of the future; Bratislava, 1931; X.800/2232).

Ironically, having survived the armed uprising of 1848-49, Ľudovít Štúr met his end through a gunshot – but one which he accidentally inflicted on himself during a hunting expedition on 22 December 1855. He lingered for three weeks, dying on 12 January 1856, and was honoured with a national funeral in Modra. In his forty years of life, this man from an obscure town in Slovakia had given his people the gift of a versatile and expressive language, as suited to poetry as to political debate, and fought tirelessly for its place in the world, in keeping with his creed: ‘My country is my being, and every hour of my life shall be devoted to it.’

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement

 

18 March 2015

Bohemian Leeds: the Fulneck Moravian Settlement

Add comment Comments (0)

When a friend recently commented that he thought it strange and amusing to see foreign house names in a traditional-looking Yorkshire village, he was assuming that such names were given in pretention, or in sentimental memory of a holiday abroad. It seems natural to think of cities attracting migrants and refugees, but not of villages as distinctly conservative, even insular, in their Olde Worlde Englishness.

In reality, of course, the picture is more complicated.  On the very outskirts of Leeds, not far from where I live, is one grey stone village whose origins are every bit as cosmopolitan as an inner-city area. Its name is Fulneck, and it shares its name with a settlement in the eastern part of the Czech Republic: Fulnek, Moravian Silesia. The Yorkshire village was established in 1743 by refugees from the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia and other Habsburg lands. They were members of the Moravian Church, one of the earliest Protestant Churches of all and the oldest Protestant denomination in the Czech lands, which had its roots in the Hussite movement   of the 15th century.

By 1600, a majority of the inhabitants of the provinces of Moravia and Bohemia (the present-day Czech Republic) were under the influence of Hussite churches or schools, and might be said to have become Protestant. The churches established printing presses, and held services in Czech and German in preference to Latin. For a long time, the imperial court tolerated this, and was even sympathetic, but the arrival of the Jesuits and election of the vengefully Catholic Ferdinand II as King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor changed things. The events that followed are some of the most evocative in Czech history. The Second Defenestration of Prague, when representatives of the Protestant estates threw the Emperor’s envoys from the window of the Bohemian Chancellery, sparked the Thirty Years War. Its first battle was the disastrous White Mountain, which wiped out the Protestant nobility and would become a powerful symbol of the Habsburgs’ destruction of the nation and suppression of the Czech language. In creating a national mythos for the Czechoslovak state, Tomas Masaryk would constantly refer back to this period of history.

White Mountain detailThe Battle of White Mountain, November 1620, detail from an illustration by Matthäus Merian in Johann Philipp Abelin, Theatrum Europaeum (Frankfurt am Main, 1643) British Library 800.m.3-5.

The survivors of White Mountain went into hiding in caves and crevices around the borders. Some of these hiding places are marked today, often as detours from the innumerable well-marked hiking routes that criss-cross the country. The Moravian Brethren  – originally of Bohemian origin  – took their name from the fact that they continued to live in hiding in Moravia worshipping illegally for almost a century. Many other groups went abroad, firstly to other states in the Holy Roman Empire where the Counter-Reformation was less entrenched, and then later overseas, to Britain, France, the Netherlands or North America. In due course, the Moravians followed, moving first to Herrnhut in Saxony, where they were protected by Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, and then to England. This is the origin of the Fulneck Moravian Settlement.

The Fulneck Settlement originally consisted of separate houses for men and women, both of which are still standing on either side of the Moravian Chapel, as well as some married accommodation. Possibly the most famous of the children born in eighteenth-century Fulneck was Henry Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the Capitol building in Washington DC. His father was a Moravian minister.

Fulneck Moravian Chapel
The old Moravian Chapel in Fulneck. (Photograph J.Ashton/C.Martyn)

Benjamin Latrobe was educated in Upper Lusatia, Saxony, from where his community had emigrated, but Fulneck itself has a school, established in 1753, which went on to become a mainstream independent school. Its pupils have included the future Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith (born in Morley, which is now also part of Leeds) and Dame Diana Rigg. Asquith hated his time there and refused to come back as a famous old boy to give prizes, a fact not everyone with an interest in Fulneck is eager to advertise!

Fulneck school
Fulneck school, overlooking the valley (Photograph J.Ashton/C.Martyn)

Modern Fulneck still consists of just one street, built on a ridge above a green valley. Many of the people living there are Moravians still, and they run a small museum of  their history in England and Europe. The volunteer staff are very knowledgeable, and truly bring the eclectic little collection to life. Links to Herrnhut and other Moravian communities are also maintained.

Fulneck Museum
The Museum in Fulneck; the building is typical of those in the village. (Photograph J.Ashton/C.Martyn)

Among the British Library’s collections are various locally-produced histories of the Settlement, as well as a copy of The Brotherly Agreement and Declaration concerning the Rules and Orders of the Brethren's Congregation at Fulneck, published in 1777 (4661.b.4.), and a cantata composed by Edward Sewell to celebrate its centenary (Cantata, composed in commemoration of the Fulneck Centenary Jubilee, April 19th 1855. London, 1855; R.M.14.e.27.). Small but persistent, this little community of exiles used its own corner of a foreign field to maintain the Reformation ideals on which Masaryk would found the Czechoslovak state.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

 

15 November 2013

Under the spell of the Tatras

Add comment Comments (0)

When preparing for my autumn trekking in the High Tatras, a mountain range that stretches between Poland and Slovakia, I came across the name of the English traveller Robert Townson  (1762 – 1827), who was also a scholar and scientist. He was one of the first foreign visitors to that region. His book Travels in Hungary, with a short account of Vienna in the year 1793 London, 1797; British Library shelfmark 982.i.6) includes a chapter on the Tatra Mountains, entitled ‘Excursions in the Alps’.

The Tatras cover an area of 785 square kilometres. In comparison with the massive Alps in Western Europe the Tatras are a tiny range called by the French “pocket mountains”.  Nevertheless, the Tatras, which are part of the long Carpathian chain, are the highest mountains in Central Europe.  Undoubtedly, Townson called the Tatras ‘Alps’ because of their alpine character with rocky peaks, grazing pastures, rushing streams and splashing waterfalls. Townson explored the Tatras’ flora and fauna, and was also the first to take height measurements of some of their mountains using the barometric method.

Travels in Hungary MS
A view in the Tatras from Townson’s Travels in Hungary

The area, inhabited for centuries by the Slavs, Germans and Hungarians, produced a distinctive culture known as the Góral, meaning highlanders. This culture has survived to the present day due to the area’s geographic isolation. Until the end of the 19th century the only means of transport on the Polish side was horse-drawn carts. It took two days to travel a distance of 105 km from Kraków to Zakopane. The Tatras were discovered for their beauty as early as the 16th century but only in the second half of the 19th century was  the region developed as a popular tourist destination.

Panoramic viev of the Tatras from Lomnicky Štit MS
 Panoramic view of the Tatras from Lomnicky Štit (©Magda Szkuta)

Due to the remoteness of the Tatra region there was no designated border between Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary until the late 18th century (Slovakia had been part of the Hungarian domain since the 9th century), so the mountains were a no man’s land. The Polish Kingdom was partitioned by its neighbours Russia, Prussia and Austria in the course of three decades, and finally lost its independence in 1795. The Polish side of the Tatras fell to the Austrian partition.

In 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was established and the mountains became an agreed border between the two states of the monarchy; however, the border itself was not demarcated.  Before long this led to territorial disputes. Over the centuries the lands around the Tatras belonged to Hungarian and Polish settlers. In 1889 Count Władysław Zamoyski  purchased  Zakopane and the surrounding areas. This was the source of conflict over the ownership of those lands that culminated in the International Arbitration Court in Graz. Subsequently in 1902 the Court demarcated the Austro-Hungarian border which after the First World War became the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. 

Karol Szymanowski Museum in Villa Atma MSThe breathtaking scenery, clean air and unique culture of the Tatras attracted numerous visitors to the area from all three partitions of Poland. Zakopane became an intellectual and cultural centre at the beginning of the 20th century and since then has been a magnet for many artists, writers and musicians. Stanisław Witkiewicz, writer, painter and architect, created the Zakopane style in architecture that shaped the distinctive character of the previously small village. Karol Szymanowski, one of the greatest Polish composers of the 20th century, lived in Zakopane, and his music was influenced by the folk music of the Tatra highlanders (picture above left from Wikimedia Commons : Karol Szymanowski's  museum  in Villa Atma).

Magda Szkuta,  Curator of Polish Studies

28 October 2013

A country made out of 'bits and bobs’

Add comment Comments (0)

In Janet Hitchman’s autobiography The King of the Barbareens (London, 1960: British Library shelfmark X.990/17333) she recalls how, as a young girl in 1920s Norfolk, she encountered Czechoslovakia for the first time. ‘There isn’t such a place,’ her foster-mother retorted, only to learn from a policeman that it was ‘a new country they made after the war out of bits and bobs that used to be Austria, only you say it Scheckoslovakia’. ‘And now [she continues]  it was a pleasure to look at the rampant lion stamped on [the lamp glass], with its four broad-spread toes on each foot, its curly tongue and lace-patterned tail, and to know that it came from Czechoslovakia, a country made out of “bits and bobs”.’

Shortly before his death in January 1806 the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger is said to have remarked ‘Roll up that map of Europe; it will not be wanted these ten years,’ reflecting on the consequences of Napoleon’s recent victory over the Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz. Today the site of the battlefield lies within the Czech Republic, about ten kilometres from Brno, and is known as Slavkov u Brna. Had Pitt given the timescale as 110 years, he would not have been surprised to find that the map of Europe as it then existed would have been of even less use in 1915 than in 1815.

The map of Europe at the end of the First World War was a tattered object bearing the marks of congresses, partitions, Bismarck’s wars of expansion, treaties and rising nationalist movements. Ever since the annexation of the Crown Lands of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia by the Habsburgs, this area of central Europe had been particularly contentious. Ruled by the imperial house of Austria since 1526, the inhabitants of the region had seen their hopes of independence crushed at the battle of White Mountain in 1620, when the Bohemian Protestant nobles had suffered a conclusive defeat by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor. There followed the Czech ‘Dark Ages’ (tma) when the survival not only of Bohemian identity but of the Czech language seemed in jeopardy.

But with the National Revival of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, the tide turned, and after the Ausgleich of 1867 which granted Hungary a measure of autonomy, it seemed that the Czechs might be accorded similar privileges. If Crown Prince Rudolf had not committed suicide at Mayerling in 1889, a compromise might have allowed him to reign as King of Bohemia; he had served as an officer in Prague, and had strong sympathies with its people. However, when the map was being redrawn in 1918, the solution was a very different one.

Simon Winder in Danubia: a personal history of Habsburg Europe (London, 2013) declares, ‘Most academic of all were probably the Czechs’. He describes with glee the ‘apogee of absurdity’ which was reached in October 1918 when Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) and his colleagues posed in front of the Liberty Bell to proclaim an independent Czechoslovak republic in Pennsylvania (his italics). The delegation had been in Philadelphia to negotiate with some American Slovaks, and the photograph was intended to symbolize a shared democratic inheritance. Winder, while disparaging the ‘imagined set of shared Slav values’ which formed the basis of the new Czechoslovakia, overlooks the objective and far from chauvinistic position from which Masaryk proceeded.

478px-Thomas_G_Masaryk_Cz
Tomáš  Masaryk (picture above from Wikimedia Commons)

Masaryk  was born in Moravia of mixed Czech and Slovak parentage, and studied in Vienna before being appointed in 1882 to the chair of philosophy in the Czech part of Prague University. Interestingly, he spoke out decisively against those who believed in the authenticity of the Královédvorské and Zelenohorské manuscripts, two collections of allegedly mediaeval Czech poetry which proved to be forgeries. He believed that nationalism which was based on a fabrication was blighted from the start, and was prepared to suffer the personal obloquy which this invited.

He served in the Reichsrat (Austrian Parliament) from 1891 to 1893 in the Young Czech Party and again from 1907 to 1914 in the Realist Party, which he founded in 1900, but did not campaign for the independence of Czechs and Slovaks from Austria-Hungary. In 1915 he became a professor at the newly-formed School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and during the war visited France and Russia to urge the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before its imminent collapse.

In 1918 he was recognized by the Allies as the head of the provisional Czech government, and was elected President in November that year. He had already convinced Woodrow Wilson of the justice of his cause, and in October 1918, from the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, he called for the independence of the Czechoslovaks and other oppressed peoples of Central Europe. (There had been suggestions that the second city of the new Czechoslovakia should be called Wilsonovo, but this was rejected in favour of Bratislava, a more resonantly Slavonic name than Pressburg or Pozsony, leaving the President of the United States to be commemorated in the name of one of Prague’s railway stations.)

During the post-1968 era the national holiday on 28 October commemorating the proclamation of the first Czechoslovak Republic was played down, and 74 years after its establishment the Czechs and Slovaks parted company in the ‘Velvet Divorce’. The Slovaks, on the whole, have quietly forgotten the date, but the Czechs still mark it enthusiastically. While the state itself may no longer exist, the values summed up by its Hussite-inspired motto ‘Pravda vítězí’ (Truth shall prevail) are still worthy of celebration.

Susan Halstead, Curator of Czech and Slovak.