(Bratislava, 16-4-1991, PhDr. Anna Magdolenova, CSc.)
Although there has been a silence about Andrej Hlinka in our history books and school teaching for ten years, still his heritage has remained alive in a large part of the people, because every generation tells the story in an excellent way from mouth to ear to the next. A precious proof of that fact is the present talk of mr Cernovski, who brings the figure of Andrej Hlinka and his concrete historical surroundings closer to the reader of today. This story of mr Cernovsky is even exceeding the abyss of time, and handing down Andrej Hlinka as if he were still alive. It is a report about the sorrows of Hlinka's lifetime and about his political struggle, in which the great man contributed to our modern circumstances by preserving our national identity and creating the social and political structure of our nation.
Andrej Hlinka was born in a Cernova family with many children, on the 27-th of September 1864. His father worked as a farmer and as a raftsman on the river Waag, to maintain the family. After his study in the gymnasiums of Ruzomberok and Levice, he went to the Spiss seminary in 1883 and was ordained a priest on the 19-th of June 1889.
To imagine the political atmosphere in which Hlinka grew up, we must remember the following: when he was ten years old, the fury of hungarization fell on the Slovak gymnasiums, and in 1875 they closed the cultural organisation that was called Slovak Matica. Young Andrej Hlinka had to take private lessons in the Hungarian language during his first year, to be admitted in the gymnasium. After the Austrian-Hungarian 'Ausgleich', there came a very intensive hungarization of secondary schools, so Slovak students of theology could speak their mother tongue only two days a week. When Hlinka publicly protested against this curtailing, and refused entering in the Hungarian literary club, and demanded that a club for the cultivation of Slovak language and literature would be erected, he was accused of favouring Panslavism. Only the fact that he was a model student in every other aspect, saved him from being excluded from the seminary. His annual student's reports bear witness that he studied Slovak and Russian grammatics all alone. He became enthusiastic over the work of SH Vajansky, AH Krcmer and M Dohnan, read L Stur, J Polarik and S Chalupka, and was interested in Old-Slavonic mythology. When, after being ordained a priest, he was working as a chaplain with little children in Orava, and at Saint Elisabeth's in Tvrdosin, he got closer acquainted with the burden of poverty that was pressing our people in the country. The Hungarian authorities oppressed him, and so did the course of life in his post of duty, where people were suffering from poverty, heavy work, drunkenness and usury. Therefore, Hlinka couldn't do anything better to help them than continue the tradition of our national revivers, and concern himself with both the spritual and material elevation of Slovak people . In 1892, they sent him to the parish house in Sliaca as a parish priest, and he began to fight against usury and alcoholism, founding farmer's corporations, associations for food and moderation, and popular libraries. At the same time, he invited the other Slovak intellectuals, mainly priests and school teachers, to follow him. He spent his own money in Ruzomberok to publish that guidebook with the title "How can we found a farmer's corporation for food and credit?".
The story of mr Cernovsky begins at the turn of the forepast century, when the Slovak national party was ever more being pressed into passivity by Hungarian terror. Andrej Hlinka became aware that our national existence was in danger, and he began his political struggle to realise Slovak independence. In line with the Saint Martin national appeal, he began to support oppositional centers of Zich's Hungarian people's party, because this party plainly said in its thirteenth program point that ethnic equality should prevail in Hungary, and because it was a counterbalance against the liberals, who rejected the application of Christian and social principles in politics. At the same time, he began to publish a series of articles in national newspapers under the head "The wrongs that we have to bear", in which he sharply condemned social and ethnic politics of the Hungarian government. Together with the writer Anton Bielka, he began redacting and publishing the People's newspapers. He wished to use these newspapers to gain support for the idea of Slovak independence with our national intellectuals, and above all with our priests and school teachers, who were closest to the people. When he decided in 1898 to become a candidate of the Ruzomberok district for the Hungarian parliament, with the program of the people's party, he had to fight a conspiracy of Hungarian liberals and Jewish enterprisers who had enough money for the electoral campaign and didn't hesitate to buy Slovak votes with money and alcohol. The mental poverty of our people, who were entirely captated in the campaign by Hungarian authorities in the Slovak district, appears from the fact that Hlinka got in the elections 150 votes less than his liberal Hungarian adversary Angyal. However, Zich's party wasn't consistent with Hlinka's own nationalistic program either, so he broke up with this party. He awakened the people's national spirit, and he wrote to Slovak newspapers and magazines, inciting people to assemble. When he became a Ruzomberok parish priest in 1905, he used his membership of the city council to fight against the corruption of the hungarianized apparatus and to uncover its practice of abusing the people and the nation. The articles with which he woke up our nation, bear witness that Hlinka was at the turn of the century already a mature personality who could harmoniously combine his mission as a priest and as a politician with the love for his motherland.
Our Christian and cultural traditions gave to Hlinka the ethical base on which he could formulate the principles of Slovak politics. His goal was to effectuate Slovak independence and to improve the social conditions of our people. It is contradictory and perhaps natural too, that in the next years, in spite of the visible consequences that his spiritual duty and his devoted service to the people were entailing, he met with only misunderstanding and persecution, both in secular circles and with the Church authorities. Already in 1906, when he renounced his candidature for the Ugrian parliament and supported Vavro Srobar in the elections, Hungarian chauvinism was prevailing more than the cure of souls with the Spis bishop A Parvy, and he suspended Andrej Hlinka from his rights and duties as a priest. That the hand of the bishop fell so hard on Hlinka, was the result of determined efforts of Hungarian circles to exclude our catholic clergy from Slovak high society and especially from political life. But the state authorities were proceeding against Hlinka as well. In June 1906, they accused Hlinka of inciting people to rebellion. They arrested him and took him to Ruzomberok prison under guard of bayonets. At the 6-th of December 1906, they passed judgment of several alleged inciters. Hlinka got two years of imprisonment and a fine of much money, and Vavro Srobar got one year of imprisonment. Vajansky, who took part in the trial, published detailed information about Hlinka in the People's newspapers, and also the essential parts of his pleading. Hlinka said, among other things: I would be glad to walk away as a free man like the other citizens. But when I have to bear an accusation because of the idea that I have been fighting for, I don't run away from prison. I could say that I am incorrigible in these things, and I would always speak as follows: I am a Slovak and will be a Slovak until my death, and that is not a crime. When Hlinka entered an appeal and was temporarily set free, he went to Moravia and Czechia on a tour, giving lectures as an invitee of A Koliska. He informed the Czech public of the Slovak problems, and just at that time the tragedy in his birthplace Cernova took place on the 27-th of October 1907. It shocked all Slovak people, and the news about it made its way through the world. All newspapers reported about the Hungarian chauvinistic terror and the suffering of the Slovaks.
From November 1907 until February 1910, Hlinka was staying in the Segedin prison, where he translated the Old Testament into Slovak, and wrote letters to the People's newspapers, for which he had to stay in prison even longer. Meanwhile, in March 1909, pope Pius X recognized his innocence, and the Spis bishop had to restore Andrej Hlinka in his pastoral rights.
After his return from prison, Hlinka set to work with Saint Vojtech's Association, founded a publishing society in Pressburg, and in July 1913 he founded with F Juriga and F Skycak the Slovak popular party, and became its president. At the end of the world war, he founded in Ruzomberok the printing house 'the Lion'. He began working on the constitutional question of the postwar organisation of Slovakia, and developed the idea of a joint state of Czechs and Slovaks. He announced his standpoint in May 1918 on a meeting of the Slovak popular party, where he said: .. We can be open about our Czecho-Slovak orientation .. In the same spirit, he supported on the 30-th of October 1918 the Declaration of the Slovak people, and he subsigned it as a member of the Slovak national council.
Hlinka welcomed the birth of the Czecho-Slovak republic as the liberation from the chauvinistic terror of hungarianization that endangered our national existence. But the first experiences with Prague centralism and its extended hand - minister Srobar, who had full power over Slovak administration, were sufficient to ensure him that he had to continue his political fight for acknowledgement of our national identity and achievement of an equal position for Slovakia in the new republic. For his endeavour to solve the question of Slovak autonomy at the 1919 Paris peace conference, he was arrested after his return and had to stay in prison during seven momths, at Mirov and in other places. And when the Czech secret police and soldiers arrested him at command of the Prague government, there were no Czechs in his prison environment to guard him, but only his own Slovak political adversaries - opportunistic lackeys of Prague centralism. From his letters and notes in Mirov, it is evident that he condemned above all the Slovak politics of his oldtime comrade Vavro Srobar and his band of bawlers. Hlinka accused Srobar that he imposed censure onto the press and that he allowed the locking up of many Slovaks to assist Czech gendarmery. He accused Srobar that he endeavoured to: .. smother free opinion, to throw dust in the eyes of the Prague people of the government, and to maintain himself at any price.
In the days that the movement for Slovak autonomy faced the utmost opposition, when its press was outlawed and its representatives imprisoned, Hlinka surprised people with his unbending belief in the eventual victory of the idea of Slovak independence. That appears in his letter from Mirov prison at the 13-th of December 1919 to the Czech representative V Myslivcov of the Lidova party, in which he gives his opinion about the political perspectives of Slovak supporters for Prague centralism as follows: Vavro Srobar and his club are losing the war in Slovakia. The state can't keep forcing us during a long time with bayonet and prison, certainly not in the new free republic. A free republic is inconceivable without freedom of press and speech. Hlinka evaluated in prison the criticism and his own political past, but primarily the enthusiasm with which he had been supporting the birth of the Czecho-Slovak state in the Saint Martin Declaration of the Slovak people.
Hlinka recognized that our union with the Czechs in the new couple of states was an interruption of the cruel pressure of hungarianization that threatened to gradually sweep the Slovaks away. It was a pity that, in the days when the new institute was being prepared, M R Stefanik was already dead and A Hlinka in prison, because the other Slovak politicians weren't clear about independence, nor capable and willing to reset legislation and gain equality for Slovakia, and hence acknowledgement of our independence. One can't be surprised that the new political establishment still consisted mostly of oldtime Slovaks, who were influenced by Masaryk and Benes and declared themselves in favour of the ideology of unity of the Cezechoslovak nation that had already become the official ideology. Furthermore, since they were placed into their functions at Prague, they felt themselves dependent on the Prague authorities to fulfil their political ambitions, so political pragmatism led them to active support of a legislation with a centralistic colour.
When Hlinka had been released from prison, a centralistic constitution had already been carried through with the help of the Slovak politicians V Srobar, I Dever, M Hodza, I Markovic and others. Hlinka left prison as a newly chosen representative, determined to continue his fight for Slovak autonomy. At the 9-th of November 1920, he declared in parliament: We, Slovaks, have a right of autonomy. We of Slovakia are standing on the base of the Pittsburgh agreement, we are standing on the base of that historical Magna Carta, and hence we will never anyhow give way, whatever the price will be. This contract doesn't harm the Czech people. It will not give an exaggerated right to the Slovak nation. It will only make that the Czechs will be our brothers and that we will be happy under the same roof ... We, Slovaks, are a nation, and we have the right of our own existence which the Pittsburgh agreement ensures us and we will not cease to defend and protect it.
This speech of Hlinka contained only the demand to accept the Slovak right of autonomy and to support it with a program of development, not to fulfil it immediately. But yet, this softly formulated natural demand evoked with the Czech political councils and the Slovak centralists a negative attitude, and Andrej Hlinka got with it his radical image.
In January 1922, the Slovak people's party submitted in parliament the first proposal of Slovak autonomy, repeated it in May 1930, and again in the time when the international situation was inclining to war, in June 1938. Alas, in this strained international situation Benes was still not willing to abandon his ossified and retarded ideology of the joint Czechoslovak tongue and nation.
It isn't difficult at all to understand why the official marxistic historiography made great endeavours to discredit Hlinka's political efforts and to erase him from the memory of the nation, if we realize that the whole life was loyal to the parole "for God and the nation". When the first elections for parliament in 1920 became a victory for the social-democrats, and rightwing money unreservedly bought support for Prague centralism, marxistic left began to form a communistic party.
From historical standpoint it is evident that within a year after the fall of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, there were already two lines of development in Slovak politics. Both of them made a link with pre-1918 Slovak pains, and they had a common denominator: the idea of a Czechoslovak state as a new platform to start in culture and civilization a political development of the Slovak ethnic groups. But the purpose of money for politicians was quite different. Reporters could see that Srobar was a disciple of Masaryk's realistic school and a representative of the centralistic political line. He renounced the idea of realizing Slovak independence, trying instead to save the Slovak ethnic group by blending it into the Czech nation. The consolidation of of the Czechoslovak state was therefore the very target of its own politicians. That money for Slovak politicians belonged to the official doctrine of Czechslovak unity. It counted almost without exception as help to reduce the differences between Czech and Slovak civilization and culture, and it had the public approval of the Czech people and the Prague government. It presented itself to Slovak tradition in connection with Kollar's antiquated panslavic concept of integrating Slovak and Czech cultures.
In contrast with centralistic politicians, Andrej Hlinka and Slovak autonomists didn't consider the Czechoslovak state as the ultimate goal of political endeavour, but saw it as a natural foundation to free the Slovaks from Hungarian and the Czechs from Austrian supremacy. They were expecting and demanding that the new political and constitutional order would enable the Slovaks to accomplish the development of their civilazation as an individual people with an own identity. That this order would give them the right of self-determination and autonomy, and hence an equal position in the fraternal union with the Czech nation.
While the centralistic politicians emphasized consolidation of the state, the Slovak nation itself was the important thing for Hlinka and the other autonomists. Therefore, the autonomists began immediately after the revolution their political fight for Slovak emancipation and the framing of autonomy. In the beginning of the years 1920, there began emerging a third political line next the centralistic government party and the autonomistic opposition. It was the marxistic leftwing movement, from which the communistic party would soon be formed. With its revolutionary ideology of class struggle, it tried to uproot the foundation and traditional structure of the community, in order to eventually destroy it. In the name of the world revolution, it also denied that the existence of the bourgeois-democratic Czechoslovak republic was rightful. But in the name of proletaric internationalism, and claiming the future establishment of a new socialistic culture, the Slovak communists denied our national cultural heritage as well, and they even said that the people couldn't gain equal rights with democratic means, without the revolutionary overthrow of the whole social system.
Andrej Hlinka understood very well the destructive spirit of the marxistic-leninistic theory of revolutionary struggle. He considered materialism as equally alien to Slovak spirit and national tradition as the liberalism of freethinkers. So it was only natural that he decided to fight against communism in Slovakia and against Prague centralism with equal elan. That's why at the end of April 1920, when the victory of social democracy in the elections indicated that marxism took root in his own country as well, Andrej Hlinka declared immediately after his release from prison to the welcome committee at Ruzomberok station: I will work day and night to stop them, because Slovakia will not become white, Slovak and Christian, if it is red.
Hlinka decided to fight with hardness against every political current and party that endangered the future of the Slovak people and the acknowledgement of Slovak independence, whether disguised as Prague centralism or as proletarian internationalism. He began to arrange a printing house to upset the expansion of Czech freethinkers, to support our cultural identity and to feed national selfconfidence. He supported modern Christian labour movements that operated according to the papal social encyclicals. But he was above all the spokesman of the people, and his figure and speech stimulated them to assemble with courage and with faith in Slovak future. In the 1925 elections, the Slovak people's party obtained already one half million of votes. It became in Slovakia the strongest political movement, which couldn't be neglected. This implied that, most probably, the majority of our direct ancestors gave their votes to that party which was called since 1925 Hlinka's popular party. And we can be sure that they voted like this because they wished to show national consciousness.
The attitude of the people toward the socalled Rothermeriade shows how absurd the assertions were of the centralistic and, later on, the communistic propaganda, that in Hlinka's popular party a kind of Hungarian spirit was prevailing. This Rothermeriade was an action of foreign politics by Hungarian inhabitants of borderland Slovakia to revise the southern frontiers of Slovakia, which obtained support from the English lord Rothermere for its international propaganda. Hlinka appeared at many assemblies and with many organisations to demonstrate against the actions of Rothermere. He clearly expressed that the nation did no longer support any chauvinistic ambition to revive the Ugrian concept of one great Hungarian nation. At the Pribina festivities in Nitra, it became clear that Andrej Hlinka had much support among Slovak people. In August 1933, Nitra became the arena for a great jubilee celebration, because prince Pribina had built there the first Christian church exactly 1100 years ago. A hundred thousand Slovaks assembled at Nitra to show that they loved their Christian culture and national history, and were determined to secure the development of Slovak national independence. It seemed that governmental circles didn't understand the spirit and the meaning of this jubilee, and that they would abusively present the Nitra festivities as manifestations of Czechoslovak national unity. Members of the government had to speak to the assembly, and it was wellknown that they were denying Slovak national identity and independence. They didn't reckon that Andrej Hlinka would ascend the pulpit. But the people preferred to hear Hlinka and Razus. They demanded that these two would speak, and Slovak unversity students brought Hlinka to the pulpit. The assembled Slovak people calmed down after a beck of Hlinka and the opening words of his speech: "My people!" He was also the man who had to introduce the prime minister Malypetr, minister Derer, and others. Government circles couldn't forget the Nitra jubilee during a long time, and they took measures of suppression in Slovakia. They suspended the daily Slovak common man's newspapers. Minister Derer fired many partaking teachers, gave command to remove those Slovak students from university, and imposed sanctions on some priests as well. Prime minister Jan Malypetr declared in parliament that the state had to supply extra money for Slovakia, so the republic had no financial means for its autonomy. But the president of the Slovak national party, Martin Razus, gave the right answer to Malypetr's wearisome parliamentary speech, when he showed that Prague actually didn't spend a netto penny in Slovakia.
The cooperation of Hlinka's popular party and the Slovak national party became narrower in October 1932, when Hlinka and Razus met in Zvolen, and declared in front of a crowd of thousands of Slovaks that they would work together in the political struggle for the accomplishment of Slovak autonomy. They accepted a manifest that required to incorporate the Pittsburgh agreement in the party institutes. In the elections, Hlinka's popular party and the Slovak national party formed an autonomistic bloc together with the oppositional parties of Andrej Brod in Uzhorod and Leon Wolf in Tesin.
Hlinka and Razus clearly emphasized in those days, speaking from the parliamentary pulpit, that they didn't want to break the Czechoslovak republic with Slovak autonomy. On the contrary, they wished to obtain its consolidation on the base of natural and equal relations between Czechs and Slovaks. Hlinka fought with this standpoint in a democratical way during the whole period of the pre-Munich Czechoslovak republic, as the most important politician and representative. He was called to duty in the years 1920, 1925, 1929, 1935. In spite of this, TG Masaryk and E Benes ignored him and they incessantly delayed a settlement of the Slovak question.
In 1938, the Slovaks prepared to celebrate that the Pittsburgh agreement had been signed twenty years ago. Hlinka's Slovak popular party organised a great celebration, giving a huge demonstration to let the Prague government know that the Slovak nation would stick to its claims. At the end of May 1938, a delegation of the Slovak league came round from America. Its president Petr Hletka was among them. He handed down the original document of the Pittsburgh agreement. They paid a visit to Hlinka in Ruzomberok, who was then already ill. He was the first man in the area of Czechoslovakia who saw the original document of the Pittsburgh agreement with his own eyes, and Karol Sidor remembered the following: "He took it in his hands with much emotion, lifted it to his mouth, and kissed it."
Hlinka was sickly and tired when he came to the manifestation in Bratislava at the fifth of June 1938, to honor the Pittsburgh agreement, and he said: "My people, I love you, and, whether I shall live or decay in the earth, I won't stop loving you!" At this memorable day, a crowd of one hundred thousand people from all of Slovakia saw Andrej Hlinka for the last time. He died at the 16-th of August 1938 in Ruzomberok, and he got a national funeral indeed: more than 70 000 people came to take leave of him.
The present book with talks about the life and times of Andrej Hlinka, although both of bellettristic and documenting description, is a remarkable contribution to reveal the blank areas in our history. The author chose a good design for his work when he asked for the story of a living witness - an old gentleman. The live testimony of this gentleman has already beaten the ignorance and prejudice of many young listeners and readers, and his account of the events brought often new details of historical value to the light. Among other things, mr Cernovski confirms by his personal narration that all Slovaks who are loyal to the nation are keeping Andrej Hlinka alive in their hearts and memories as one of the most important personalities in Slovakia before the second world war and before the first world war, who gave all his powers to realize our national idea and contributed to the emancipation of our people in European history. Without the political struggle guided by Andrej Hlinka, contemporary efforts for Slovak national independence and sovereignty wouldn't have had enough background in our national conscience. The fight during Hlinka's lifetime has contributed a lot to that consciousness.