He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Barking up the wrong tree

This blog entry is a travel letter, so dedicated haškologs may want to skip it. It is the story of how a "famous Norwegian švejkolog" got infamously stuck in the Pripyat marshes, swatting insects, and chasing shadows.

Being a geo-nerd

Sarny voksal
On a steaming hot July morning in 2010 I found my way to Київ-Пасажирський, the mother of all Ukrainian railway stations. Not only is it huge but also extremely ornate, no doubt a legacy of the Soviet Union and possibly even the tsar. My train was heading west, to an obscure town called Sarny in north western Ukraine, near the border with Belarus.

The reason for going there was that I had perceived that Jaroslav Hašek spent some time in Sarny in 1916. Radko Pytlik mentions the place, and Cecil Parrott also indicates some connection. Parrott's "The Bad Bohemian" even states that Hašek had been to a place called Berezno in Belarus, located nearby (the information was first published by Jaroslav Křížek in 1957). In Oslo, before I set off on the journey, I located the place. Then I discovered that I needed a visa to go to that (presumably) marshy hole by the river Horyn. I had backed off: common sense had prevailed and trumped my geo-nerdish fundamentalist inclinations. Former sovkhoz director Lukachenko and his loyal subjects in Berezno must have me excused.


Hotel Sluč
Sarny and its railway station at first sight appeared forlorn. A helpful gentleman directed me to Hotel Sluč, the only hotel in town. Located not far from the station, it was extremely cheap and likewise uninviting. Still the Russian speaking staff were quite welcoming, although their attention to documents and diligence in stamping them indicated that their souls were still lingering in the Soviet Union. My Norwegian passport caused a great deal of concern - such a document may not have been stamped too often this side of the river Pripyat. To call the room spartan may perhaps be an insult to the ancient heroes of the Peloponnese, and it was hot enough inside to be appreciated by any Greek, be it ancient or modern.

Chernobyl: "to the dead, the living and those not yet born"
The town itself appeared very small, but I was deceived by the location of the railway station. It is at the very end of urban area, and Sarny appears smaller than it is because it is so narrow. On the other hand it is very long. Still long, wide or narrow; the lasting impression was the drabness - there is not even a sign of a landmark - probably the result of destruction in WW2. The masses of Soviet style pre-fabricated buildings indicates post-war reconstruction. Another tragedy happened in 1986: the Chernobyl disaster hit this region particularly hard.

On the streets Russian was heard a lot more than in Lviv. Sarny had been part of the Russian Empire but was in the interwar period part of Poland. The Polish past is commemorated by a placard near the railway station and on a few occasions I was even asked if I was a Pole. Nearby there is also a plaque commemorating the victims of Chernobyl.

The elusive Regiment HQ

Approaching Polyany
As mentioned at the start of this letter I had chosen to ignore Berezno, the HQ of the First Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment at the time when Jaroslav Hašek was assigned to the unit. During the trip I came across an on-line version of Deník legionáře Josefa Holuba (The diary of legionnaire Josef Holub). I quickly browsed it, and the contents filled the heart of this geo-nerd with joy and enthusiasm. Berezno was NOT in Belarus, Cecil Parrott was barking up the wrong tree (no doubt he barked in a refined manner, befitting a former British diplomat). I triumphantly concluded that Berezno must be Berezne (names often change around here), and it  was located SOUTH of Sarny, within easy reach and without the need to cross any borders. I had always regarded Parrott solid on geography; his translation of Švejk has very few blips in this respect. But now Sir Cecil Parrott, the British diplomat and scholar, was lost in the Pripyat marshes and Jomar Hønsi; an unassuming, shy and shabbily dressed švejkolog of humble origins was on terra firma.

Kafe Neptun

Between Polyany and Berezne
In an upbeat mood I set off in the direction of Berezne. I took a maršrutka to Malynsk, walked 6 km to Polyany where I was suddenly overwhelmed by an incredible thirst. In Kafe Neptun I sat down, ordered a cold Lvivske pyvo, and couldn't care less about the swarm of flies that took interest in my person. No wonder they did, as I was dripping with sweat in the hot weather. At the table in front of me sat an old man in dirty green wellingtons. He stared at me so intensely that I became self-concious; checked that there was no drop under my nose, and no bird-shit in my hair, and no horse-dung on my sandals. In the end it was only curiosity. He asked where I was from, concluded that where I was from was very cold and then asked if we had картопля and капуста (potatoes and cabbage). I reassured him that we are very well off on both accounts. Then he told me about his family, they were eight people living in his house. He also asked me how old my father was and if he was healthy. Very well I said. Father is 88 and healthy and I was asked to pass on a greeting. He himself was only 78 and also healthy. Small encounters like this are amongst the most rewarding aspects of travelling, but unfortunately language barriers limit the possibilities.

Church near Berezne
The old man left and I decided on another beer. Unfortunately a truck-load of goods had just arrived, and the waitress prioritised counting melons and doing paperwork ahead of serving customers. I got mightily irritated and cursed the communist notions of customer service (or lack of it), which in this case was still apparent. I had visions before my eyes of grumpy employees of the "service sector" who demonstratively tended their nails in front of the customer, and doing so with the most unfriendly expression on their faces. This girl was not unfriendly though; it was just that it hadn't entered her head the customers come to Kafe Neptun in Polyany for other reasons than watching her counting melons. After she had got the bloody melons out of the way she even sat down for a chat, and presumably I told her in a friendly way that, yes: we don't have melons in our country but are self-sufficient in cabbage and potatoes.


A bus-stop on the road to Berezne
I continued onwards Berezne and it seemed to confirm that I was in the right place: there was a small lake and a small mansion, just as Josef Holub had said. Mission accomplished, I thought...

But: two years later I discovered that it was ME who had been barking up the wrong tree, not Cecil Parrott and Jaroslav Křížek! His Berezno in Belarus was indeed where the 1st Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment was located. To add to the confusion: they were also located at Berezna in 1917, but this was another place, near Zhitomir, and his was this place Holub wrote about! I admit I was totally off track, but I am not the only one. Haškologs in general are on thin ice; even the reliable Bibliografie Jaroslava Haška gets mixed up. The accounts given by Křížek, Pytlík and Parrott are suspiciously close to a description Adam Kříž gave of Hašek and the regiment's stay in Berezna in 1917, after the battle of Zborów. It seems to me that there were quite a few dogs around, and they were barking up awfully many trees (and  I was the last to join their ranks).

Later I discovered the details of Hašek's connection with Sarny. His regiment was stationed at Remczyca (15 km to the north) in May 1917, and this is the place where he appeared before a court of honour because of his infamous Czech Pickwick Klub. I was blissfully unaware of this connection and could easily have visited Remczyca (now Remchytsi). That is: if I had known about it! Amen!

Saturday 31 July 2010

Thinking loudly

The theme of this blog entry is Jaroslav Hašek and his activities in the aftermath of the Russian February Revolution. The information is mostly taken from Cecil Parrott's "The Bad Bohemian" and Jaroslav Křížek's "Jaroslav Hašek v revolučním Rusko". "Za svobodu" vol. I (Vaněk,Holeček,Medek) and Radlo Pytlík's "Toulavé house" have also been consulted. Material from PNP (fond B. Hůla) has also been consulted.

It is possible to think aloud, but some times it can have grave consequences. Jaroslav Hašek was prone to think very loudly and he didn't care at all who listened. He repeatedly bit the hand that fed, and he was also an expert on shooting himself in the foot. With the infamous satire "The Czech Pickwick Club" he achieved all three ...

The black hand

The first issue of "Revolution" contained
"The Czech Pickwick Club"
From 1916 the Czechoslovak Union started to recruit professionals and intellectuals from the ranks of volunteers and prisoners. Many of these were former k.u.k officers and other resourceful people. At the end of 1916 they organised themselves in the so-called "Klub spolupracovníků Svazu čs. spolků na Rusi" (The club of co-workers of the union of Czechoslovak organisations in Russia). Hašek was among those who joined the club. In the dispute between the the pan-slavist and conservative "Union" in Kiev and the western-oriented group in Petrograd, most of the co-workers club supported Petrograd (this group was loyal to Masaryk's National Council). An exception was a small group: 12 of the 72 members stood by the conservative and pan-slavist leadership of the "Union" (Za svobodu I). After the revolution in March they lost their footing, but were still in opposition to the Petrograd "západníky" (westerners) who now controlled the Czech revolutionary movement. This minority was jokingly called "Černá ruka" (Black hand), a name inspired by the Serb terrorist group who carried out the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The names of some of the members can be found in the archives of PNP. These are: Ladislav Grund, Jaroslav Hašek, Ivan Hájek, Čáska, Svoboda, Kadlec, Žd'árský, Pavlík, Matička, Dr. Skuthan.

From the archive of PNP (fond Bretislav Hůla): Hašek and Hájek ordered to report to their regiments.
The group eventually founded their own "independent political weekly" called "Revoluce". Hašek had in previous pre-revolutionary articles in "Čechoslovan" attacked some "westerners" as "provincial petit bourgeois politicians" but without mentioning names. This was at the height of the struggle between the Petrograd liberals and the Kiev conservatives. The slanging match took place in their respective weeklies "Čechoslovák" and "Čechoslovan" and Hašek had thrown his weight in behind the Kiev group. After the revolution (15 March) Hašek adapted somewhat to the new reality and even published an article critical of the old regime. In the article "Dark force", he directly attacked the corrupting influence of Rasputin. But somehow he hadn't quite put his old allegiances behind him.

During January and February he had been involved in a couple of episodes that reflected badly on the whole "Club of co-workers"  (see the previous blog entry). On 20 April Hašek and another "Black Hand" member (Ivan Hájek) were ordered to report to their regiment within a week. Hašek was told by that this was only due to his association with "Black Hand", to which he retorted that he was victimised by the second group in the club, which he termed the "Dirty Hand". On 3 May he handed in a hand-written manuscript to "Revoluce" and together with Hájek left for the front. Jaroslav Křížek claims that the two men were sent away from Kiev on request from the Čs. Brigade to prevent them from attending the upcoming 3rd meeting of the "Union of Czechoslovak Association in Russia", but he leaves is in the dark as to why these two particular members of "Black Hand" were singled out.

Klub Českých Pickwicků

Josef Patejdl became a prominent figure
in Czechoslovakia and ended his life
in Dachau.
On 6 May 6 (23 April old Russian calendar) "Revoluce" was published for the first time, and what a start! Hašek's story  was called "The Czech Pickwick Club" and he ridiculed members of the "Club of co-workers" and other leading western-oriented political activists. In contrast to earlier they were attacked and insulted with full names, and some of them were eventually to attain leading positions in the Czech revolutionary movement and in post war Czechoslovakia. Those on the receiving end were: Bohdan Pavlů, editor of "Czechoslovák" and Vladimír Chalupa, chairman of the Club of Associates. Hašek also lashed out at Josef Patejdl (vice chairman), Josef Kudela, Jaroslav Papoušek, Josef Fišer and a certain Šeba. We must assume that Hašek wrote the story as revenge for being sent to the front, but for the time being he burnt all the bridges back to Kiev.

Arrest and trial

The reaction was swift: Hašek was arrested, and at the 1st regiment HQ at Remczyca he appeared before a honorary court on May 16. Here he was forced to issue an apology. He read it out loud to the court members, and apparently did it with such an innocent and sincere face that the court members broke out in laughter. Still Bohdan Pavlů, editor of "Czechoslovák", and one of the insulted party, refused to print the apology. The article had also made him unpopular amongst other Czech volunteers.

From Remczyca
Writing "The Czech Pickwick Club" was the culmination of a troubled start to 1917. As we have seen Hašek was stripped of his journalistic and recruiting duties, and demoted to an ordinary soldier. He was also ousted from the "Club of co-workers" and thereby lost fixed income. A soldier is what he had wanted to become in June the previous year, but was declared unfit. Now he was apparently fit enough. He was moved around from post to post during May until he was finally assigned to the 1st regiments machine gun detachment. It was in this capacity he was sent to the front in June in preparation for the so-called Kerensky offensive.


Fortunately Hašek didn't share the fate of some of
his fellow brothers. 
The fall-out with his colleagues could have proved fatal for Hašek. By that we should not assume that there was any danger that Hašek would have executed by the "brothers"  (the Czech volunteers referred to each others as brothers) in the Czechoslovak Army. But now he was a common soldier which in itself was a perilous occupation. At the end of June, during and after the Kerensky offensive, fighting in Eastern Galicia flared up again and more than 100 brothers lost their lives in the ensuing battles that lasted until the end of July.

Fortunately Hašek survived this time, but regrettably didn't live long enough to tell us his version of events around the Pickwick Club. It is easy to imagine Marek sitting down to tell Švejk and others about his ordeal in front of the honorary court at Remczyca. It would surely have been as hilarious as any other episode in the novel ...

The unknown Švejk

This blog entry is focused on a few particular literary items, and of little interest to anyone looking for a travel letter. I have drawn extensively on Cecil Parrott's "A study of Švejk and the short stories" and Radko Pytlík's: "Kniha o Švejkovi".


Many admirers of Švejk may not be aware of the fact that their hero actually appeared in three different versions. Our man first saw light of day in 1911;  in five short stories published by the magazines "Karikatury" and "Dobrá kopa". These were published in books form in 1911 (banned, reissued in 1912) as "Dobrý voják Švejk a jiné podivné historky" (The good soldier Švejk and other strange stories). The first of those stories appeared in Josef Lada's magazine " Karikatury" on 22 May 1911, thus marking Švejk's official birthday.

The second version was written when Hašek was a recruiter, agitator and editor, working for the Czechoslovak Brigade in Russia in 1916/17. It is called "Dobrý voják Švejk v zajetí" (The good soldier Švejk in captivity) and is a short, satirical novel. Here the outbursts against Austria-Hungary  and her henchmen are far more direct than in the more humorous novel.

An early predecessor

King Oscar II of Sweden was well served
Even before Švejk entered this world Hašek had written stories with an army backdrop. The first of those appeared as early as 28 February 1902 in Národní listy, signed Jan Hašek. At the time the budding author was only 19 and still a student at the Czechoslavonic commercial academy in Prague. A few more stories revolving around the same theme appeared over the next five years.

Then on 30 January 1907 the anarchist paper "Nová Omladina" published a story which would have struck a cord with future readers of Švejk: Povídka o hodném švědském vojákovi (The story of a kind Swedish soldier). In this grotesque tale a Swedish soldier who is on guard duty in 25 degrees below zero. He mutilates himself to avoid falling asleep and freezing to death. Still death holds no fear for him as he will after all perish honourably for the sake of king Oscar and his dear fatherland. He also cherishes army property more than his own miserable life and is loyally dedicated to his officer. Although this unknown soldier has no name and does not utter a single word before he with a joyful heart dies for king Oscar, he is clearly a familiar figure to readers of Švejk. One important distinction though: this soldier died abjectly whereas Švejk survived by his wits ...

Five short-stories

Švejk captures and Italian donkey and a machine gun.
This 1911 incarnation of Švejk appears to be a rather dumb and good-natured figure (Forrest Gump springs to mind) and just as eager to serve his sovereign as his Swedish colleague was four years earlier. Although he has certain traits in common with the famous character from the novel, he lacks the sting and subtlety of the latter (any intended sting would presumably have been snuffed out by Austrian censorship). The stories are also quite different; there are no anecdotes for instance. The scene is Trento (Trient) in South Tirol where the Dual Monarchy built a huge border fortress to forestall any Italian attack up the Adige Valley. Švejk, just as in the novel, creates havoc by carrying out orders to the letter. It must be assumed that Hašek already at that stage lets his soldier harbour subversive intentions, although those are far less obvious than in the novel.

In the first story (Karikatury, 22.5 1911) Švejk forays across the border into Italy where he captures a donkey and a machine-gun. Before that he is locked up several times. His standard phrase Poslušně hlásím (I dutifully report) is already in place, so is the use of spoken Czech in dialogues.

The second story (Karikatury, 19.6 1911) starts with the author's musing on the institution of military clerics. Then, similarly to in the novel, Švejk is "headhunted" by a field chaplain, in this case Augustinus Kleinschrodt. Švejk receives his marching order from his feldkurát;  he sets out from the camp in Castel-Nuovo *), to buy wine from "Vöslava" (pres. Bad Vöslau) in Lower Austria. Švejk carries out the order to the letter, and travels by the train up the Agide Valley and through many a tunnel to fulfil his duty. What now follows is an anabasis by train all the way to Lower Austria and back via Graz, Zagreb, Trieste and Trento. On the way he is arrested and brought to the garrison in Korneuburg.

*) Parrott (p.100) identifies Castel-Nuovo  as Hercegnovi (now in Montenegro). Hans-Peter Laqueur however points out that this can not be the place Hašek had in mind as the story in the same breath makes references to places near Trento (Adige Valley, Merano), and that there is a Castelnuovo in Valsugana, east of Trento. There was also a railway line in this valley, which underpins the assumption that this was the place in question. It could also of course be an entirely different place near Trento, assuming that the author got the name wrong.

Švejk in Tripoli
In the third story (Karikatury, 17.7 1911) Švejk diligently resists attempts to superarbitrate him, a theme carried over into the first passages of the novel.

In story number four (Dobrá kopa, 21.7 1911) Švejk blows up a powder magazine by smoking his familiar pipe. He is the only survivor.

Finally, in the fifth story (Dobrá kopa, 28.7 1911), Švejk joins the budding k.u.k air force and flies off to Libya by accident, with his officer on board. Before getting this far he crashed his plane into the Danube. According to the story, the entire Austrian air force consists of 18 airships (that are impossible to operate) and five aeroplanes.

Hašek and Trento

Trento is a place that is mentioned in all three versions of Švejk so it is obvious that the author had some knowledge of it. Still it is unclear what circumstances inspired Hašek to locate the stories to this city. Václav Menger (1935) claims that Hašek was called up and served a few weeks here in 1906 with the 28th regiment before being "superarbitrated". Menger also wrote that he (Hašek) met Mussolini in Trento and that Hašek inspired the latter to write a book about the Hussite movement. Mussolini actually did write such a book, but there is a snag: the dictator-in-waiting was never in Trento at the time Hašek is supposed to have been there. In 1946 Menger published a revised version of his book from 1935 and now the references to Mussolini had been removed. It should be observed that Menger already in 1935 noted that the stories of meeting Mussolini a.o. were stories that Hašek himself told. Menger presumably came to the conclusion that it was nonsense and removed it.

Significantly there is no mention of any pre-war military service in his "Grundbuchsblatt" and other documents state that he was passed fit for military services as late as 1914. His wife Jarmila has no recollection of him having been called up, although Josef Lada claims he was (but adds that Hašek was declared unfit for service and sent home from Trento).

Radko Pytlík in Kniha o Švejkovi suggests a more plausible explanation: that Hašek drew inspiration from his friend Josef Mach who server in Trento, and probably from other army veterans as well.

Švejk in captivity

The five short stories have been translated to several foreign languages (the English translation can be found in Cecil Parrott's "The red commissar") and are relatively well known. This can not be said of "Dobrý voják Švejk v zajeti", a novel of slightly more than 100 pages that was published in Kiev in 1917 and also appeared as a serial in "Čechoslovan". Judging by a reference to Austrian emperor Karl I (Franz Jospeph  died on November 21 1916), the bulk of the novel must have been written from December 1916 onwards.

This novel does move Švejk closer towards the ultimate version,  but there are still major differences. The style is similar to the propaganda pieces he wrote for "Čechoslovan" at the time and there are few dialogues in comparison to the novel. Cecil Parrott even wondered if the story was written by Hašek at all, so far removed is it in style from his peacetime writing.

Thalerhof, one of three prisoner camps for "Zivilisten"
in Austria-Hungary.
Švejk himself has a comparatively low-key role, he tells no anecdotes, and is still decidedly not as subtle and clever as his counterpart in the novel. His biographical details are somewhat different. He owns a cobblers shop in Vinohrady, and his assistant Bohuslav wheels him off to the draft commission, thus taking the place of Mrs Müllerová. From then on he is subjected to much the same ordeal as we know from the novel: arrested, led to police HQ and a lunatic asylum. However, here he is first sent to the concentration camp at Thalerhof by Graz (like many Czechs actually were), then to an unnamed institution for the mentally ill in Vienna (probably Steinhof), and later to a well known asylum in Hall in Tirol. Only after this does he join the army in České Budějovice (the stay here plays an insignificant role), and is from then on largely on track with the novel, moving to Bruck an der Leitha/Királyhida before being dispatched to the front in Galicia.

Elements from Hašek's own time in the k.u.k army are now introduced and are quite similar to the description in the novel. The observant reader would still notice that the persons are changed about. Lukáš and Ságner play a minor role; instead Dauerling takes on part of the role that Lukáš has in the novel. A few other junior Austrian officers also feature more prominently -  Sondernummer and Althof being amongst them. Marek, Jurajda, Baloun, Vaněk and Dub don't figure at all. The affair with Kakonyi is already in place, but without Vodička, and otherwise slightly altered. Kakonyi now lives in Poszoni utca 13 (not Soproni utca 16) and owns a stationary shop, not an ironmongers as he does in the novel. The dog theft was originally in Bruck, not in Prague (and the beneficiary is Dauerling, not Lukáš). Colonel Schröder's place is taken by Schlager, but the latter is far less prominent.

The details from Királyhida seem more authentic and verifiable than in the novel, which is only natural as Bruck/Királyhida would have been fresher in the author's mind. The trip to the front is only briefly described, but interestingly it diverges completely somewhere in the Carpathians. Sanok is not mentioned at all, and the march battalion travel by train even beyond Sambor and gets involved in fighting near a place called Kamenec (not yet identified). As far as we know, Hašek's unit was only involved in minor skirmishes before Sokal on 25 July 1915, so where the inspiration for this story comes from is unclear. We are told there is a river, perhaps the Bug? Perhaps Kamenec is Kamionka Strumiłowa? At the front Dauerling asks to be shot in the arm but Švejk misfires (or did he?) and dispatches him to the eternal trenches. Finally the good soldier lets himself get captured by the Russians.

Hauptwache, Brucker Lager.
The geographical details apart, the attacks on Austrian officials are more personal and direct. An example: Prague police commissioners Klima and Slavíček are both given thinly disguised death threats. These attacks were understandingly toned down in the novel; instead of being strung up, the above-mentioned officials continued to serve state security also in Czechoslovakia. Hašek was at the time (1921) under investigation for bigamy and was also deeply resented in wide circles because he abandoned the Czechoslovak army corps in 1918, effectively being branded a traitor. In this situation the last thing he needed was a libel suit (or worse).

The good soldier Švejk in captivity may not be be the greatest piece of literature; propaganda is a more fitting description. Still it was popular amongst his readers, but it is always easier to address a congregation that is already converted to some cause, in this case the fight for Czech and Slovak nationhood. But this is no denigration of Hašek's work. At the time he was ardently committed to his cause and put his effort into that rather than in entertaining the masses.

As far as know the novel has only been translated once; to Russian in 1959 (Гашек, Ярослав. Бравый солдат Швейк в плену. Page 9–102)

For švejkologs only

Despite their limited value to the general reading public, the first and second version of our anti-hero are of great value to "švejkologs". They give insight into the way Hašek worked, how he used snippets of facts from an incredible array of sources (and he remembered the facts quite accurately), and masterfully put it all together.

In this respect "Captivity" is even more impressive than the novel, the short stories less so. Particularly meticulous is his description of psychiatric institutions and personalities, but all the factual descriptions are generally solid, more so than in the novel. The number of places and real persons mentioned is as high (per page) as in the novel, but the fictive figures are somewhat fewer due to the lack of monologues.

The five short stories I find mildly amusing, but bland. Švejk in captivity is not even amusing, but compensates by being far more educational. Unfortunately it soon becomes tedious in its tirade against the Central Powers. Here I ought to add that I knew the novel Švejk very well before I read any of the predecessors, so I was somehow destined to be disappointed.

Another  interesting subject for "švejkologs" are the themes that are common  to both "Captivity" and the novel. There are many of these, and some of them appear in slightly different versions. Here is just a few examples: Gyula Kakonyi's address changed between the versions and so did the route to the front. This shows that we should take apparent "facts" in the novel with a pinch of salt.  In some instances "Captivity" provides additional information that the novel lacks; thanks to the former it is for instance possible to locate the hotel in Kutná Hora where captain Wenzl (later major Wenzl) got into trouble and called Kadettstellvertreter Zítko "Czech rabble". There are also examples of nearly word for word reproductions, the "CV" of Konrad Dauerling is an example.

Despite it's shortcomings (I hardly smiled once when I read it), the little novel "The good soldier Švejk in captivity" is a vital stepping stone on the road to the novel that was to become famous throughout the world. For researchers it is a must, as it highlights aspects of Hašek's creative methods; the huge and varied number of details, and his reuse of items used in his previous publishing. The character Švejk evolves, an evolution that continues also into the novel. Hašek also introduces fragments from his own experiences, a method that he was to develop to great effect in his upcoming magnum opus. 

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Tourist in Kyiv

My reason for visiting Kyiv was of course Hašek, but this letter is largely written from a tourist's perspective. And Kyiv deserves far  more visitors than it gets. Perhaps EURO 2012 football tournament will serve as an eye-opener for "westerners"? The Ukrainian capital is a vibrant and welcoming metropolis, with many fine churches and monuments. It also has an attractive location on the banks of the river Dnieper.


The practical arrangement was easy: everything was organised by Halja Karpenko, the Mother Theresa of Lviv. She had contacted a friend of hers, Tamara Cheradze, who had arranged accommodation for me on the western outskirts of the city. I was picked up on the platform on the impressive Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi by Tamara and her husband, and even driven to the hotel. The hospitality  was impeccable but I never saw my benefactors again, so had little chance to express my gratitude. The hotel was clean and functional although the location was not ideal (but at least I became a seasoned metro-traveller).

Digression: Georgia 1987

Stalin guarding the railway
station entrance in Gori (1987).
It struck me that this was the first time in many years that I had met a "grusin" (Georgian). The previous time was in 2002 when a waiter on a Greek island declared that Stalin was "our father". I found it futile to argue and oppose this  paternal reverence, although I let the word mass-murderer slip.  I had visited Tblisi already in 1987 as member of a travel group. At the time travelling in a group was the only practical option for tourists who wanted to visit the Soviet Union.

One day in Tblisi two of us departed from the group, and set off for Gori, the birthplace of a certain dictator. Here one of the few remaining museum and memorial of the mentioned  dictator could be found. The rest had been removed during Khrushchev's de-stalinisation. When I asked our Danish-speaking guide if we had the "KGB's approval to go there", he said with a grin: "Ja. Fordi jeg er KGB" (Yes, because I am the KGB). At Gori station a portrait of Stalin welcomed us, and on the city square stood a huge statue. There was also a museum, located in the house where he was born. Around the house was erected Greek columns, and the whole thing looked decidedly ridiculous. The price item on exhibition was a railway carriage (inherited from the Romanovs) where Stalin met Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta in 1945. Inheriting a railway carriage from the Romanovs remind me of motives from George Orwell's "Animal Farm". The museum is still operating, but the statue was removed  from the square  in 2010. 

Apart from this it was pleasant enough to be a tourist in Georgia, with friendly people, good weather and good food. An engineer who found out I shared his profession wanted me to get hold of Intel microprocessors for him, an undertaking I politely declined.

Kyiv city centre

Former Hotel Praha, where Hašek (at times) worked as
editor of "Čechoslovan" from July 1916 to February 1918.
Back to post-soviet Kyiv. The metro is efficient but very crowded. Built in the 1960s it seems to be modelled on the Moscow metro, at least with respect to decoration. It is by far the most convenient way of getting around. Buses are often ramshackle and even more crowded. I spent most of the time in Kiev in the city centre, admiring the fine churches and other landmarks. Still I dedicated time to places associated with Hašek, i.e. the few I was aware of back in 2010.

The focal point of the former POW's activities in the city was Hotel Praha on Volodomyrska 30 (now 36), which housed the offices of "Čechoslovan". The building is now closed, but the plaque with Hašek's name is still there. The location is in the centre, not far from St. Sophia cathedral (Собор Святої Софії) and the monument to Bohdan Khemlnytsky and other places of interest nearby. Close to it is also the university where the reserve units of the Czech volunteers had their barracks. This is surely the spot where Hašek was "superarbitrated" in 1916 (again I wasn't aware of these circumstances in 2010).

Podvalnyi prospekt on a map from 1914.
The clock tower of Saint Sophia to the right.
I also spent time trying to locate other places associated with Hašek, without much luck. Amongst the once I missed was "Cafe Podvalská" where an incident between the author and a Russian officer allegedly took place (Radko Pytlik). In Hašek's satire The Czech Pickwick club a cafe in Podvalná ulice 1 is mentioned, and presumably is the same place. For some reason the name Podvalná has been change to Podvalská in a subsequent version of the story, but the older version printed in Jaroslav Křížek's "Jaroslav Hašek v revolučním Rusko" must be the correct one. Some times "corrections" achieve the exact opposite effect.

I even spent our looking for "Cafe Podolskoje" which Pavel Gan claims was the stage of the mentioned incident and was located by the boat landing stage at Poštova ploša. Hašek's Podvalná ulice can't be located but Podvalnyi prospekt is close enough *). It was located not far from the offices of "Čechoslovan". The small street has since passed into history: this area of Kyiv seems to have been completely rebuilt.

It is still unclear where the incident between Hašek and the officer took place as neither Pytlík nor Gan indicate their sources.

*) Thanks to Jaroslav Šerák for helping me to locate it.


View from Kyiv across towards Darnitsya. On March 1
 1918 the Czechoslovak Army Corps and the Bolsheviks
retreated across the the bridge  ahead of  the advancing
On the eastern bank of the river Dniepr is Darnytsia, a sprawling suburb of high-rise flats, in parts improbably ugly. I walked through most of it, looking for the site of the transit-camp where Hašek spent a few days after his capture in 1915. He surely also visited the camp as a recruiter for the Czechoslovak Brigade in 1916. The camp was right by the railway station, located in the pine forest. Now there is obviously no trace of it, in it's place there is a large and quite modern railway station.

Another exceptionally ugly spot is Vulitsja Jaroslava Hasheka. I spent ages finding it, and in the end what I found a wide space of litter-strewn wasteland. Houses on both sides, yes. But this "street" is some of the strangest urban sights I've ever come across. I was quite happy to jump on the train back to the agreeable centre of Kyiv.

Boryspil, a downpour and a Big Mac

Boryspil: this is where my "reserch trip" ended.
Another half day out was to Boryspil (rus. Borispol) where our hero was locked away in spring 1917 after having insulted the Imperial Russian army gravely by juxtaposing their incompetence and his own back side. Here he was apparently quite well off, "enjoying the wine sent him by the ladies of Kiev".

My own trip there again went via Darnytsia, jumping off the metro to take a bus. There were direct trains but I was incapable of locating the platform at the enormous Kyiv Passasjyrski. Presumably  it left from "primiski voksal" (sub-urban station) next door.

It was still a smooth ride but when I arrived the gates of heaven opened. In the torrential rain I sat down in a cafe, wrote on the blog, and coincidently got slightly sozzled. It is is situations like this a computer is a mans best friend. Otherwise I would have been bored to death, waiting for the rain to stop. That was all there was to my "research trip" to Boryspil. I took the bus back, had a Big Mac in Darnytsia and then jumped on the metro back to Kyiv. I never got to know exactly where my hero was locked up in 1917, and I'm still none the wiser. What I have learnt since is that the Czechoslovak Army Corps had some barracks here, so this might have been the place where Hašek was put behind bars.

Turning west

I was not going to emulate Hašek's journey step by step. The reasons were obvious: we don't know all the details of where he went. Secondly: doing a return trip to the southern Ural to follow him to the POW-camp and back would be too time-consuming. Instead I will cover Totskoye when I reach that region. For now I was happy with Kyiv, an attractive city which I could easily be persuaded to return to. After Kyiv I would attempt to follow in Hašek's steps in the second half of 1916. Therefore the next stop was to be Sarny, a six hour journey westwards on the Kyiv-Berlin express.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Český patriot

This letter is about Jaroslav Hašek's release from Totskoye prisoner camp and his activities in the Czechoslovak revolutionary movement in Russia until the collapse of the Romanov dynasty in March 1917. The content is based on publications by Jaroslav Křížek, Radko Pytlík, Cecill Parrott, Rudolf Medek, František Langer, Georg Wurzer, Elsa Brändström, Pavel Gan a.o. The dates quoted should be read with a sceptical eye: few of the sources indicate whether the reference is to the Gregorian or the Julian (Orthodox)  calendar (the Gregorian calendar was 13 days ahead).


Hašek enlisted in the Czechoslovak Army,
1st regiment, 7th company, June 29 1916.
In the spring of 1916 emissaries from the newly formed  Czecholovak Rifle Brigade (former Česká družina) provided Hašek with a way out of the prisoner camp in Totskoye. He escaped from hell. During the winter 17,000 out of the 25,000 inmates died from typhus (according to Elsa Brändström, - Brusilov estimates 6,000 out of 16,000). Hašek had himself contracted the disease but otherwise he seemed to have had a relatively comfortable existence, even working as a secretary for the camp commander. The official Russian policy was to give Slavs preferential treatment, and Hašek may have benefited from this. On 21 April 1916 a decree was issued by the tsar that in principle would allow the release of all Czech prisoners but this was never fully implemented, partly due to inertia or downright sabotage in the Russian chain of command. It should also be added that the preferential treatment given to the Slavs (and principally the Czechs) was never consistently carried out, often for the very reasons quoted above. Many Russians were distrustful of the Czechs ("once a traitor, always a traitor") and many a camp commander had little sympathy for the their cause. Some of them were even of German origin, for instance colonel Fleichner at Totskoye.

Czech recruiters were active in the camps and their paper Čechoslovák was widely distributed. Still there was no great rush to get out. Very few Czechs let themselves be persuaded to join the volunteers at the front, but many more took the opportunity to work in factories. As soon as the typhus was out of the way they obviously (and understandably)  envisaged life in the camp as preferable to life at the front, and a shell factory was also a better deal. The recruitment approach was often heavy-handed and Czechs who refused to join were subjected to harsh treatment (Wurzer, Brändström).

Hašek was one of the few exceptions to the general reluctance to go back to the front: he volunteered for service and seemingly had to pay a “price” by converting to the Russian-Orthodox church (Gan). He was released from Totskoye (date not known), travelled via Kiněl, Samara, Penza and Tambov to Kiev.  On 29 June 1916 he was assigned to the 1st Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment, 7th company  (1. československý střelecký pluk, 7. rota) but was declared unfit for regular service (this also happened to him in the k.u.k army). In effect he was “superarbitrated”, just like his literary hero although he formally remained on the regiments books until April 1918. The 1st regiment was the direct descendant of  Česká Družina,  the original Czech unit of volunteers. Thus he was part of a select group, at the time the number of volunteers hardly exceeded 1,500.

Recruiter and writer

According to Jaroslav Křížek he was sent to the regiment HQ at Bereżna (now in Belarus) in the Pripyat marshes to work as a clerk for his regiment. He can not have stayed here long because already on 12 July (25) he was assigned to the Union of Czechoslovak associations in Russia as a recruitment agent, and had started to write again.

He was based in Kiev and from there he visited nearby camps, trying to persuade prisoners to join the armed struggle against Austria-Hungary and Germany. The transit camp at Darnica which Hašek knew from his ordeal the year before, was an important recruitment post. Here Slav prisoners were separated from Germans and Hungarians and subjected to targeted propaganda. His friend and later biographer František Langer testifies to  Hašek's effectiveness as a recruiter. He remarks that Hašek now for the first time seemed to fight FOR something, whereas he before the war he was always fighting AGAINST something. He had in Langer's words turned into a solid Czech patriot.

A most disagreeable  tom-cat

On 10 (23) July  the short story “Osudy pana Hurta” (The fate of Mr. Hurt) appeared in “Čechoslovan”, a Kiev-based weekly to which he was to become a key contributor in the next 18 months. In this first short story he ridicules a Czech who refused to join his countrymen in the fight Austria-Hungary. At the time only a trickle of Czech and Slovak prisoners wished to return to the front, so Mr Hurt was in the majority. Unlike Hašek most of the prisoners were more interested in seeing out the war than destroy Austria-Hungary, but the writer had little sympathy for them.

On 17 (30) July the famous "Povídka o obráze císaře Františka Josefa" (The story of the picture of emperor Franz Joseph) published. The story alerted Vienna and led to him being charged with high treason in absentia. In this story a tom-cat soils unsellable pictures of the emperor, a theme that reoccurs (somewhat transformed) in the opening chapter of Švejk, and even in Bruck an der Leitha where colonel Schröder puts his finger in the mess that a cat has left on the map of the battlefield.

Supporting the Romanovs

Jindříšek - his factory produced
musical instruments
Hašek became popular both as a writer, speaker and recruiter and his standing in Kiev grew steadily. At this time he advocated the official policies of the group who now dominated the "Union of Czechoslovak associations in Russia": loyalty to the tsar and the installation of a Romanov prince as a future Czech king! (Again a theme touched upon in Švejk).  The leaders of the Kiev group were the rich industrialist Václav Vondrák and Jindřich Jindříšek, both arch-conservative. This speaks volume about Hašek's political “flexibility”. The former anarchist (and future Bolshevik) lent his support to an archaic conservative regime, in a Central European context it could even be classed as reactionary. The logic behind it may be at first be hard to grasp, but is understandable seen in perspective of Hašek’s dislike of the Habsburg monarchy (probably the only consistent political stance he held during his lifetime). He would seemingly support anyone who fought the despised Dual Empire. Other considerations were of secondary importance. Hašek viewed the Kiev leadership of the "Union" as the group most capable to achieving this goals, a stance he clearly spelled out and explained in the article "What we owe the Russian Czechs". Another explanatory factor was that the Hašek already held pan-slavist and a russophile views.

At the front

Units from the 1st Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment served
in these places in 1916. Hašek surely visited.
Until September Hašek split his time between recruitment trips to camps around Kiev and writing for “Čechoslovan”. He published  his own stories in the paper but also wrote serious articles, signed  Dr.  V. Stanko. His contribution was first and foremost anti-Austrian agitation, and his numerous short-stories served the same purpose.

From September 1916 to February 1917 he  split his time between the front and Kiev. From the section of the front that was held by his own regiment, he wrote several Letters from the front (Dopisy z fronty), describing life at the front interspersed with propaganda. He also claimed to be writing the history of the 1. rifle regiment, but this document can not be traced. However, after the war, a history of the regiment of the regiment WAS published, edited by František Langer. Apart from that he wrote a number of other items, some of them criticising the Petrograd opposition to the Kiev-based leadership of the "Union of Czechoslovak associations in Russia".

In these stories he reveals  a detailed knowledge of history and he also appears a Czech nationalist and patriot to the bone. In one of the letters he mentioned Xenophon and his anabasis, another theme that would occur in Švejk some five years later. This is one of many examples of reuse of motives from his earlier writing, transformed and exposed to the world through the novel  Švejk. Most companies of the 1st rifle regiment held positions by the river Stochod, their HQ was from 15 (28) August moved from Bereżna to Okonsk. The Czechs were mostly on reconnaissance duties, but took some losses in skirmishes with the Germans. When the Brusilov offensive petered out in October 1916, the front stabilised and there was little activity until the summer next year. Hašek's unit remained at the front until the end of the year when they were relocated to Remczyca north of Sarny.

Troubles brewing

Васи́лий Гу́рко, head of Stavka from
 November 1916.  Incompetent despite
 NOT having his hand up his backside?
The editorial offices of Čechoslovan  were located in Hotel Praha where Hašek also spent most of his time when he was in Kiev. His alcohol intake was now reduced to a manageable level (compared to before the war) and he was very diligent and productive. He did visit cafes though, amongst his favourites was "Česká koruna" opposite the opera.

But Hašek wouldn't have been Hašek if he had kept totally sober and out of trouble. On at least two instances  he insulted Russian officers and it was also reported that he was very  indiscreet in his talk and was quoted: "even with one hand up my arse I could conduct this war better than the entire Russian staff". In February 1917 he was punished and imprisoned in Borispol (east of Kyiv by the airport). Here he spent a couple of weeks and put the finishing touches on his short novel "The good soldier Švejk in captivity". By his own admission he didn't suffer any great hardships, but still insisted he was there "in the name of truth".

Hašek had at this time put his eggs in one basket, that of the arch-conservative resident Czechs in Russia. Little did they know what was in store, that the Romanov dynasty that had been in power for more than 300 years was about to be toppled. The revolution of March 1917 turned the situation upside down. It still appears that most Czech soldiers welcomed the changes, although most of their political leaders in Kiev now lost their footing. A chapter was closed, and an a new and equally dramatic was to open ...

Monday 26 July 2010

On a sinking ship

This letter is an attempt at describing the complex political and military situation in Russia  at the time of Jaroslav Hašek’s  release from captivity in June 1916 .


Jaroslav Hejduk, the standard bearer of Družina.
The Russian Empire of 1914 counted around 100,000 Czechs and Slovaks residents, the overwhelming majority of them Czechs. Most of them were Russian subjects, but there was also a number of Austrian citizens. The outbreak of war caused consternation in their ranks as they were as citizens of an enemy power subjected to confiscation of property and even deportation. It became paramount to prove themselves as loyal citizens, and after meetings with higher authorities (even the tsar),  they were allowed to create Česká Družina, a unit of volunteers that was to operate within the Russian Third army.

Initially their headcount was a mere 750, split across three companies. The creation of the unit was formally approved on 20 August 1914, and it became operative during October.  They were sent to the Carpathians, mainly to carry out reconnaissance, propaganda and infiltration activities. In the beginning officers were Russians, with Czechs gradually entering amongst the lower ranks. Still as late as 1917 all regimental commanders were Russians.

At the end of 1914 prisoners of war were allowed to joine, provided that the applied immediately after the capture. There was initially concern about allowing them into the Russian army as this was regulated by the Geneva convention. In the first group of 300 prisoners that enlisted in December 1914, there was a very prominent person. Bohdan Pavlů was a young Slovak intellectual  and from 1915 he became editor of Czechoslovák in Petrograd, and take up an important role in the Czechoslovak movement in Russia. After the war he held positions in the diplomatic service.

Družina was on  2 February 1916 formally renamed the Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment and on  17 April the Czecholovak Rifle Brigade and was split into two regiments. In June 1916 the number of volunteers was still only 1500, but in August 1916 a new influx of volunteers from the prisoners ranks were added, and the regiments now counted 8 companies each. The unit was later to form the core of the Czechoslovak Army Corps (after the war generally known as the Czechoslovak Legion). 


Meanwhile Czechs and Slovaks in Russia started to organise themselves politically. The Union of Czechoslovak associations in Russia  (Svaz Čs. spolků na Rusi) was founded in Moscow in March 1915. The political leadership located in Petrograd, and this is also where they founded and published their own weekly Čechoslovák.

The term " Čechoslovák " itself is worth study in its own right. It was used already early in the war, although almost all the leaders and members of these organisations were Czechs. The Czechs made up more than 95 per cent of the total headcount. Of the original 750 members of Družina, only 7 were Slovaks. In the Slovak language the word "Čechoslovák" is generally  hyphenated, giving the impression that the Slovaks were more on equal terms than they really were. Politics and language will forever remain inseparable...

Josef Dürich: betting on the
 loosing horse
Other large Czech communities in Russia were found in Moscow, Warsaw and Kiev. The latter group was particularly numerous and was the one closest to the centre of military operations. The leadership of Družina was thus based in Kiev.  The Kiev  group was controlled by resident Czechs, which were mainly conservative and loyal to the tsar. The Petrograd group on the other hand, consisted of many former POW's, amongst them Bohdan Pavlů, leant towards western democratic ideas. From February 1916 these were aligned with the newly created "Czechoslovak National Council" (Českosloveská Národni Rada).

The council, based in Paris, was headed by Tomáš Masaryk, the architect and undisputed leader of the Czec/Slovak independence movement. Masaryk had gone into exile in 1914 and immediately started to organize the Czech and Slovak resistance abroad. He was himself of mixed origin, a Czechoslovak in the true meaning of the word. He had until 1914 not advocated the break-up of Austria-Hungary, advocating a federal solution giving the Slavs parity with Austro-Germans and Hungarians, but the new situation made him change his mind.

In the spring of 1916 there was an acrimonious split amongst the Czechs in Russia. The Kiev group took control of the "Union", the Petrograd  group  was marginalised, and the influence of the National Council reduced. The Kiev faction started to publish "Čechoslovan" (the first issue was on 2 April), a weekly that had gone out of business at the beginning of the war, but until then had been the only Czech-language periodical  in Russia.  From Paris the National Council dispatched Josef Dürich to reassert their authority, but instead he aligned himself with the Kiev group, advocating a Romanov prince on the throne of a future Czech/Slovak kingdom. The leadership of the "Union" was transferred to Kiev. It should be added that the squabbling was not only about political direction; many were dissatisfied with the relative lack of success in recruiting new volunteers. There was also disappointment that despite promises to release the Slav prisoners, this dragged on and on, and even general Brusilov voiced his concern in support for the Slavs. It has been alleged that the arch-conservative prime minister Boris Stürmer deliberately sabotaged the release of the prisoners. He was on good terms with Dürich and this obviously reflected badly on the latter in the eyes of many Czechs. 

Ironically it was this group that Jaroslav Hašek aligned with before Russian February revolution. But the fall of the Romanovs (tsar Nicholas II abdicated on 15 March 1917) removed their political support and put the Petrograd group firmly in the driving seat. Masaryk and other Czech and Slovak politicians also had very good connections with members of the new Russian provisional government, whose liberal democratic attitudes they often shared. Josef Dürich and the Kiev conservatives were thus politically dead; and their dream of seeing a Romanov prince on future Czech throne became a historical absurdity.


The military situation also took a dramatic turn at the time Hašek approached the end of his stay in the Totskoye POW camp. On 4 June the Brusilov offensive had started. It was brought forward to alleviate the precarious situation of the French at Verdun and take pressure off Italy at the Isonzo front. Unusually the attack was not concentrated on a certain point; the Russians advanced along the whole Austrian section of the front. Nor were the Russians significantly superior in numbers, but they still managed to break through quickly and push about 60 km westwards. Dubno, Brody, Czernowitz, and Lutsk were again on Russian hands. Brusilov introduced some novel concepts: aerial reconnaissance and the use of shock troops (Norman Stone).

The result of Russian "human wave" tactics
His fellow generals were slow and hesitant in the follow-up and the Russian army soon reverted to the "human wave" tactic with catastrophic losses. During the summer and autumn, the offencive petered out; Germany moved in reinforcements from the West  to stiffen up the wobbling Austrians and the front was stabilised. The Dual Monarchy was saved for now, but the cost was frightening. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed, captured and “missing”. No doubt many of the missing later joined the Czechoslovak Army Corps. Russia lost a staggering one million men in dead, wounded and captured. These losses on top of the disasters of 1915 seriously undermined morale and eventually contributed  to the collapse and revolutions of 1917. In other areas the Brusilov offensive was also important; it may have saved the allies in France and Italy and also persuaded Romania to enter the war.


Petrograd in turmoil, March 1917
The winter of 1916-1917 was relatively quiet on the Eastern front, as none of the exhausted parties took any major initiatives. The front was established along the Stochod river down to Dorna Vatra in the Romanian Carpathians. Territorially Russia was better off than a year before but the internal fabric was crumbling with protests, hunger marches and strikes commonplace. On 8 March*) 1917 the revolution started and a within a week Nicholas II was forced to resign (here is his letter of resignation). Russia was the first of the four  large autocratic WW1 belligerents to collapse,  and it was to have far reaching consequences, not only for the immediate future, but also for the rest of the 20th century.

*) Called the February Revolution, as it started on 23 February according to the Julian calendar.


The information contained in this entry is largely  based  on "Za svobodu", a four-volume illustrated history of the Czechoslovak Revolutionary Movement  in Russia from 1914 to 1920. Further, books by František LangerVictor M. Fic and Jaroslav Křížek. To a lesser degree Norman Stone, Radko Pytlík and Cecil Parrott, have been consulted. 


This letter is  a tourist’s tale from a Ukrainian city, of spurious relevance to the theme of this blog.

Zhytomyr (Жито́мир) may have been one of the places on the whole trip that I have been aware of the longest. I was a kid of perhaps 7-8 years when I opened an illustrated history book “Verden i bilder 1919-1955” (The world in pictures). Volume III dealt with WW2, and a couple of horror pictures have been imprinted on my mind ever since. One title was: “Kampene om byen Sjitomir var kort med hardSlik så byen ut etter at russerne trakk seg ut”. I don’t think it’s necessary to translate, the picture says it all. The city was overrun by Wehrmacht in July 1941 and almost totally destroyed.

The connection between Jaroslav Hašek and Zhytomyr is vague. Václav Menger mentions it in his book Jaroslav Hašek, zajatec číslo 294217, and claims the column of prisoners that were driven from Khorupan into the Russian interior in 1915, had a break here. Although Menger is an unreliable source it is perfectly logical that the sea of worn-out Austrian prisoners in dirty Felduniformen passed this spot.   [JH, Nov 26 2012: this information is now confirmed - Jaroslav Kejla, 1972]. Zhytomyr is on the main road from Dubno to Kiev.

There is also no dbout that Hašek paid the city one or more visists during his stay in the Ukraine in 1916 and 1917. Menger also mentions that they visited the Jewish quarter. To judge by the description he knew the city well. The Jewish quarter has obviously passed into history, and so has the considerable Polish influence. Both groups were victims of pre-meditated genocide in the dark years of 1941-44, and the Poles had also suffered terribly from Stalin’s reign of terror in the years leading up to WW2. The area also had a sizeable German minority who obviously also had a hard time under Stalin, particularly after 1944.
Václav Menger
K večeru došli do Žitomíru. Když procházeli židovskou čtvrtí, vyhrnula se jim vstříc celá židovská obec, vítající je křikem dětí, devotní úslužností starých a dvojsmyslnými pohledy mladých Židovek. Židovští kluci nabízeli jim rozmanité zboží a starší výměnu peněz. Než došli na náměstí, byl každý lehčí o několik grošů, a Hašek téměř o celý rubl, za který nakoupil tabák a cukr. Na konci města pohltila je mamutí budova. Byla to pověstná ťjurma (věznice), kterou ruská vláda, věčně ve strachu žijící, vybudovala, aby vystavila na odiv svou humánnost a spravedlnost. Nebýti těžkých mříží a vysokých zdí, ničím by toto monstrósní stavení nepřipomínalo vězení.

Mykhailivska vulitsa
In 2010 times are fortunately better despite all the troubles that Ukraine has experienced both during and after Soviet times. The bus ride from Dubno (via Rivne) was comfortable and quick, and the roads were quite good. From Rivne to Kiev we travelled on the main artery from Lviv. It has seen some investment ahead of Euro 2012. To call it a motorway would be to push it, but the traffic flow was smooth and the pot-holes few and far between.

The bus station at Zhytomyr is 3 km out of town, but with plenty of time to spare I afforded myself a walk into the centre. Finding a place to sleep was less straight-forward, Zhytomyr is no tourist metropolis. Helpful locals in the end pointed me to a couple of high-rise monstrosities that Breshnev would have been proud of (and surely they belonged to Intourist in the past). But a bed is a bed, even at Hotel Ukraina and one doesn’t always have to sleep in pleasant surroundings to enjoy life. The hotel restaurant was very welcoming, and I was even back in the world of Wi-Fi (in Dubno I was confined to a computer shop who took pity on me and let me use their network for a few hryvni).

Владимир Ильич Ульянов
I also had an early and expected encounter, that of Lenin on a square. I had foreseen several meetings with him, but not this early. In western Ukraine the Lenins and other symbols of the Soviet Union have been removed, and I didn’t expect them to appear this side of the Dniepr. There was also more Russian heard on the streets than further west. Still all street signs and other official signs were in Ukrainian. The more Russian feel in this city will also have historical reasons. Volyn became part of Russia after the second partition of Poland (1793). In the inter-war period western Volyn with Lutsk, Dubno, Rivne (Rovno) and Sarny rejoined the resurrected Poland, whereas eastern Volyn with Zhytomyr remained under Russian (read Soviet) control.

Tourist in the Schulz brewery
Back to 2010 and happier times. The city offered the microbrewery Schulz, who served very decent beers in their impressive cellar vaults. Located on the central square, the entrance was easy to overlook and I almost walked past it. I was given a tour of the microscopic brewery by the friendly staff who obviously were not used to visitors from that far away.

A few hundred meters away, Vulica Mykhailivska is a pleasant pedestrian street in the centre, but I discovered it too late to be able to enjoy a morning coffee in the sun.

I had decided to take the train to Kiev, but at the station the prospects looked grim. Such a slow-moving queue is hard to imagine, and in the end I jumped on the train without a ticket. The fierce lady who checked the tickets was not impressed and I was in no uncertain terms told that this was not the way to travel on Ukrainian Railways. But, importantly: she let me off the hook and I got away with paying the normal fare (I think). 

Vychid na kyivsku platformu - exit to the Kyiv platform
In Koziatyn there was a change of trains, and here I stumbled across another Lenin, this time inside the station building. By a wooden table outside the station I witnessed an animated political conversation, regarding Lenin's legacy, the post-communist situation in the Ukraine. One of those participating in the debate knocked his glass over, but I will never know if this was the result of his frustration with Yanukovich or Yushenko (or whoever) or copious quantities of vodka. It is very likely that both elements played a part.

The break was short and I was soon on the way to Kiev, the main point of interest for any haškolog travelling in the Ukraine ...