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.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

More important than Lonely Planet

Munich was not initially meant to be part of my Jaroslav Hašek trail. The author has probably been there, but not on his 1915-1920 route which I aimed to follow. He is known to have visited Freistaat Bayern in 1904 and wrote some amusing stories about it, amongst them one about football in Bavaria and one about an extremely fat tourist guide. Hašek seem to have liked the Bavarians; he made fun of them of course, but without the venom he reserved for the Austrians. In one story he tells how he was locked up for vagrancy, he didn't have the required 3 Marks ready, but was well looked after in the arrest and gave Bavarian officialdom a sympathetic write-up afterwards. Munich is a fine city by all standards, the Zweite Heimat, the city many Germans would like to live in if they could choose a second home.

The motivation for visiting the city was entirely different: Dr Pavel Gan. He is a retired lecturer of Russian and Ukrainian language and culture from Göttingen Univeristy , an expert on slawistik and not the least; an expert on Jaroslav Hašek. When it comes to Hašek's time in Russia, the historical context and the environs, there is probably no-one still alive who is more  knowledgeable than Pavel Gan. He has also written a novel covering the period from when Hašek was called up to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army, and  until he died. The full title of the book is Osudy humoristy Jaroslava Haška v říši carů i doma v Čechách, Atlantis, Brno, 2003. The English title is: The Fateful Adventures of the humorist Jaroslav Hašek in the Empire of the Czars and Commissars And Even at Home in the Czechlands.

Pavel Gan was uniquely placed to research the material on Hašek; fluent in Czech, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and English, he is probably unrivalled in this respect. Having emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1968, he had, as opposed to scholars who remained behind the Iron Curtain, access to sources from all over the world. And importantly; he could use them without fearing repercussions, not having to worry about ending up as a window cleaner if he used the "wrong" words in the wrong place. Dr Gan spent more than fifteen years collecting the material he used for his contextual studies and finally for his book which was published in 2003. This was done from the International Hašek conference in Bamberg (West Germany) in 1983 and onwards. He also travelled extensively in Russia and the Ukraine in the early nineties, getting as far as beyond Lake Baikal and discovering hitherto unknown material about Jaroslav Hašek's time in Russia.

Although the book is a novel, all the places, nearly all the people, and most historical events are authentic. Dialogues were obviously invented, and so are some of the more fanciful events. However, the geographical details alone made the novel the most important document for me when planning the itinerary (apart from The Good Soldier Švejk itself). Gan's book has a controversial side though: it openly claims that Hašek was a homosexual, something that has caused resentment amongst other haškologs. As far as I know there are no hard proofs of this alleged sexual preference, on the other hand it is a fact  that he married twice and I assume he didn't  do it just to comply with the conventions of his time. That would have been very untypical of Hašek. Really I couldn't care less if he was one or the other (or both): what he gave the world was a great satirical novel, and a unique view of a conflict that was to shape European society and history for the next 80 years (at least).

On that very morning, 2 May 2010 at 9:00 AM, at the end of track 23 at München Hauptbahnhof, stood Pavel Gan, waiting for his guest. He is now a grey-haired elderly gentleman, having just turned 76 and still in good health. We immediately got into our common favourite subject: on the U-Bahn to Basler Strasse we had a minor mishap; we forgot time and place and discovered too late that we had gone a station too far.  We spent the next two days going through his source material used in his contextual studies, recording for three hours his run-through in Czech, resulting in four huge audio-files which I have problems sharing with  anyone (but I have them safely stored at Google Docs). He also provided me with copies of his German- and Czech-language contextual studies. These are vital complements to the book, and importantly: they contain complete source references, something the novel lacks.

The main impression I got from the conversations with Pavel Gan was that Hašek was hardly a true Bolshevik. It is true that he was employed by the Red Army from October 1918, but at that time even Lev Trotsky couldn't be too choosy. The fragile revolutionary government needed everyone that opposed the "whites"; whether they be Anarchists, Mensheviks, Socialist revolutionaries, Maximalists or pure opportunists. The situation in Russia during the civil war was extremely chaotic: a multitude of groups were involved, one day siding with one party, the next day with another. The huge number of foreigners at Russian soil further complicated matters. These were mainly former prisoners of war, and often took part in the civil war, most of them as "whites" but also many red "internationalists". There were in effect several civil wars going on. One important but little known party was the left-wing, but democratic Volga Republic (Samara Gubernate). Hašek was very close to this movement which also included anarchists. One of Pavel Gan's assertions is that Hašek was throughout an anarchist at heart, that he even had plans to go to China where Sun Yat-sen had granted the anarchists an autonomous area where they could try out their anarcho-communist social experiments.

So why is Jaroslav Hašek still regarded a Bolshevik by many? According to Cecil Parrott, the Communist authorities after initial hesitation decided that Jaroslav Hašek was to be canonized. The army historian Jaroslav Křížek was allowed access to Soviet archives and in 1957 his book "Jaroslav Hašek v revolučním Rusku" was published. Scholars were given substantial means for research, end experts on Hašek started to publish: Zdena Ančík, Milan Jankovič, and most importantly, Radko Pytlík. The latter has done extensive work on Hašek and is generally viewed as  the prime haškolog. Still they all had to keep within their bounds; Hašek was to be a Bolshevik whatsoever and according to Gan there was even a Party Membership Certificate conveniently "discovered", interestingly printed on paper from the 1950's [1]. Krížek himself was not allowed to mention Trotsky [2], thus having his hands firmly tied.

Haškology aside, it was a very pleasant stay in Forstenried. Wife Larissa sorted my scruffy hair out and I was well fed with Ukrainian borsč and other good stuff, not the least  Bavaria's authentic Andechser Klosterbier. I left in the morning on 4 May 2010 with an annotated copy of "Osudy ...", important documents for the travels in Russia and was very grateful for these two days with Pavel, Larissa, Tomas and Robert. The latter three I will hopefully meet again in early August.
Do pobačenja v Sokalu!

1) This information from Jan Berwid-Buquoy (1989) is unverified (comment added by JH, 2014)
2) Křížek did mention Trotsky in his book, although sparingly (comment added by JH, 2012)


  1. Having debriefed Pavel Gan might be one of the most important accomplishments of your journey. He has indeed contributed greatly to unraveling the myths surrounding Jaroslav Hašek's years in Russia. By the same token, I am not interested in any intimate, private details of other people's body functions and proclivities, including the sexual, with the exception of information needed to guard others, especially children, from sexual predators.

    While Pavel Gan believes Hašek was "hardly a true Bolshevik", I doubt he was an Anarchist, in the modern political sense, either. As for his political views and organizational associations, anarchism was just one of them. He was a keen observer of human affairs using his material as a newspaperman, entertainer, war correspondent, political outreach and propaganda writer (for ultimately irreconcilable parties to the WWI and Russian Civil War), among other things, and not an anarchist first and foremost.

  2. I do agree with you: there is no sign Hasek was a bi-sexual. No prolem if he was,that is clear, but I do not think he was.

    And, reading him carefully, I don't think he was a comunist too. As far as I have read him, I think he hates comunists - but maybe thought that everything was better than the Czar.

    Anyway, these are just opinions.

  3. Hašek did oppose the Bolsheviks in 1917 as their agitation at the front undermined the struggle against the Central Powers. This is clear from his own writing (which was not published in communist Czechoslovakia). However, in early 1918 he moved closer to the Czech social democrats, probably influenced by Břerislav Hůla, a young communist who worked for the same paper as Hašek. But it is only from October 1918 that we worked directly for the Bolshevik authorities.