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 13 June 2010

Surprise in Eisenstadt

An unexpected bonus during the stay in Bruck was a meeting with Klara Köttner-Benigni, writer, historian and journalist. I had come across her name briefly in a book by Radko Pytlík, but was not aware of the magnitude of the work she had done on Jaroslav Hašek, nor of  her many  other activities. In connection with the UNESCO-sponsored 100th anniversary of Jaroslav Hašek's death in 1983, she did an extensive study on Hašek and Švejk in Austria. She also took part in a Hašek-conference in Dobříš in 1983 and has twice been awarded the Jaroslav Hašek price. Her study turns about every stone there is to turn on Švejk's stay in Austria and I relied heavily on her work in the previous blog entry "Švejk  in Királyhida".

Listening attentively to Klara Köttner-Benigni
Friedrich Petzneck and I were invited to Eisenstadt to met her and husband Walter Benigni one afternoon, but unfortunately Herr Petzneck couldn't go because he had just had an eye-operation. I jumped on the train and was met at Eisenstadt station by the Benigni couple. The destination was a cafe where I was treated to beer and food, and to use a cliché: time flied. Köttner-Benigni is now a lady in her early eighties and physically quite frail but her mind is still razor-sharp.

It turns out that Hašek was a theme she dealt with only temporarily, she had and has many other interests. Her particular focus was always on the Slovak nation, she has  been over there more than 300 times. She was also a pioneer environmental campaigner; in 1975, a planned bridge project across Neusiedler See was stopped, partly on her initiative. This made her a public enemy for a while, not dissimilar to Henrik Ibsen's Dr. Stockman. She has also chaired the Austro-Czechoslovak Friendship Association, which also made her suspicious in the eyes of the Austrian authorities. It was clear that Köttner-Benigni is  a person out of the ordinary, a fearless lady not  to be messed with (as Austrian authorities and others have found out).

Article in Burgenlãndische Heimatblãtter in 1983
In 1983, she and Konrad Biricz, a local historian from Bruck, collected material for the study on Hašek and she  could also tell a story from Radko Pytlík's visit in Bruck in 1983. In those days going abroad was not that easy for Czechs and he was accompanied by the cultural attaché of the Czechoslovak embassy in Vienna.  The "minder" was a nephew of Vasiľ Biľak, chief ideologist of the Communist Party. The Austrians authorities of course knew who he was so was refused entry to Brucker Lager! Pytlík on the other had was considered harmless enough to be allowed in. After the 1989 revolution, Köttner-Benigni lost contact with Pytlík. I was grateful to receive  a heap of books and material on Hašek in German, most of it I have never seen, and which would now be nearly impossible to get hold of (it was published in former East Germany).

Köttner-Benigni also told me of an encounter with author Lars Amund Vaage, who also takes an interest in Slovakia. I then mentioned Czech writer Ladislav Řežníček who has written a book named Bjørnson a Slovensko. The writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørsnon is held in high regard in Slovakia due to his support for the Slovak cause against Hungarian oppression in the later decades of the Dual Monarchy.  Köttner-Benigni didn't know of  Řežníček or his book, which was published this year in connection with the 100th anniversary of the authors death. Clearly there are experts on both Slovakia and Bjørnson out there which ought to get in contact with each other!

No comments:

Post a Comment