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.

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 ...

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