The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/A Little Bit of History
A Little Bit of History.
The campaign for Bohemian independence is now in its third year and the end is not yet in sight. But signs multiply, like the entrance of the United States into the war and the victorious offensive in the West, which indicate that Germany and its partners will soon be defeated and the unwilling subjects of the Hapsburgs liberated. And so it is not perhaps out of place to begin to gather material from which will be constructed some day the story of the movement which resulted in the establishment of the Bohemian Republic.
In the “Československá Samostatnost” (Bohemian Slovak Independence), published by the Bohemian National Council in Paris, under date of March 10, there is a feuilleton written by Dr. Leo Sychrava, editor of the paper, which will be of interest to all friends of Bohemia. It is given here in English version:
A few days ago there occurred in Geneva the death of the managing editor of the “Journal de Geneve,” Albert Bonnard, a great journalist and publicist, strong enemy of Germany and Austria, devoted friend of France and a valued patron of the cause of Bohemia.
We would be ungrateful if we did not pay a tribute to his memory and omitted to record his name which ought to be mentioned always in connection with the very beginnings of our foreign political work during this war. Albert Bonnard it was who first gave space in his journal to a lengthy and truthful report of the situation in Bohemia, the attitude of the Bohemian people toward the war, the sentiments of the Bohemian soldiers, their riots, the terrorism of the Austrian government, the deep, irreconcilable hate of our people toward Vienna, their sympathies for Russia and the Allies and their longing for independence.
In the latter part of October, 1914, the Journal de Geneve published two long articles under the title “Le Recit d’un Tcheque” (The Story of a Bohemian), filled with carefully collected facts and details of the events in Prague at the outbreak of the war, when soldiers went to the front and when news came of the first Russian victories. As Albert Bonnard himself stated, it was the first reliable report that came out of Bohemia since the war, for other reports came only from the imperial royal correspondence bureau and expatiated on the enthusiasm of everybody for war and loyalty of all Austrian nations toward the empire and the dynasty.
The story from the Journal de Geneve was copied by French and English papers and new opinions began to be entertained of the situation in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy which before the war had many friends in the West and even when war broke out, in the first months of battles, was looked upon as a minor enemy, a less guilty accomplice, one entitled to consideration from the Allies.
Since that time Albert Bonnard remained our friend and associate. He always gave space to news from Bohemia, wrote himself leading articles dealing with our struggle and our hopes, and aroused a great deal of attention, not merely in the Allied countries and Switzerland, but even in Germany. Of course the Austrian government took hand in this at once. The very first report from Prague called out a long dementi from the Austrian legation which aimed to prove that Bohemian soldiers were fighting bravely for Austria. The minister naturally was unable to contradict a first hand account of a witness who described what happened at the Prague depots, when Bohemian regiments were departing, but he copied from the army journal names of soldiers attached to regiments from Bohemian districts who received decorations for bravery.
That, of course, was no proof that the Prague account was incorrect. The denial made a poor impression and gave occasion to much laughter. Albert Bonnard merely added a paragraph that the official Austrian communication did not affect the story of the Bohemian correspondent. The Austrian legation put Bonnard on its blacklist and watched minutely the neutrality of the Geneva publication which had become a thorn in its eye. As the Central Powers enjoyed great influence with the Swiss Federal Government and particularly with the all-powerful general staff which was in charge of political censoring, the enmity of Herr Gagern affected even this important Geneva paper. In Bern, Bonnard was classified as a dangerous red radical who supported revolutionary propaganda against Austria. When Austrian authorities succeeded in driving out of Switzerland the editor of the Bohemian Slovak Independence, Albert Bonnard said that they would drive him out too, if they could.
Even the Bern general staff could not touch Bonnard, though his own associates counselled greater circumspection and stricter neutrality. Bonnard upheld his attitude to the day of his death. He was one of those who looked upon neutrality between crime and right as absurdity and as participation in crime. He was not a man of hate or an enemy of the German nation. Though brought up on French civilization, he was a Swiss. But not one of those whose narrow horizon corresponds to the narrow boundaries of the Helvetian republic and who are interested solely in their own small country. To Bonnard, the peaceful Swiss oasis amid the universal war tumult was a watch tower from which he studied the death struggle raging on all sides. He had a truly European standpoint, and from it he viewed the Slav and Bohemian question.
I shall never forget the day, when I knocked for the first time upon the door of his cozy study. He received me in a friendly way and told me to sit down in a wide armchair, while he looked me over with a searching look. I told him about the situation in Bohemia, how I got out and what plans I had. “Interesting, very interesting,” he repeated. “Write it out and we will publish it. Now, not too much politics: we want facts. We really know nothing of Austria, and less of Bohemia.” Bonnard, of course, knew of Bohemia, of our parliamentary struggles, of Kramář and Masaryk. But what happened in Bohemia since mobilization was all news to him. I wrote out my story and it was accepted.
To an exiled journalist it was a great event and wonderful encouragement. Up to that time all efforts to get the simplest facts published had been vain. Confidence was lacking and so was interest. Some would not believe, others would give the excuse that the reports were too extravagant and colored. It was a difficult beginning, no personal connections, no preparations, no appreciation of the seriousness of our problem and the tragedy of our struggle, while Austria still seemed to be a mighty country with a future.
Today, when we have come so much nearer to our goal, we have confidence. We know that we shall get, if not all, at least far more than we looked for in the days of uncertainty. Then we shall gather recollections and say much that cannot be said today. The story of our movement will be interesting and instructive. Several men will have a place in it whom free Bohemia will delight to honor. Albert Bonnard will be among them.