The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/The National Assembly of Prague, April 13, 1918

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The National Assembly of Prague, April 13, 1918

The Journals which refer to this memorable meeting have not been allowed by the Austrian Government to be sent abroad. The Czechoslovak National Council has nevertheless succeeded in securing a copy of “Lidové Noviny” of April 14th, which throws some interesting light on and gives details about this meeting.

“Yesterday at 10:45 the 23 Jugoslav deputies arrived with some journalists and four ladies. They were welcomed by a large crowd outside the station. The Croatian deputies included all the deputies of the Starčevič party and deputy Kresić as the official representative of the Serbo-Croatian Coalition in the Croatian Diet, which has not up to now endorsed the policy of the Jugoslav declaration. Deputies Pribicevic and Budusavijevic came also to Prague. The Slovenes were represented by Dr. Korošec, wro arrived on the previous day with the president of the Czech Union, Staněk.

Some delegates to the Conference arrived at 8 o’clock and at 10 A. M. the large Smetana Hall of the Representation House in Prague was quite full: There were deputies to the Reichstrat and to the Diets of the Bohemian lands representing all parties. Only the Slovaks could not for obvious reasons attend. There were representatives of the Czech University, of both Czech High Technical Schools, of the Academy of Arts and Science, local governments, important educational and economic corporations so that all the parties and classes were as completely represented as never before. The galleries, too, were full up, and the space for the Orchestra was occupied by the Opera Choir. When the Jugoslavs entered, they were greeted with loud cheers.

At 11 o’clock the Choir opened the meeting with the Hussite hymn “Ye Who Are God’s Warriors”, while the whole Assembly rose from their seats. Deputy Staněk delivered the opening speech where upon the Czech author Jirásek delivered the main address. A great storm of applause greeted the old master and was repeated when he sat down again. It was a historical speech, but there could not have been a more political speech than these calm, hearty and sincere words of this writer of historical novels. No historical review could be more timely and more inspiring for the future. The impression was tremendous and both the speech and the appearance of the old master inspired the whole meeting. Unlike the professional politicians he delivered a speech of national prophecy, and his words bore the impression of wisdom and prophetic enthusiasm. And when he read the oath of fidelity and the whole Assembly rose to take the oath, such enthusiasm and exultation prevailed that every one felt that it was one of the most sacred moments in Bohemian history, and tears were standing in many eyes.

Immediately afterwards, under the impression of Jirásek’s speech, the Assembly sang “Bývali Čechové” (The Czech Heroes of Yonder. . . .), and a feeling of brotherhood overcame them. The Croatian Deputy Pavelič then delivered a Croatian speech which every one could easily understand and which was enthusiastically received. The enthusiasism grew still stronger when Dr. Korošec rose to speak and added a Jugoslav Oath to the Czech one, saying that the fate of the Czechs and Slovenes is the same, and that nothing could divide their brotherhood of race and suffering. Thereupon the Choir sang the Croatian Anthem “Ljepa Naše Domovina.”

After Korošec spoke Dr. Kramář and Habermann, the President of the Czech Social Democratic Club, who declared in the name of his party that they would faith fully stand behind the nation in its struggle for a Czech-Slovak State. He paid a tribute to the Hungarian Slovaks, who could not be present owing to the Magyar terrorism, although they surely were present in spirit. The choir then sang the Slovak Anthem “Nad Tatru sa Blýská.”

After deputy Klofáč had spoken about the Czech women and mothers whose name Count Czernin abused, deputy Staněk then closed the meeting. The Assembly then sang the Czech National Anthem “Kde domov můj?” and the delegates went home. In the street they were received with ovations by the people, especially Jirásek and the Jugoslavs who were followed by the crowd to their Hotel “Zlatá Husa” on the Venceslas Square. From the balcony of this hotel the Croatian deputy Radič was obliged to speak to the people. The whole manifestation went off in absolute order, thanks to the efforts of the organizers, Švehla and Kvapil.
Municipal House and Powder Gate (Václav Jansa).jpg

“Representation House” of the City of Prague
and the Powder Tower.

THE TEXT OF THE SPEECHES.

The president of the Czech Union, Deputy Staněk who opened the meeting, spoke as follows:

“We heartily welcome our dear Jugoslav brothers, our faithful comrades and fellow-combatants, Croats, Serbs and Slovenes. They came to Prague again to show their solidarity with us and to encourage us and themselves in the light of common enthusiasm for our common cause, common ideals and common aims. Be welcome in the name of the whole nation! The whole Jugoslav nation is our faithful ally and will remain so in all sufferings until we have attained our aim. While the mild winds are beginning to blow around the earth, you and I are surrounded by cold winds of disfavor. These frosts will not stop the circulation of the blood in our veins, on the contrary they will stir it up. We are no more intimidated by any threats. Dear friends! Tell your brothers in the south that today we are with them in spirit, and that we will always be with them in all suffering. Tell them that we are fighting a common struggle for your liberty and ours, for your independence and ours, for your future and ours.

Gentlemen: We see here today assembled all the representatives of the Czech political, spiritual and economic life. We welcome also the women’s representatives. I welcome you all in the name of the Czech deputies as the legitimate and full representation of the whole nation. Twice we declared our political aims and the will of our nation. Twice we declared what is the political gospel of our nation and they would not believe us. They tried to discredit the unanimous will of the nation before foreign public, they tried to drive a wedge between the nation and its representatives in order to shake the confidence in the competence of the Czech deputies to speak and act in the name of the whole nation. We have therefore assembled here today in order to reject once for all such attempts and to manifest solemnly that the nation and its deputies are in complete agreement and that no power on earth will be able to shake this unity.

Gentlemen: The man who attacked us was the official representative of Austria-Hungary, the German feudal baron Count Czernin, a man who shuns the delegations and parliamentary responsibility. He read a speech to some unknown members of the Vienna City Council which by its . . .

(Ten lines deleted by censor.)

Gentlemen: At a time when the old order is falling and nations who have hitherto been silent are rising to their independence, the official representative of Austria is still living under the impression of a fifty years old anachronism. He knows in this empire only the Germans and Magyars, and looks on Slavs as on slaves who must be kept underfoot and whose political sentiments must be answered by a mailed fist, fetters and jail. We turn over the dagger pointed at us and ask: “Who is prolonging this war?” Surely not the Czech deputies, but those nations in Austria-Hungary who refuse to grant the Austrian Slavs the same rights which they granted the nations in Russia. If you give us independence you will have peace at once. The war is prolonged by those who on the eve of great social upheavals in Europe kindle the torch of civil war by inciting the hate between the different nations of this empire and by . . .

(Five lines deleted by censor.)

The Czechs do not prolong this war. On the contrary, we always opposed one-sided military alliances and advocated universal brotherhood, peace amongst nations and a league of free nations of the whole world. The war is prolonged by those who think of nothing else but how to pitch one nation against the other. Who is tearing pieces from the body of the Hungarian State? Not the Czech nation or its deputies, but the oppressive system of Magyar oligarchy who looked upon the non-Magyar nations as up on helots and made their life a hell. It is world humanity which is battering the fort ress of Magyar oligarchy, opens the gates of Magyar prisons and invites the non-Magyar nations to enjoy the sunlight of humanity.

The responsibility for the prolongation of the war falls on Czernin and his friends, not on the Czechs, and we are proud to tell him that we are not afraid, for our conscience is clear. We did not provoke this war, we did not desire it, we did not rejoice at its outbreak, we tried to prevent it and warned against it.

(Five lines deleted by censor.)

It is 300 years ago that our tragedy began. They tried to extirpate us, they sent our best men into exile, they destroyed our literature and kept us in slavery, and yet after 200 years we woke up again and claim today our rights. We obtained nothing without fighting for it. We had to fight bitter struggles for every office, school and theatre. All that we have, we have in spite of Vienna. We therefore come before you as before the tribunal of the people. It is now for you to speak and demonstrate your will. We have no doubt about your verdict. The nation which does not despair in times of stress and stands like a single front with firmness, may march forward without fear for its future.

THE OATH.

After Deputy Staněk, the Czech author Jirásek said:

Gentlemen: We assembled in a memorable house on a memorable spot where the court of our kings used to stand. From here our great King George governed the kingdom, that “kind king” as he was called, during whose reign our kingdom became a European power again. To this court the powerful and proud Vratislav used to send Ambassadors to pay homage to him, as well as sundry German princes, seeking his favor. From this court went the famous embassy to the court of Louis XI. to gain him to the ideas of King George who, although himself an excellent wariror, hated the war and worked for a closer co-operation of all the powers in order to bring peace to Christianity and an amicable settlement of all international disputes. Thus our Hussite politicians 400 years ago advocated the ideal of a permanent peace and disarmament which animates the world today.

A little while ago we heard a Hussite hymn, expressing the strength and courage of our forefathers when they struggled for a spiritual aim, for spiritual freedom, democracy and their country. Today we take up this legacy in our fight for the restitution of the right of the Bohemian State and for the idea of self-determination for the whole Czechoslovak nation. And we are proud to think that the whole nation without exception greeted with enthusiasm the declarations of our deputies of May 30th, 1917, and January 6th, 1918.

I am grateful to God that in this great, difficult moment we are all united in our faithfulness to our rights, that we are conscious of our duty towards past and present generations.

Dear friends : In you, as representatives of all classes and parties we greet the nation, resolved to a fight to the finish for its liberty and independence. The struggle is hard. We are in the midst of a terrible world war. Yet let us not despair, for we have many true Allies, in the first place our brothers, the Croats, Serbs and Slovenes, whose representatives came to us today. Fully accredited by the representatives of our nation, I ask you unanimously to swear to the following declaration:

TO THE CZECHOSLOVAK NATION.

The terrible world war is approaching its culmination.

In awe and sorrow numberless Czechoslovak men and women are standing here.

The Czechoslovak blood has been and is still being shed in torrents.

(Ten lines suppressed.)

Unbroken, united in suffering, our nation believed and believes that the storm of the world war will ultimately result in a better future and that its humanitarian ideals will be sanctioned by a universal peace which will forever guard humanity against a repetition of the present catastrophe.

We never asked for anything but to be able to live a free life, to govern our own destinies freely from foreign domination, and to erect our own state such as every civilized nation all over the world is aspiring for. That is our sacred right. It is a national and international right of a nation who has done great service to civilization and who can proudly range itself among the most civilized, economically developed and most democratic nations of Europe.

This is the firm and unanimouns will of the nation:

(Ten lines suppressed).

We have assembled here today as the legitimate representatives of the Czechoslovak nation in order to manifest unmistakably that the whole nation is unanimous as it never was before, and that it stands like a rock behind the memorable and historic declarations of its deputies.

Smetana's Hall.jpg

Smetana’s Hall in the Prague “Representation House”, Scene of the Great Assembly of April 13, 1918.

So we are standing here, firmly convinced of the ultimate victory of Justice, of the victory of Right over Might, of Liberty over Tyranny, of Democracy over Privilege, and of Truth over Falsehood and Deceit.

At the crossroads of History, we hereby swear on the glorious memory of our ancestors, before the eyes of the sorrow-stricken nation, and on the graves of those who have fallen for the cause of liberty, and promise today and for all eternity:

We will hold on and will never give way!

Faithful in all our work, struggles and sufferings, faithful unto death!

We will hold on until Victory!

We will hold on until our nation obtains independence.

Long live the Czechoslovak Nation!

Let our nation grow and flourish freely in all its lands and in the great family of nations, for the welfare of its own as well as for the welfare of the future liberated humanity!

THE JUGOSLAV DECLARATION.

After Jirásek’s speech, the hymn “Bývali Čechové” was sung whereupon the President asked Dr. Ante Pavelič, deputy to the Croatian Diet, to speak in the name of the Jugoslav nation. He said:

“Ladies and gentlemen: As the representative of the united nation of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, I would like to thank you at this memorable meeting for your hearty welcome. To thank also Mr. Staněk and Mr. Jirásek for their words of greeting.

In the first place let me declare that I agree with everything that was said in the previous declarations. We came to you to gain fresh strength from your solidarity for our struggle.

(Ten lines suppressed).

We Croats, Serbs and Slovenes have the same aims as you Czechs; we are faced by the same enemy who uses the same weap ons against us and whom we must therefore fight also by joint force. I recall the great apostle of Italian liberty Mazzini who in 1862 addressed the Italian potentates as follows: “If you do not want or are not able to liberate and unite Italy, we will liberate and unite her without and against you.” Seventy years ago, in 1848, we Croats, Serbs and Slovenes came to Prague to save Austria, but today we have come to save ourselves. (A storm of approval, the delegates are rising from their seats.) We came to this manifestation fully conscious that a first-rate political issue was at stake, and that it is our duty to give you as our true brothers a sincere and hearty handshake. Minister Czernin threw his glove in the first instance to the Czechs, we declare that he threw it also to us. We accept the challenge and would accept it, if it were addressed to you only.

I agree entirely with Mr. Staněk’s criticism of Czernin. It was the height of intellectual impotence to declare the majority of the population as traitors before the world. Towards such official declaration nothing is left to us except to close the ranks and to come forward as a single, indomitable Czecho-Jugoslav unit.

(Ten lines suppressed.)

The Jugoslav question must not be solved partially as the question of Bosnia, Dalmatia, etc. In the same way the right of national self-determination must not be applied to Czechs and Slovenes separately, etc. On the contrary, it must be applied to all oppressed nations simultaneously and it must especially be realized for both the Czechoslovak and the Jugoslav nations si multaneously and firmly unite them indissolubly forever.” (Storm of approval).

After Dr. Pavelič, Dr. Korošec, president of the Jugoslav Club, declared:

“The young and progressive nation of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs always looked with admiration upon the brotherly Czech nation from whom we learned in the sphere of education and political economy. In politics also we often went together, and fate united us entirely, when we were oppressed as never before, when we were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered, and when our national life was in danger. We suffered together but now we also work together for the liberty of our people, of our nation. Neither you nor we shall shirk before threat and accusations. Both of us came to the conclusion that with the horrors of this war the moment has come for us in which we must show the world that we are worthy of liberty for which our ancestors have been in vain struggling. We felt that it was im possible that our tyrants should continue to quench our national life. We know that it was impossible for us not to obtain such liberty as would make it impossible for our enemies to exploit us economically and politically.

We suffer together, but we also struggle together for deliverance from a foreign yoke. Our work is difficult and full of obstacles. The Czech nation has just taken a solemn oath that it will never cease in this struggle whatever may happen. We who witnessed this oath promise you in this solemn moment that we will also in future remain your faithful fellow combatants. We want to prove that we are your faithful brothers. We suffered together, we struggle together and together we shall also win.

(The remaining part suppressed by censor.)

After Korošec’s speech, the choir sang “Ljepa naše Domovina” whereupon Dr. Kramář amid general enthusiasm addressed the Jugoslavs as follows:

“Dear Brother Croats, Serbs and Slovenes: I was charged to thank you in the name of the Czechoslovak nation for coming to shake us by the hand at a moment when the representative of the Government spoke in pretended defence of our nation against its wicked leaders, and when the representatives of our nation reply to him by swearing that they will hold on to the end in their struggle for the independence of our nation. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for having come to us to show the whole world that we are fighting and suffering together, and that we shall also win together. We promise you fidelity for fidelity!”

After him deputy Klofáč spoke and thanked the Czech women and mothers for their courageous and self-denying behavior.

Deputy Staněk closed the National Assembly with a speech in which he thanked the Jugoslav guests for coming, and turning to the Assembly he asked everyone to relate about the enthusiasm of the meeting to his friends, and that the self-confidence of the people might be strengthened. And with the singing of the Czech national anthem, the meeting was dissolved.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).