Our Slavic Fellow Citizens - 1910

Slovak Emigration
Chapter VI

Politics and Emigration

While the main causes of emigration are doubtless here also, as among the Slavs generally, economic not political, the political conditions yet play an important part. Aside from desire to avoid military service, and individual cases of persecution, it is probably not very often that political reasons cause a Slovak peasant to leave the country, but on the other hand these are often a chief cause for his finally remaining permanently in America.

A more or less conscious sense of being ill at ease, of being regarded as an inferior, "If we today observe Slovak villages from which people stream to America, we see that those who remain at home are not the most healthy, industrious, fit to cope with life, nor the most enterprising."

Such for instance, as the case of a Slovak Protestant minister, in New York who, as I was informed, was forced to leave Hungary because he refused to preach in Magyar more than two Sundays out of three to a congregation which understood only Slovak and on account of his race thwarted in his efforts to progress, makes Hungary unattractive to him.

The dark cloud resting over everything in Hungary is the political tension, not the struggle of Hungary with Austria for advantage in their strange partnership, but internal tension between the different racial elements in the kingdom.

While one must feel with the Slovaks, who are the The Magyar injured party, one cannot help also sympathizing with state Magyar statesmen in the difficult position in which they find themselves. They desire to strengthen and expand their national life and to develop the peculiar and interesting genius of their own strain; and they find themselves an isolated body of some eight or nine million or so, hemmed in not only by unfriendly states but by a majority belonging to rival nationalities within their own boundaries.

Stung by unfriendly prophecies to the effect that the Magyar stock must infallibly be absorbed and perish as a racial entity, they determined at whatever cost to reverse the process and forcibly to assimilate all non-Magyar elements within their borders.

The phrase "The Magyar State idea" is on every one's lips for praise or blame, the idea, that is, that in the state there must be complete unity, or rather uniformity, including uniformity of language. Everything must be Magyar, and Magyar alone.

To bring this about in a country where the Magyars are only some 51.4 per cent of the population, and where through whole countrysides their language is absolutely unknown to the mass of the population, is a gigantic and cruel task.

Formerly the language of parliament generally was Latin. People still living recall this language of parliament and of state business.

Having seen something at first hand of the shocking oppression of the Slovaks by the Magyars, I am thankful to Mr. Seton-Watson who in his "Racial Problems in Hungary" has given a full account of the too little known conditions prevailing in a country for which the general public feels so much interest and desires to feel so much respect.

An account of all this unhappy matter will also be found in Mr. Capek's book "The Slovaks in Hungary."

Then came the unhappy decision to give a forced monopoly in pulpit, school, courts of justice, and so far as possible in daily life, to the Magyar language. This is a very difficult non-Aryan tongue of the agglutinative type, akin to Finnic or perhaps to Turkish, and entirely unrelated to Slavic languages.

The Slovaks, who like most Slavs are extremely tenacious, object to this policy on practical as well as on sentimental grounds. Their own language with a little experience practically opens to them the whole Slav world, including Russia (and we have seen what wanderers they are).

German, too, which a large proportion of them can speak, is an important medium of business and culture. " But what," they say, "does Magyar open to our children? They come out of school, in most cases, not really masters of it and at the same time illiterate in their own tongue, which they have not been allowed to learn to read or write.

This is a cause of an artificial degree of illiteracy among our people. In America our people learn to read Slovak and come back reading the newspapers. But in Hungary to take a Slovak newspaper or, if an educated man, to speak the Slovak tongue, is to brand oneself in Magyar eyes as a political traitor and to insure every possible obstacle in one's path. The upper schools ("gymnasiums"), formerly conducted in Slovak and founded and supported by private contributions, have been closed and the funds sequestrated; the Slovak founded and supported by private contributions, have been closed and the funds sequestrated; the Slovak literary association has been dissolved and its building seized. It is almost impossible for a company of Slovak shareholders to receive the necessary permission to carry on business even, since the undertaking is considered a nationalistic enterprise.

A cellulose factory at Saint Martin in Turicz is a well-known instance. After standing idle for a long time while the Slovak owners vainly endeavored to get a government license to begin work, it was sold to a Jewish company for less than it was worth, and at once was licensed and put in operation.

Each of the nationalities, as a matter of fact the government not only fails to do this, but prevents its being done at private expense, often confiscating school funds when raised. Even to study for the priesthood a Slovak must pass through the Magyar seminary, and there any study of the language of the future flock is treated as ground for expulsion.

The natural consequence is that a Slovak who continues his education, religious or secular, beyond the primary school, necessarily receives a purely Magyar training, and partly through assimilation, partly through prudential considerations, generally becomes a "Magyar one," and like most converts, plus royaliste que le rot.

Thus the Slovaks lose their natural leaders by a constant drafting off of the ablest and most ambitious, and this fosters the Magyar feeling that the Magyar for Slav, is synonymous with ignorance, dullness and poverty. All that is intelligent is assumed to be Magyar. This stupid contempt (for all contempt is stupid), and the desire to appropriate as Magyar all the specifically Slovak productions, is most exasperating.

In the beautiful ethnological museum at Budapest all the Slovak treasures of embroidery, costume, etc., appear to be Magyar. No other nationality is recognized.

Another very trying phase of the Magyarizing process Renaming is the renaming of places. A Slovak village, for instance, will be given a new Magyar name, a forced translation or a would-be Magyarized form of the immemorial word, and this is felt not unnaturally as a great grievance.

When I have asked Slovaks in America what place they came from, they have said to me, plaintively, " I don't know what its name is now; it used to be so- and-so, but they have changed it." How is a Slovak who does not know Magyar to guess, for instance, that Aranypataka means his old home.

The Magyarizing tendency is fostered by the fact that strife the Magyar language has only one word for the two ideas, Magyar and Hungarian. Hungary is Magyar orszdg (that is, Magyar land), and one might almost say that this whole wretched business reduces itself to a poor pun. "A Hungarian" (that is, an inhabitant of Hungary) "must of course speak Hungarian" (that is, Magyar), and if not willingly, then by compulsion. All this bitterness and strife afford many avenues of advance to the unscrupulous, and it is not strange if too often Jews of the type whose only concern in the struggle of nationalities is their own personal advantage become the clever instruments for a great deal of "dirty work" of all sorts. Double honor then to those Jews who, in spite of the bad traditions of a persecuted race and the sinister opportunities afforded by a helpless peasantry, are honorable and just in their dealings.

And double honor to those Magyars who unite to love of their own race the magnanimity to appreciate the claims of others, and the wisdom to recognize the folly of a policy which alienates and keeps back millions of their sturdiest citizens. Similarly, double honor to those Slovaks, who in spite of the danger of personal ruin and the daily experience of petty annoyances, which are less heroic but perhaps harder to endure, sacrifice all their prospects in life to loyalty to their own people and to their country as a whole.

Meeting such men is one of the greatest pleasures of traveling among the Slovaks. Honor, too, to the quiet and simple people who, except where political inflammation has set in, respect and like all their neighbors, regardless of racial differences. In general there is no antipathy or ill feeling among Slovaks and Magyars. The peasants of both races are generally profoundly unconscious of any reason for hating one another, regard one another as friends, and inter-marry freely.


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