Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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28   The Deserts of Bohemia

or not because the word "Svejk" (and its derivatives such as the intransitive verb Svejkovat) has en­tered modern Czech usage, though with a meaning quite different from that reported by Hasek. "Svejk," according to a standard dictionary, des­ignates: (i) "a man who with feigned naivete and zeal submits to official authorities but does so only formally with an intent to ridicule"; (2) "a wag"; and (3) "a (sly) dodger [ulejvák]."7 One might argue that such an in­terpretation unduly flattens a complex literary figure, but this is how the "good soldier" has entered Czech political discourse.

Because of their sheer quantity, it would be futile to attempt to provide here a representative sampling of charges leveled against Hasek's book by the Czech political right. The instances I will mention should suffice to il­lustrate their heterogeneity and overall contradictoriness. An early full-fledged polemic against the novel was launched in 1928 after a conserva­tive writer and politician, the staunch Czech nationalist Viktor Dyk, lambasted Svejk as a threat to national security. Dismayed by the popu­larity of the "hero dodger [hrdina ulejvák]" among his compatriots, Dyk pondered aloud about the deleterious effects this protagonist might have on the fighting morale of the Czechoslovak army. Superordinating a moral readiness to fight over mere physical preparedness, he wrote, "Moral readiness requires that a soldier not consider war waggery [psina];

moral readiness presupposes a sense of duty and discipline."8 Would the many admirers of this pathological wag, Dyk asked darkly, risk their lives if the nation's existence were threatened? And referring to the revered Czech theologian of the fifteenth century, an apostle of nonviolent ethics, Dyk concluded, "For us, the nation of Chelčický, it is dangerous to have Svejk as our hero."9

One might wonder whether it was the spirit of Svejk that made Czechoslovak President Benes accept the Munich agreement ten years later, ceding Sudetenland to Hitler without a fight. If so, it is curious, then, that Emanuel Moravec, minister of education in the Berlin-sponsored Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren and infamous quisling, singled out the un­fortunate Czech svejkism as the main barrier to a fruitful collaboration of his people with the Third Reich. Angered, after the assassination of acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich at Benes's order in May 1942, by the lack of popular support for the Gestapo's investigation of the incident Moravec berated his countrymen:

7 Slovník spisovného jazyka Českého, ed. B. Havránek et al., vol. 3 (Prague, 1966), p. 747.

8 The words psina and psinařství which Dyk applies to Svejk's behavior are derived from the noun pes (dog). This is a curious semantic calque that unites the connotation of fun with that of baseness and vileness. It was Dyk's essay that directed my attention to the affinity between Svejk and the Greek kyniks, discussed later in this chapter.

9 Viktor Dyk, "Hrdina Svejk," Národní listy, April 15,1928, pp. 1-2.

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