Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    29

Moravec berated his countrymen: "I have spoken to the Czech people on the radio as a military retiree.... I have spoken to the Czech people as a [Protectorate] minister. I have written, exhorted. But of late I lack words that might unlock the door to the Czech mind. The intelligence of a philosopher but the character of a bootlegger. The diligence of an ant but the horizon of a slug. These are the facets of our unhappy national pecu­liarity which culminate in the disgusting figure of a calculating sloth and a titular idiot Svejk."10 The Czechs had better stop disingenuously affect­ing zealous submission to German rule and turn in the attackers, Moravec warned, or else!

If, according to Moravec, it was their Svejk-like psyches that prevented the Czechs from finding their proper place in the Hitlerite "new Europe," some fifty years later the emigre scholar Peter Hrubý would condemn with equal conviction the very same Czech mindset for the ease with which the Czechs succumbed to the Communist yoke. "The Czech predilection for Svejk then became an important part of the gradual, though unintentional Soviet re-education of the masses into cheaters, pre­tenders and characterless cowards.... The Svejkian attitude of spineless roguery became an almost national norm. T. G. Masaryk's fight for the na­tion's soul appears to have been lost by decades of exposure to systematic degradation and clever oppression by both foreign and domestic lumpen-proletariat and lumpen-intelligentsia in power."11 A single book had ruined the destiny of a noble nation! Alas, the power of the printed word in the land of Kafka seems boundless.

Earlier I mentioned that Svejk fared much better with the leftist critics who drafted him (despite his rheumatism) into their people's liberation army. To make him fit for the ultimate battle, however, they had to mod­ify his image: in the 1928 polemics with Dyk, a young Communist jour­nalist—future martyr of the anti-Nazi resistance and "National Hero" — Julius Fučík, wrapped "the good soldier" in the flag of proletarian internationalism. "Svejk," he argued contra Dyk (but also against his com­rade-in-arms Olbracht), "belongs to the Czech nation only ethnically." This is, of course, not very important. What matters is that "he is an inter­national type, the soldier of all imperialist armies." Svejk is not a revolutionary, as Fučík assessed this cadre

10 Emanuel Moravec, "Chvíle vyzrála do zoufalé osudovosti," in V hodině dvanácté: Soubor projevů státního presidenta a členů vlády Protektorátu Čechy a Morava po 27. květnu 1942, ed. V. Fiala (Prague, 1942), p. 37. Moravec's interpretation of Hasek's work might be idiosyn­cratic, but it betrays his deep knowledge. To mention a text whose first few chapters make light of Franz Ferdinand's assassination in the aftermath of a similar assault on Heydrich is either a case of Svejkism" par excellence or a subconscious slip by somebody well steeped in the novel.

11 Peter Hrubý, Daydreams and Nightmares: Czech Communist and Ex-Communist Literature, 1917-1987 (New York, 1990), p. 146.

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