My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories
from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his
memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as
long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
I am writing this
obituary on the last day of 1992. As of midnight today Czechoslovakia will cease
to exist. I was present at the creation--now I am present for the burial.
Strangely enough I,
and I believe most Czechs, have mixed feelings about the split into a Czech and
a Slovak Republic. On the one hand, I had a strong attachment to the old
republic since its formation in 1918. On the other, I thought for some time that
a divorce is preferable to continuous wrangling. When visiting Prague in the
summer of this year, I answered questions about this division routinely by
saying, "The sooner the better." I did so even though some members of the Civic
Forum, the agent of the Velvet Revolution, thought otherwise. Among them was
President Havel, who did not want to go down in history as its last President,
as he finally did.
It actually was not
the first time Czechoslovakia fell asunder. It was liquidated once before in
1939, when Hitler occupied what by then remained of the country. It again
changed its skin in 1948 when it succumbed to a Communist putsch, and once more
at the time of the Prague Spring when it was invaded by Soviet armies.
Every time it went
under it got good obituaries. As the leader of Sudeten German social democrats
Wenzel Jaksch put it in 1938, "Czechoslovakia was an island of human rights and
a safe haven of persecuted humanity." At least from 1918 to 1938, it was
politically stable, economically successful and generally prosperous. In 1937,
before Munich, savings per head of population were twice as high as in Austria
and 15% higher than in Switzerland.
It is ironic that
even now a majority both in Czechia and in Slovakia would actually have
preferred to remain a common state. That was one reason why the two leaders,
Klaus and Meciar, in the end rejected the plan to leave the decision to a
referendum. At the same time most people are glad that there is a final answer,
which somebody has called "a divorce with mixed feelings." And so, what once
started with a bang, ends now with a whimper.
At a time when
other parts of Eastern Europe are ravaged by fierce civil wars, it is remarkable
that the separation was accomplished without a single person killed, or even
wounded. There was no fighting, only quarrelling. Compare it to Yugoslavia.
Czechs are different from Serbs: sober, pragmatic, practical, unheroic. Serbs
are a heroic people and proud of it, for better or worse, with consequences that
last for centuries.
The prognosis is
fairly good, or at least fair, for Czechia, much less so for the Slovaks. Czech
Republic is just a new name for the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia and it still has
the same coat of arms with a double-tailed lion since 1158. Slovakia, on the
other hand, has never been independent, for the last 1000 years it was a part of
Hungary. It still has a substantial Hungarian minority, leading to a possible
confrontation with Hungary, especially if it becomes, as I think it will,
another authoritarian and chauvinistic regime.
It also happens
that Slovaks, unlike Czechs, fit more the pattern of Eastern European
populations, being less pragmatic, more swept by ideologies and more emotional.
Their economy, too, is more vulnerable, as shown by the fact that unemployment
in Czechia is about 4%, whereas in Slovakia it exceeds 12%.
I ought to add
something about my personal involvement with ex-Czechoslovakia. In a previous
chapter I outlined my participation in the political life of the first republic,
the one which lasted from 1918 to 1938. I continued my active participation
during the Second World War with relations to the Government in Exile in London
and its representation in the United States. As an example, I wrote a pamphlet
at their behest analyzing the problems which Czechoslovakia will face after the
Czechoslovakia at least twenty times after the war, beginning with December
1945, only some six months after its liberation from the Nazis. Frequently after
the Communist seizure of power I was refused a visa by the Embassy in
Washington, but always got it, with no questions asked at the Embassy in Bern,
Switzerland. In later years I was regularly accompanied by Nadia and we usually
spent a month in Prague and in the Czech countryside including my birth place of
In this country, I
was active in the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, composed for the
most part of Czech and Slovak academics teaching in American universities. Twice
I was asked to organize political science sections at Congresses in Pittsburgh
and Toronto, and at a meeting of its Swiss subsidiary near Bern.
To summarize: the
demise of Czechoslovakia is an important event of the last few years of my life,
and I believe in the life of Europe. It symbolizes the breakdown of the
achievements of 1918, of Wilsonian diplomacy, and of the entire structure
created by the Versailles Treaty and the treaties which resulted from it. It
also marks the end of several ideologies upon which the treaties were based, in
the first place of Slavism, known here as Pan-Slavism. It was believed that all
people speaking a Slavic language are destined to work together in order to stop
the Germanic push to the East and South. It was this ideology which led to the
creation both of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Another ideology which crashed
was, of course, Marxism-Leninism, with its proletarian internationalism. It was
the fall of this "false God" which caused the breakdown of the Soviet Union, a
super-state based on this particular set of ideas.
by other philosophies, namely democratism and the belief in Free Markets, by no
means guarantees the future of Eastern Europe. On the contrary, the transition
will be extremely difficult, both internally and internationally, leading to
civil conflict and international wars. The post-Gorbachev world will be much
more unstable than the post-Versailles and post-Roosevelt, post-Stalin world,
especially in East Europe. The Czech Republic, however, may remain what it was
for the last 74 years, an island of democracy and relative prosperity in a sea
of trouble. And let us hope that it will continue to harbor the ideals of
humanity, decency, and human rights which it inherited from its founder,
books listed below provide additional background on this period of history
around the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the sister nations of the Czech
Republic and Slovakia to
help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.