The wedge that someone struck between us

We post an article written by Julius Behul, Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Slovak on Page 5 of Issue 35:

The wedge that someone struck between us

Several years have passed since someone tried to give a slap to the Slovaks in exile. At that time it was a media attack on one individual, but it fell on the entire community.

Recently, the opposite happened. It was not an individual, but a television programme that struck a wedge, not in a specific person, but in the community as a whole. This slap was so strong that its shock was felt not only in Canada, but also in Slovakia where it reverberated like an echo.

In the last decade, nothing has created such a strong response as the film broadcast on the Czech Television program in Toronto "Nova Vize”. Was it someone’s deliberate intention, or was it a case of human ignorance and a lack of knowledge?

The Czech broadcaster Nova Vize entitled the film "Slovaks in Canada" that is to say Slovak emigration to Canada. From the title, viewers would expect the film to chart the history of Slovak immigration, from the "bread" emigration of yesteryear to today’s, mostly economic, emigration. It is quite unlikely that any Slovak broadcaster or any Slovak media in Canada would be interested in preparing a historical programme on Czech immigration, and possibly interfere with Czech history and, God forbid, "stir" the dark clouds from their history that sometimes hang over a nation.

Why do I write these words?

Among other reasons because that film yet again, at no small length, talks about the Slovak State (1939-1945). No one disputes that that state had bleak and sad pages, but we must again question why a Czech "documentary" on Slovak immigration throws this particular card on the table. It is hard to

remember any Slovak broadcast in Canada, whether on television or radio, as well as in the press, that would smear the Czech nation by focusing on the dark days of their history, such as those during wartime when there were in Bohemia dozens of political parties with direct and open connection to fascism. Maybe only in the party’s name... but they did.

The first and unexpectedly high number of expressions of revulsion about this program came from Slovakia. I was surprised that, not only by airmail, but also by courier services, we received copies of the film on DVD. Finally, they started to pour in from Canada. In all of the responses, a clear and basic question was asked:  why did the Czechs create a film about the Slovaks in Canada, which, for the majority of Slovak emigration is incomplete and biased, as if it were seen through the dark glasses of its director? If the film had to be made, wouldn’t it have been preferable to verify thoroughly the details, point out the positives aspects, highlight the personalities and efforts of immigrants, and not present only few individuals, most of whom have never been involved in a community event?

This biased programme raised the level of disgust. It is incomprehensible that the Slovak Television Network STV did not verify its content and, without any consultation, without the blink of an eye, broadcast the film in Slovakia. Should we think that this was done knowingly and on purpose?

In this article we do not want to focus on the contents of the film. Anyone who would like to see it will surely find a way to do so. At the end of the programme, Josef Cermak, who is the film’s narrator, declares his strong affinity to Slovakia and the Slovaks. JUDr. Cermak has lived in Canada long enough to know that, in addition to the few individuals whom he presented in his film, there were many others who deserved to be mentioned.

Alternatively, if he was not interested to focus on individuals, wouldn’t it have been appropriate to mention at least some of the organizations and activities that have contributed remarkably to the maintenance of Slovak culture and traditions, and particularly to the preservation of the history of the Slovaks in this country? It is not necessary to present the whole range, but the programme lacked many basic details of which the producer must have been certainly aware.

For example, it would have been appropriate to mention that the Catholic Church, its parishes and churches, all of which have played one of the most basic roles for Slovak immigration to Canada. Any mention of their activities, one of the major pillars of survival for newcomers, was omitted.

And what about more than half a century of the successful operation of the Canadian Slovak League, under whose aegis many folk dance groups were founded over the decades, which organized youth festivals and preserved our cultural heritage through exhibitions and national meetings? Under its aegis, the weekly Canadian Slovak, already in its 68th year, the oldest continuously published Slovak weekly in North America is published.

Wouldn’t it have been proper to mention, at least briefly, the cultural and spiritual centre of the Slovak Jesuits in Cambridge, Ontario, where during their stay in Canada [during communism in Slovakia] Slovak books, translations, journals such as Echo and Messenger were published, where the Good Book publishing house was located, and where they firmly sustained the religious and cultural activities of our countrymen?

And what about Matica Slovenska Abroad, based in Hamilton, which, in addition to organizing cultural programs and historical seminars, also maintained traditional publishing activities? Did the producer avoid mentioning them  because their leadership was in the hands of the Catholic clergy? Or, perhaps, was it due to total ignorance?

Slovaks are one of the few nationalities to have a Chair of Slovak History and Culture at the University of Ottawa. Although it has been around for decades, apparently the producers did not know anything about it. The groups that they also ignored, and which firmly belong to Slovak-Canadian history, are unquestionably the American-Canadian Jednota (Unity), and The Catholic Sokol.

Since the programme mentioned some names, wouldn’t it have been appropriate to mention other ones, like those of Professor Gustav Bakos, (after whom, among other things, the astronomical observatory at the University of Waterloo, is named); Msgr. Fuga (who was the President of Matica Slovenska Abroad and a publisher of books); Joseph Suchy (Secretary of the Slovak World Congress and editor of the magazine Maria); Stephen Senčík, SJ (writer and novelist, editor of the newsletter Echo); Felix Litva, SJ (director of the publishing house Good Book, member of the Board of the Slovak World Congress); more recently that of Stephen Roman (the entrepreneur and the founder and President of the Slovak World Congress, etc.) but also Professor Stanislav J. Kirchbaum, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.; Professor Marian Stolarik, Robert Reguly, one of the most accomplished newspaper reporters in Canada, Justice of Peace Vladimir Bubrin, the scientist Harold Ujc, and many others.And what about the latest wave of immigrants, which has been left out completely? There is no need to talk about a whole handful of names. It would suffice to mention only a few…

Slovak immigrants to Canada have their own professional historians. How would JUDr. Cermak and the producers of the program feel, if Canadian Slovaks were to prepare a programme on Czech immigration to Canada and failed, whether consciously or due to ignorance, to include the pillars of Czech immigration? Would it not be the same slap in the face of a Czech audience? But why would the Slovaks produce such programme? If they did, they would be one hundred percent sure that the Czech emigration waves include many renowned experts, found in their immigration history, and, therefore, our interference in this aspect of their history would be inappropriate and undignified. It would also be a paradox to offer a "Czech history" in the Slovak language.

Just as in our old Europe, we are the closest neighbours in Canada. For two decades we each have our own country, our own government, and very strong friendships between us. Nevertheless, although not in the Czech Republic, many Czechs in Canada fail to understand these changes. Friends and good neighbours, however, should fully respect and not slander each other. Czechoslovakia is no more. We have our differences, as well as ties. Just as everyone else in the world, we have great and smart people, but also those on the opposite end. To maintain such good relations successfully, we should always remember not to hurt each other.

The film was an affront to the majority of those who spent a significant part of their life being active in the Slovak cultural and spiritual events of their new adopted country. The sponsors who funded the program should have been aware of this.

These words are not written with a view to sustaining an angry controversy; not even its continuation. They are to give an insight into the soul of many immigrants who are not ashamed for their traditions, customs, or the Slovak language, and who also know that not all days in our history were always sunny. Nevertheless, they remember that it is not proper to look for a small particle in the eye of another, when there could be a whole log in the eye of the beholder.

Apropos - and even if it were so ... Only those who live under one roof, have the right to speak for themselves. If no other, they have at least the moral right.

Julius Behul
Editor-in-Chief, The Canadian Slovak

You can read the whole issue of The Canadian Slovak at the following link: KS Vol 68 Issue 35