SVU Conference in Cedar Rapids - Czech and Slovaks in North America, observed through the eyes of those, who are on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean
In all likelihood, such a theme is probably an appropriate discussion subject for historians, men of letters, philosophers, psychologists or even psychiatrists. Well, I am definitely none of them. Yet, I am broaching this topic in an endeavor to put together a special mosaic, i.e. a surface decoration made by inlaying small pieces of colored material (glass or stone). My kind of mosaic has its origin in those days, when after the 1989 Velvet revolution in the Czech Republic, the border lines were suddenly opened up. This brought in its wake the chance of more extensive contacts between our two sides, i.e. ourselves in the Czech home country, and yourselves at your end, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. In reality, they represent a vast number of personal contacts between emigrants and those who stayed in the native country.
I took the liberty of raising this subject, because during my 13 years of work in this field of action, I acquired a rather extensive experience.
As many of you may know, I am a chief editor of the monthly magazine Czech Dialogue. In fact, the latter is the only one in the world which is systematically engaged in dealing with all Czech emigrants throughout the entire world. Reasons for its founding were mainly based on my realization that every emigrant from Czech lands and Slovakia has had to muddle through, by the skin of his/her teeth, in the respective new country in order to create for themselves a new period of their life. Invariably, an expected accelerated immigrant´s assimilation both physically and spiritually in the long-standing democracies, such as the USA and France (each about 200 years), Switzerland (about 700 years?), et cetera, was not an easy matter. The more so, as Czechoslovakia had to endure an era of 40 years of Communist ruling in 1948-1989, so that the recent generations did not even know what a democracy really meant. What is more, recent 13 years of democracy, i.e. since 1989 Velvet Revolution, are really a very short time to attain a thorough and deep reeducation of all citizens to be able to adjust their lives to such a new environment. In fact, this lately acquired democracy is still in the stage of its childhood creation. Therefore, I am motivated by the thought that many Czech emigrants could help us considerably by their frank and open advice in occurrences to come in the course of future time.
Taking into account my many contacts, created either personally, by way of correspondence or with the readers of our magazine Czech Dialogue, I have met many Czechs and Slovak in the USA, Canada, etc. Of course, there are no limits for further expansion. Many well experienced emigrants frequently visit the Czech Republic, and offer us their suggestions or counsels for corresponding improvements. A great many of them also have good contacts with Czech politicians, businessmen or otherwise. Moreover, some former emigrants who returned to the Czech Republic became involved in Czech business and cultural or political life.
As an example, I would like to mention Mr. Eduard Outrata, an expert in statistics, who returned from Canada. He became a director of the Czech Statistical Office in Prague. Now, he is a senator in our country´s government body. His wife Jana is devotedly active in social and humanitarian organizations. Both of them continue to keep up further their nice contacts with the Canadian Embassy in Prague. Thanks to both of them, many useful projects have already been carried out.
The economist Karel Kühnl also returned of late to the Czech Republic. Now, he is a chairman of the political party US-DEU. Professor Kohak came back from the USA to lecture at Charles´ University in Prague, and besides he also became a member of the Council for Radio and TV Broadcasting. After all, we could further continue naming other more of less known persons, who were not discouraged from helping to solve various current problems in the Czech Republic. As it is evident, they all appropriately fit themselves into the respective professions of daily life.
I admit that there is quite a different, much more delicate situation when we start talking either about high-ranking politicians or so called "big shots" at work. These people view such emigrant arrivals as rivals or as competitors, which have to be silenced, eliminated or even chased away from the nest. In such event, the human envy and fear of losing one´s professionally, materially and financially achieved advantageous positions are in the play.
Unfortunately, not all emigrants, returning to the Czech Republic are smart and decent people. I very much regret to say that those less honest emigrant persons work their way in a tricky or crafty manner, ingratiating themselves into the favor of high-ranking persons in the Czech Republic, whom they then abuse for their personal enrichment. An example is the former emigrant Mr. Victor Kozeny, who not long ago stripped many Czech person of thousands of Czech crowns by cheating and fraud in a privatization affair. Availing himself of the long Prague court processing, he quickly escaped from Prague to Bahamas, and from there, he is now scorning all the community of the Czech Republic with mockery.
Mr. Jiri Kotas is another former Czech emigrant to the USA, and later became a criminal in the Czech Republic. By many Czechs, he is at present scornfully nicknamed as "beekeeper". Through his trickiness, he even achieved becoming a financial counselor to Mr. Vaclav Klaus, when the latter was holding the position of Secretary of the Treasury in the Czech government at that time. As everyone knows, Mr. Klaus is presently the president of the Czech Republic since February 2003.
Mr. Kotas even had a nerve to participate in a candidacy for the post of Czech president!!! But he was obliged to escape from the Czech Republic, because the bank, which was allegedly founded by him, was "suddenly"declared bankrupt, and a very large sum of money simply "disappeared" with him when he left.
Quite a similar fraudulant action was of late discovered as well. In this case, it was Mr. Egon Lansky who returned as a former Czech emigrant from Sweden and Germany. However, he did not leave a tail of glory in those lands either. Actually, they do not remember him with any pleasure. Surprisingly, he curried favors with many Czech politicians, so that, after all, he became a senator of the Czech government. But unexpectedly, he had suddenly gotten several millions of Austrian currency from a Vienna bank, which he did not declare at all in his income tax. Moreover, he was also entirely incapable of clarifying, where such big sums of money had been coming from.
Sarcastically, similar activities as those mentioned above are now in the Czech Republic called "tunnel" actions, because in such events the citizens´ invested monies pass through it in all quietness, and under cover, they dive unbeknownst rapidly into the thieves´ pockets.
Of course, one has to take all such bad news with a certain criticism and with a grain of salt. Granted, it might be that all such information is not a 100 % truth, but it could also be quite possible that in fact, it is even worse. In any case, all Czech citizens follow up such bad news with particular malicious joy, and react to it in some instances jokingly thus: "The emigrants are arriving only to steal away from us even the tiny little assets, we have in the Czech Republic."
There is a saying that envy is a typically Czech persons´attribute. I am not quite sure whether this is irrevocably the truth in all cases. But in my opinion, an envy towards all emigrants is undeniable.
A great many of previously Czech emigrated professors or workers in other professions, who came back in full confidence to offer their experiences to be used in the Czech Republic were flatly rejected. Also, some USA or Canadian enterpreneurs, who were looking for co-operation or investments in the Czech Republic, returned due to a lack of Czech business flexibility, which is a great pity, because there is naturally a great Czech interest in developing such business. It might also be assumed that Czech citizens were greatly afraid about losing their jobs, which is in a way quite understandable. Notwithstanding, those returning Czech emigrants might have been able to use all their experiences from abroad, and thus serve much better in contributing to the prosperity and well-being of the management of the Czech business.
There is still another nuance of envy. As everyone knows, the Communist rulers hammered into the heads of the whole Czech nation during their 40 years way that whoever leaves or emigrates is a criminal, who must be considered as a traitor, and is consequently to be disdained and scorned. All those persons, who have not been thinking much about emigration possibilities, accepted such indoctrinated Communist attitude as a valid coin, and did not meditate about it further. However, those Czech citizens who were informed about such actions, especially when their relatives emigrated by escaping, were quite frequently persecuted by Communist authorities. That was the reason that the Czechs in question did not want to talk much about it at that time.
In the long run, this even became a rather touchy matter. That is to say, it happened when the Czech relatives in the former Communist Czechoslovakia showed some of the pictures from the USA, where their Czech emigrant relative was bragging by standing in front of the newest model of a USA car production. As is well known, in Czech lands to get at all a Skoda car at that time, one had to get a special hard-to-get government certificate to be allowed to buy it, and afterwards, one had to wait in line, sometimes even during the night, for getting the car. This could have lasted for about 2-3 years. It was definitely very unfeeling of the Czech relatives in the Czech Republic that they boasted in front of other Czech citizens about the great success of their emigrated son, daughter or other relatives overseas. In so doing, they created an atmosphere that in the USA, one does not have to work at all, and everything is immediately easily available to everybody. As nobody was allowed to travel to western countries, nobody knew what the reality was. Thus, the USA especially became a heavenly dream and paradise, and everybody started to think about it. But there has always been that problem of Communist schooling as mentioned above. The Czechs were partially concerned, because they did not want to become traitors. But their envy was growing rapidly as they saw how easily and quickly those emigrants became rich. Regrettably, such a deeply rooted impression has remained in the minds of many Czech citizens even after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
On the other hand, besides envy and meanness, we have to face another delicate point which arises in this connection, that is to say superior attitude.
In the Czech Republic, there is a generally wide spread opinion about the Czech emigrant to the USA which characterizes their standpoint thus: "Oh well, all the people of the USA had always been living an easy, comfortable and pleasant life, just as the nobility did in the past centuries, while we in Czech lands had been tormented and suffered under the Bolshevik yoke of Communist sway. Now, the Americans want to precept us and be our superior teachers to tell us how we have to live."
It is understandable that everyone of the Czech emigrants is reacting differently. Naturally, when revisiting the Czech Republic after many years, of absence, Czech emigrant cannot resist to compare the present situation with the past. The other day, I was walking with a Canadian emigrant in the Prague streets. While I was happy that the previously delapidated and completely neglected individual house facades during Communism had now been substituted by new white and decent pastel shades of joyfully shining colors, my companion was instantly criticizing it as a horrible variety choice of colors, saying: "Who the devil had the daring to use such a tasteless and shoddy color combination!?!?!" It seems that psychologically, my Canadian friend might probably want to prove to himself, how correct and justified it was that he had escaped from Czech lands. In such an event, I really do not know what kind of a reply would have been appropriate to say.
Not long ago, I spent some days with a very kind and pleasant lady, who as a former Czech emigrant returned to the Czech Republic from the USA. She lives now in a smaller town in Moravia. While we were chatting about various things, she told me: "Oh my God, your washing machine is really very slow! You should see how wonderfully quick the washing machines in the USA do the same job within some seconds. Besides, you do not take any vitamins or minerals? My gosh! From my stay in the USA, I am used to taking a whole handful of vitamins and minerals. Well, of course, you do not have those things here, have you? Oh my gosh, how can you exist without air-conditioning!?!?! I would get baked and die without it!!!" Such were her constant comparisons in the course of the day of my stay with her. On the other hand, she told me at the same time that she was in fact not able to buy many things for her dollars in the USA, while the extremely advantageous exchange rate between US-dollar and the Czech Crown places her in a much more favorable situation, so that she can now live in the Czech Republic extremely well." Well, I am always taking such attitudes with a cautious reservation. But it is difficult for the simple Czech common people to accept it lightly. They take it that the Czech emigrants are mocking them for something for which they should not be in any way blamed, as it is definitely not their fault.
In closing, I would like to summarize some of the points comprised in my lecture. During my editing work in Czech Dialogue for 13 years, I have had the privilege of meeting Czech emigrants in different countries from various walks of life.
There are those who have had their residence of long standing in the USA. In fact, they were already born here, since their ancestors emigrated from Czech lands or Slovakia many years ago. Presently, their parents or grandparents are in many cases still sharing their lives with the recent generation. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to find out that all these generations have invariably claimed their appurtenance to their native country by spreading both the pertaining culture and conciseness in their new homes. That is why I think highly about so many emigrants, arriving in the USA in the distant past, in the years 1948, 1968 or thereafter. A great majority of them are honest, humble and devoted citizens, for whom
I have my deep appreciation. I have also had the experience that many of them are longing for any kind of recognition from their native country, which surprisingly looks sometimes to be on the border of a sentimental morbidity. Of course, I am fully aware of the reality that any emigration is not a normalcy in our lives. I have noticed that many emigrants are positively participating in various social activities of their country of origin, while other emigrants living in the same area ridicule them for such activity. Well, any emigration is a rather difficult period of life, which can be very often enriching and strengthening, but it may also cause some hurt and spiritual pain. In any event, every emigrant whom I met from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, i.e. from the USA gladly accepts it when she/he is heartily and warmly welcomed in their home country; especially if a handshake is mutually made with a wholehearted frankness. In the course of all those years, we have both, i.e. we in the old country and you in the acquired country, been missing natural contacts of daily life. Therefore, it now depends upon us to keep reviving them as much as possible, as only in so doing, we can understand each other much better.[Translated by Charles Opatrny]
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