Missed Opportunities

3 2006 Dějiny English
obálka čísla

The History Of The First Opportunity To Form A Great Empire Of Western Slavs

A suitable motto for this article might be the Polish proverb that caught my attention because it is so different from ours. All of you probably have seen the statue of hope with its attribute- the anchor. The Poles say: "Hope is the Mother of Fools.� This saying seems to me to be much wiser than ours:� Hope Dies Last.� It appears that both proverbs tell a lot about the differences between the Czechs and the Poles. Maybe you will find its origin in the story that I am about to tell.

It happened in the second half of the 10-th and at the beginning of the 11-th centuries. It all started with a marriage, and as most of us know, marriage is often like placing a bet with an unknown ending. Boleslav I. The Cruel received this "nickname" because of committing fratricide. It was certainly a damnable act, yet unfortunately, not too extraordinary or infrequent in the history of mankind. However, he was a good ruler who solved conflicts either by force or by diplomatic agreements. He apparently regretted his act of violence because he gave his son- who was born during the night before the murder of the count Vaclav- the name STRACHKVAS ( or Fear-kvass). The son's uncle was invited to the Christening party and his father dedicated - clearly as repentance the child to spiritual service. For many years it was debated whether a certain monk and chronicler named Kristian the author of one of the fist legends about the life and martyrdom of St. Vaclav and his grandmother St. Ludmilamight be this particular son. The writer dedicated his work to the bishop Vojtech Slavnikovec. According to the latest researches, it appears that the first written work was done by a Czech and naturally written in Latin and it was produced by a Premyslid.

Boleslav's son was educated probably in the monastery of St. Jimram in Regensburg. Later he lived in a Benedictine monastery in Brevnov that is today known as the nunnery of St. Marketa. In addition to writing the legend mentioned above, Boleslav�s son also wrote a Chronicle. (Kronika). Both works are important- not only for their literary value, but also as interesting sources of historical information about the 10-th century. Boleslav I. had three more sons with his wife who presumably came from one of the German states and was named Biagota. One of his sons � Boleslav II.- was nicknamed The Pious- another paradox. This ruler certainly was one of the ablest early Premyslids. His duchy was quite large and included- in addition to Bohemia and Moravia- Silesia, southern Poland( around Krakow), Halic as far as Lvov, Slovakia, and he was in negotiation about acquiring the area around Kijev. During his rule, in 995 , the competing noble family of Slavnikovs was eliminated with the exception of 3 surviving men. None of his contemporaries held this act against him. As a result of this massacre, a larger and more united Czech state was created, because the Slavnikov Family holdings reached from today�s Kourim far south and north. Boleslav II. was called The Pious probably because- during his reign- a bishopric was founded in Prague. Thus the clerical administration of the Czech duchy and the regions that belonged to it was transferred from the bishopric in Regensburg to that of Meinz. Of course one must not forget the important role that Boleslav�s younger sister Marie played. She was also known as Mlada- a name she took as a nun of the Benedictine order. She also undertook a most stressful and challenging trip to Rome where she asked the pope John XIII. for permission to found a bishopric and the first monastery in Bohemia. This monastery became known as the monastery of St. Jiri on Hradcany. Both her requests wer granted and recorded in writing in 973. Boleslav II. obtained this important document from the emperor Oto I. in Quedlinburg., where he and St. Wofgang, the bishop of Regensburg, were on a visit. Boleslav showed his gratitude to the bishop by giving him some land and properties around the city of Cheb. Boleslav I. and Biagota's fourth offspring was a daughter named Doubravka, Dobrava, or Dombrawa in Poland. She clearly showed abilities inherited from her grandmother St. Ludmila and her other grandmother Drahomira. From the first one she inherited "wisdom of speech� and from the second grandmother strength, determination and courage. Her father Boleslav arranged a profitable marriage for her. We do not know how old she was at that time because her year of birth is not known. We do know that it was a dynastic marriage, as was customary among the ruling families at that time. We also know that her bridegroom named Mesek or Mecislav was the first historically recorded ruler from the Polish noble Pistov family- the origin and legends about this family are similar to other such ruling families. He reigned in the area of today's Posen , also in Great Poland( Velkopolsko), an area in the floodplain of the river Varta. He was a heathen and resided in the town of Hnezdno. Christianity came to the western Slavs from the area of today's Germany and more often than not by fire and sword rather than by teaching the gospel. Our land escaped this fate because our count Borivoj and his wise wife Ludmila accepted Christianity early and were christened by the monk Method in the residence of this ruler of the Great Moravian Empire in the 80�s of the 9th century. And Poland escaped thanks to the marriage of countess Doubravka and Mesek I., which took place in 965. We don�t know the place of the wedding. The historians assume that either accepting Christianity was one of the conditions for entering into marriage, or the result of the countess�s behavior, which was- according to scant sources- wise and loving. It is an indisputable fact that- in 966- not only the count, but also the members of his entourage were christened. Evidently the countess came to Hnezdno with her own retinue which most likely included also a priest. She lived with her husband for 12 years, and died in 977. In Polish history she left a shining mark. Unfortunately neither her age nor the place of her burial are known. Due to her influence and the work of St. Vojtech Poland was saved from the pursuits of neighboring Saxony and other German states, and also from the harsh proceedings of the Order of the German Knights in Christianization of other western Slavs around the river Elbe and in Pomerania. It was and is a lucky beginning of good relations between the two states.

Christian faith spread by word, good example, good deeds- not by fire and sword. Such an example was worth following. Unfortunately- as it often happens in human history- such an example did not make a lasting impression. The politics of marriage and diplomacy was replaced by military skirmishes. The son of Mecislav and Doubravka Boleslav, rightly called The Valiant, was an unusually able and courageous soldier and also a diplomat. He evidently inherited the good qualities of his father and mother. However, the son of his uncle Boleslav II. named Boleslav III. The Redhaired, whose mother was probably the English princess Adivea, married - after his mother's death - Emma, possibly the daughter of the French king and had with her two sons- Jaromir and Oldrich. Shortly after their father�s death in February, 999 and after the father �s rule that lasted more than a quarter of a century- a unscrupulous fight for power flared up between the two brothers.

We started with a proverb and here is another one that fits. The saying: " When Two Fight, the Third One Wins " proved absolutely true. Here the third and also the fourth one was the cousin Boleslav The Valiant. Of course, he was not alone; the neighboring rulers from Saxony and Bavaria also joined in and grasped the opportunity. The war between relatives was, as usual, merciless. The Czech state almost disappeared. Boleslav The Valiant switched fighting sides. In 1034 he became a Czech ruler with the intention to make Prague the center of a Czech-Polish state. He was not successful. When he refused to take an oath of submission to the German king Henry, he was chased out of the Czech lands with the help of Boleslav's Czech cousins Jaromir and Oldrich, and Poland as a state disappeared from the map of Europe for more than one hundred years. It is possible that the Polish people survived because of the ancient marriage of a Christian countess Doubravka and a heathen ruler Mecislav.

In conclusion allow me to relate a story from the Polish town Sopoty. I went to visit this charming spa community with my children. My son became friends with a small boy- son of our landlady. Both boys were around 5 years old and they got along very well. One day I was observing them from the balcony while they had a little misunderstanding. Suddenly the little Polish boy stood up and ended the spat with an energetic statement: "I am a Pole." Nothing needs to be added to that.

I often think about what a shame it has been that- after so many opportunities-that our two nations did not get closer to each other until the twenty years of a normalization process during the last century. It is only to be hoped that it will stay this way and that our mutual relations will always remain in the spirit of the kind countess Doubravka.

Jana Volfova
Translated by Marie Dolansky

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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