|Senator Charles J. Hokky : Ruthenia|
THE FREEDOM OF
PRESS AND ASSEMBLY
"IT WILL BE SEEN THAT JOURNALISM IS A
HAZARDOUS PROFESSION IN THE C. S. R.."
--Sir R. Donald
"Freedom of the Press as well as the right to assembly peaceable and without arms, and to form associations, is guaranteed. It is therefore inadmissible to place the press under preliminary censorship. " (Clause 113 of the Constitution of the Czechoslovak Republic. )
"The Minority Treaties impose on the Succession States the duty of maintaining a free press. And so the recognition of the fact that a free democracy can not live without a free press was expressed in Clause 113 of the Constitution.
Until a few years ago the iniquitious system, condemned by the Constitution, the 'preliminary censorship' was practiced. Copy was censored before it could be printed. At least it can be said of this system that it is less costly to the newspaper proprietors. " 1
At the beginning, for a few years, the first copy was censored before the rest was printed. Later the issue already printed was subjected to censorship and confiscated. After nine years of constant seizures, I had to discontinue my weekly, the "Határszéli Újság" (Frontier-Side Newspaper), published at Ungvár, which my predecessors had published for a quarter of a century.
MASARYK said: "Our Republic must ensure full liberty of conscience to every citizen so that discussion may be free and every conviction be expressed." 2
My periodical had to be discontinued before the death of MASARYK, because of numerous seizures. However there had been so many newspapers confiscated, that MASARYK had to know about these actions. The papers were confiscated by the police from the shelves of the bookstores, or they were taken from the mail
Naturally, the newspaper salesmen did not appreciate the police coming to their store to seize the newspapers which were for sale. This hurt the editors because it intimidated the salesmen. They usually did not wait for the police to come into their store a second time. Most of them immediately renounced selling that newspaper after the first police visit.
Also the advertisers abandoned the newspapers which were frequently confiscated, because they feared that the police had those under observation, who advertised in the papers concerned.
It sometimes happened that the whole issue of a newspaper was seized. In such cases, the editor either re-printed or did not publish that particular issue. The first was very expensive; the second estranged the readers of the paper. Both caused serious damage.
The most characteristic incident in my journalistic practice was as follows: I intended to write on the subject that a Czechoslovak people does not exist. There is a Slovak and also a Czech people, (as there is also a Moravian), but these two are not identical. One language is not a dialect of the other. The Prefect of the Police at Ungvar learned about my intention and sent word to me that if I wrote about this touchy subject, he would immediately and permanently prohibit the issue of my paper. I, naturally, did not want this; although several Czechs and almost all the Slovaks profess this fact, Many of them, for instance General PRCHALA, Lt Col F, O. MIKSCHE, and the Slovak writer, HROBAK, expressed these ideas. Even Ex-Senator TAPT made a statement to the effect that he had knowledge of the two languages not being identical. But one was not allowed to write the truth. Though, according to Ferenc DEÁK, the great Hungarian statesman, the Press Law should contain only a single paragraph: "One may write only the truth ! "
"The founders of that country have always professed a fervent devotion to the Liberty of the Press. " (Words of a Czech representative). . . "It is deplorable and almost unbelievable to Fnglish people who judge the Czechoslovak Republic from the ideals and representations of its founders, to find that censorship and suppression of newspapers is still enforced.
There is a Press Department of the Ministry of Justice whose duty is to censor newspapers. I have a big collection of recent date with more blanks than prints. ... My collection includes Slovak, German, and Hungarian papers. " 3 - The great British historian could have found many like those also in Ruthenia.
"Censorship varies in different localities. I have a copy of a Hungarian paper which was permitted to print Lord ROTHERMERE's reply to Bishop ZOCH, and another copy of the same issue in which only blanks appear. The paper is the "Ruszinszkoi Magyar Gazda" dated 16 October. " (1928) 4 - The article censored: "The Correspondence Which Shocked the Whole World. Lord ROTHERMERE's Reply to Bishop ZOCH. How did the famous English Statesman See Our Conditions. "
We could continue for several more pages. It is no wonder that a few people had already at the Peace Conference, or immediately after, seen correctly what the Chief of the State Department, Robert LANSING also saw: "It may be years before these oppressed peoples are able to throw off the yoke, but as sure as day follows night, the time will come when they will make the effort. " 5
The freedom of assembly was restricted in the same manner as the freedom of speech or freedom of press had been. The Czechs, and partly the Communists, had in Ruthenia the benefits of the freedom of assembly, but no other party of the opposition. However the Communist party could not be considered opposition because they were in the favor of the government. The Rusin and Hungarian opposition had to report every meeting in advance, even those of cultural or social character. Moreover, they had to be very careful to be able to have any meeting at a11 ! If it was started only one minute later than permitted by the Czech authorities, some malevolent Czech officials immediately closed the meeting. There was no remedy. If the meeting could not be held at the pre-announced place, it had to be canceled. Sometimes the locality was authorized but the censor would declare immediately before the beginning that the meeting could not be held at that particular location. He would give some reason, which he perhaps invented just then. It was very seldom possible to find another location.
Every meeting was attended by a censor. I held several hundred meetings, or was present as appointed speaker, and the censor was never missing. If someone made a statement, which he, according to the censor, should not have made, he was informed that this was against the state, and the meeting was immediately closed. The statements, most of the time, were not against the state, but against the government of the state. The members of the government, even the officials of the governorship, could not be criticized. The speaker seldom could avoid punishment. The censor was frequently some Czech who spoke very poor Hungarian. It was no use if ten or a hundred persons certified that he misunderstood the words of the speaker. Their testimony was disregarded, and only the decision of the censor was considered. The word of others was unimportant. I attended several meetings which were closed in this manner, causing the audience to become indignant. Although, it did not do any harm to us. On the contrary, we found that the closing of a meeting helped, especially before elections. The results were always better after several rallies were closed. The waves of bitterness extended also among those who were not present. The results of this narrow minded attitude of the authorities were almost immense.
Our rallies were often prohibited in advance. We were astonished when an assembly at Ungvar, planned by Dr. Geza SZULLO, the President of the National Christian-Socialist Party, was prohibited several days in advance. It was a puzzle, since the Chief of Police of Ungvar was not narrow-minded. In fact, we found that several times he was annoyed by the clumsiness of some of his bigoted officials. However, Dr. SZULLO's trip of several hundred kilometers was not in vain. People talked more about him than if he had held the meeting. He was well known, and people liked his habit of illustrating a problem with one or two sentences, spiced with sarcasm. One person knew one thing about him, the other recalled something else. They enjoyed his speeches and remembered many of them. Dr. SZULLO was surprised when people quoted to him,
in wine cellars, what he had said once at Érsekújvár, Kassa or Pozsony. The curiosity, interest, and the talk about SZULLO were more effective than holding a meeting. However, it was characteristic, that when a representative to the national assembly wanted to speak somewhere, the meeting was prohibited even before he was able to open his mouth and say a single word. The Minister of Interior apologized, as usual, but the Chief of Police probably received a commendation. So did we harass each other. This, however, did not help the government or the politics of the Czechs. On the contrary, it created discontent.
As early as 1620, the "Mayflower Act" provided for freedom of religion, speech, and press. The Pilgrims landing in America, seeking freedom on free American soil, already respected these basic liberties. The Czechs three centuries later, recognized these freedoms on paper, only in order to deceive world opinion; refusing to actually grant any of these freedoms to their citizens. In reality, they punished with seizure of newspapers, even with jail sentences those who dared to state the true facts. An American or an Englishman would scarcely believe this; as there are many Americans or Englishmen who do not believe what is now taking place in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the three basic liberties, Freedom of Religion, Speech and Press were not granted in the new Czech state.
Foot notes to Chapter V
1 Sir R. DONALD: The Tragedy of Trianon, pp. 156 to 158
2 T. G. MASARYK: The making of a State, p. 492
3 Sir R. DONALD: op. cit. , pp. 156-157
4 Ibidem, p. 158. (Ungvar Magyar Gazda: Hungarian Farmer of Ruszinszko)
5 R. LANSING: The Peace Negotiations, p. 275
|Senator Charles J. Hokky : Ruthenia|