Russians Scarce, Troubles Many
Report From Czechoslovakia
I just cycled up from Mocacha with Yaroslav Bohancs after an exhausting afternoon in the grottos where political prisoners are held, sitting on the cold, wet points of stalactites.
But let me tell you something about Czechoslovakia, or CRS as it shall be called from here on in. First of all, there are no Russians here. That is for these who think there are Russians here. In Prague last week I saw two Russians at the Opera. Both of them seemed to be enjoying it appreciatively. Secondly, I could not see any curtain, iron or otherwise, when I entered the country. I came in over the rabble of Germany and have traveled only by hitch-hiking since I've been here. First I went to Pizen, then Prague, and then south to Moravin and Brne. There are many police here and there are many soldiers, but not any more than there are in France. Hitching from Prague I was stopped by a klotch of six policemen, each of whom looked like an Italian admiral. Two of them ran over to the side of the road, plied me with cigarettes and what conversation we could manage, while the other four formed a block of the road and stopped every car until they found one going to Brno. We shook hands all round and off I went in a 1927 Oldsmobile. There's also a lot of nonsense about press freedom. On a local news-stand on in a hightype kavarna (coffeehouse) you can buy "or read everything from Pravda to the Readers Digest, including, if you have the time, all the English continental editions and the good, gray Time magazine. The Herald Tribune, despite some emotional tiralies against CRS by Josef Alsop,"is as available as RudePravo, a local daily. Czecli papers do not ordinarily go in for strong criticism of Russia, but that is only because their bread is greased on the Russian side and there are no political feels here.
Realistically, CRS is two states, Slovakia and the Czech combination of Bohomia and Moravia. I don't know much about Slovakia-haven't been there-except that it in a rather rural, backward area, dominated strongly by the Church. During the war, the Germans, trying to divide the republic during the occupation, feted the Slovaks with all kinds of food and materials, and people being naturally conservative, they look back to the German domination with some gastronomic nostalgia. Now they're picking up former collaborators every week in Slovakia. So when you talk about politics, you have to divide the two regions of the republic. In the Czech section the Communists are the strongest party with about 40 percent of the Parliament seats. There are three other parties, the National Socialist (not Nazi) in second place. Meanwhile, the Slovaks are operating with four other parties, that have no connection with the Czech organizations. The Communists, who have about 28 percent of the votes in Slovakia, have no organizational ties with the Communists here, although they're probably never seen arguing very much. The big party in Slovakia is something called the Democratic Party, which controls about 62 percent of the vote. In it are all the dregs of the extreme Right as well as the center groups.
This government operates in a strange way. There is always a coalition cabinet, unless of course, one party gains 100 percent of the seats. There are 25 ministers and 300 representatives. The party proportions in the ministry are the same as they are in the Parliament. That's a law. There are nine Communists in the ministry. And because the Communists are topdogs, Gottwald, the party chief, got to be Prime Minister. The Communists also have two key positions: Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Propaganda.
The strangest phenomenon of the government is the president, Benes. He is sort of a combination of an American president and the King of England in power, but the most important thing is that he's the most respected man in the country. People will do absolutely everything or anything he says. He calls every play and there are no disputes. It's a system that works because they've had two good men, Masaryk pero and Benes, but what they can expect in the future is even more doubtful than the future of the American presidency.
(This is the first part of a letter written from Czechoslovakia by Stanley A. Karnow '45. The second, and concluding, part will appear in Friday's Crimson.)