Despite the fact that Good Soldier Svejk was Czech and it's writer a representative of "Bohemia" in the sense of the lands now taken up by the Czech Republic during the Habsburg period, "Sveijk" is still a popular character in neighbouring Poland, even though curiously both of these Central European nations tend not to be very curious about their neighbours.
The reason is, of course, because Svejk and the author Jaroslav Hasek belonged to the same Habsburg Imperium as the Galician Poles and both the Czechs and Poles chafed under the rules of the Austrian Kaisereich or the dysfunctional 800 year old Empire which contained eighteen nationalities spread across various miscellaneous old principalities and kingdoms.
Though Habsburg rule had been very harsh in repressing the 1848 Revolutions by the Hungarians and, indeed, Austrians themselves, it had also crushed Polish aspirations for freedom and ended the Free City of Krakow that had existed between 1815 and 1848, turning Krakow into a "Festung" city against enemies within ( rebel Poles ) and later against enemies without ( the Tsarist Empire ).
After 1867 and the Ausgleich had led to a gradual liberalisation of of Habsburg rule as the aim was to inspire loyalty to the Habsburg crown by stressing the royal heritage rather than the fact it had always been an Imperium. That did not stop both Poles and Czechs often loathing it and in Galicia Poles and Ukrainians loathing one another.
As Robert Musil wrote of "Kakania" "by its constitution it was liberal but its system of government was clerical, but the general attitude to life was liberal" and it was that clerical administrative power of the Church and the Military that Hasek, an anarchist loathed even before the outbreak of World War One and the total incompetence of the Austrian War Effort.
The trend towards nationalism ensured that in Galicia despite an element of loyalty to Franz Josef II, there was gowing up a whole host of petty atavistic nationalisms that were not much more pleasant or less aggressive than the brutality inherent in the Austrian militarist mentality Hasek hated and satirised so much.
Which is one reason plucky old Svejk is venerated in what is now Malopolska and still appears on adverts for beer halls, where ordinary Krakowians fed up with the incompetant stuffed shirt nonentities of the Rada Miejska in 2010, with its incompetence and corruption, love a good laugh and joke at their pomposity, no less than many did against both the Habsburgs and later the prim and grim culture of the USSR's domination.
The key difference is, however, that Hasek represented a tradition of anarchy and rebellion distinctly Czech and his portrayal of Polish Galicia in Good Soldier Svejk is actually not particularly flattering. That was probably inspired by Hasek's visceral detestation of the Catholic Church whether preached by drunk Austrian chaplains or Poles.
Poland has virtually no history of anarchism amongst the common people. In Krakow there was "La Boheme", the anti-clerical satires of Boy-Zelenski and those who were connected with the Mloda Polska movement who performed satirical caberets at the Zielony Balonik ( Green Balloon ) at Michalik's Den on Florianska Street.
Consequently, in Good Soldier Svejk, though all idiotic forms of militarism and lunatic orders are satirised, the multinational force find a Galicia that conforms to the idea that this was the most miserable and backward province of the Austrian Empire as they pass through the Carpathians through Lupka Pass to Sanok.
In Sanok there is now a bronze statue to Svejk in the centre but his account of everything in this part of Galicia, where he was being chivvied by the higher authorities to "go down" in history ( literally ) against the Russians, showed a place of bullied Jews, wretchedly thin cows whose meat tasted like leather and false notions of propriety in the brothels.
What's more, the Polish Catholic priests are lampooned for poisoning the wells as a means of killing Russians in such a way that they only end up giving the Habsburg Army ( including Hungarians, Czechs, Austrians and Poles ) typhus, the shits, and having recourse to carousing the bars to drink the only poison that wouldn't kill them-alcohol.
In Tyrawa Wolska, miles from the battle lines, the local priests have poured citric acid down the wells whilst the Catholic Priests proclaim sententiously "Now God in his Justice had punished him ( man ) with stinking tepid drinking water"
The "drinking water" is so yellow that it looks like sliwowica and which the bullying Czech officer Lieutenant Dub drinks when snatching it from Svejk to drink it and prove he's been getting drunk again, resulting in him getting ill for weeks and meaning the whole regiment falls into disorder.
Getting drunker and more disorderly, the Austrian troops scurry about for clean water to get rid of their atrocious hangovers only to find that the Polish peasants have nailed planks to the wells or again infected them in order to kill off any outsiders who do not belong there, which presumably meant other Poles serving in the army.
At Stary Sol, near Kroscienko, the Austrians celebrate the Gift of Holy Water by having a sententious hymn forced to be sung in German, though half the soldiers haven't got a clue what they are singing, called The Song of Lourdes,
"This bubbling spring calls Thee down from above
It should be the gauge and pledge of my love. Ave Maria"
Hasek then satirically observes there were many latrines and scattered over them were 'The Song of Lourdes'.
Svejk's decision to try on a dead Russian soldiers uniform then gets him arrested by the Austrians as a spy behind enemy lines, which once more prevents him ever getting near the Eastern Front. Perhaps one reason Hasek as a literary figure has never been popular in Poland is precisely because of his sarcastic attitude towards the Catholic Church.
Then again one reason why the Czechs and Poles tend to ignore each other culturally is the fact that the strong Hussite tendency in Czech culture and its secularism, as well as the number of Pan-Slavists like Hasek who hated the Austrian authorities so much that he preferred the Russians even,
Moreover, whilst Czechs are 90% atheist the same number in Poland are Catholics ( at least ritually ).
In cuisine, language and history, 'Czech and Lech' should have much in common. Both were dominated by the USSR. But one reason for the indifference is that from the Czech perspective one gripe could include the disputed Cieszyn or Tesin region back in 1938 and the involvement of Polish troops in the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968.
Yet this is old history subsequently blamed on the dual threat of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism that both the then Czechoslovakia and Poland both suffered from. The Polish and Czech dissidents maintained cordial reltionships and still call for a new central role for the USA in defending what both regard as "Central Europe".
From the Polish view of things, the Czechs are wealthier, have a better standard of living, better beer, and they always seem to be better with their smaller population and who are yet damnable atheists into the bargain. Few Czechs ever bother visiting Krakow or Poland and vice versa.
As one Czech girl told me in Hungary once during a hiking trip in the Tatras, she regarded Poles as a a bit "fundamentalist" for getting hammered on vodka around the camp fire at night whilst she went off to bed and then was woken by them getting up at 5AM feeling wretched to try to walk over the hills to a Church in Slovakia for Morning Mass.
A Polish scholar of Czech literature Mariusz Szczygieł said in Przegłąd "I don't know why other Poles like the Czechs but this is why I like them",
1) The Church in the Czech Republic plays no role in political, social or private life.
2) Every town and village tries to look like it comes from a fairytale.
3) Even in very small towns you can hire a bike.
4) On Fridays most people, even though they are at work, think about the weekend and make plans which involve more than just sitting at home.
5) They treat culture as an anti-depressant.
As for Hasek it is difficult to see how the writer himself could be a popular figure in Poland unlike the character Svejk himself given his cosmic hatred of Catholicism and Pan-Slavism, as well as his support for the Romanovs and his later abandonment of his dislike for the Bolsheviks to to the point where he opposed the plan of the Entente to move the Czech Legion to the Western Front when he thought it should fight the Germans on Russian soil.
That obviously contrasted to the Poles who under Pilsudski's Legions wanted to concentrate on fighting the Russians who had never occupied Bohemia. That's why Hasek deserted the Czech Legion in Kiev and joined the Bolsheviks in 1918 were he went to the central Russian city of Samara until it was then occupied by the Czech Legion and he had to flee again into the Central Asian provinces.
As the eternal Bohemian he could never adjust to his like as Bolshevik Commissar Gashek or his like as Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Communists in Ufa, not least due to the revolutionary puritanism expected of him, and so returned to Czechoslovakia in 1920 to write articles for the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party in Rude Pravo.
As a literary and 'political' writer Hasek was far closer to the anarchists than the totalitarian Communists who proceeded to set up a mass system of murder under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, as had been evident by the fact he had identified before the war with the circle of intellectuals favourable to the radical wing of the Austro-Hungarian labour movement.
Though according to Peter Demetz he styled himself a "Prague Maxim Gorky" he had no real connection with any authoritarian form of system, dropping his support for the Romanovs and supporting Masaryk's Parliamentary democracy even when still in Russia and joined the Social Democrats prior to the Bolsheviks which really out of tactical expediency-defeating Germany.
As such that position was no less inconsistent that the plotting intrigues of Pilsudski in Poland who had assisted Lenin and his couriers during World War One from Krakow simply because both the former and Lenin wanted the downfall of the Romanovs as much as Hasek wanted the downfall of Germany first and foremost.
Such nationalist and socialist agitation against the imperialism of the three imperial powers was all about what conservative critics tended to term "moral relativism" as Paul Johnson does in his Modern Times, where he writes that Central-Eastern Europe was ripped apart by irreconciliable nationalisms after the Versailles Treaty had introduced the idea of national self-determination in which,
"the lid on the noisome seething pot and the stench of the brew therein filled Europe filled Europe until Hitler first and then Stalin slammed down it down again by force"
Yet as Hasek's translator into English Cecil Parrott points out,
" Schweikism is a word often used to characterise passive resistance of the Czechs (but ) Svejk is not necessarily a Czech figure. He might be any Central European and is, in fact, a 'Mr Everyman' in the sense that he resembles any 'little man' who gets caught up in the wheels of big bureaucratic machine".In Good Soldier Svejk the target was all military imperialisms and that could apply as much to the Poles as to Austria, Germany, Russia and then the USSR, not least a Poland which was torn between Pilsudski's federal ideals of the old pre-partitioned Poland and those who were advocating a greedy and bellicose version of Poland when it attacked Tesin in 1921 and failed.
The continuity between the 'National Communism' of Mieczyslaw Moczar in 1968 and the Polish revanchists in 1921 was one reason for the enthusiasm with which Poland actually participated in Hitler's destruction of Czechoslovakia in 1938, though it was in her interests to side with the cause of Czech independence.
As for Hasek he died of alcoholism in 1924 and never really did much in Prague public life as he wrote Good Soldier Svejk in the provinces and slowly drank himself to death, having returned a rather disliked figure in the new Czechoslovakia for being a "traitor" and also a bigamist who had rejected his pre-war wife Jarmila in favour of a Russian bride.
Jaroslav Hasek, Good Soldier Svejk ( Cecil Parrott Translation )
Paul Johnson, Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1990s
Niall Ferguson, The War of the World
Peter Demetz, Prague in Black and Gold
Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism
Certain kneejerk atavistic Polish nationalists responded in anger to this, as they are wont to when the notion of Poland as the Eternal Victim Nation is challenged. Even over the Cieszyn/Tesin/Teschen conflict there is outright hostility to the notion that Poland did attack Czechoslovakia in 1918 and 1938.
Originally, both national councils (the Polish Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego in its declaration "Ludu śląski!" of 30 October 1918 and the Czech Zemský národní výbor pro Slezsko in its declaration of 1 November 1918) claimed the whole Cieszyn Silesia for themselves.
On 31 October 1918, at the dusk of World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, the majority of the area was taken over by local Polish authorities supported by armed forces.
The interim agreement of 2 November 1918 reflected the inability of the two national councils to come to final delimitation.
On 5 November 1918, the area was divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia by an interim agreement of two local self-government councils (Czech Zemský národní výbor pro Slezsko and Polish Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego).
Before that, the majority of the area was taken over by Polish local authorities. In 1919 both councils were absorbed by the newly created and independent central governments in Prague and Warsaw.
Notice that the Polish government snatched it by force first. Richard Watts is simply wrong about 1938 and a mediocre historian who euphemises Beck's seizure of Cieszyn in 1938 thus,
"Amid the general euphoria in Poland – the acquisition of Teschen was a very popular development – no one paid attention to the bitter comment of the Czech general who handed the region over to the incoming Poles. He predicted that it would not be long before the Poles would themselves be handing Teschen over to the Germans."The Czech general was ,of course, correct as were the Czechs for persistently pursuing constitutional means of resolving what had been their lands for centuries and who treated their minorities far better than Poland did.
The scale of anti-semitism in Poland dwarfed that in the Czech Republic. The Chrzanow Pogrom of 1918 was far more brutal than anything which happened in Czechoslovakia, though much anti-German sentiment was around.
Richard Overy summarises the situation thus in 1939: Countdown to War,
" In the summer of 1938 Polish leaders were in favour of the break up of the Czech state in the hope that Poland could dominate an independent Slovakia and become a major influence from the Baltic States to the borders of Romania.Beck and Lipski's semi-fascist regime contributed to the myth that Poland was essentially only from the start a "reactionary force", one that is not accepted by Overy who condemns the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939.
The Polish government shared in the spoils of the dismembered Czechoslovak state by issuing a successful ultimatum to the Czechs to cede Teschen territory to Poland. It seemed to the West not unlikely that the Poles would join the German camp"
Yet this continuous drivel about the Second Republic being from start to finish as some glorious flawless experiment in Polish freedom where all the politicians were wonderful defenders of the nation and only a victim nation is equally a myth.
Richard Watts' craven failure to denounce the Polish aggression against Czechoslovakia in is clear when which he writes,
"The Polish 1938 ultimatum to Czechoslovakia and its acquisition of Teschen were gross tactical errors. Whatever justice there might have been to the Polish claim upon Teschen, its seizure in 1938 was an enormous mistake in terms of the damage done to Poland's reputation among the democratic powers of the world."They were not "tactical errors" merely;that's reading history backwards. The Czech general knew at the time that the break up of Czechoslovakia, a key ally of Britain and France, was a harbinger of the revanchist nationalism of which Nazism was the most extreme.