The impression which one obtains in passing through the towns and villages of Macedonia is very painful. Ghevgeli, on the Greek frontier, and such places, remind one of the shattered areas of Western Europe. You realize, if you did not do so before, that the deadly disease of war ravaged this empty country as greedily as it did the fullness of Flanders and France. Ruin stares from thousands of lost homes, and from many you realize the inhabitants have been destroyed also. There is recovery. Like convalescent maimed creatures, Skoplye and Nish creep into the sunlight and show signs of animation. Not nearly so many fields are ploughed as in Bulgaria. Why? Because the labouring hands are lost. You see many jolly, laughing Turks in Skoplye. They can laugh. Their manhood survives plentifully, but death has gleaned in every Serbian family down there. The trains go at a snail's pace through Serbia. One day we went all day and part of the night at an average of five kilometres the hour. In Bulgaria and Greece the trains go slowly, but they are express compared with the trains from Ghevgeli to Skoplye. The reason is because the permanent way has been almost ruined and will need years of work upon it, and all bridges have been blown up. The train halts now and then, and then most fearfully budges forward, scarcely moves, budges, budges upon temporary wooden structures of bridges, and the workmen down below seem veritably holding the bridges up whilst the trains go over them.
You stop hours at little villages, the exhausted and damaged engines surrendered to Serbia by her ex-enemies being hopelessly out of repair and always in trouble. And in these villages you see the bare-footed war-waifs, skulking about in bits of old ruins, children who have lost father and mother and kith and kin, the kind care at best of American relief societies. There is said to be no actual want anywhere in Serbia now, but no nation ever had so many orphans.
At Belgrade, despite many foreign elements, the most constant impression is one of a multiplied body politic. Belgrade is said to have more cripples than any other capital of Europe. And Berlin comes second. It is a one-eyed city, a city of one-legged men, a city of men with beetling brows and contracted eyes, a city of unrelenting cobble-stones and broken houses.
You go into the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and the door-keeper cannot write; you go to the Foreign Office and are shown about laboriously by a one-legged man. In fact, the one-legged man might be taken as the type and symbol of the new Serbia. In commerce it is as in politics. Shop windows are one-third full of goods, the most ill-assorted goods, mostly coming through the old channels from Austria and Germany. There has not been enough energy left in the nation to find the means of making new trade connexions—as for instance, with England. A curious anomaly, surely, that there should be a glut of our own products on the home market whilst in Serbia, even taking our exchange into account, prices range much higher. Thus politics and trade. You see the new recruits of the conscripted army struggling along in sixes and sevens, men of all shapes and sizes apparently in one shape and size of war boot, causing such sufferings to young men. There are no feather-bed soldiers here. In the schools and universities, however, you see the rare earnestness of the Slav.
Such is Serbia. And if Germany had won it would have been impossible to have seen her even in as fair terms as that. But some one outside of the machine has intervened and the dead has come to life. Serbia still lives.
One has to show a difference between Serbia and Jugo-Slavia, or the Kingdom of Serbs, Hrvats, and Slovenes, "S.H.S." as it is commonly called. The new country is three times as large as the old one, and the two new parts of Croatia and Slovenia are well-built, fruitful, prosperous, with all the glamour of Austrian civilization resting on them. On the one side of the old frontier the wild homelessness of the mountains, on the other side park-like country, model towns, and broad, fruitful plains. Hard-bitten, bookless Serbs, and softened bookish Croats. As a responsibility of the peace Serbia has taken over large tracts of smitten Austria. Looking at the new territory, one might reckon it a rich spoil of war. But comparing Serbia as she is with this ex-Austria, one cannot but be struck with the disparity between them.
Croats and Slovenes are Slav by race, but strongly Austrian by education. They were glad to come into the new confederation and escape some of the penalties of defeated Austria. But once they were definitely absorbed into the new State they did not feel so comfortable. The vanity and quarrelsomeness of the Slav soon began to speak. They hated Austria. But modern Austrian civilization was a comfortable and well-oiled machine. The Slavs derived enormous material benefits from their citizenship of the Austrian empire. Here despite all the feuds was a well-kept home of nations.
Left to themselves the Croats would not have made a better State than the Slavs usually make. But it is easy for them to imagine that the good schools, good trains and railway service, and good municipal administration, and the rest, were due to their own genius and not to that of the German.
Between Serbia and the new territories stands Belgrade, the capital of the whole. It is strikingly situated on the cliffs above the winding Save which glimmers like silver in the evening. From the shell-splintered fortress one looks forth over the vast fruitful plain that was southernmost Austria. Here the Kaiser had a seat made for himself in 1915 that he might look homeward in the evening. Thus he turned his back on the Balkans and his scheme of the world.
Belgrade below the fortress wall is extensive but poor. Its tired main street stretches out a long way with flabby houses on each side of its cobbled wildness. There are as yet no buildings corresponding to the dignity of a great capital. The old Parliament House is a little place like a town-school, the temporary one is a converted whitewashed barracks; the Cathedral is a parish church on a site suitable for a mighty edifice; the Moscow Hotel looks like a seaside boarding establishment; the Franco-Serbian Bank is housed in a place which might pass for an old clothes warehouse in Whitechapel. There is a pleasant little white stone Post-office. But the Foreign Office, the Education Office, and other Government Departments are in buildings that might well be blocks of flats or pensions kept by respectable widows.
The population, if we rule out the Austrians, is mostly "the peasant come to town"—a proletarian crowd, though not governed by proletarians but by a small educated class plus an obedient army. You can see by the women that it is a peasant people—not a jumper or a short skirt in the whole of Belgrade. They are quiet-eyed and modest. The Serbs are much harder than the Russians, and bear deeper in their souls the marks of their historic chains. A tortured look in the face and a certain dreadful impassivity of countenance are not uncommon. There is a mixture of geniuses and of people who have not yet begun to live. They have their Mestrovic, Velimirovic, Petronievic. Is there not in London a certain M—— made not for our civilization but for two or three grades higher in world development. Of those who have not yet begun to live many are suspicious, violent, melancholy, with little instinct for making life more or fuller, for living and letting live; in business unenterprising and indisposed for work. The Serbs are potentially gifted for literature, art, and thought; they are sincere and real in temperament, but despite their efforts probably not gifted for modern civilization as we know it.
As regards Belgrade, when prosperity returns we may see the growth of a fine new city, not a complete town-planned Austrian city, supplied as it were whole and in every part from a department store, but something expressive of a new people. All these buildings we look upon to-day are bound to pass into obscurity. The rising pillars of the Skupstchina, Serbia's new Parliament House at the foot of Kossovo Street, point to the future of some great new State.
The Croats say "When you go to Zagreb you will see the difference. Ah, there is a city; there is civilization." They kiss their hands to show what they mean. The Croats are Home Rulers. Like the Irish, they are Catholics. Some of them look forward to the transfer of the capital to Zagreb, and the changing of the letters of the kingdom to H.S.S. and putting Hrvats first. Croats insist on the title Jugo-Slavia; Serbs are inclined to drop it and revert to the name Serbia. The Germans during the war are said to have promised the Croats to form the German counterpart of the Allies' idea of Jugo-Slavia, and had Germany and Austria won, a new constituent of Central Europe was to have been inaugurated with its capital of Zagreb. The name Jugo-Slavia was familiar to the Croats and popular with them before the Serbs adopted it. The Croats think that because they are more educated than the Serbs they should be the dominant party in the government of the new State. The quarrel is aggravated by religious difference, Croats being Roman Catholics and Serbs Orthodox. A number of the separatist leaders, the chief of whom is Radic, an ex-bookseller, languish in gaol. These are evidently self-centred people. If they think that Europe would tolerate another independent Slav State with passports, frontiers, tariffs, armies, and the rest, surely they are mad. And if on the other hand, they would like to revert to ruined Austria and have the value of all their money reduced ten times, surely they are not very sane. Or if they think that they who suffered little should reap the major benefits of the war-victory, they are certainly pitiable egoists.
What is lacking in the new State is goodwill and the spirit of co-operation. Serbia is terribly hampered by lack of loyalty in her constituent elements. There is an impression of great uncertainty and instability. The general bad health of Europe shows sharply at Belgrade. The cost of living is irrationally high. There is something of the atmosphere of Russia in 1916. Beggars swarm about the restaurants and cafes. Cabmen, hawkers, and the poor hold one up for absurd prices. The shops have odd sets of goods which seldom correspond to one's desires. The value of the dinar fluctuates violently, and offers golden opportunities to the many speculators. The commonest trade-establishments are small banks and bucket-shops; they range in fours and fives before the eyes. The Government is very poor, and never feels out of financial difficulties. "We are always faced with bankruptcy in three months," said Dr. Yannic in conversation. The Government has been very hospitable to the Russians, of whom it has almost 60,000 on its hands. It feeds them and tries to place them where they can do work. It treated with Wrangel for the establishment of 20,000 Cossacks to be planted along the marches of Albania, and would have loved to have them, but has not as yet been able to take them for lack of money. Serbia has done more for Russia than any other nation.
"We've received not a mark of the indemnity," says M. Ribor, the chairman of the Constituent Assembly. "And we do not receive financial aid. On the other hand, is not France financing Hungary—the eternal potential enemy of Jugo-Slavia?"
There is no certainty about the attitude of France and England. England is felt to have cooled a little towards Serbia. France is a source of bewilderment. The decoration of Belgrade with the Cross of the Legion of Honour was accepted in very good part, and the French Marshal who brought it was lauded to the skies. But the after-thought was, when he went away—What did he come for? Was it not perhaps to flatter Serbia into undertaking a part in some new war, perhaps against the German, perhaps against the Soviets?
Suspicion is a marked characteristic of political life in Belgrade, suspicion and fear. They are afraid of the Croat for his separatism, of the Magyar for his malevolence, of the French for their intrigues, of the Russians for their numbers and their superior gifts, of the Austrians for their commercial enterprise. Secret agents abound, and are evidently excellent. An enormous amount of information is collected—information too disquieting and too voluminous to be coped with.
The Serbs, however, have evidently tried hard to accommodate all talents and all opinions in the new State. In the new Constitution complete freedom of religion is being guaranteed to all sects; the monarchy will be strictly constitutional; and all political ideas except separatism and Bolshevism will be tolerated. Regarding Bolshevism the Serbs have taken a strong line. It is a criminal offence, and propagandists are liable to swift arrest. No discrimination of any kind will be made against subjects of the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes on the ground of race.
Serbia by herself has not a large educated class. She has not enough of her own to administer Jugoslavia, and consequently she looks naturally to the employment of the Croat and Slovene educated class, and also to the refugee Russians. Many Russian professors in exile have found posts; Russian engineers and technicians are readily accepted in the hope that their services may be used. In the Ministry and in the Government offices the other races are amply represented. Ribor himself, the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly, is a Croat. The previous obligations of the Austrian Government have in many cases been taken over. Those who received pensions or subsidies from Austria are provided for by Serbia. Not that that always gives content.
A characteristic case is that of Kossor, the well-known dramatist, an Austrian Croat. In the Austrian style he received a State subsidy of three hundred crowns in encouragement of his talent. The Serbs have continued that, and given him the equivalent in dinars. But he is attached to the Art Department of the Ministry of Education and has to put in an appearance every day—a duty which goes a long way to stultify one's inspirations.
Kossor is characteristically unhappy in Belgrade. The cobblestones have a psychological effect on the soul. He feels restricted, and would like to travel: especially would he like to return to England, for which, like many others who were refugees among us, he retains the warmest feelings.
The English in Belgrade are inclined to say that all the Serbian students who went to England returned atheists and Bolshevists. A personal impression is, however, contrary. S—— and Y—— who took their bachelorates of divinity at Oxford, and Lukovic, who graduated at Cambridge, are warmly devoted to England, and stand for our culture where by far the most of the young educated people are frankly ignorant or entirely misinformed regarding England and England's ideals. Whatever trouble we took and whatever we spent on giving education to Serbian boys in England was not misapplied and will bear a good fruit of friendship by and by. That the students of new Belgrade are free-thinkers, and chased Dr. Mott from the lecture hall is not of much importance—students usually do behave in that way nowadays. A university of students all believers would be edifying if it were not amusing. The modern way to real belief and understanding lies through denial and agnosticism and free-thinking of all kinds, and Serbia is in a state of transit from peasant Christianity to modern positive Christianity. Her need is for well-guided transitional education. There is no bridge from the simple piety of the peasant to instructed belief. The peasant marches to a precipice and then falls headlong into atheism. Strangely enough, the Church even when it realizes this danger seems unable to build the bridge. Its only remedy is to try and stop the march of the peasant. This is dangerous, for in time the peasant can then push his obstruction also over the precipice.
"If only we were as strong spiritually as we are militarily and economically I should feel happy about Serbia," says Bishop Nicholas on his return from America. But Jugo-Slavia—one must think of the whole new State—is not strong in any way yet. Her strength is very great and mysterious but is still potential. Some day In the future perhaps five years hence, or ten, if Jugo-Slavia still holds together, we shall have a great State here with Belgrade as a worthy capital. Austria will have moved south. There are at least prospects of enormous commercial prosperity, and on that basis the Arts will surely flourish. All depends on the Slavs holding together and forgetting their differences. The Spirit will blow where it listeth, and one day it will be with Serbia and on another it will be gone.
 Slav name for Croats.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
VI. FROM BELGRADE (II)
Up on the cliff one evening a party of Serbs were listening to a Russian soldier, one of Wrangel's army invalided to a hospital camp near Belgrade. "Which of these rivers is the Danube?" said he.
The Serbs pointed out where the Save joined the main stream, like a thread of silver joining a silver ribbon.
"Ah," said the Russian. "And my grandfather was killed on that river, fighting to free the Slavs. Defenceless little brothers, the Slavs! When the war began the enemy was right into your capital of Belgrade at once, but we Russians plunged into East Prussia. Yes, I was there, brothers, and was wounded and marched back to the Niemen with my wound open——"
He recounted where he had been in the war, and was so circumstantial that one by one the Serbs said good-bye and wished him luck and went away. And he was left standing there alone, looking over the gloomy Austrian plain below where night was descending fast.
"Would you like to have tea?" I asked. "My lodging is quite close." He readily agreed, and so we went across to the "Patriarchate" and up to Bishop Nikolai's white room.
Budomir, Nikolai's servant, a shell-shocked soldier, struck a posture of pleasure and stoked up the fire to boil some water. Budomir had been a student and now could multiply numbers of four figures in his head though he could do little else. He was devoted to Nikolai, and insisted on serving me because I was Nikolai's friend. The Russian soldier marvelled to find himself in a room so strongly Orthodox in its appearance, and he did not fail to cross himself elaborately.
Then he showed us the various crosses which he wore round his neck. One of these touched him very much: it had been given him by his mother in August, 1914, when he set out for the war. It had protected him ever since. He had gone through untold dangers and hardships, and had actually never seen his home and his wife and his child since that August morning when he marched away.
He belonged to a Guards regiment, and so I was interested to know what part he had taken in the revolution, and what he thought of it all. It should be remembered he was not a newspaper-reading Russian. He called himself a Gosudarstvenny or State peasant, apparently indicating that his family had not been serfs but had been free men. He was normally a peaceful tiller of the soil, stopped at the plough and put into battle-harness by the politicians of Europe.
Though now one of Wrangel's army he attributed all Russia's misfortunes to the "burgui." What a bourgeois really was he had not the remotest idea, but the word served. It was the burgui who brought about the March '17 revolution in Russia. "If we had been at Petrograd then it could not have happened," said he.
"Well, before the revolution took place, the burgui arranged that the stanchest regiments should be sent to France. Yes, our regiment of Guards was actually in the lines below Verdun when the Tsar was dethroned.
"They did not tell us what had happened. We learned it first from the Germans. They began calling out to us, 'The Tsar has abdicated.' We did not pay any attention, as they were always shouting lies. Then they erected long banners outside their trenches with the words 'There is revolution in Russia. The Tsar has abdicated. Why do you go on fighting?'
"We were so infuriated by this that we planned a night attack on our own, and without the knowledge of our officers we entered the German trenches that night, just to show them what it meant to insult the Tsar. There was a great noise. The German artillery awoke. Ours replied. Our neighbours on the right and left wondered what was happening, and in the morning our N.C.O.'s were called to explain what it was all about. They told the story and were strongly reprimanded. Then officers addressed us and told us the bitter truth that there was actually revolution in Russia. And we wept, and the officers wept with us. . . ."
He was a sentimental warrior, and the tears glistened in his eyes now. He professed to be unendingly devoted to the Tsar. His regiment would have made a mountain of its dead rather than let them take the Tsar. If the Tsar had even been in the Crimea when Wrangel was there they would never have given him up.
"Whom have you hope in now?" I asked. "General Wrangel cannot do any more."
"There's only one man."
"Who is that?"
"That man is Burtsef."
What an extraordinary conjunction of sentiments!—devotion to the Tsar and belief in Burtsef! But here it was. The bourgeois were to blame for all Russia's troubles, and yet he was a soldier in the army that wanted to restore the bourgeois. Such paradoxical attitudes are no doubt responsible for the current official opinion in Serbia that all Russians tend to become Bolshevik, and that they may be a dangerous element in the State.
The soldier had three glasses of tea and then inverted his glass and got up and was most profuse in thanks, and for the present of a few dinars actually got down on his knees in thankfulness.
"You are going back to your hospital camp—how will you go?" I asked. "On foot?"
"No, by train. They give us a free pass on the railway. Some say they'll soon give us a free pass back to Russia!"
He looked very woebegone. He showed me his Georgian cross given for bravery in the field, and then once more the ikon his mother had given him. "Seven years, and I haven't once been home," said he.
"Seven years," he repeated mechanically, and began stumbling out of the room.
He was a strange and touching witness of the power of the human eruption in Russia. As it were, a clod of earth had been lifted from the province of Tambof and flung as far as the Balkans. Another witness of another kind was the old Archbishop of Minsk whom I found in the monastery of Ravanitsa.
The Secretary of State for Religion very kindly facilitated my journey to the shrine of St. Lazar, where I saw Serbia's mediaeval prince lying headless before the altar. Strange to say, it seemed as if the body had a head. The shroud was raised to disclose his brown and wizened fingers and shrunken middle, and where the head should be were the contours of a head under a veil. At my desire the cloth was lifted, and I saw instead of a head a large jewelled mitre.
The monks showed me "bulls" and charters and proclamations and manuscripts, mostly eloquent now of the ill-faith of Serbia's neighbours. They were, however, humorous and vivacious and well-fed monks who bore no ill-will against Turk or Austrian or anyone; they were good fellows happily lodged by the Church, and without much care or sorrow of any kind; such a contrast to those outside the Church.
They gave me a room with a comfortable bed and white sheets, and they regaled Kostya Lukovic and myself and anyone else who happened to arrive, with old-fashioned generosity of wine and viands.
It was here we met the Archbishop of Minsk, once Rector of the Theological Academy at Petrograd. He had lost his diocese and lost his academy; a little old, stooping, grey-haired man, very witty, very sardonic and indulging in endless pleasantries at the expense of us all. He drank to England but not to Lloyd George. He drank to meeting me again—in Moscow. He drank to Serbia, and hoped they'd raise the standard of doctorate of divinity. He drank to France, without her ally Poland who had seized most of his diocese of Minsk and was making it Roman Catholic. He drank to Russia—and a change of heart. In fact, it is difficult to remember all the toasts he proposed. I responded in sips, he in half-glasses; the Archimandrite, who had only a second place at the table, in tumblerfuls; the deacon opposite me having a strong character, refused to go on, and it was certainly curious to see this little old archbishop taunt him and ask him if he were afraid and stir him on to drink more than was good for him. But he was a Russian first and then an archbishop, and he had lost all that he cared for. It may be asked, had he lost his faith, too? But do rectors of theological academies have faith? Seldom, surely.
"The teaching of theology has been abolished in Russia now," said he next morning, sitting out in the sun and feeding young calves with bread which he had saved from the breakfast table. "There are no young students now preparing to be priests. The next generation will be without clergy."
"But it is a people's Church," I observed. "If there are no priests, they will take the services themselves. The peasants have an extraordinary amount of church lore among themselves."
The prelate appeared to be scandalized. "That is of no use. A priest must first study and then be ordained. Without knowledge the Church would soon be lost."
"What do you think of the Patriarch of Moscow? He has come to terms with Lenin."
"He is a weak man," said the Archbishop.
I recalled an opinion of Bishop Nicholas of Serbia that Patriarch Tikhon would be next dictator of Russia.
The Archbishop of Minsk smiled gently and ironically, and then said quietly:
"Never. And he has too simple a mind to cope with the enemies of Russia."
"Do you not think Holy Russia will reassert herself? You know the famous lines of Solovyof: 'O Russia, what sort of an East will you be, the East of Xerxes or the East of Christ?'"
"It looks rather like the East of Xerxes," said the old man. "But you believe differently——"
And he smiled indulgently.
I could not say whether he spoke sincerely or out of the depths of personal and national humiliation.
I suppose it is hard for those who are not Russians to realize what has happened in Russia. Propaganda has discredited news. The western world thinks of Russia as the same country with a change of government. The colossal fact of the complete removal of the upper crust of Russia is not realized.
A third group of deracines whom I came across in Serbia was an artel of Rostof engineers. I met a family I had known in Russia. Last time I had seen them it was one evening with their children scampering round a tall Christmas tree on which all the candles were lighted. They were comfortable and capable people, and proud in their way of what they could do and of what they possessed. Now, with all the other engineers of the Vladikavsky Railway, they had fled from the "terror" and were giving their services for the reconstruction of Serbia.
Serbia did not particularly want them, and was not ready for their grand schemes.
"You can't start anything in this country," said Engineer N—— regretfully. "Every one wants to make money out of it. The administration lives on the enterprise of the people. We have presented the Government with a complete plan for the reorganization of the Serbian railroads. We have brought the treasury of the Vladikavsky Railway with us, so we have a little capital, and given the authority we could make a gigantic improvement in Jugo-Slavia. But all we have been able to do so far is to arrange a few services of motor transport to places not reached by railway."
My friends were in a poor little wooden hut on the outskirts of Belgrade, very courageous and very sad, and their children, once petted and even pettish, were now grown and serious and facing life earnestly for themselves and for their parents' sake.
A great chance for Serbia lay in the use of these Russian engineers. And the alternatives for the engineers are either to make good in Serbia or to drift back eventually to Mother Russia. I am personally inclined to think that the Serbs will let the chance slip through their fingers. Serbs and Russians, though they like one another, do not seem to be able to work together very well. The Serbs are a smaller people, more intense and less adaptable than the Russians. The difference between the two races as one sees and hears them on the streets of Belgrade is very remarkable. The soft pervasive accents of Russian speech are pregnant with a great race-consciousness and a feeling of world destiny.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
VII. FROM BUDAPEST
The ill-health of our new Europe needs no demonstration. "She's an ailing old lady," says Engineer N. "She's a typhoid convalescent," says Dr. R. "She's deaf and dumb and paralytic and subject to fits. She has sore limbs and inflamed parts—in fact, a hopeless case," says a cheerful Hungarian. "But what does it matter whether Europe lives if her young daughter Hungary survives her?"
"That young daughter Hungary has already been in the Divorce Court," I hazarded.
"Well, Hungary is not going to alarm herself over the health of Mother Europe, anyway. Hungary has to look after herself. Mother won't look after her."
The best train for Budapest leaves Belgrade at ten o'clock at night. From the capital of Serbia to the neighbouring capital of Hungary is only two hundred miles, formerly five or six hours' journey in a fast train without hindrance or anxiety. In a state of good health, to go from one main artery of Europe to another ought to be almost as quick and as easy as thought. But now it is labour. No facilities are made by Serbia for Hungary or Hungary for Serbia. International trains with sleeping cars carefully avoid what are known as ex-enemy capitals. In this night-train from Belgrade all the arrangements are discouraging and fatiguing. First, second, and third class carriages are the same, all wood, but some are marked "1" and others "2" and others "3." There are no lights in the train, and it is very crowded. You crawl all night through the ex-Austrian territory now part of Serbia. At four in the morning you arrive at Subotitsa and wait six hours. You wait in a queue and show passports to Serbian police; you take your baggage through the Serbian douane and it is searched for articles liable to export duty. You send a "D" telegram to Budapest to reserve a room at a hotel. For this "D" telegram you pay two or three times the ordinary charge in order that it may have precedence of telegrams not marked "D." Some time after ten in the morning you get into the Serbian frontier train which takes you ten kilometres and deposits you in a Hungarian no-man's land. Hungarian gendarmes collect the passports of the passengers. You stand on a shelterless platform and wait for the Hungarian frontier train which takes you ten kilometres further and deposits you at the station of Szeged. Here you congregate like lost souls in Hades and wait and suffer. They say those suffer most who continue to have hope in that region. The hopeful clamour and push and mortify themselves, whilst highly indifferent and laconic Magyars chuckle among themselves and throw ink across an inky table asking foreigners in Hungarian their mother's maiden name and their natal town. The officials have adopted the principle of the division of labour—one makes out a form, another fills it in, a third franks it with a rubber stamp, a fourth registers details, and a fifth signs the visa. Strange to say, this seems to multiply the time by five rather than divide it by five. And most people know that the train for Budapest will leave at the scheduled hour, leaving half the passengers to wait all day at Szeged for another train. After passports, there is a violent onslaught on your baggage by the customs officials. When they are convinced that you are carrying nothing dutiable you have to get a cab and make a hundred-crown journey across Szeged to another train. You wait in a long queue for a ticket. Heaven help you if you have baggage to register or re-register. It cannot be registered through from Belgrade. As for the train, the passengers seem to be hanging from the roofs of the carriages like bats. It is like a seaside excursion express, and if you are lucky enough to get a place you find there is only half a back to your seat.
A Hungarian diplomat, anxious that I should see his country in a good light, helped me considerably on this journey, and I caught the train. I had the doubtful pleasure of reflecting that at least half of my fellow-passengers were still languishing at the first Szeged station, victims of the division of labour and the verification of passports. "I do hope you get a hotel after all this," said the diplomat. "For my part, I wired to an actress," he added, with a knowing smile. "She knows how to get a room when others cannot."
We arrived in Budapest about 11 p.m. The "D" telegram, alas, was languishing far behind. It was delivered next day about noon. Knowing the expensive folly of taking a cab and trying to find a hotel I made a midnight exploration of the capital of Hungary on foot, all sleeping, all apparently dead and without a spark of night life. There were no trains, no flocking crowds, but only occasional pedestrians and the accidental clatter of a horse-cab now and then. And the Danube rolled through the stillness silently. I fell in with a late-going working man coming off a day shift. He piloted me to the "Ritz," home of Allied Commissions and delegates of all kinds. That there should be a room there was unlikely enough, but it was possible to persuade the clerk to telephone to various obscure establishments on the "other side of the river." It is always obscure on the other side of the river.
At last a hotel was found and located, and when the cabman had brought my things from the station and one asked timidly: "How much?" one received a characteristic reply.
"A thousand crowns," said the unblushing cabby—rather more than the cost of a ticket for the whole journey from Belgrade to Budapest.
I saw next day that I must report to the police within twenty-four hours of arrival, and also within twenty-four hours of departure. Such is modern travel in Europe, and I felt rather amused when the question was put to me, "Are you travelling for pleasure or on business?"
Serbia and Hungary are not on good terms. The Hungarians will not forgive the loss to Serbia of territory over which they claim to have ruled for a thousand years. Hungary will not forgive the Czechs or the Roumanians either. They have been mightily despoiled by the nations. Roumania has doubled her original territory at old Hungary's expense. Czechoslovakia holds Pressburg, the ancient capital and coronation-city of the Hungarian kings, and calls it Bratislavl. "They might as well have called it New York," says a Magyar contemptuously. There is nothing soft or relenting about the Magyars. They are quite implacable, and they are a fighting people. There is no good will. On the contrary, there is definite ill-will on the part of Hungary towards her neighbours. Austria is soft towards the new nations which have arisen on the ruins of her empire, but Hungary is hard.
To the Serb, the enmity of the Magyar is disconcerting. By crossing the Danube, Serbia has become genuinely part of Europe; she has turned her back on the Balkans and the eternal strife on barren empty hills. The new Serbia can afford to forget and forgive Bulgaria, now a remote sort of country. She can retort to Greece concerning Salonica—We have no need of that port now, for we no longer aspire to be a power on the Aegean, we are a Central-European people. Jugo-Slavia is not a Balkan country. She is ashamed of the Balkans and of the Balkan past. She will loyally look to Geneva or any other capital of the League of Nations. She will cling to the centre. All seems well. Perhaps Bulgaria will cease to be an enemy, and Greece will cease to be a rival. Serbia moves northward, but in the North she comes face to face with a worse potential enemy than either—the Magyar. Serbia becomes conscious of a European destiny, but Hungary avers that a large stretch of Hungarian territory has been torn from Europe and is being Balkanized, despoiled of the old comfort and civilization of the Austro-Hungarian State and made dirty and inefficient by Slavs.
Every one blames some one else in this part of the world. There are bugs in the railway-carriages—the German soldiers brought them; they were not there before. The trains go slowly—the Hungarian engine drivers have ruined all the locomotives by making big fires with little water in the boilers; contractors seem to take bribes—these are Hungarians, "They'd sell their souls for a dinar." "Look, look," says a Magyar officer, pointing to the dirt on Subotitsa station. "You never could see that in the old days. I used to be here with my regiment. It was as pretty and clean a place as you could find in Hungary."
Nearing the frontier you pass in review a very sad sight, and that is, several hundred locomotives rusted to their very depths and eaten out with bad weather and neglect. "These are the locomotives we surrendered to the Serbs after the Armistice," says a Hungarian. "The Serbs could not use them. They have no engineers—no shops for their repair. We wouldn't have minded if the engines were used, but it makes us sick to think of such waste."
On the other hand, perhaps, the Hungarians in their malice surrendered the engines with their boilers burnt out and with other vital defects. One side or the other, or both, is to blame. But whatever the judgment might be, the engines remain in their rust—these useful iron servants of humanity have perished. They are symbols of a spoliatory peace.
Serbia discourages travel to Hungary. Hungary for her part bristles with spears. Above the passport window on the Danube quay at Budapest you read:
I BELIEVE IN ONE GOD. I BELIEVE IN GOD'S ETERNAL JUSTICE. I BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION OF HUNGARY.
—a dangerous creed.
Dr. M——, first assistant at the University of Vienna, now made a Czech subject against his will, put the matter well: "Bismarck was a man of genius, but he made a great mistake in taking Alsace and Lorraine. And Clemenceau was a great man, greater for instance than Lloyd George; I treated him for twelve years, I know his character well, but he outdid Bismarck by making a whole series of Alsace-Lorraines in Europe. It means a century of wars to put it right."
"There would be war now," said Von K——, an ex-Captain of the 3rd Hussars. "But we shudder to take the responsibility of plunging Europe once more into the bath of blood."
The 3rd Hussars is called the Dead Regiment now. It was reduced to five officers and a hundred and thirty-seven men in the war. It was resolved not to recruit for it again, but to leave it as it was left, and it paraded before the King at Budapest in its original formation, showing all the gaps. "It was tremendously impressive," said the Captain—"one man here, two there, three only on the right wing. Many of us who had come through all that hell with dry eyes wept like children in the parade.
"We often receive letters from our people in Roumania, Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-Slavia, saying 'Why do you not come over and protect us?'" he went on. "If we marched into the stolen territories, the local populations would all rise in our favour. The time will come, but it is not yet. The last word has not been said."
That conversation was at the beginning of April, and Karl was actually in Budapest endeavouring in a clumsy way to follow the example of Constantine in Greece and resume monarchical sway. Budapest for a day was all agog with rumour and whispered conversations. Karl was popular, but his failure was sensed by the populace. He had come inopportunely, despite the fact that the great powers seemed not unfavourable. France, by many accounts, had given secret countenance to the return of the Hapsburg, Karl being known as Francophile in policy. "Present us with a fait accompli," Briand was reported to have said to Karl, "and we will not oppose your return to power." Evidently part of France favoured the adventure and was not a little annoyed at its failure. As an allied power with Italy and England she had to show a forbidding front to Karl, but as "Le Figaro" said, "Ce n'est pas sur le Danube que nous menacent des perils mortels, c'est sur le Rhin." The Allies, however, as they are called, had little power to help or stop ex-Kaiser Karl. It was the little States that stopped him—the Petite Entente of Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-slavia and Roumania, and of these powers chiefly the Czech.
As long ago as January Karl's attempt to return was anticipated by the Czechs. They used it as the motive for making a ring round the hostile State. Hungary was the potential enemy of the three States which had taken over ex-Hungarian territory. Hungary, moreover, had had her terrible moment of Bolshevism and had got over it, she had become nationalistic again and had reorganized her army on national lines. To any one of the new States surrounding her she would be a formidable enemy. Hungary, however, would stand little chance against three combined. So with great zest the new combination was formed. Certainly the warmest national friendship in the Near East to-day is that between Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-Slavia, and it has been called into being by the common danger of the Magyar.
Budapest is a handsome city with grand bridges spanning the bending Danube. The fashionable part climbs upwards on crags to the higher light, and the Danube flashes upward. The modern city is a first-class aggregation of business houses, cafes, and places of pleasure. There is pavement comfort. The people are well dressed, despite losses and troubles. The smooth pates of business men abound, and the knobbly skulls of the Balkans are fewer. The women are in fashion, and as in the rest of Central and Western Europe, wear bunches of artificial grapes hanging from one side of their hats. You see no grapes and hanging ribbons in Belgrade and Sofia. They will come there next year or in 1923. The Hungarian women are broad-faced and broad-bosomed, and talk more than they smile. City madam in elegant attire with languorous half-shut eyes and Hungarian drawl is a man's darling. Flesh-coloured stockings greatly abound. One is, however, strongly advised not to judge of Hungary by the people who spend four or five hours of the day sitting in the cafes of Budapest. The poor parts of the city present a different spectacle. Here there are great numbers of crooked-legged spindly children, war-products evidently. The slums are nothing like so bad as those of London or Chicago—only the children are less boisterous, less vital, and seem to have been underfed all their lives. The new babies look much better than the children of four or five. Food is more abundant now, and a great deal of relief work is done at the schools. But it is doubtful if any philanthropic efforts can restore the war-children. Budapest has a bad streak left in her town-population by the war, and it is visible. Cotton goods are very expensive, and many of the poor children seem inadequately dressed. The price of cotton is dependent upon much speculation and bad business between the American cotton plantation and the obscure worker in Hungary. It is a curious anomaly that Americans should burn cotton-bales in the Southern States to keep up the price, and that the American Red Cross on the other hand should in Europe distribute free garments to those who cannot pay the world-price thus attained.
The exchange is very low, five crowns to a penny, three hundred to a dollar. For a thousand crowns a week you can live—you can live in one room and keep body and soul together. For two thousand crowns a week you can live at a second-class hotel with board and lodging. An ordinary dinner with a glass of beer costs a hundred crowns. You can also get a seat at the back of the stalls in a theatre for that amount. There is a luxury-tax of ten per cent on all you buy at cafes and restaurants, on perfumery, and like objects. This, no doubt, brings in a large amount to the national exchequer if it is efficiently collected. The wages and salaries of all trades and professions are in a continual hurdle-race, vaulting cost of living and the rate of exchange. There are thousands of nouveaux riches, and there are thousands of ex-rich and gentry in decay. One feels that Hungary, however, is a rich country even as she stands to-day, and that the people have sterling qualities which make for the recuperation of the new State. There is still a love of work in the country, and that is comparatively a rare virtue in modern Europe. The working class, as in Germany, feels that it lost the war and cannot expect extra fine conditions. The Hungarian working man outworks and therefore undersells or can undersell the English working man. The nation whose working men are ready to do most work is the most fortunate in 1921. If Hungary can avoid indemnities and export taxes she is likely to do well. The Government will no doubt undergo many changes, and most people believe that the King is bound to come back. By popular vote he probably would—just as Constantine did in the Greek elections. But external opposition is too great. If Czechs and Serbs quarrelled it would be different. International animosity and the general ill-will militate most against the peaceful development of the new Hungary.
Budapest no doubt will always win friends for the country of which it is the capital. Capitals can be of enormous service to states in the matter of silent propaganda. A handsome comfortable city of impressive buildings will always predispose foreigners in favour of the country itself. On the other hand, an inadequate capital will be a hindrance to a state. In this respect, Belgrade, as it is to-day, is a handicap to Jugo-Slavia. But Budapest will help Hungary enormously.
What a glamour there is upon Budapest in the evening, with myriads of lights on each side of the gliding Danube. Formerly one arrived under the grand bridges in a house-boat at night and came alongside the stone quays, and without passports or customs walked up into one of the gayest and brightest cities of Europe. But now the Danube, mother of mighty countries, is enchanted and enthralled. When will she be disenchanted again?
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
VIII. FROM VIENNA
At Budapest you begin to suspect that you are in Europe; at Vienna you are sure of it—with its great array of fine shops, full of elegancies and delectable grandeur which leave Paris and New York in the shade. The whole press of Europe seems to have "written up" Vienna as "the ruined city" and "the end of a great capital," and even at Constantinople where terrible affliction was constantly before the eyes, the fiction held that Vienna was even worse. You are, therefore agreeably surprised to find the wheels of modern civilization running smoothly—a well-dressed, easy-going people on the streets and in the cafes, every business house working to full capacity, and all at first glance going well. The children, and especially those of the working class, look healthy and full of life. Starving Vienna seems somewhat of a myth.
Vienna is not like Petrograd where the thousands of eyes of the Nevski Prospect have been put out and squads of dead shops stare at one from smashed windows and gutted interiors. And it is not a vast caravanserai for sufferers like Constantinople. Something, however, is wrong and has been wrong and will be worse, and this something has power to strike the imagination of every one who visits the great city of Vienna. It is perhaps the contrast of luxury on the one hand and black bread on the other, and the almost fabulous descent of the crown. Wrangel's officers use hundred-rouble notes for shaving-papers, and Americans in Vienna behave as unceremoniously with crowns. The lower denominations of the rouble are much cheaper than the price of paper, and the Austrian crown is going that way.
This depreciation of the currency strikes the mind of the visitor to Vienna, and from it he deduces the general ruin of the country. He sees the shabby condition into which imperial palaces and State houses are falling, and talks with the aristocratic or cultured nouveau pauvre carrying his lunch of sausage and black bread to a gloomy apartment at the back of a fourth floor, and he feels the calamity that has fallen upon Austria. Austria with a nominal 2800 crowns to the pound sterling cannot last. How then about Poland with 4000 marks to the pound—an Allied country with a close understanding with France? But nobody in Vienna can understand how Poland lives.
The true inwardness of Vienna's calamity seems to lie in the fact that she is the capital of a very badly governed country. Much could obviously be done in little Austria by an honest, intelligent, and industrious administrative staff. But they prefer to stand in the way and beg, the giant Vienna and the dwarf Austria, staggering the imagination of pilgrims, and whining for alms to passers-by.
By all accounts there is not even the will to govern well and make the new Austria into a going concern. Hence arises the economic problem of Austria, which is certainly grave. Here is a State which persistently refuses to live on its income, and prints off paper money to make up its deficiency. A highly expensive bureaucracy five times as large as is needed for little Austria pays itself first, and as for the rest of the population the devil can take the hindmost. The money-printing press works night and day. No loans, no foreign dole, will stop the operation of this machinery; what is necessary is a change of heart.
The expression "starving Austria" is a propaganda phrase. She may starve, she probably will, but the time is not yet. Individual classes of workers starve until they get their wages raised. There have been many moments of struggle between the time when the tram-conductor earned forty crowns a week to the time when he earned several thousand. Ten-thousand-crown notes are not uncommon among the working classes, and 10,000 crowns will purchase more than you could buy in England for five pounds, or in America for thirty dollars. A working-man's dinner with a glass of beer costs about a hundred crowns, a city man's lunch of three courses, a hundred and twenty. The working class is accused of constantly holding up the community for money by means of strikes. The truth is that here the organization of Labour and the strike-weapon proved a highly convenient method for getting level with the money-printing press. Labour has been more fortunate than the professional and clerical classes, who, not being organized, have been left badly in the background. There are now many professors at the University of Vienna earning less than one-third of the wages of skilled artisans. There are teachers, clerks, doctors, journalists, and the like, in a most pitiable plight because they have not the means of forcing the community to pay them higher salaries as the crown depreciates. As for the condition of pensioned teachers and professors and officers, of the half-pay widows and the incapacitated of the war, it is a shame to all European ideals. When the Government halves the value of the crown overnight by printing double the number in circulation—it robs first of all the educated class and the pensioners. It is among these that one must search for the heart-burning sorrows of Vienna—and these are not paraded on the streets.
The most characteristic places of Vienna to-day are the new Wechselstuben or exchange offices, which have sprung up everywhere. Here are such crowds waiting to change their money that you have to wait in a line for your turn. Some of the large banks give a much better exchange than the little ones—and the better the exchange given the longer the queue. The large banks stop public business at half-past twelve, and after that hour is the opportunity of the bucket-shop. If you have little time, or if you lose patience, you run into one of the greedy little bureaus and help to make some one's fortune, not your own. This would not be of much importance for Austria if the people one met waiting in these banks were mostly American, British, French. The sad fact is that the people who are changing their money thus are nearly all Austrian or at least ex-Austrian subjects. The old Austrian empire has been divided into five parts, and each part has a different money which has to be exchanged whenever you come into another part. And there is a great difference in the values of the various moneys. Thus the Hungarian money is worth more than double that of Austria. The twenty, the hundred, the thousand-crown notes are almost identical in appearance and printing—a small imprint of a rubber stamp being in many cases the only distinguishing mark—but even from a waiter in a hotel you can get two thousand Austrian crowns for one thousand Hungarian ones. Roumanian lei are also much the same in appearance. Czech crowns and Serbo-Croat crowns are certainly different. But when your home is in Czecho-Slovakia and your place of business in Austria, and your aged father and mother in Hungary and your uncles and cousins in Croatia, you have a lively time with your money. And it plays prodigiously into the hands of those who have started changing-shops upon the public ways.
An interest in the rate of exchange has developed among the masses of the people, who turn to the financial column of the morning paper as Westerners do to football news or baseball results. There is considerable fluctuation in the values, and it is no doubt possible to make a living by speculation alone, and many people do so. In the banks are, therefore, crowds, both of speculators and of people who have just crossed the frontier and must get their money changed.
The Financial Committee of the League of Nations issuing its report in June foreshadowed the substitution at an early date of a new currency of definite value in gold. The Austrian crowns which are now in use will then suddenly appear in a new light to the deluded Austrian masses. They are probably worth nothing at all, and those who have become rich in them will prove to be rich in nothing. If, however, the peasant is paid for his wheat in the new gold-backed currency he will quickly go ahead in wealth. But if he is paid in gold value, how the cities will starve with their paper!
Between the money-changers in the great streets are the fine Vienna shops exposing elegant craftsmanship of many kinds. Here you can buy rich glass, leather-work, enamelled silver, worked ivory, lace, beautiful bindings, fans, house-ornaments of every conceivable kind in ultra-perfect taste. All that is for sale suggests a luxurious way of life—aristocratic and cultured existence, and certainly not the showy splendour of the parvenu. You will hear it said in other parts of Europe you have still to go to Vienna to buy certain things. As long as the skilled craftsmen and clever workers of many kinds remain, these objects of luxury will be for sale. Besides these, there are, of course, many more ordinary things for which Vienna is noted—velour hats, bronze shoes, and the rest. These, reckoned at world-price figures, are sold at one-third of their value. But there is little market for them.
The next most characteristic things of the city must be the thousands of cafes, where you sit at your coffee surrounded by animated crowds of men reading papers, discussing politics and business, the whole press of Europe at their disposal. Your waiter brings your coffee and automatically at the same time the "Daily Telegraph," or "Figaro," or the "Chicago Tribune," or the "Berliner Tageblatt," or "Obshy Delo," according to your accent and appearance. Time seems to cease to have real value in a cafe; it is easy to spend hours over one cup of coffee and the newspapers—the difficulty is at last to pay and go.
The restaurants also are full. Though the bread is of rye the meat and potatoes are of the usual quality. Waiters give you white bread surreptitiously. Your hand is below the level of the table and suddenly you find that it is holding a soft roll of white bread. For this you will not be charged in your bill, as it is illegal to sell it you. You pay the waiter when he helps you on with your coat. You can get milk and butter and sugar in this way if you are ready to forget that someone's children may have to do without somewhere in Vienna.
There is an extraordinary diversity of styles and prices at restaurants. A lunch for yourself and three friends will cost three to four thousand crowns at the "Bristol," but the same lunch round the corner goes for five hundred. Going in with a certain M—— to a fashionable restaurant, one could see that the waiters knew him perfectly well, and the head waiter was most affable. But he averred as he looked round the restaurant that there was not an Austrian in the place. None of those who could have been seen there formerly could afford it now. The best cuisine in Vienna was now only at the service of the foreigner.
Hotels, like restaurants, are speculative institutions. But it is difficult to find a room on any terms. Vienna has increased in population and not decreased. She also is crowded with homeless people and refugees. Here are many whose houses are in detached parts of old Austria, now in other States, and they will not go back, or cannot, or are afraid. There are also the Russians once more in great numbers. At the Stadt-theatre, the Moscow Theatre of Art was giving nightly from its repertoire, and it was instructive to see that great theatre packed with Russians, from the stalls to the standing-room at the back of the gallery, all listening intently to "The Three Sisters" of Chekhof; many demonstrations at the end of the performance, too, and making the building resound with Russian cheers and plaudits.
At Vienna you naturally spend some evenings at the theatre and the opera. It is famous for its stage. There, however, you do realize how Vienna has fallen. The theatres are all full, but not full of the sort of people who demand excellence. Perhaps it would be unfair to judge the opera by a performance of "Parsifal," that heavily over-dressed story of sentimental religiosity and pedestrian symbolism, but it was done in the most slatternly perfunctory style. The theatre was crowded. But it was a strangely mixed crowd. In lonely grandeur in one of the boxes were three Englishmen in evening dress. In the fifth row of the stalls was a servant-girl who kept asking her neighbours the time in the midst of Parsifal's mystical moments. It was her night out, but she had to be home by ten. She looked at the play with her mouth, and lolled to and fro. Occasionally some people down below set about clapping, but were silenced by hisses from the people up above, who hissed down all claps: the theme was too holy. However, in the entr'acts, how the beer flowed in the buffet. It was not too holy to drink beer.
"The profiteers have all the seats in the theatres," say the cultivated Austrians. "They don't understand opera and serious drama, but it has the name, and they could not afford to go before, so they go now. It is only the people in the gallery who know what is good."
"The people in the gallery always know that," said I. "It is the people in the circles who are not sure."
"What I mean is, the people who used to have stalls are now in the gallery, and the people who formerly never came to a theatre are now in the stalls," said the Austrian solemnly.
The intelligent Austrians are in a very gloomy frame of mind. Although the Government is nominally Christian-Socialist, it is very weak and practically unable to cope with the Communist and extreme Radical elements. It is a common opinion that Austria lies almost as low as Russia. "The social destruction of Russia is being done bloodlessly in Austria. The working class is well-off; every one else, except the speculators, is in poverty," said Dr. B.
"We have the officials for a first-class State, and the need for the number of a third-class one," said Capt. S. "Our army now, the new army which we have obtained, is the worst army ever known in any country. I have been in Haiti, and the Haitians are splendid fellows compared with them. Our soldiers are merely a bodyguard for the Socialists, and robbers all. The true army, that went through the unspeakable sufferings of the war, was turned on the streets to starve. Austria may have been serving a bad case, but the army was not to blame—it was doing its duty. But there is one humble consolation now; we have a condition of affairs in Austria which cannot continue. Austria has become an economic plague-spot in Europe."
"It would interest me to have your opinion," I asked. "Has Austria a national spirit? Does the heart respond to its name?"
Capt. S. thought not. "I favour union with Germany as the only issue. Few would grieve if 'Austria' were no more. We are German, and the idea of union with Germany has now made considerable progress with the people. But it is possible that the idea is not so popular in Germany. It would be a grave responsibility to unite any country with the financial and political wreck which we have here."
I put this question of the future of Austria to a Monarchist. He did not favour the idea of a union with Germany, but of a renewed union with Hungary. He still believed the Hapsburgs could return.
I put it to a working man, but he favoured the State as it was. If only the cost of living could be brought down it would be a very fine State, as wages were so high.
The Petite Entente of Czecho-Slovakia, Serbia, and Roumania, is strongly opposed to a reunion of Austria and Hungary, and would stop it by force of arms. The Czechs are equally opposed to union with Germany.
"So what do you say?" I asked of a Czech. "Do you think that what is left of Austria ought to be divided up between her neighbours?"
"God forbid!" said he. "We've got enough Germans in Czecho-Slovakia already. Austria can very well exist by herself. Does not Switzerland exist by herself, and do very well, without half the natural advantages of the new Austria?"
The French solution for the problem is known to lie in the possible detachment of Bavaria from Germany, and the setting up of a new South-German State in union with Austria. Only on such terms would France agree to Austria joining part of Germany. The Bavarians, however, show no signs of desiring to cut loose from the still great German confederation. A purely deliberative plebiscite taken in the Austrian Tyrol is all for union with Germany. A similar plebiscite in the province of Salzburg shows the same tendency, another in Styria is certain to go the same way. These plebiscites are called passive propaganda by the French, and they for their part egg on the Petite Entente to stop them. But there seems little doubt that were Austria free to choose she would now give up her name and fame, and merge herself in the German whole of which, ethnographically, she is a natural part.
How strange that all the luxury and glamour of Vienna, as you see it at this moment, is the concomitant of complete decline and mortal peril. In arriving in the city one felt at last that one was in Europe, but it proves to be not the Europe of the future. Vienna in 1921 is part of the sunset of that old radiant, peaceful Europe we knew before the war. Night has to swallow it up, and the future lies on other horizons, in Prague and Belgrade and Budapest, in the capitals of that new Europe which arises from the defeat and ruin of the war.
N.B.—By Article 10 of the Treaty of Versailles, "Germany recognises and respects strictly the independence of Austria, and recognises that this independence is inalienable unless the League of Nations gives consent to change." And by Article 88 of the Treaty of Saint-Germain Austria engages "to abstain from all acts calculated to prejudice her independence either directly or indirectly."
 Travellers to Austria are seldom warned beforehand that there is an internal and external rate of exchange, and they frequently lose 50% on the exchange of their money.
(iii) On Money and League of Nations Currency
In the course of this little tour of Europe I bought 1,000 francs and 4,000 liras, and 1,500 drachmas, 3,000 dinars, and the same number of levas, some lei and 20,000 piastres, 7,000 Hungarian crowns and 32,000 Austrian crowns, 3,000 Czech crowns, 10,000 German marks, 15,000 odd Polish marks, 500 Belgian francs, and some paper money of the principality of Monaco.
You have to be somewhat of an arithmetician to think one week in piastres and the next in dinars, and the next in crowns, and the next in marks. You are always losing but you always think you are winning. You afford pleasure to strangers whenever you go because you can be robbed so easily and safely. In each country you can be robbed coming in and robbed going out and generally robbed in between. You do not mind very much, it is part of the legitimate expense of modern travel.
You accumulate great wads of paper. See the people of Vienna and Warsaw, their inside pockets are all misshapen by the bulge of the money. The pockets of an international traveller are worse. He holds his unnegotiable accumulation of the money which is not worth changing nor yet worth throwing away.
"How much do you expect to get for this?" said a Hungarian banker surveying a bulky packet of Turkish piastres. I mentioned a likely sum.
"Grande erreur!" he exclaimed, and lifted his hands in horror. In Budapest they were marketable only for a tenth of what I gave for them.
So the piastres remained together with provincial French notes and small denominations of dinars and what-not, nominally worth something somewhere, but in fact unsaleable.
The Germans have just now a very popular word for a nouveau-riche, it is a schieber, one who exchanges. Getting your money changed is one of the most wasteful processes for you and one of the most gainful for him.
A certain man had 10 pounds which he exchanged for 450 francs. Then he exchanged the francs for 600 lira; he journeyed by Fiume to Serbia and changed again for 900 dinars. At Belgrade he bought 6,000 Hungarian crowns. He carried the money to Budapest and then to Vienna, where he had some luck and got 15,000 Austrian crowns. However, at Prague the bankers said they did not encourage the sale of Austrian money as they did not know what it was worth. He got 1,000 Czech crowns, which in turn he changed to 10,000 Polish marks. He then changed those for 500 Roumanian lei, returned to Poland again and only received 8,000 marks at the re-exchange. At Berlin they looked very disparagingly at the Polish money and offered him 280 German marks for the lot. He changed this for 11 florins in Amsterdam, for which when he reached Antwerp he received 40 Belgian francs. His 10 pounds lingered tentatively over the abyss of a nothing.
The title of this story should be "Exchange is no robbery."
A golden or at least a paper rule for merchants dealing with foreign firms is "pay them when the exchange is most in your favour." But the foreign firm under these circumstances, having expected to get so much, gets in reality so much less. It is not surprising then that trade is sticky.
We hear much of the efforts of Governments and financiers to regulate the exchanges, but nothing comes of it. The only obvious cure is a Utopian one: institute one currency for Europe in the name of the League of Nations.
Let us have "League of Nations gold currency." But to have that the resources of Europe must be pooled. We are not ready for that.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
IX. FROM PRAGUE
Czecho-slovakia is the watchdog of the new peace in Central Europe. She is the strongest new power, and is manifestly the best governed State which has arisen out of the ruins of the old. The new Bohemia (for Czecho-Slovakia is truly Bohemia) is a much more credible resurrection than the new Poland. One London daily refused to believe in the existence of Czecho-Slovakia for a long while. "Unless I see it," said the editor, "I will not be convinced." But Czecho-Slovakia is quite convincing—and is much less of a Frankenstein than Jugo-slavia. The Czechs are no doubt obscurely placed in Europe, but the traveller when he gets to their country—not the "seacoast of Bohemia"—will find that they make good showing.
Prague is a fine old city on the rolling Moldau—what a fine name, suggestive of rolling boulders down from the hills! Ancient Prague has this river for its moat. It rises on heights from old bridges to the royal palace and cathedral of the old kings of Bohemia. The new city has yet to be built. It will be on the level ground below, where there is to-day an agglomeration of shops and hotels as yet unworthy of the capital of a great new State. Here up above is all that is worth while, though seen from the battlements, the new below, especially on a cloudy day with lowering skies, is a very fine view. Here lie the old kings of Bohemia—one of them apparently "Good King Wenceslas." Here at a little distance are the mysterious walls with sentries posted at the gates—walls curiously and accidentally associated in the minds of thousands of children with Longfellow's lines:
I have read in some old, marvellous tale That a midnight host of spectres pale Beleaguered the walls of Prague.
Not a good place in which to lose yourself at night—outside these walls—as a party of us found on our first expedition there.
In the royal palace and offices are now accommodated the various ministeries of the new republic. Up in this purer air live also the President, M. Masaryk, and some of the diplomatic representatives of foreign powers. It is no doubt rare in this lazy age to find a new State administered and governed from the top of a crag, a steep climb on foot. But Czecho-Slovakia and Prague are governed from a mountain, and have the mountain point of view, which is the view of youth and vision.
The new State has some thirteen millions of inhabitants, and the majority of the people speak both Czech and German. German is naturally discouraged as being anti-national, and it is now only used in emergencies. All names of places have been Slavonized. Even Carlsbad and Marienbad are now Carlovivari and Mariansky Laznie. Where names of places have to be printed both in German and in Czech—German goes into small letters and Czech into large. After the armistice was declared in 1918, it only took a few hundred Czechs to overthrow the Austrian power and proclaim a new national republic. It was a bloodless revolution.
France and England were benevolently disposed toward a Czech republic, but America, thanks to the influence of the Slavophile millionaire, Charles Crane, with Wilson, and to the personal prestige of Masaryk, did most to confirm and strengthen Czecho-Slovakia. Gratitude to America is expressed everywhere, and Prague, in 1921, is perhaps the one capital in the world where Wilson's name and fame are still undimmed. Is not Wilson's face in bas-relief on the wall of the main station, "Gare Wilson," supported, curiously enough, by the admiring figures of two Bacchantes wreathed in the vine? It counts more to be an American in Prague than to be English. Crane's son is Minister for the United States; Crane's daughter-in-law, as painted by Mucha, is engraved on the new hundred-crown note. American relief-work and Mr. Hoover enjoy great prestige, and altogether there is for the time being the atmosphere of an enduring friendship.
The Czechs adopted a Parliamentary system, but finding that "one man one vote" brought to power new revolutionary elements, the system was quickly defunctionized. The administration is now appointed by the President, and he, having been elected by acclamation, "President for life," is in the nature of elective autocrat. However, after Masaryk, the term is to be limited to seven years, and a president may not serve two terms. The largest parties in the Parliament are the "Germans" and the "Social Democrats," each of which has seventy-two deputies and about forty senators. The National Democrats, who might be called the Masaryk party, are in the minority of nineteen deputies and ten senators. This party, nevertheless, is likely to maintain and hold the intellectual leadership of the nation. Czecho-Slovakia is not a peasant State like Bulgaria and Jugo-Slavia, but ex-Austrian bourgeois, with a large proportion of educated people.
It is a thick-set, burly, rather obstinate people, with imperturbable eyes. It is difficult to persuade one of the Czechs to do a thing against his will, or to compromise between his opinion and yours. Much more difficult to persuade than a Russian. And they are not as obedient as the Germans, or as amenable to splitting a difference as the British. It has been said they are Russian translated into German. Not polite or charming, but matter-of-fact, and a trifle on the rude side. There is in them a good deal of moderateness of gift, but they seem far more practical than the rest of the Slavs, and more virile. They have been Germanized and dullened by Austria, but in many respects they are more capable than the Germans. They seem to be the most capable people in their part of the world.
I met Dr. Benes, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, deputy-President in Masaryk's absence. It was on his initiative that the Little Alliance of Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-Slavia was founded, with the support of Italy and eventually including Roumania. Whilst this was nominally to prevent the return of the Hapsburgs or the reuniting of Austria and Hungary, it has also had another function—that of drawing together all the States deriving territory from the break up of Austria—even uniting Italy and Serbia, up till recently preoccupied with mortal enmity over the Dalmatic. It is a great service to unity to have this group of powers with a common understanding, and will perhaps be more highly appreciated in the future than it is now.
Dr. Benes is a spare, pinched-faced man of the people, not a typical Czech in appearance, a nervous type, of probably tireless energy. Not one of those that "sleep o' nights." He had, however, an agreeable smile of acquiescence when complimented on his work for unity. "I do not believe in the war after the war," said he. "All the nations that composed Austria-Hungary were exasperated, and have been in a bad mental state greatly aggravated by the war. We want to get rid of the war-mind. With that in view we are developing a policy which should make for stability in Central Europe. The most dangerous word used in propaganda against us in 'Balkanization'—as if to suggest that all these regions had become unstable and liable to Balkan quarrels. But, in truth, in three years we have made great progress towards a settled state of affairs.
"Germany will fall. If she agrees to pay she will fall, and equally if the sanctions are applied she will fall. She will not go so low as Austria because she is a much stronger national organism, but her export trade will be ruined, and the mark will become almost of no value. The application of the export duty on German goods is not popular, but we are applying it. It will raise the cost of living, and be a great inconvenience to many businesses which depend on Germany, but on the other hand some of our younger industries may be helped by such a measure of protection——"
Regarding the Little Alliance Dr. Benes was clearly enthusiastic, but he could not see it developing into a customs-union. "We shall have treaties regarding tariffs according to our mutual needs." He hoped the Alliance might develop to take in Poland, but at present Poland was in a difficult frame of mind, very readily jealous and not generally benevolent.
The Slavs are vociferous believers in unity. They invented the word "pan-humanity." It is the most vital idea in Russia. But is it not strange that the peoples who are the strongest believers in human unity are the most quarrelsome amongst themselves. The greatest weakness of the Slav nations lies in national vanity, egoism, and lack of solidarity. They have not the sense for discipline obtaining among Latins and Teutons. Perhaps in this respect the Czechs are wiser than Poles, Russians, and Serbs. But the fact remains that the Slavs do not readily co-operate, and as nations have little of the modern sense for "team-work."
Take the case of Poland, Czecho-Slovakia's obstreporous northern neighbour. Both have been raised from the dead at the same time, and are brothers in resurrection. Both have great capacity to help one another. But one finds an almost complete detachment, as if the frontier line were an ocean.
"We send goods into Poland—and the Polish Government sequesters them," say the Czechs. "We load our trains with stuff for them, and then our trains never come back. Many whole trains have disappeared in Poland, and we get no satisfaction."
A new type of crime—train-stealing! "No," says Dr. Benes; "we must wait patiently till it occurs to the Poles that a close brotherly relationship between the two countries is better than suspicion and jealousy."
"Why do you not take the step yourself?"
"It would be suspected of having some hidden motive, or we should be thought to be in terrible need of Poland's help," said Bohemia's minister.
As regards the interior troubles of Czecho-Slovakia, much is made of the Slovak separatist movement, and the Germans exploit the supposed racial animosities of the two Slav tribes. The Slovaks also obtain some sympathy from our "Save the children" missionaries, who naturally prefer unspoiled peasants to educated foreigners of any kind. If the Slovak hates the Czech he hates the Magyar also, but whether he hates or not he is not very important in Europe, and is bound to find himself in a subordinate national position. The enmity of the German elements is more menacing, and it is not to be denied that the new State holds a million or so people who, by the accident of habitat, have to be called Czecho-Slovaks, though they are no more Czecho-Slovaks than Lot and his wife.
I met among others Dr. Isidor Muller, first assistant at the University of Vienna, but living at Carlovivari (Carlsbad), and naturally enough unable to speak Czech and unacquainted with Czechs, but written down as Czecho-Slovak now. Still, it has its advantages. He told me that he was once being rudely treated by a French officer who took him for a Boche. The Frenchman was disinclined to shake hands.
"But I am a Czecho-Slovak," said Dr. Muller, inspirationally.
"Oh!" The Frenchman's face lighted up. He extended his hand. "We are brothers and allies."
Still some German Czecho-Slovaks think they will ultimately overthrow the new State and get into the saddle again. And they make a solid and dangerous political bloc. Benes said they were much more amenable than a year ago, but in the Parliament House—an adapted concert-hall—I saw all the carpenters at work in a litter of shavings and broken wood. "The German benches," said the editor of the "Narodni Listi," who was showing me round the institutions of Prague.
Czecho-Slovakia holds now, besides her natural constituent races, a considerable number of Russian exiles, and these have their Russian daily paper at Prague and a number of local Russian enterprises. With the calming down of Soviet Russia, some of these Russians would naturally return home, but a few have taken root and will remain. It is not an uncongenial soil for the average Russian. Then the Government has agreed to take ten thousand of General Wrangel's soldiers, and will endeavour to settle them on the land. There are already too many non-Slavonic elements in Czecho-Slovakia, and Russians will help to neutralize some of the Magyar and German influences. At least, such is the hope. As a step in this direction, there has developed also an important Church movement. A large portion of the Roman Catholic clergy have split from Rome and founded a Czech National Church. They have left the Pope, and have in return been excommunicated. Apparently excommunication has not a great terror, however. National Catholicism without an infallible Pope is not far removed from Greek Catholicism and even Anglicanism. Austria and Hungary are Roman Catholic, but Czecho-Slovakia will remain either Protestant or National Catholic.
The abandonment of the German language is also a remarkable phenomenon. The common will is to abandon it. Unfortunately, the Czech language is of limited use, but there is now a remarkable passion for learning English, and there are thousands of students at the University classes. This boom is due to President Wilson. The Russian language is also extensively known among the ex-soldiers who sojourned so many years as prisoners or as legionaries in Russia. The French language having lost much of its value has not so many students. The "Narodni Listi," which is the principal Czech newspaper in Prague, prints two columns in French every day for the convenience of foreigners who do not understand Bohemian. This idea is being extended, and a daily supplement in English is to be issued soon.
Two evenings spent at the theatre at Prague were curiously in contrast: one at the German National Theatre, to hear "The Blue Mazurka," by Lehar, author of "The Merry Widow," and other less entertaining operettas. The imposing building of the Deutsche Theatre was crammed with Germans who took pleasure in a characteristic sentimental operetta. The other evening was at the Czech National Theatre to see a performance of "Coriolanus," and was more interesting. The Czechs had great difficulties under the Austro-Hungarian regime in obtaining a national theatre. The Imperial Government was not anxious to encourage Czech language and literature, and therefore refused to grant the State subsidy on which national theatres usually depend. This, however, did not deter the Czechs. It made them only the more determined to have a national theatre. It should be remembered that drama has a much greater national importance in the continental countries of Europe than it has in England or America. Excitement over such a matter might seem incredible to Anglo-Saxons, not so to Slavs or to Germans. The proposed deprivation of the Czechs of a national stage stirred the people to the depths, and it was not long before men and women were busy collecting the money to build and sustain a Czech theatre at Prague. The funds were raised, and the place was built, and the Bohemian people inscribed over the proscenium the challenging words: "Narod Sobe"—The people for itself.
"Coriolanus" was conceived of rather as a struggle with the proletariat. Hillar, the producer, has effectually disenchanted the footlights by putting steps down to the audience in the position of the prompter's box. The characters frequently make their entrances as it were from the body of the audience. This is especially striking in the crowding up of the Roman Bolsheviks on to the stage in the opening scene—a remarkable piece of life and action. However, though one naturally thought of the Bolsheviks, there was nothing of the guise of Lenin or Liebknecht in the appearance of the popular tribunes, who, together with the rest of the citizens, were reduced to the level of Dogberry, whilst the noble Coriolanus was perhaps exaggerated in his nobility and his disdain. Menenius Agrippa was a Balfourian old fellow who told the story of the Belly and its members well. What a story for Europe to learn now: it ought to be put in the reading-books of every tongue.
What struck me about the Czech performance of "Coriolanus" was the dignity of personality and height of conception which the Slavs bring to the interpretation of Shakespeare. It was the same in Moscow in the old days. Hamlet was more interestingly conceived and better performed than anywhere else in the world.
An interesting play reflecting in itself the world-drama, was lately produced at Prague under the title "R.U.R.," or "Rasum's Universal Rabots." A scientist named Dr. Rasum succeeded in inventing a human automaton, a human being except for the fact that it had no soul and no power of reproducing itself. They were excellent for use in factories and in armies, and the firm of Rasum, Ltd., supplied them in hundreds and thousands to companies and States. Eventually the Rabots, as they are called, combine and make war against the real people with the souls, and they destroy Dr. Rasum and his factory, and even the plan and the secret whereby the Rabots are made. They also destroy the real people, all but one, and a great sadness comes upon the world as it is realized that man must die out. At the end of the play, however, a soul is born in one of the Rabots, and he is touched to love, and so he obtains the power to reproduce the species, and the human story recommences. A striking idea for a drama, and capable of arousing much excitement in Labour's literary circles. I heard that the rights had been bought for almost every country of Europe. In the drama, as in music and art, the Slavs are always passing Teuton and Latin, backward though they may be in other matters.
Enough has been said to register the opinion that the new State of Bohemia is very promising, and that it is a redeeming case in the welter of New Europe. As far as Prague is concerned it leaves behind its provincial recent-past, recovers its ancient-past, and looks towards a great future. New buildings will arise worthy of a capital, new administrative offices and a new Parliament House are to be built. Around the Parliament House it is designed to place the cycle of Mucha's mystical paintings lately exhibited in New York. These traverse the whole story of the Slavs, and especially that of the Czechs, but not, however, omitting the story of Russia, from the baptism of Vladimir to the emancipation of the serfs. Czecho-Slovakia will raise the banner of a new Pan-Slavism and Slav unity. The faith is kindled here that whilst many other nations are going mad, Czecho-Slovakia may keep her head and be one of those who by her example and leadership will save Europe from disruption and chaos.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
X. FROM WARSAW
As at Constantinople, there is great over-crowding. There are three times as many people on the pavements as on the pavements of Vienna or Prague. The Marshalkowsky is a-flocking from end to end. Finding a room for the night is a hard task. You will see a great deal of Warsaw before you find a room. It is not a bad way to obtain a first impression. I arrived at one in the afternoon and found a place for myself only at ten at night. The once luxurious Hotel Bristol was full to-day, no hope for to-morrow, no, nor for to-morrow week. At the Royal Hotel a lugubrious porter says "l'hotel n'existe plus." The Victoria, which was the first hotel I ever stayed at in Russia, knew me no more. At the Metropole a preoccupied clerk said "Nima" without looking up from the news from the Silesian front which was engrossing him. I went into a terribly shabby and dirty hotel called the Amerikansky, and hoped they'd say "No," which they certainly did. Another doubtful establishment with girls on the stairs was also gorged and replete with visitors. The Y.M.C.A. said they'd enough trouble finding rooms for their own people. The Hotel de Rome was occupied by the Red Cross. The Kowiensky was alles besetst; the Hotel de Saxe had not even a hope.
These efforts were naturally punctuated by visits to the Polish "bar" and cafe. At these it came as somewhat of a surprise to have tips refused. I paid for my dinner and added the customary ten per cent. The waiter drew himself up and waved his hand in deprecation.
"No, no," said he, proudly; "I'm Polish."
"What, no tips now?"
"That is certainly an improvement," I reflected. In Warsaw, in Russian days, most waiters fawned disgustingly for tips. But it seems now as if there were an entirely new population. However, I resumed my quest of a lodging. At the Imperial Hotel they kindly relieved me of my knapsack and overcoat, and advised me to come back at eight or nine at night—there might be a room then. Meanwhile I should continue seeking. So the Cracowsky was tried, and the Lipsky, once Leipzig, and the Adlon and the Pretoria, and many another haunt of mice and men. Then I returned to the Imperial for the second time. No, there was no room. It had been a lovely day, only too hot, and the evening was warm. I thought pleasantly of the Saxon Gardens and its seats.
Then Poland revealed itself. "You want a room very badly, don't you?" said the Imperial Hotel porter. "I'll arrange it for you. But it will cost you something. You take my card to a certain hotel, which I will mention to you, hand it to the porter and give him a thousand marks, and he'll fix you up at once."
So I repaired to the Hotel Vienna, opposite the Vienna station. The night porter was very pessimistic, wouldn't take the thousand marks. "Come back in an hour," said he in a loud voice; "if there is a room then you'll have it; if not, you can't."