Joseph N. Rostinsky, Ph.D.

A Misconstrued Identity of American Moravians.



For all practícal purposes, the Moravians exist in the United States only as religious denomination. They are treated as such in official statístics. Though not so numerous when compared to other: Christian Churches in the United States, the Moravians have acquired a rather favorable reputation in the country. They are inventive, hard working, and prosperous. They are also enthusiastically proselytizing in ihe remotest places of the Earth. In other words, they are people aware of their mission and conscious of the benefits which only the incessant patience and effort can bring forth.

The ethnic Moravians also exists in the United States, but only under the oficially recognized label of the Czech nation. That is to say, the Moravians do not stand for a distinct ethnic group in the American society. It would be wrong to assume that the American ignorance of the Moravian ethnicity is a some kind of sign of prejudice or bias. It would be equally unproductive to blame the Americans for the low profile of the Moravian nation in the United States. All the facts índicate that the party to be blamed or pointed a finger at is the Moravians themselves.

A mere glance over the list of publications catering to various interest groups of the Czech-speaking population of the United States, reveals that there is not a single significant item devoted in particular to the things Moravian. One may argue that the Californian bulletin Krasna Morava does in fact represent a communication medium among Moravían Americans, and promotes the ideal of the Moravian nationality. This assertion would be not only incorrect, but intentionally distorting the fact.

The absence of a coherent Moravian national policy both in the former republic of Czechoslovakia and in its present remnant has been for some time now directly reflected in the misconstrued identity and pereception of the Moravian Americans as Czech Americans This ethnic misnomer has been perpetuated since the establishment of the Czechoslovak republic in 1918 when the national aspirations of the Moravians were sacríficed on the behalf of the Slavic unity opposed to the German and Hungarian autocratic ambitions. Yet, even in the framework of the newly coined Czechoslovak nation, the Moravians in Europe were able to preserve a modicum of their cultural and economic independence within the administrative system of the republic's lands ("zemì"). The Land of Moravia and Silesia as administrative unit could and did promote the idiosyncratic character of the Moravian people as being contrastive, albeit historically related to. the proper Czechs in Bohemia.

The advent of the communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia in February 25, 1945, stands not only for the period of class hatred and proletarian dictatorship, but also for the blatant disregard and repression of historical memory especially in Moravia. Cultural institutions promoting the national consciousness of the Moravian people were gradually disbanded. and forbidden to operate in the historical territory of Moravia. The anti-Moravian sentiment in the socialist Czechoslovakia intesified to almost genocidal proportions after the Soviet invasion in August 21, 1968. The Czech and Slovak communists took advantage of the politicaI stalemate and proportionally divided all the spoils between themselves. The Moravians and their land were treated as colonial subjects and a dumping yard for the industrial waste from Bohemia and Slovakia.

It was no other than the famous Czech disident Vaclav Benda who said in his article "Znovu krestanstvi a politika: jak dal po Velehrade?", published on the samizdat pages of Stredni Evropa, IV (Prague: November, 1985, pp.27-28): "Zaplakat by mohli tak nejspis Moravane /.../, ktere Cesi soustavne znasilnuji statopravne a ktere Slovaci, dlouho s nimi koketujici, v rozhodujici chvili sveho uspechu zradili /.../." (Translation: "It is probably the Moravians who could despair, since their national rights have been continuously violated by the Czechs, and whom the Slovaks betrayed at the decisive moment of their own national victory.") It was also no other than the first post-communist government of the Czechoslovak dissidents that made all sorts of promises as to the revival of the Moravian administrative independence. None of those promises were kept. On the contrary, since 1993 the Czech Republic embarked on the policy of Czech nationalism and cultural and economic centralization which, in its substance and as to its function, did not significantly differ f'rom the communist authoritative model. Once again, the Moravian demands to be treated as equal partner in the common state were ridiculed, misrepresented in the official public media, and finally suppressed at the level of mute existence.

One might wonder what all this narrative has to do with the Moravian Americans. One might even object to the portrayal of the European Moravians as victims of the recent historical circurmstances, as they happened to have been unwound in Central Europe. No offense taken where the questions asked are merely a sign of interlocutors ignorance. After all, the old adage that ignorance is blissed has lost nothing from its validy even in our postmodern age. For it is not only tacítly understood, but also lucidly apparent that the ethnic awareness and identity of the Moravian Americans are inextricably related with the Moravian national aspirations, realized in concrete and pragmatic terms. They are also dependent on the political leadership and guidance, provided by the Moravian cultural and political representatives both in Moravia proper and in the Moravian ethnic communities existent in some American States. Without the mutual cooperation in promoting the ideal of the Moravian nation and without a constructive dialogue, the resurgence of the Moravian national consciousness in the United States as well as in Moravia seems to be a rather hopeless attempt.

Since the proclamation of the Czech Republic in January 1998, a throng of Czech politicians and businessmen have been descending upon Moravian American communities in such lucrative localities as Texas in order to proselytize Czech nationalism among the idigenous people. At official gatherings and symposia, the Moravians are referred to as Czechs, and urged to give support to the Czech economic interests in the United States especially at times such as this when the romanticized examplary image of the Czech Republic in the business world has been recently tarnished. Those out there ín search of self-confidence and personal glory easily succumb to the expedient Czech propaganda. It is in particular those who anxiously defend their betrayal of their own Moravian heritage by pointing at the language issue. Their rhetorrical trivia go as follows: how can the Moravians be Moravians when they speak Czech? They mast be Czech, of course. One could simple retort: how could Americans be Arnericans when they speak English? They most be English, of course. Needless to say, the language argument is very unproductive when it comes to the definition of the nation.

The Romantic not: on of the nation, based on the parameters of Iinguistic uniqueness, has been abandoned some time ago. It is therefore all the more surprising that some political figures in the Czech Republic (e.g., Petr Uhl et al.) still adhere to the proto-Romantic and Stalinist concept of the nation as an ethnic group with a distinct national language. Suffice it to say that the language is not a pnmary criterion of the present model of nationhood. It is precisely this model on which the Moravians in Europe and in America ought to base their demands. Once this is accomplished, the Moravian Americans as well as the European Moravians wíll be able to replace the historícal misnomer of being classified as Czechs by their true identity as being Moravians.

It is indeed saddening to see that the political might of Czech nationalism has been so destructively used against its closest ethnic relative, the Moravian people. By emulating the Prussian unification efforts of the German Chancellor Bismarck, the Czech political avant-garde in Prague has been unfortunately experimenting with dangerous substances. For in order for the Moravians to abandon their national aspirations, the Czech nationalists would have to irnplement even more repressive measures of restraining the awakened national consciousness of the Moravian people. However, that kind of political decision would inevitably trigger only further moral condemnation and economic reprisals by the democratic community of the European and American United States.

The perennial question about "what is to be done" still remains. There are obviously no ready-made solutions to the problem of national identity both in Moravia and in the Moravian American community. Yet, one course of action ought to be seriously considered and materialized. That is the process of establishing culturally meaningful and econornically beneficial ties between the European and American Moravians. Because, though they are separated by the deep ocean, they are intimately connected by the same cultural bond of belonging to the glorious historical land of Moravia.