22th December 2008
WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT DO THEY WANT?
A 1902 EXPLANATION IN THE LEADING CHICAGO PAPER
The letter below, signed by an ex-attaché was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on September 14, 1902. The news media of the day was reporting on events in Croatia and among the Croatians in America. In order to have a better understanding of the content of the letter, here are a few remarks on the historical circumstances in Croatia at the time, and on the 1902 mining strike in Pennsylvania that the author refers to.
In Croatia, the oppression, exploitation, and Magyarization under the infamous Ban Dragutin Károly Khuen-Héderváry was at full force. The fact that his regime relied heavily on the Serb minority in Croatia, made the Croat-Serb relations tense. The spark that provoked the 1902 violent events in Croatia, was an article published in the Serb paper in Zagreb, Srbobran of August 22, 1902, that declared Do istrage va¹e ili na¹e/Until either your or our extermination. The following excerpt gives the gist of the article: "The Croats.. are not and cannot be a separate nation, but they are on the way to becoming-Serbs..[The] struggle must be fought until either your or our extermination. One party must succumb. That will be the Croatians, because of their small numbers, geographic position, the circumstances that they are mixed with Serbs everywhere, and the general process of evolution, according to which the idea of Serbianism means progress." The message and the spirit of the article provoked rioting and violence in Zagreb by university students and other young people, as well as in some other towns. It is for this reason that Croatia became news-worthy at the time.
In America, the struggle for better pay for a hard workday, and humane treatment of the mineworkers by the owners and operators of anthracite coal mines in Pennsylvania, culminated in a bitterly fought strike. Many among the 150,000 strikers were Croatians. As a strong supporter of the strikers, the Croatian National Society (Hrvatska Narodna Zajednica-HNZ) donated $500.00 to the cause. The HNZ and the Croatian mineworkers were the "talk of the town" because of their strong pro-unionism and for being firm fighters for workers' rights.
Fall and winter were approaching and coal supplies were running short. President Theodore Roosevelt intervened in order to prevent coal shortages for people to heat their homes. It was, therefore, under the government's pressure that the strike ended (Oct. 23, 1902); the miners received more pay for fewer working hours; the owners got a higher price for coal, but did not recognize the United Mine Workers of America union as a bargaining agent.
Thus, connecting the events in Croatia and in Pennsylvania, the ex-attaché sent the following letter to the Tribune, offering American readers an overview of the situation in Croatia, although he did not refer to the anti-Croat article that provoked the riots, as well as stressing the role of the Croatian National Society in the mineworkers' strike.
Chicago Daily Tribune, September 14, 1902
Description of Croatians, Who Figure Largely in Pennsylvania mining Troubles; 300,000 in the United States.
Their Country Anxious to Be Independent of Hungary; "Great Croat Idea" Is Formation of a Slav State in Europe.
In the last few weeks there have been frequent references in the American press to the Croatians, both in connection with the disturbances in the capital of Croatia, where martial law has just been proclaimed, and also in relation to the Pennsylvania mining troubles, in which the great Croatian labor union entitled the Narodna Hrvatska Zaprevnica [Zajednica], which has its headquarters at Pittsburg, plays so important a role. It may be therefore timely to explain just who the Croatians are, the more so as people in this country have fallen into the habit of applying this home to tens of thousands of emigrants from the southern provinces of Austria-Hungary who have not a drop of Croat blood in their veins.
Before proceeding to do this it may be as well to call attention to the large number of so-called Croats that there are at the present moment in the United States. In Pennsylvania alone they number considerably over 100,000, most of them being affiliated with the labor union at Pittsburg agents throughout the mining and oil field districts. In Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan there are at least a couple of hundred thousand more. It is difficult to obtain definite statistics about the matter except though the immigration authorities at Ellis Island. For the Austro-Hungarian government discountenances to such an extent the emigration of its citizens and puts so many obstacles in the way of their leaving the land of their birth that when they reach this county they are as a general rule careful to avoid their consular officials, feeling that they have acted in coming to America contrary to the wishes of their monarch, and have consequently little to expect from his representatives.
True, the latter are ready to support the emigrants from Austria-Hungary to the best in their power. But they are seldom appealed to just because the immigrants feel themselves remiss and whereas there is not a foreign consulate in New York that is not called upon to pay for the repatriation of those of its fellow countrymen who have been unable to make a living in the United States, the Austro-Hungarian consuls in America are so seldom called upon for assistance of this kind that they have actually no fund allowed to them by their government for the purpose.
Then, too, the major portion of the immigrants who enter the United States under the generic denomination of "Croats," and who comprise Dalmatians, Istrians, Carniolans, Serbs, and Slavonians, are illiterate, and in consequence thereof experience considerable difficulty in acquiring American citizenship. Indeed, there are whole communities of them in mining districts of Pennsylvania who not only never learn to read or write, but actually live here and die without ever having acquired the English language. So that the only means of keeping track of them in any way is through the labor unions to which they belong and through their clergy.
The latter are dispatched to this country by the primate and religious orders of Croatia, independently of the Austro-Hungarian government, and they, too, as a rule, by reason of the remoteness of their fields of labor from the cities in which are located the Austro-Hungarian consulates, rarely come into contact with the latter. In this they differ from the priests of the so-called Greek rite. For the latter, who are supposed to look after the spiritual welfare of that Serbian element of the Croatian immigration, are suspected, no without good reason, of pursuing Pan-Slavist propaganda on behalf of Russia among their flock, under the direction of the agents of the Muscovite government here, and of endeavoring not only to convert the Croatian Catholics to the Greek church, but likewise to induce them to look upon the czar both as their spiritual and temporal protector and sovereign.
With regard to Croatia itself it is an autonomous province not of Austria but of Hungary. It has its separate diet [parliament], is represented in both houses of the Hungarian legislature, and has at its head a governor or banus, who, although the representative of the emperor is nominated by the Hungarian government and subject to the latter. The subjection to Hungary is a source of bitter discontent on the part of the Croatians, who, like the Czechs of Bohemia, are anxious for a far greater degree of home rule than that which they now enjoy, and yearn for the restoration of the old kingdom of Croatia, with Emperor Francis Joseph as their king, and bound only to the remaining portions of his empire by dynastic ties.
This feeling is not altogether unnatural when the fact is recalled that at the time of the Hungarian insurrection of 1849 the Croatians under their banus Jellalich (sic!) [Jelaèiæ] marched against the rebels and contributed, so largely to the suppression of the revolutionary movement that for their services Austria declared Croatia independent of Hungary. When, however, twelve years later, the policy of Austria towards Hungary was changed and the Magyars, thanks to Deak, Tisza, Andrassy, and other patriots, recovered not only their autonomy but likewise a national constitution distinct from that of Austria, Croatia was, in spite of the protests of its population, once more incorporated in the reconstituted kingdom of Hungary, in pursuance of the policy of Austria to conciliate in every manner possible the Magyar nation.
The Hungarian government is keenly alive to this nationalist spirit which prevails throughout Croatia, and seeks by every means in its power to suppress it. Indeed, its rule of Croatia is, to say the least, strict. There is but little endeavor to conciliate the Croatians, and on the least pretext, such as any conflict between rival factions of Croatians or between the Croatians and Serbs military law, with all the severities which that expression implies, is at once proclaimed by order from Buda-Pesth in the district where the trouble has taken place.
It is hardly necessary to say that the Croatians have plenty of differences among themselves. There are, for instance, the Croats proper, who are divided into at least four political parties. Then there are the Serbs, in Croatia, who number about 23 per cent of the population, and who follow the Greek instead of the Roman Catholic rite. Moreover, they use the Russian or Slav alphabet in lieu of the Latin letters that are employed by the Croats. Their religious and their political differences frequently lead to strife. For the Croatians, as a whole are a warlike people, who contributed in no small measure to preserve western Europe from being overrun by the Turks and have time and again shed their blood for the Hapsburg dynasty, especially during the seven years' war, when their name served to inspire dread through Silesia and that part of Germany which constituted the field of the historic conflict between Frederick the Great and Empress Theresia.
But on one point the Croatians are all united-namely: in their animosity towards Hungary and in their hopes of the realization of what they describe as the "great Croat idea"; that is to say, the formation of a great Slav state, comprising not only of Croatia, but also Slovenia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, which would then counterbalance the kingdom of Hungary in the Hapsburg empire. Clergy, nobility, bourgeoisie, and the masses have all this one aim in view. What this means will be understood when the fact is taken into consideration that there are all told some 18,000,000 Slavs who constitute an integral part of the population of Austro-Hungary and that were the Slavs of Croatia and Esclavonia [Slavonia] to join hands with the Slavs of Bohemia they would constitute a force sufficiently overwhelming to be in a position to impose their demands for complete autonomy both at Pesth and at Vienna.
For the present the Slavs of Bohemia and the Slavs of Croatia are far apart. There is, indeed, but one power that ever expect to unite them for purposes of her own, and that is Russia, who has the agents of the Pan-Slav association busy at work in Bohemia as in Croatia, bent upon the fulfillment of the openly avowed program of the Pan-Slav association-namely: the "freeing of our brethren from German and Austrian tyranny" and the formation of a great pan-Slav empire or federation of Slav states under the sovereignty of the Czar.
It is because the Austro-Hungarian government has long been aware of this pan-Slav propaganda being carried on within its borders that it has always endeavored to repress rather than encourage the Slav nationalist idea, and why it set its face so strongly against the late bishop of Diakovar [Djakovo], Mgr. Strossmeyer [Storssmayer], who was one of the most powerful and influential champions of the "great Croat idea" and of Slav nationalist movement. Although a member of the Austro-Hungarian episcopacy, he carried his nationalism to such an extent that he made a point of talking nothing but Croatian.
The cathedral which he erected at Diakobar [Djakovo], a gem of the purest Gothic art, bears an inscription over its central portal to the effect that it has been "designed, built, and sculptured for the greater glory of God, exclusively by Croatians." No one was allowed to put his hand to the work unless it could be shown that he had Slav blood coursing through his veins. For several consecutive years the bishop kept men traveling through the country collecting all the old Slav legends, popular songs, poems, etc, which, after being carefully revised by himself, were printed and distributed gratis everywhere in order that, in the words of the bishop, "the people might be no longer exposed to hearing those hateful German and Hungarian songs that contain nothing but curse for Croatia."
This will convey some idea of the strength of the "great Croat idea," and of the intensity of the nationalist feeling throughout Croatia, as well as the ill-will of the population thereof towards Hungary, and in a minor degree of course, toward Austria. While the Croatians my be always relied upon to shed their book for the Hapsburg dynasty, as they have done for hundreds of years past, they are bound in the natural order of things to continue to prove as much a source of trouble and anxiety to the authorities at Vienna, but more especially at Buda-Pesth, as the Irish are to government of Great Britain.
It can be inferred from the published text that the "ex-attaché" was well-acquainted with the life of Croatian immigrants in America. Among other things, he points out lack of language skills, illiteracy, isolation, and their aloofness to the Austro-Hungarian consulate, as well as Serbian church activities in spreading pro-Russianism, better to say Greater Serbianism.
However, its seems that he did not realize that the main reason why the Croatians in America did not communicate with and seek help from the consulates was the fact that they could not identify with neither the consulates (the country they represented), nor with the people working in them. For example, Hrvatska Zastava of July 5, 1906 raised a question of the personnel makeup at the Austro-Hungarian consulates in America. The paper complained that there were no Croats there. It also stated that this question had been raised in Vienna a couple of times, but the answer was that there were people there who "understand" Croatian. Hrvatska Zastava stated, "those are Czechs" but not Croatians. The problem of Croatian immigrants and the consulates that should have been giving them a helpful hand existed not only until the end of the Habsburg Monarch, but became even worse during the Yugoslav era.
Ex-attaché's letter gives us a chance to see how Croatians and their struggles at the time were perceived by an American diplomat and how he presented his view to the American public. It would be interesting to know the author's name. If one is to guess, I would pick the young Fiorello Henry La Guardia, later famous Mayor of the New York City, except he could not have been an ex-attaché because he served in U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Rijeka from 1901 to 1906. However, one can pretend to be one. As it is well-known, he served as an interpreter of Croatian (and other languages) at the Ellis Island from 1907 to 1910. Regardless of who was the author, the letter deals with Croatian history at home and in America and it gives us a chance to see how Croatians were perceived at the time.
Ante Èuvalo - Chicago