This year’s month of March did not treat our community overly kindly. The row of friends to whom we said good bye this March is longer than other years. Quite a number of us gathered the last day of the month in Montreal to attend a somewhat different funeral: we lost a consulate. And this was not a run-of-the mill consulate. Which is not to suggest that the Czech Republic (and before that Czechoslovakia) ever had in Canada an unusually high number of consular establishments. But the Montreal consulate had much closer ties ties with the Czech (and even more Czechoslovak) history, than is usually the case.
What goes for the Montreal consulate, goes equally for the City of Montreal: it was in Montreal where in 1924 a group of immigrants from Czechoslovakia – mostly Slovaks – established Československý podpůrný spolek (Czechoslovak Mutual Benefit Society); it was in Montreal where in 1929 two newspapers commenced publication: Slovenské Bratrstvo (Slovak Brotherhood) and Kanadské noviny (Canadian Newspaper) – /the first Slovak newspaper in Canada, Slovenské slovo (Slovak Word), was published in Blairmore, Alberta in 1910/. Beginning with the thirties of the last century, until the outbreak of the separatist movement in Quebec in the seventies, Montreal was probably the most important Czech and Slovak centre in Canada. All we have to look at are the events responding to the Munich crisis: the largest protest against the Munich agreement in Canada took place in Montreal on October 2, 1938 (a date we’ll revisit shortly) when some 4,000 gathered to voice their opposition. Because Montreal is still an important community centre today with many activities taking place, I will mention only three happenings from the post-thirties period which tinkled in my heart: the famed Montreal bazaars – not only because the proceeds were helping the sick and the poor – but also because of the unexpected sponsor (or better, organizer) of this annual happening – Vaclav Vlček, a retired general of the Czechoslovak army; the Seniors Club, founded and for many years presided over, by the indestructible Václav Pavelka, who finally departed this planet in the year 2002, at the age of one hundred-one and one-half years; and Cardinal Josef Beran sawing wood at Camp Hostýn with Father Bohuslav Janíček.
On October 2, 1938, an event took place in Montreal which appears to me pleasantly resourceful in a very Czech way: there is in it an element of courage, probably an echo of Švejk (the finest echo that Švejk might be capable of producing), but most of all, a flash of extraordinary brightness. What happened was that the then Consul-General of Czechoslovakia, Dr. František Pavlásek, flanked by a couple of Sokols and a few members of RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) refused to hand over the consulate to the Nazi diplomats who came to claim it. I know that some people describe this happening as a heroic act. I must admit that I don’t smell heroism in Dr. Pavlasek’s action (after all it happened practically in the centre of Canada and the few Nazis hardly constituted a formidable threat to Dr. Pavlásek and his praetorian guard. The occasion simply didn’t offer the necessary ingredients for heroism. (It would have been much different, if someone tried to stop Hitler from entering the Prague castle). Rather, I see this happening as an ingenious reaction to the arrogance of Hitler’s diplomats, who in their haughtiness assumed that by the Munich agreement everything Czechoslovak had become the property of the empire which was supposed to last a thousand years, and simply marched to the Czechoslovak consulate to kick out the present occupants and collect the keys.
Obviously, they did not inform themselves as to the quality of their adversaries. And so, when they knocked on the door of the consulate, they were met by the steely resolve of Dr. Pavlásek, backed by a couple of sturdily-built members of Sokol and the imposing figures of the members of the RCMP, none of them showing the slightest desire to accommodate the German diplomats. And so, all they could do, was to retreat as whipped dogs. (Sometimes such a retreat – in the case of dogs – is described more colorfully, but such description might be inappropriate when applied to humans). What I am attempting to say is that the victory of Dr. Pavlásek and his cohorts might not be of the same importance as the victory at Zborov, but it certainly was an admirable triumph of wit over force, an act which deserves a place of honor in the annals of the Czechoslovak diplomacy.
And it was Dr. Pavlásek’s consulate (the historic one, not the building) we said good bye on March 31, 2010 (a good bye, just as the symbolic one two days later, was recorded in the media by Ladislav Křivánek). Mr. Křivánek first tried to do everything possible and even impossible (one of his many assistants was the 96 years old Anka Votická, who collected 51 signatures against the closing of the consulate) to prevent the closure. The last consul general, Ing. Jaroslava Jeslinková, fought for the consulate with all the decent weapons at her disposal (those used by her long-ago predecessor were not available to her). She said good bye to the people present at the closing ceremony in a dignified and highly civilized speech, after delivering awards for working many years for the good name of the Czech Republic (and in many cases also the Czechoslovak Republic), to Josef Janík, Ema Košacká, Ladislav Křivánek, Líba Prášilová, Standa Skála, Olga Velanová and Anka Votická. Růžena Raichmanová and Alois Vogl received their awards before Christmas 2009.
The ceremony was also attended by the Honorary Consul of the Slovak Republic, Ing. Dezider Michaletz and Mrs. Michaletz, and Prof. Dr. T.J. Pavlásek, (the son of the Consul General and subsequently the Czechoslovak Ambassador to Canada, Dr. František Pavlásek). Zuzana Hahn and myself came from Toronto.
Author: Josef Cermak (CzechFolks.com PLUS)