We take our readers, in this article, to Czechoslovakia, a nation locked in the heart of Europe. ONE DAY recently, while in Prague, a Czech friend asked me, "Is it true that workers are starving in America? We have heard that there are now soup lines in Detroit."
"I am afraid someone has given you a very incomplete view of life in America," I told him.
"Like you have of us," he replied. "Your newspapers and magazines are negative about life in our country."
He had made a valid point. Both East and West go to great lengths to paint as miserable a picture as possible of each other. Westerners have firm opinions about Eastern Europe — even if (or especially if) one has not visited these nations.
But, do these opinions give a fair and accurate picture?
"Why don't you write something positive about Czechoslovakia in your magazine?" my Czech friend asked.
"For 50 years The Plain Truth has been a magazine of understanding — not propaganda," I reminded him.
"So — help your readers to understand Czechoslovakia."
Today's Czechoslovakia What is it like in Czechoslovakia today? I should point out first that Czechoslovakia is not typical of Eastern Europe. There is no such thing as a "typical" European nation — east or west. Each is an individual state, usually with its own language, its own culture and a history stretching back for hundreds, or even thousands, of years.
Physically, Czechoslovakia is one of the more beautiful countries on earth. It has just about everything — high mountains, deep valleys, dense forests, rolling plains, rivers, lakes, caves — everything, in fact, except a coastline. Few places can rival Czechoslovakia for architectural interest. More than 2,500 castles still dot the landscape, and although time and innumerable wars have taken their toll, there remain more than 25,000 other buildings of historic note.
There are 1,300 mineral springs and health spas, where in times past, notables ranging from Beethoven to Mark Twain have visited to "take the cure." And thousands still visit every year. Czechoslovakian handicrafts — especially crystal ware — are famous around the world for their beauty and quality.
But Czechoslovakia is not just a pretty face. It is also a major industrial power. Beneath the country's surface lie large reserves of coal.
The Czechs and Slovaks today have a working week of 42 hours and can look forward to a paid vacation every year. Consumer goods and luxuries are expensive by Western standards. Nearly every home has a television set. A surprisingly large number of workers each own an automobile. It is also surprising to learn that a large number of Czechs — ordinary people, not just the top officials each have a small holiday home in the hills around Prague. There is a regular exodus from the city on weekends.
Medical attention is both cheap and readily available to all. A fair assessment of the Czech nation today is that they are a cultured, talented and friendly people, living in what can only be described as one of the "have" nations of the world. Indeed, if we are to compare their situation with the lot of the average human being in the Third World, the Czechs are living in luxury. All young people receive an education, and the nation has been rated as one of the three most literate countries in the world.
Czechoslovakia, however, is not paradise. The economy, and society in general, is tightly controlled. There is a severe housing shortage, and because of a cumbersome and bureaucratic distribution system, even a simple purchase can involve a long wait in line. There are many things about their way of life they would like to see changed. But such changes do not always materialize as hoped. The works of Marx, Engels and Lenin were supposed to show the way to true peace, happiness, freedom and prosperity. Karl Marx was deeply affected by the suffering of the workers of Britain and Europe during the earlier part of the last century. He became convinced that the capitalist system, in which wealth was becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of the few, must eventually self-destruct. The workers would be driven to revolt against oppression, and the result would inevitably be a classless society in which the bond of brotherhood between working people would bring about a world free of envy, hatred and prejudice. A communist system of government, thought Marx, would help a nation evolve toward this "utopia."
But, Marx and those who came before and after him, overlooked one vital point in their argument. They did not understand how to change the nature of man. The communist philosophers are not alone in this. Nobody — communist or capitalist, Eastern or Western traditional believer or confirmed atheist — understands why the human race has not, is not and will not ever develop a just society out of its own resources.
Mankind has chosen to ignore the only source of knowledge that can explain what he is, why he exists and how he should live. That source is the law of God, as revealed in the Bible.
The Bible is the word of God, given to man as an instruction book by his Maker. It teaches that the first man, Adam, proved that human beings, when given the option, would reject the laws of God as a way of life. So, God allowed him and his descendants to learn their lessons the hard way. Ever since, the human race has been engaged in the futile quest of trying to discover a way of life that will bring lasting peace and happiness. Many ways have seemed right for a while (just as the Bible said they would — Proverbs 14:12), but the end result is always the same. Readers should write for our free booklet Never Before Understood — Why Humanity Cannot Solve Its Evils for a full explanation of this important subject. Man has experimented with many different forms of government. Communism is one of the more recent ones. But we can say it has been around long enough to prove that just like capitalism, it doesn't have all the answers. No political system has yet been able to abolish greed corruption, envy and the innate tendency of human beings to want to "get" for themselves at the expense of others. There is a missing ingredient in every system invented by man to solve his problems. Until communist governments face this fact, they may continue to make progress in some material fields. But they will always fall far short of their stated long-term goal — a just and equitable society for all.
Czechoslovaks can point to the fact that they have less serious crime, less juvenile delinquency and the streets are safe at night. And that all able-bodied workers in Czechoslovakia have a job to go to. (I nearly wrote "Czechoslovakia has no unemployment" — but that is an overstatement. Some are underemployed, but can get by with only a few hours work a day. As they say, "It's better than having no job at all")
The Shadow of the Past Look at a map of Europe. You will see that Czechoslovakia is not so much an eastern as a central European nation. Prague is actually farther to the west than Vienna, capital of Austria. Hitler once called Czechoslovakia a "dagger aimed at the heart of Germany," and took terrible action to make sure the point was blunted. More on that in a moment.
Because of its geographical position, Czechoslovakia has been on center stage during much of Europe's turbulent history. Almost without interruption, its people have been under one kind of foreign domination or another.
Through the centuries, Czech territory has been a favorite battleground for other nations' wars.
The modern nation of Czechoslovakia came into being in 1918, when the old Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled after World War I. Two peoples, the Czechs of Bohemia and Moravia, and the Slovaks of Slovakia, combined to form the new state.
Fifteen years later Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany. Within five years, the Fuehrer had consolidated his position and built the defeated Germany back into a formidable military power.
Then he began his quest for Lebensraum — "living space" — for the Third Reich.
The lands confiscated from Germany after World War I, and other areas of the Continent that had sizable German populations, were his first territorial goals. High on the list of priorities was the "dagger aimed at the heart of Germany."
In 1938, Hitler insisted that the Sudeten land of Western Czechoslovakia, with its three million German-speaking people, should be allowed to become part of the Third Reich. The Czech government resisted, which led to confrontation and retaliation against the Sudetenlanders. Czechoslovaks knew that to let Hitler have his way meant the eventual dismemberment of their nation. However, Czechoslovakia's Western allies, Britain and France, anxious to avoid another war, yielded to Hitler's demands in a final gesture of appeasement. The Czechoslovaks — and the world — soon found out what giving Hitler his way would mean. The Munich agreement of September 29, 1938, resulted in the Sudeten land passing to Hitler's Germany. The Czech government had no say in the matter, and were compelled to acquiesce. Less than half a year later, the dismemberment of the remainder of Czechoslovakia took place.
The Nazis occupied Bohemia and Moravia while Slovak fascist sympathizers set up their own puppet state in what was left of the country. Czechoslovakia, after less than a quarter of a century of nationhood, was ripped asunder.
No area of Europe escaped unscathed from World War II, but the conflict in Eastern Europe was waged with exceptional savagery. Armies on both sides fought relentlessly — giving and asking no quarter. Soldiers and civilians alike were victims of atrocities rarely paralleled in the history of war. It is important to understand this if we are to comprehend the frame of mind of Czechoslovaks and other Eastern Europeans today. That terrible
Lidice was burned and bulldozed to the ground, and the ruined site was plowed over.... The field that was old Lidice is now a national monument.time still looms large in their memory. Losses were measured by the millions — the Soviet Union alone lost more than 20 million of her people. Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia suffered proportionally devastating casualties. Most were slain not in battle, but in the brutality that accompanied the Nazi occupation. Few families escaped the loss of relatives and friends. Many names still strike fear and anger in Czech hearts, names like Treblinka, Auschwitz... and Lidice. Lidice is — or was — a small village 20 kilometers west of Prague.
In May 1942, Czech partisans assassinated Hitler's personally appointed Reich protector, Reinhard Heydrich. The Nazis took ruthless revenge. On one morning in June 1942, the inhabitants of Lidice woke to find themselves surrounded by Storm troopers. The entire adult male population was shot, and the women were sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, where many of them died of starvation, disease and exhaustion. The children were sent to live with German families. And then, Lidice was burned and bulldozed to the ground, and the ruined site was plowed over.
When the women who had survived Ravensbruck returned after the war, they found only a field of corn where their little village had once stood. After the war, a new town was built a few hundred yards away. The field that was old Lidice is now a national monument
A Czechoslovak who lived in a town near Lidice during the war took me to the site. "I remember that time well," he said. "While they were searching for Heydrich's assassins, the Nazis thought they had found some incriminating evidence in our town. I awoke one morning to find soldiers in my bedroom, and my mother being held at gun point. Fortunately the searchers found nothing, but I still remember what the officer said to my mother: 'I am glad that we don't have to do to you what we have done to Lidice.' No, I'll never forget that time."
Many older generation Czechs and Slovaks could tell similar, frightening stories.
Czechoslovakia was liberated from the Nazis in 1945 by the Soviet Army, and the Republic was reestablished. The geopolitical facts of life, consequent to the Yalta Conference, determined that within three years Czechoslovakia would become a socialist state within the Warsaw Pact. And so it remains to this day.
A Cultural, Peaceful People Czechoslovaks have always preferred to live in peace than die as heroes. Those that they truly admire tend to be men who stand for culture and freedom.
The Czechs are proud of their nation's heritage. Millions of tourists visit each year from all over the world. Western visitors are made welcome, and once they have completed the necessary (and seemingly interminable) entry formalities, are free to go anywhere. Prague is still one of the great cultural cities of the world. Many of the historic buildings are being cleaned and restored. The city that Mozart loved still has much to offer music lovers. Places of entertainment abound from classical concerts to modern rock. There is also a wide variety of films and plays from all over the world — not just from the European bloc. In late December The Poseidon Adventure was playing at the Jalta Theater, Macbeth was on stage at the Smetana, and Hello Dolly was also in town.
On the somewhat touchy subject of religion, the Czechs are also realistic. The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief to every citizen, although it is no secret that the communist government does not encourage it. As in many other countries in the world, what the constitution says and what the government of the day allows may be two different matters.
Church attendance in Czechoslovakia is not nearly as high as in neighboring Poland, but considerably higher than in many Western "Christian" countries. The party and the church regard each other with guarded respect. Smaller denominations can also function.
Contrary to popular belief in the West, there is no restriction on individuals owning a Bible.
This then is Czechoslovakia — a little nation locked by geography and history in the heart of Europe. It is not a paradise, but neither should it be thought of as grim, gray and miserable.
"True Heart of Czechoslovakia" Throughout their history, Czechs and Slovaks have been dominated by their more powerful neighbors — forced by political or military circumstances to be — on one side or the other.
Like people everywhere, the Czechoslovaks yearn for security, peace, freedom from fear — and a chance to be themselves. They tend to be idealists with a strong sense of justice. The reform movements that rocked the established church in the Middle Ages had their roots in the Hussite revolutionaries in 15th-century Prague. After Jan Hus was martyred in 1415, some of his followers set up a government based on their notions of the kingdom of God, at Tabor, in Southern Bohemia. Private ownership was abolished, and all wealth was communally owned. The basic tenet of government was to "love thy neighbor
"We cannot be dogmatic as to what Czechoslovakia's future role in... Europe will be. For centuries she was part... of the old Holy Roman Empire."as thyself." It didn't last long. Military opportunists moved in and mobilized the town's resources for war. Those who remained faithful to the original concept were denounced as heretics and burned at the stake.
Men, however well intentioned, cannot bring about the kingdom of God by their own efforts. That kingdom will come — but not until this world has proved that it does not know the way to lasting peace and prosperity.
The Czechs have lived in precarious peace for most of the years since the Second World War ended. Whatever changes they may want, they will not risk losing all that has been achieved. The average Czechoslovak is a family man, who wants to be allowed to live in peace, to earn his keep, to provide for his loved ones, using his talents to the best of his abilities.
Czechoslovakia has millions of people like this, and in them lies the true potential of this hardy little country.
The Changing Map of Europe As regular readers of this magazine know, the balance of power in Europe is about to see a great change. The Roman Empire is prophesied in the Bible to rise once more. It will undoubtedly rise out of the economic and political instability in Western and Central Europe. Its sudden rise to power, and the force and energy it commands, will probably take even its own leaders by surprise. It may seem to be, for a while, the economic and political salvation of Europe. But that neglected source of European history — the Bible — graphically portrays the tragedy into which the whole world will be plunged by the struggle for the "soul of Europe."
But, strangely, while none of the Warsaw Pact nations base their foreign policy on the prophecies of Daniel and the book of Revelation, they seem to appreciate better than the West the problems inherent in such a union.
We cannot be dogmatic as to what Czechoslovakia's future role in a new Europe will be. For centuries she was a part — albeit a reluctant part — of the old Holy Roman Empire.
One thing is certain, the coming events in Europe will involve her — as events in Europe always do. That may sound foreboding — but it will turn out finally to be good news. For out of the turmoil that will once again engulf the Continent — and the world — will come a new age of peace that will last for a thousand years.
That age will be ruled not by the whim of man but by the will of God. In that world tomorrow, Czechs and Slovaks will work alongside present friends and former enemies, to make their own very special contribution to the prosperity and well-being of all mankind.