My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories
from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his
memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as
long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one
request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
Just as the Bosnian
crisis of 1908 awakened my curiosity about international politics, the first war
in my memory was the Balkan war in 1912 and its sequel the second Balkan war in
the succeeding year. The first war was waged by Serbia, Romania, Greece, and
Bulgaria against Turkey and it ended Turkish domination over the Balkans, except
for a small area around Istanbul. The second war opposed all the other states to
Bulgaria. They all represented the preliminaries of World War I.
To us in
Czechoslovakia it was not an ordinary war. The prevalent ideology in
East-Central Europe was Slavism [erroneously called Pan-Slavism]. We cheered on
the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Bulgarians because they were Slavs, i.e., people
speaking Slavic languages. It was Slavism that led to the assassination of
Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 and thus to the big bang. It also was Slavism
that led to the creation of Yugoslavia (then named Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and
Slovenes) as well as the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918. And it is the
demise of Slavism, resulting from the experience of Russian hegemony under
Communism, that now presides over the splitting of the two countries, even
though one disappears in blood and the other in an unpleasant divorce.
My first personal
contact with Yugoslavia was a boy from Montenegro. His name was Nikola Radovic.
He was one of thousands of children who were invited by Czech families to stay
with them for the duration of the war. It was a very popular cause. Nikola was
staying with one of my friends and became immediately a pet of the whole school.
We all were very eager to meet him. He knew no Czech, but we could communicate
with him quite well--the two languages have much in common. He was learning fast
and so were we.
Yugoslavia shortly after it was founded, but my most important experience
happened during the sixties. By that time I was teaching at Portland State
College, having retired from Reed College in 1965. One of the inducements for my
switching colleges was an invitation from my old friend Fred Peters to become
Associate Director of the Central European Studies Center, which he had just
helped establish at PSC. As part of this program we were teaching many of the
relevant languages and had launched a very respectable course in area studies.
In 1965 it was
decided to establish a program in Yugoslavia and to make it available to our
students. Having received the necessary funding from the U.S. Office of
Education, we negotiated with the University of Zagreb and came to an agreement
establishing a Zagreb Institute for Central European Studies. I was selected to
be its first Director. I arrived in Zagreb on September 20, 1967, and shortly
afterwards 17 students arrived, all of whom had had two years of Serbo-Croatian
as well as other pertinent classes. Nadia naturally came with me.
I vividly remember
my initial confrontation with Yugoslavia's problems: When I arrived, my first
visit was to the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy. His first question was
whether I spoke the language. I answered that I spoke Serbo-Croatian, more or
less. His answer was: "Dr. Munk, we do not speak Serbo-Croatian, we speak
Croatian." In fact, there are no two languages, only numerous dialects, but I
understood that his statement did not reflect linguistics, but politics.
Our year in Zagreb
was most interesting and we made quite a few good friends. It was somewhat
marred by an unfortunate experience: shortly before Christmas, while returning
from an official trip to Belgrade, I stumbled over a suitcase while detraining
at the Zagreb train station and broke my leg. They took me to the Emergency
Hospital. My stay was a special experience by itself: all the surgeons who
operated on me were women. I was in a room with several former partisans. The
Director of the hospital was also a professor at the University, and a general
of the army medical services. He came often to see me and explained that
everything was ready for war and that male doctors would serve in front
hospitals. I might add that those female surgeons were very good in fixing my
complex fracture so that I now have to think twice to remember which leg.
However, it was
spring before I could leave our apartment house. In the meantime, I continued to
meet my students regularly and lectured while lying in bed. Later I spent
several weeks in a charming resort on the Istria Riviera which specialized in
physical therapy using sea water baths. When I returned to Zagreb I found a
worsening political climate. Students at the University were demonstrating
against the Belgrade government, and there were occasionally violent clashes
with the police. Marshal Tito finally put an end to it by a show of force, but
that did not solve the problem.
All through the
year, we were exposed to the realities of Yugoslavia whenever we saw our friend
Radoslav Katicic, professor of Slav Linguistic, an expert on the original,
prehistoric language from which all Slavic languages started. He hated the Serbs
and made no effort to conceal his feelings. His face changed when he recited the
sins of Belgrade. He expected the worst, and soon after we left Zagreb he moved
to Austria and joined the faculty of the University of Vienna.
I was advised by
the American Embassy to keep a low profile, although I gave some public lectures
and spoke over Zagreb ratio, naturally in "Croatian." The reason for the advice
was the war in Vietnam, which was extremely unpopular with the students. All of
this changed abruptly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of
1968--overnight the U.S. became the good guy and the Soviet Union the bad guy.
Before the end of
the school year, I went with the students on a tour of Yugoslavia, visiting
Banjaluka, Sarajevo, and Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Split, Dubrovnik, and
Kotor in Dalamtia, Cetinje, and Titograd in Montenegro, Skopje in Macedonia and,
of course, Belgrade, the capital, where we met many officials. It surely reads
like a contemporary newspaper.
Perhaps I ought to
say something about the internecine fighting going on now in 1992. It is a
mistake to believe that ethnic relations were always at razor's edge. For a
deeper understanding of that part of the world, I recommend a Nobel
prize-winning novel by Ivo Andric,
The Bridge on the Drina, or a famous book by
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia. The former deals with the
history of a real bridge at Visegrad between Bosnia and Serbia in the 16th
century. It describes relations between Moslem Slavs and Orthodox Slavs [i.e.,
Serbians]. Most of the time they were peaceful and indeed intimate. Interspersed
were violent conflicts. Originally all of the nationalities [not counting
minorities like Hungarians or Albanians] welcomed the creation of Yugoslavia.
But later they objected to Serbian domination, until we got to the present
I revisited Zagreb
a year later at the request of PSC to evaluate the continuation of the program.
It may not be out of place to quote a part of my report to PSC, which deals with
the political situation in 1973:
"The situation in Croatia, while still in flux, has reestablished
after the events of 1971 and 1972 and is generally calm. The new government of
Croatia is on the whole carrying out the policies of Savka-Dabcevic [popularly
known as Queen Savka]: language laws have been amended to appease Croatian
nationalism and economic policies have been more favorable to Croatia. The
fundamental problems of Yugoslavia are still unresolved viz. federalism vs.
confederalism, planning vs. socialist market economy, party rule vs. a degree of
free discussion, but at the moment Tito has reestablished a balance, and,
incidentally, his own position as arbiter. The students are quiet and studying,
faculties somewhat apprehensive, but not alarmed."
I should add that
Yugoslavia had broken with orthodox Communism since the break with Stalin in
1948. It pursued some radical reforms, most especially by replacing state
ownership with socialist ownership, at least in name. It adopted a system known
as socialist self-government. In theory each enterprise was managed
independently. The workers elected their managers and decided how to distribute
profits. They also were supposed to choose the managers and to dismiss them.
During our stay in Zagreb, Yugoslavia probably had the highest standard of
living in East Europe and the least oppressive of its governments.
I deplore the
breakup of Yugoslavia. It was a noble experiment and, unfortunately, it failed
like many other noble experiments. It was a great opportunity and not only was
it missed, but we shall miss it, too.
books listed below provide additional background on Montenegro and Yugoslavia to help
illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.