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15. Chapter XV Empire Parliaments and World Parliaments

An International Parliamentary Conference—Thirty countries represented—Czecho-Slovakia—Prague's past—A language strike—Reception by President Masaryk—Dr. Benes—World's most famous shoemaker.

I

THE Empire Press Union, the chief outcome of the first Imperial Press Conference, has assisted newspapers of the Empire in the matter of cable and wireless services and in other direct advantages. But the Union has done more. It has tended towards a better understanding amongst those who do much to create and guide public opinion and thus further Empire union.

A similar end has been attained by the Empire Parliamentary Association, which has brought into closer touch the numerous legislative bodies that govern throughout the Empire. Parliament Houses all over the world possess many of the amenities of clubs, and the Association brought about reciprocity amongst those of the Empire, so that all members of Parliaments of the Empire have the entrée to certain privileges in the various Empire Parliament Houses. The parent branch has offices and club rooms in Westminster Hall, where Sir Howard d'Egville and his courteous and efficient staff are ever ready to greet and entertain visiting Empire parliamentarians and


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afford them opportunities for meeting leading British statesmen. Some thirty Empire Houses of Parliament are thus united in a non-party organisation. The Association is also the medium through which representatives of Empire Parliaments assemble at Conferences and discuss questions of common concern. These Conferences are not official, but for the exchange of ideas on such matters as migration, defence and preferential trade. There have been several Empire Parliamentary Conferences in various Empire centres. One of their advantages is that they include not only representatives of Governments, but also of the Opposition.

As a member of the Western Australian Parliament I was specially interested in the Association, and helped to form the Western Australian branch. When in 1926 I became president of the Legislative Council I automatically became senior president of the branch. A few months after I was appointed it was my duty to preside in the Parliament House of Western Australia over a Conference of representatives of Empire Parliamentary Association branches. No less than sixteen Empire Legislative Chambers were represented. The British delegation was particularly strong. It included Lord Salisbury, the late Arthur Henderson, A. V. Alexander, J. I. Macpherson, Sir Evelyn Cecil and Dr. Drummond Shields.

The impression that was made throughout Australia by Lord Salisbury, the leader of the Empire delegates, was decidedly favourable. He was patient, tolerant towards the views of others, avoided making long speeches, and knew when to intervene in debates and to say the right thing in the right way.




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The subjects discussed were chiefly land settlement and migration. These subjects are associated with many complex problems, but on their solution largely depends Australia's future, for the peopling of our vacant spaces is all-important. If the White Australia policy is to be preserved, if the great empty spaces of the continent are to be kept for Europeans, it is inevitable that the present garrison must be strengthened. This was fully recognised at the Conference.

Since then the world depression created severe unemployment in Australia. Immigration was stopped. Sooner or later it must be resumed in the interests of national safety—and the sooner the better.

The Empire Parliamentary Association does not confine its activities to Empire Conferences. It goes further, and, through the medium of the parent branch in London, helps towards linking up the parliaments of the world in a better understanding of world problems.

In 1931, whilst visiting London, I was appointed by cablegram from Australia to represent both the Commonwealth and Western Australian branches at the seventeenth plenary session of the International Parliamentary Commercial Conference, which has its headquarters at Brussels, but holds sessions at different European capitals. The seventeenth session was held at Prague. The only other Australian representative was Mr. E. L. Kiernan, M.L.C., Assistant Chief Secretary and Minister of Sustenance, specially charged with the relief of the unemployed in the Labour Cabinet of Victoria.




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Some thirty countries were represented, including such remote nations as Japan, Afghanistan and various South American Republics. France, Germany and Poland sent exceptionally able and prominent statesmen. Great Britain had as delegates about a dozen members of the House of Commons, who were specially interested in commercial affairs. Their leader was the late Sir John Sandeman Allen, who was connected closely with a variety of large industrial concerns.

It was a parliament of parliaments; a gathering of influential men in the world's parliaments meeting together for the exchange of ideas, especially on economic and commercial subjects. These gatherings are viewed, especially in foreign countries, as most important and possessed of far-reaching influence. The idea originated in Belgium, and the first Conference was held in June, 1914, at Brussels under the patronage of the King and Government of Belgium. Delegates were present at that Conference from all the Great Powers. Since then sessions have been held in almost every European country.

The seventeenth session was held whilst the world's depression was at its worst. The main subjects discussed were: (a) The economic crisis, its cause and possible remedies; (b) the circulation of capital and distribution of gold; (c) the improvement of transport facilities; (d) international broadcasting; (e) the agricultural crisis. These matters were discussed at length. The resolutions that were passed were the result of compromise. They were often vague and sometimes almost meaningless, but the principal value of the Conference was that it helped towards a better understanding


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of national viewpoints. This was specially noticeable as discussions on delicate subjects now and again became quite frank. As Sir Sandeman Allen said at the close, “The most striking impression the British delegates carried away was the increasing desire of the nations represented to work together and appreciate one another's aims.”

II

When I was asked to go to the Conference I confess that my knowledge of Czecho-Slovakia was limited. I was aware that it was one of the Republics that came into existence after the Great War and that it was carved out of the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire. I knew it on the map as a long, narrow country running east and west for some six hundred and fifty miles in Central Europe. At its widest part the breadth is one hundred and eighty miles, whilst it narrows in places to no more than forty miles. It has Germany and Poland on its northern boundaries, and Austria, Hungary and Roumania on its southern. Reference books that I consulted told me that the population was 14,750,000, of whom 8,760,000 were Czechs and Slovaks, representing, as both peoples do, a Western migration of the Slavonic race. Amongst the rest of the population there were 3,100,000 Germans and 750,000 Magyars.

After I had spent some weeks in May and June in Czecho-Slovakia and meeting many of the residents, including most of its leading men, it did not follow that I knew much about the country, but I got some vivid impressions. These impressions are of a fertile,


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picturesque country; a country of hospitable people; a country with extensive supplies of coal and iron, of valuable mineral wealth and thermal springs; a country thirty-three per cent. forest and possessed of enormous timber resources; a country of factories and hydro-electric stations; a country of considerable industrial activity and hard-working inhabitants. Furthermore, my impressions are associated with many fine cities, historic buildings, wonderful churches, splendid palaces and picturesque castles. The impressions also include rural scenery of great beauty—primeval woods, pine-clad and snow-topped mountains, romantic-looking valleys, noble rivers and a healthy-looking, robust peasantry wearing brilliantly coloured native costumes. Yet a visitor hears much that is disturbing, much that indicates that racial animosities, though slumbering, are still alive, that there is powder about, and any day the flames of war may break out despite the League of Nations.

I travelled with the delegation from the Imperial Parliament, and the route followed was via Dover to Ostend and so through Brussels to Prague. No one can travel by rail or road through Belgium, Germany and Central Europe and not be impressed by the numerous evidences of intense cultivation in the agricultural areas and by the patient industry of the people. No land is wasted by fences, walls or ditches; stock is herded, and even each flock of geese is watched carefully, usually by a girl. Men and women with bent backs toiling in the fields are notable features of the landscape. A discussion arose amidst our party as to whether the women working in the open air with their husbands and brothers were not


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better off and happier than girls working in the factories of crowded cities.

Prague, the capital of Czecho-Slovakia, is truly beautiful. Like Rome, it is built on seven hills. Passing through it is a wide and noble river, the Moldau. There are several wooded islands in the river. It is spanned by handsome bridges. The city has numerous historic and, in an architectural sense, highly attractive buildings. The skyline is crowded with spires, domes and turrets, whilst towering above all is the royal palace and the cathedral.

A resident of Prague intensely interested in antiquarian lore showed me round the city. He told me that it was founded in 754 by a semi-mythical duchess, Libusa, who took a peasant, Premysl, for her husband. They established the first ruling dynasty of Bohemia. There was also much that he had to say about the good King Wenceslas, who ruled about one thousand years ago. He is to Bohemian history what King Alfred is to English. The good king was ill-rewarded in this life, for I was shown the door of a chapel with a great sanctuary knocker to which he clung when he was murdered by his wicked brother. The murderer succeeded to the throne, and, though he earned the title of Boleslav the Cruel, reigned for nearly forty years.

The famous Charles Bridge, which was built some six hundred years ago, is guarded at the ends by magnificent towers. More than once the structure has been the scene of bloody contests. We were told that the waters below were red with blood in the fierce fighting for its possession in 1744, when the Prussians were driven out of the city.

The buttresses of the bridge are adorned with thirty


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statues and groups, chiefly of saints. Prominence is given to the patron saint of Bohemia, John of Neponic, who in 1383 was flung into the Moldau below the bridge. My guide asserted that until his body was taken out of the water five brilliant stars shone above where it lay.

One statue was pointed out of a man who in his day was popular, but a generation or so after it was erected a party opposed to his views coming into power, the figure was converted into a representation of Saint John of Neponic by means of a few alterations and the addition of the saint's characteristic halo of five stars.

All visitors are attracted by a beautiful, graceful group of statuary about the centre of the bridge. The leading figure is that of Christ on the Cross. On it are inscriptions in Hebrew which we were informed testify to the truth of Christianity. It is known as “The Jew's Calvary,” and it was erected in 1606 out of a fine levied on a Jew for reviling the cross. He was sentenced to death, but he was a wealthy man and was offered his life if he paid a fine sufficient to erect a group of statuary representative of the death of our Lord. Subsequently, when the statue was completed out of the fine that was paid, the unfortunate man was so distressed at the sight of it that he threw himself over the bridge and was drowned.

In 1618 ministers who gave unpopular advice to the king were dealt with in a drastic way. To-day they would be thrown out of office. Then they were thrown out of a window of their office. A window a considerable height from the ground from which two


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imperial chancellors were thrown that year was pointed out to me. The event was of far-reaching importance to Europe. It occasioned the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War.

I was also shown a curious feature of Prague. It is a picturesque fifteenth-century tower which has a huge clock that strikes the hours, one to twenty-four. There are several quaint figures, including the Twelve Apostles. All of these figures move when the clock strikes, and one of them, the gruesome figure of a skeleton, pulls a rope for each strike.

We were told with pride that the University of Prague, founded in 1348, is one of the oldest in Europe. The city itself is famous for its sieges and battles. It was taken by the Austrians in 1620, by the Swedes in 1648, by the French in 1741, by the Prussians in 1744 and by the French in 1806. It was the scene of an insurrection in 1848, and it was there in 1879 a treaty of peace was signed between Austria and Prussia. All these and numbers of other events have left their marks on Prague.

We were not long in Prague before we discovered that there was something like a language strike on. Most of the Czechs can speak German, but they refuse to speak it. It seems that in pre-war days endeavours were made to Germanise the country. The German language was encouraged, and with success. Now that the German power has been broken and the country is a republic, the Government does what it can to restore the Czech language and discourage the use of German. Hence many Czechs when addressed in German


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pretend they cannot speak it. To them their own language is the symbol of nationality. Unfortunately, the Czech language is one of the most difficult of European tongues to understand.

It may be mentioned that when it was to the advantage of the Czechs to speak German—for example, when members of our party were shopping and spoke in German—it was amazing how readily a knowledge of the language came to those who were behind the counter.

Whilst the country has great advantages it has one disadvantage. It has no seaport, though it has rivers that give access to the sea. Shakespeare, in “The Winter's Tale,” gives Bohemia a seaport, and Ben Jonson severely criticises him for the incorrectness of his geography. When we mentioned this to Prague residents they said that during the thirteenth century the kingdom of Bohemia included provinces on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Since its establishment as a republic, the country has advanced in industrial activity and in prosperity as well as in population. It is not surprising that that should occur. The Peace Treaty gave to Czecho-Slovakia about eighty per cent. of the industry of the former Austrian Empire. In addition, the indebtedness of Czecho-Slovakia is not great. Though in foodstuffs the country is not self-supporting, it is well farmed. It has extensive engineering and iron works. The manufacture of chemicals is a big industry. Pilsner beer goes to every part of the world. Both in machinery and modern equipment, the factories are as efficient as any in Europe. Radium, gold, silver, iron and graphite are all mined, and there are valuable deposits


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of clay, kaolin and sand. Bohemian glass was known throughout the world in the seventeenth century, and it is still an important industrial art. Next best known are the ceramic products, both fine porcelain and decorated folk pottery. Illiteracy is almost unknown; in fact the people have a passion for education, and workmen are industrious and highly skilled.

It is difficult to feel that the boundaries are other than artificial of a country containing several races speaking different languages, a country that was carved out of the ruins of a great empire. There must be generations of work ahead to bring the jarring elements together and build a homogeneous nation. Still, the impression conveyed to most of us was that in the short time the republic has been in existence wonders have been effected by those who have had charge of its affairs. We met most of the members of the Government, including the then President, Dr. Masaryk. He received us at the Palace of Prague, which was one of the homes of the Hapsburgs, and there was about the reception not less state and dignity than there would have been about a reception by King George at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.

III

Dr. Masaryk is often spoken of as the actual creator of the Czecho-Slovakian Republic. One of the most remarkable men in the world to-day, his career may be described as truly dramatic, a career of striving and adventure. His father was a Slovak serf whose work was a combination of ostler and coachman; his wife was a cook. The father was quite uneducated, and


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when the boy was a few years old his mother taught him and her husband the rudiments of letters. At an early age young Masaryk conceived an intense desire for learning. He yearned to be a teacher, and loved books. He was apprenticed to a locksmith and then to a blacksmith, but through abject poverty and frequent hunger he struggled on, hoping that some day he would attain his ambition. Finally he broke away from his employment, was able to get to school, found his way into the University of Vienna, and later became a professor at the University of Prague. He entered Parliament, was leader of the Opposition, and endeavoured to unite hostile forces in opposition to German dominance. When war broke out he saw in it an opportunity to secure the political freedom of his country, and urged his followers not to fight for Germany and Austria, but against them. He had, of course, to quit the country, as the authorities regarded him as a traitor, and in his flight to Switzerland he narrowly escaped capture. He sought refuge in England, where he was appointed by the University of London to a professorship in the then new Slavonic Department of King's College. He worked with Britain and her Allies during the war.

An army of over a hundred thousand Czechs fought with the Russians in the early part of the war, and later Czech armies fought on the Western Front against the Germans. When Czech prisoners were taken by the Allies an organisation controlled by Masaryk endeavoured to get them to fight with the French army. When Czecho-Slovakia was made a republic in 1918 he became its first President, and was later re-elected more than once. The constitution provides


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that no President who has been elected twice in succession can be elected for a third time, but this provision did not apply to the first President.

When we were presented to President Masaryk in the magnificent gold and white reception chamber known as the Spanish Hall at the Palace of Prague, we found him alert of mind and body. He is tall and graceful, was dressed in a perfectly fitting morning suit of the latest London fashion, and although over eighty years of age, yet he walked with the firm, springing step of a young man. He speaks half a dozen languages perfectly, and in the course of conversation with the two Australian delegates he said: “I have read much about your wonderful country. Just now you have your financial troubles; you are about to make efforts to honestly pay all you owe. You will, of course, be successful. Your difficulties are but inevitable incidents in the development of a new country.”

Dr. Masaryk married an American lady, who died some years ago, and English has been the language of his home.

He has an impressive and dignified personality. He is trusted and respected by all parties. The work he did in the formation of the new republic has been almost equalled by the wisdom with which he guided its infant steps. The question often arose: Who was to succeed him?

IV

A name commonly mentioned as that of his possible successor was Dr. Edward Benes, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, with whom the members of the Conference were brought into fairly close contact. He was


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born in Bohemia, and in pre-war days Benes, like Masaryk, was opposed to Austrian control. When war was declared he escaped into Switzerland, and from there he proceeded to Paris, where he worked in collaboration with Masaryk and the late General Stefanik for the victory of the Entente and the establishment of an independent Czecho-Slovak state. He was secretary of the central revolutionary group known as the Czecho-Slovak National Council, of which Masaryk was president. The two became close friends, and Benes, in his war memories, describes how they and those associated with them carried on a surreptitious campaign of organisation and incitement by means of a secret society with underground correspondence, cipher words and fictitious names. Microscopic messages were carried in hollow teeth and the stems of pipes; in balls of yarn, knotted in dots and dashes; and by innocent-looking but actually deep-meaning advertisements in newspapers. Benes, like Masaryk, was a teacher. Benes was a professor at the Prague University, and when we met him in 1931 he was still a comparatively young man, being but forty-seven. He is low-sized, rapid in thought, and possessed of a keen sense of humour. His wife is a charming, handsome lady, who, we were told, spent most of the war years in prison. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs for many years after the formation of the republic, and was for a time Premier.

We also heard much whilst in Czecho-Slovakia about Bata, the shoemaker, who was described as having stitched mass production on to the uppers of feudalism. Since then he has been killed in an aeroplane accident, but no reference to Czecho-Slovakia,


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however short, should omit mention of him. He was called the “Wizard of the shoe industry,” the “Henry Ford of Europe,” and the “most glamorous figure in all post-war Europe.” This wonderful organiser and truly great man created a curious feudal community with an amazingly modern setting for his twelve thousand factory workers in the town, Zlin, where he was born and where his father and father's fathers for generations made shoes by hand. He was born in poverty of a long line of shoemakers. He made thousands of pairs of shoes with his own hands. One day, when he was sixteen years old, he persuaded his father to let him go to Prague, where he had never been, and take shoes with him to sell and get orders for others. He walked along the railway, sold all the shoes he had and got orders for others. Such was the beginning of the huge business he later controlled. He cut down the price of boots all over Europe, and in doing so succeeded in getting millions of people to wear a better class of boots than the home-made coverings formerly used. The conveyor system is used generally in his factory—that is, an endless horizontal belt or platform, moving ceaselessly and carrying a series of baskets containing a dozen pairs of shoes on which each worker in turn must perform his operation. When he was compelled to reduce wages he turned his great resources of credit to reduce the cost of living in Zlin by establishing a big department store adjoining the factory, where his employees can purchase anything they want from salt fish to perambulators. On upper floors are lunch rooms, cafeteria, kitchens and a movie talkie theatre, whilst outside, during lunch hour, a band is kept playing.




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Bata's competitors in the shoe industry viewed him as a menace, but the fact remains that he enabled millions in Central Europe to be better shod than ever they were before.

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