PERSPECTIVErn1 1rn;M,rn’ – * ‘ ” • ” • ‘ • ^ • ‘ “‘”‘”‘^ 4rnJ •rn’ ‘9$.rn”HrnI ^1rnBirth of a Nationrnby Thomas FlemingrnMost of us in the United States are hyphenated Americans:rnHispanic-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Irish-rnAmericans. Even WASPs have taken refuge in the term “Anglo-rnAmerican,” as if the British stock did not define thernAmerican identity. At this point in our history, we have troublerneven imagining a people that takes its nationality neat withoutrnthe addition of hyphens to cool down the fires of patriotism. Arnfew years ago, American political commentators were deridingrnthe hyphen war in Czechoslovakia, but if the fate of a kingdomrncan be determined by a horseshoe nail, the fate of a multiethnicrnrepublic can turn on a punctuation mark. The Slovaksrnwanted a hyphen as proof of their autonomy; the Czechs, whornwished to rule over a unitary state, did not, and it was not longrnbefore Czechs and Slovaks were setting up border posts andrnrestitching the insignias on the uniforms of the military policernthat prowl the streets of Prague and Bratislava.rnIt is no small thing to bring forth a new nation, whether conceivedrnin liberty or by legitimate means. From one little detailrnyou can project the bigger picture: the new republics have establishedrnseparate currencies, but both are called the korona,rnand both are worth about three cents; if the countries remerged,rnthey would presumably pay their bills in korona-koronasrn(or an equivalent number of cigar bands).rnMy knowledge of Czechs and Slovaks had been limited tornthe writings of Karel Capek (Kafka was not a Czech writer, nornmatter what Prague’s city fathers would have you believe), thernmusic of Smetana, Dvorak, and Janacek, and a glass or two ofrnPilsner beer (also German), I might have heard a Moravian-rnAmerican hymn or eaten a Slovakian goulash, but these earthlyrnand spiritual delights had left no lasting impression.rnI knew vaguely, of course, that the country established bvrnThomas Masaryk, with the collusion of his friend WoodrowrnWilson, included Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks, but what littlerndifferences of language and custom divided these peoplesrnwere as opaque to me as to Neville Chamberlain, who refusedrnto go to war over Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland, whichrnhe dismissed as “a quarrel in a far-away country between peoplernof whom we know nothing,” Anticipating a trip to Prague inrnMarch, I asked a visiting Czech intellectual about the Slovaks,rnwhom he put down as an uninteresting race of indolent and alcoholicrnpeasants, hardly distinguishable from the Czech lowerrnclasses. Since the visitor was Catholic, I asked if it were truernthat Slovaks were more religious than Czechs. “Oh, well,rnmaybe they go to church more often, but that does not provernthat they are more religious.” But, surely, that is exactly what itrndoes prove, I thought. Religion is not, primarily, a matter ofrn10/CHRONiCLESrnrnrn