Friday, July 19, 2013

James Mace Ward's "Priest, Politician, Collaborator"

James Mace Ward is Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Rhode Island.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia, and reported the following:
My book is a biography of Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest who headed the 1939–1945 Slovak Republic, the first independent Slovak state and an ally of Nazi Germany. For the first half of his life, Tiso was a rising clerical star who was widely expected to make bishop. Instead, he entered Slovak nationalist politics, a path that led him into temporarily breaking up Czechoslovakia as well as committing genocide against Slovak Jews. In 1947, after a trial manipulated by Communists, he was hanged for collaboration, treason, and crimes against humanity. Memory and politics then transfigured him into polarized symbols: war criminal versus saint. A postcommunist attempt to rehabilitate him actually helped to split Czechoslovakia again in 1993. How to interpret him as a historical figure continues to vex today’s independent Slovakia.

Page ninety-nine of my biography captures Tiso trying to integrate his party, Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party (or Ľudáks), into the Czechoslovak polity. In 1927, Tiso succeeded in maneuvering them into the Czechoslovak central government, he himself becoming the minister of health. The coalition lasted but two years before the Ľudáks veered permanently back into opposition, thus confirming their incompatibility with the Czechoslovak project. The page follows Tiso as he settled into his new job. I analyzed how he fit within the cabinet, the mediocre record of his coalition, and his priorities as a minister. In short, this was background for understanding why Tiso grew frustrated with Czechoslovak democracy and jettisoned it in favor of fascism.

Yet I also could glimpse here “the quality of the whole” as Ford Madox Ford predicted. The page engages two major themes of the book: first, Tiso’s struggle to square his dual roles as priest and politician; second, the difficulty of understanding his life given the competing moral claims of religion, nationalism, and human rights. On this page, Slovak nationalism had already eclipsed Tiso’s original political mission of defending the Catholic Church. Over the course of his career, Tiso unintentionally secularized to an extent, as the dictates of nationalist politics inspired him to privilege the interests of party and state over church. We also find on this page the triad of religion, nationalism, and human rights in tension. Tiso’s agenda as minister was to provide progress for the nation through state jobs for Slovaks and investment for the province. Yet,
he also espoused tolerance toward [Slovakia’s] Germans and Hungarians, an approach that he justified through faith: “We are Catholics, and thus our highest law is ‘justice for everyone.’ To unjustly deprive people ... of their property is not Catholic.”
The quote foreshadows the wartime expropriation of Slovak Jews before their deportation to death camps.
Learn more about Priest, Politician, Collaborator at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue