From Japan to the Adriatic
Pan-Slavism: Its History and Ideology.
by Hans Kohn.
University of Notre Dame Press. 356 pp. $6.25.


The Pan-Slavist idea goes back, not so much to Russia, as to Prague during the heyday of German Romanticism in the second quarter of the 19th century. Like so many other romantic ideas, it was part of the rise of cultural and political nationalism and of economic liberalism. It represented a genuine yearning for justice and national fulfillment on the part of Slavic town “intellectuals”—professional men, schoolteachers, journalists, civil servants stirred up by the heady atmosphere of freedom which the Napoleonic armies had brought to Eastern Europe.

Even in World War II the Yugoslav Communists could find no better slogan than that of the old Pan-Slavism to rally people to them. Through the mountains of Yugoslavia the catchword “Od Japana do Jadrana” (“From Japan to the Adriatic”) found a ready response from thousands of Serbs, Montenegrins, Croats, and Slovenes, whereas the Marxian slogans never had much appeal.

Professor Hans Kohn’s history of Pan-Slavism fills the long-standing need for an authoritative exposition in the English language of an idea and a movement which, though it accomplished nothing lasting and positive for the Slav peoples and only stimulated bloody conflicts and deepened existing differences, did at least cause the West to pay heed to forces they might otherwise have preferred to go on disregarding. Pan-Slavism has been the most original and native historical idea for all Slavs, Eastern, Western, and Southern; in this idea their mutual discord finds resolution, at least in theory. Marxism, on the other hand, is an alien doctrine imposed on Russians by the Bolsheviks, and on Southeast Europe by the agents, policemen, and bayonets of the Bolsheviks.

Shoddy thinkers, slovenly historians, bombastic rhetoricians, gloomy prophets, restless semi-intellectuals admiring and hating the West, the Pan-Slavists were to be found at or near the center of almost every great crisis of modern history. From Prague in 1848 and Petrograd in 1867 through Sarajevo in 1914 to the great upheaval in Russia in 1917 and the Soviet triumph over the Slavic lands in 1945, the Pan-Slavists worked ardently to destroy the old order. But they were incapable of replacing it with a new one based on peace with the West or harmony at home.



Professor Kohn’s impressive work sheds new light on the course of Slavic thought. In a sense, he has been able to penetrate the subject more deeply than his distinguished predecessor Thomas G. Masaryk, for he has seen the failure of many ideas whose realization Masaryk thought would usher in a happier day for the Slavs.

Dr. Kohn rightly finds the origin of Pan-Slavism in the influence of German Romanticism and the linguistic Pan-Germanism of Fichte and Herder following the French Revolution. It was in the 19th century that educated Slavs began eagerly to resuscitate long-forgotten national traditions, to study native folkways and local dialects. But the effect of this was an exaggerated historicism that helped isolate the Slavs from the West and from one another. One cannot speak of Pan-Slavism as a united cultural and political movement. “On the contrary,” Dr. Kohn states, “political and historical realities, differences of religion and civilization, ran counter to the Pan-Slav aspirations. The affinity of the Slav languages and the belief in a very doubtful common ancestry in pre-historic times offered no solid foundation for unity.”

The deep cultural divisions that set the Roman Catholic Poles and Croats, who consider themselves the bulwark of Western civilization in East Europe, against the Russians and to a certain degree the Serbs, is perhaps the most striking example of this disunity. There are also the Serbs and Bulgarians, who, though sharing the same Byzantine tradition as the Russians, have fought one another incessantly; while Ukrainians fought Russians, and Czechs Slovaks. Today, though bowed under the same Soviet yoke, they are as much at odds with one another as before.



The original Pan-Slavism of the Western Slavs, liberal and humanitarian, was succeeded by the reactionary and obstructionist Pan-Russism of the Russian Pan-Slavs Danilevsky and Chadayev. The latter, turning their backs on the West, called for the revival of a new Byzantium led by a messianic Russia; in effect, they prepared the way for the Russian-dominated East Europe that we have today,

These confused and megalomaniacal ideas were exploited by the Kremlin and the Yugoslavs during World War II to win Slav support. Tito, who in November 1947 thanked Stalin and the Red Army for having “liberated . . . the Slav nations,” was the first to declare, one year later, that Pan-Slavism and the Slavic brotherhood were a mystification used by the Great Russians to subjugate the Slav nations. Moshe Pijade, Milovan Gjilas, and other Yugoslav theoreticians, in their polemics with the Stalin regime, concluded that there was no essential difference between the policy followed by czarist Pan-Slavism toward Serbia in the great Balkan crisis of 1878, and the Kremlin’s policy today toward the Yugoslavs, Bulgarians, Czechoslovaks, and Ukrainians, as well as Hungarians, Rumanians, and Albanians.

Whatever the outcome of the present situation in Slavic Europe, there is no doubt that the Kremlin is incapable of satisfying Ae legitimate aspirations of the Slav peoples and of fulfilling the “principles of liberty, equality, and diversity, on which the Pan-Slav movement insisted in 1848,” as Dr. Kohn puts it. The Soviet empire may founder on just this rock of Slav hostility. Together with the end of Pan-Russian Communism, the world may then see the end of Pan-Slavism too, when the Slavic nations will have at last secured their independence in a world of free nations.



+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link