The Party of
Within the Bounds
Of the Law
The Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek is remembered today primarily for The Good Soldier Svejk, an acid, hilarious satire on the Austro-Hungarian military which is the spiritual ancestor of Catch 22.
Hasek's output included many other short stories, some involving Svejk, and a series of satirical sketches about the Russian civil war called The Red Commissar. He was also the principal actor in a legendary political prank in 1911.
Hasek and a few of his hard-drinking, iconoclastic friends created an imaginary political party, "The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law", which nominated Hasek for the seat in the Austro-Hungarian parliament from the Vinohrady district of Prague.
In 1963, in Byli a Bylo, the playwright Frantisek Langer reminisced about the campaign.You can say what you like against the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but this electoral campaign was organized and passed off magnificently smoothly. There was no limit on the number of parties participating in the election, except that each party must register the name of its candidate with the authorities .... Electioneering meetings required no permission and did not have to be reported, even to the police, and no police were sent to them and there was no ostensible surveillance, except for a detective in plain clothes.
The Vinohrady campaign culminated on the last day, the Sunday when the voters dispersed all over the streets in the direction of the ballot box. Drobilek rewrote the posters in the window hour by hour, on which the numbers of votes cast for Hasek up to that moment rose to dizzy heights, and promises were made of a free electoral snack and beer for any new voters.
In the afternoon, while the official counting of votes had only just started, we announced on the windows of the inn that our candidate and the Party of Moderate Progress were definitely the victors .... Finally a policeman came to ask us in quite a friendly way to remove the posters "in the interest of public order." Hasek promised this friendly policeman that for his conciliatory conduct during the elections he would at once, at the first session of the Diet, see to it that he was promoted to police sergeant, which utterly confused the poor man.
That day our Party's committee sat in plenary session from lunch onwards. Towards evening it transpired that the coalition had won --- I think it was the National Socialists and Young Czechs. The Social Democrats with their candidate Skatula obtained quite a decent number of votes for that bourgeois quarter of the city, whereas the poet Victor Dyk, a radical, got altogether only about a hundred votes.
Twenty valid voting papers with Hasek's name were cast into the box, but to them we added another ninety of one sort or another, the so-called split votes, which for some formal reason were not assigned to any candidate. And so in this way we presented the improved success of our Party as something stupendous, and our friends, the press reporters, announced it in such terms in the newspapers.
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Jaroslav Hasek's speeches in the 1911 Prague electoral campaign.Ladies and gentlemen, future constituents:
Statistics teach us --- and I always go by official statistics because they are very carefully compounded and, even if they are false, we have no others --- statistics, I say, teach us, ladies and gentlemen, that in Prague and its surroundings there are 58 sextons of which 1.3 come under the electoral district of Vinohrady [Hasek's constituency] if we include the husband of the charwoman who cleans the chapel in King George's Square. But, not included among those 58 sextons is the sexton of the Church of St. Alfonso, who has been arrested on suspicion of having stolen the church offertories and has thus spoiled the statistical picture.Well, my dear friends, you will certainly be asking yourselves, what use to us are those 1.3 sextons who come under our district? But, my dear friends, I tell you that if you're having any doubts, you are making a mistake, and I shall endeavour to correct you. You must understand that those 1.3 sextons mean 800 votes for our candidate.You see, sextons have free access to the funeral offices and consequence to the lists of dead voters. These lists, as has been shown in the past successes of the National Freethinking Party (and I sincerely hope this will be their last) can acquire exceptional importance on polling day. When the electoral campaign is in full swing and is well organized and, of course, generously financed as well, then a dead voter, like the one from the 10th electoral district of Vinohrady, knows very well what his duty will be on June 13th and, if the sextons coming under our electoral district are members of our Party, that dead voter will cast his voting paper into the ballot box with my name on it, even if he is unable to walk and has to have himself brought by cab to the ballot box. Incidentally, all the cabs are already hired in advance for June 13th by the candidate of the immoral Young Czech Socialist bloc.
Our slogan is: "Sextons of the whole of Prague, close ranks and support us in our electoral contest, and you will most certainly be incorporated into a higher grade, as soon as we implement that most important point in our program --- the nationalization of concierges and sextons." And at the same time we shall repel the immoral attacks of the bloc, which was directed at us, when its top canvasser, Mr. Novak of Charles Street, was sent yesterday to Mr. Fuchs, the undertaker, to find out which voters from the 10th electoral district of Vinohrady have had coffins delivered to them most recently, and to obtain the precious list of their names.
My dear constituents, as far as I can remember, since the time of the coronation of Ferdinand V the Benign, who was the last monarch to be crowned King of Bohemia, Prague has never witnessed such enthusiasm as at these elections, when once more the principles of moderate progress within the bounds of the law begin to sway the whole Czech people as they did on that memorable day in 1835.
Friends, we are where we did not want to be, as the man said when he wanted to go to Budejovice and got into a train going in the opposite direction. He was caught by the Inspector for occupying a second-class seat when he only had a third-class ticket, and was thrown off the train at Bakov. Because one of the first precursors of our Party, Mr. Galileo Galilei, said as I do: "But, all the same, it goes round," Miss Bozenka, please serve one more round: three more beers for me, two beers and one cognac for Mach, two beers and one allasch for Opocensky, a quarter of a litre of white wine for Langer, a beer and a magador for Divis, and a soda water for Gottwald. So Galileo's words "it goes round" are proved true, and it is also abundantly clear that the Party of Moderate Progress knows how to defend itself and looks after the interests of the voters.
After this digression, ladies and gentlemen, let us return to our theme and devote a few agreeable moments to abusing the opposing candidates. Just today, at the beginning of the meeting here, the poet Louis Krikava, who not only has the same name as the police director and goernment counsellor Kirkava, but is in confidential touch with him, gave the executive committee of our Party a piece of information which we gave our word of honour to keep strictly secret.
According to this, which is strictly confidential and known to only about three people in Prague, at two p.m. yesterday the Young Czech candidate, Dr. Funk, knocked at the gates of the Convent of the Barnabites next door to the Schwarzenberg Palace, allegedly only in order to persuade the Mother Superior of that order to influence the votes of the clergy. He did this in spite of the fact that, as a freethinking Young Czech candidate, he must have been aware of the church regulation forbidding Barnabites to have any contact with a man, especially at two P.M. in the afternoon.
My dear constituents, I know similar and even far worse things about the candidates Viktor Dyk and F. V. Krejci, not to mention the fact that they regard the job of a deputy as nothing more than a quicker way of making a living than by writing, in which they have conspicuously failed. I could say all I know about the widowed sister-in-law's half sister of Mr. Dyk's cousin on his mother's side; and about a widow in Stalice who is related to Mr. Krejci. But even in an electoral campaign I have some regard for the proprieties and shall therefore wait to say it until next time.
Today, my dear friends, if I am to recapitulate the statistical data you have already heard me quote, then we must tell ourselves that figures cannot lie. ...And those principles, my dear friends and voters --- whether we look at them from the point of view of the nation, the minorities, social justice, trade, or religion --- these principles, I say, cry out to you in the name of moderate progress within the bounds of the law, so that it must be clear, even to every idiot, that there is only one thing to be said, and that is: "Elect me!"