The Guardian October 13, 2004


On guard against fascism:
Julius Fucik remembered

Shailendra Kumar

On September 8, journalists in various parts of the world 
remembered Julius Fucik, the fighter against fascism, the teacher 
and the journalist crusader who was murdered by the fascists on 
that day in 1943. He left behind a global legacy  the famous 
Report from the Gallows, translated since his death from 
Czech into a number of other languages.

There are schools of journalism, roads, streets and factories 
named after him as a man who fought against fascism but also gave 
journalism an ideological content.

It goes to his credit that while in countries such as India 
awards are given in the name of press barons who, in their own 
words, could "even commit murder" for profit, here was a 
journalist for whom the world was seen as a call to action. To 
quote Fucik himself: "A hero is a person who at a decisive moment 
gives everything in order to do what should be done in the 
interest of the society."

It would be more than correct to say that even when his physical 
space as an editor was confined within prison under the threat of 
the executioner's guillotine, Fucik was able to look far ahead, 
far beyond the frontiers of his life. Indeed, journalism to him 
was very passionate and purposeful as well, without illusions of 
the most modern day scribes of being great newsmakers. It was on 
the contrary an artistic instrument calling for action.

September 8, 1943 was the day of a decisive victory over the 
German fascists in the battle at Kursk. It thus became a day of 
foreboding of the impending capitulation of fascism. For many, 
however, it was a day of deep sorrow as on the same day the Nazi 
executioners dragged Fucik from his cell and executed him.

Referring to his teachings, he once said that "there is nothing 
known as a neutral journalist, a journalist who stands above 
everything". Of course, those were not the days of market-driven 
journalists, who could become political and ideological 
turncoats, daily changing sides for money and power. To him, 
anyone opting for this profession has to exercise it as a vital 
calling, to make an ideological choice, and learn to seek and 
recognise the new.

As he puts it: "A good reportage consists of small specific 
facts, facts that are diverse which are in no case isolated 
exceptions. Only from them can one create a living and faithful 
picture of people and events, an image that we call reportage. 
Usually there is no lack of such small typical events, but it is 
necessary to single them out of the grey monotony of everyday 
materials.

"If we want to properly judge a reporter, we must evaluate him 
not only according to the way he writes, but also the way he 
sees." On a visit to the Soviet Union after scrutinising one 
paper in depth, he made what has become a motto: "Show me the 
newspapers of your country then I will tell you what the 
situation in your country is."

The fascist occupation of Prague marked the beginning of the most 
difficult test in his life. In the summer of 1942 he was arrested 
and brutally tortured. Every trick was tried to break him and to 
force him to betray his comrades. Then began the last period of 
his life when he wrote his greatest piece, Report from the 
Gallows.

Each of its papers bared evidence of not only his horrific 
experiences but also the methods of torture used by the enemy. 
One also got flashes about those who betrayed and those who 
withstood the trials. He also explained why he had embarked on 
such a difficult struggle with all its hardship. He observed: "We 
lived for joy and for joy we are dying. Therefore never let 
sorrows be associated with your names."

His writings are a masterpiece of his mosaic of observations. His 
first was about Tamara Tseretieli. "Tamara Tseretieli is one of 
the most famous Soviet singers", he explained. "With all her 
successes, she is now going to provincial Samara" to sing for 
electric workers. And that was the name Fucik gave his reportage: 
"Tamara Tseretieli is Going to Samara".

He spent a day sitting with her over tea, talking about books and 
newspapers, about incidents in the theatres where she sang, the 
civil war, and about gramophone records. Some time in the night 
when they were nearing Penza, the electric bulb burst in the 
carriage and yet the conversation continued in the dark. Fucik 
learned why the Soviet singer preferred the gipsy life of going 
from one factory to another, why she raced thousands of 
kilometres to the east, the north, the west and the south instead 
of profiting financially from her talent and living comfortably 
in a big city.

Before he reached Orenburg, the reportage about Tamara Tseretieli 
was already down on paper. He mailed the envelope addressed to 
the newspaper from the mailbox at the station.

Another aspect of Fucik's intellectual greatness was his refusal 
to slot people simply into categories of good and evil. He made a 
request to his readership: "You, who will survive this time do 
not forget the good or the bad. Patiently gather evidence about 
the fallen. One day, today will be the past, there will be talk 
about a great age and about nameless heroes who created history. 
I want you to know that there were no nameless heroes. They all 
had their names, their faces, their longings and their hopes."

In present times, the onslaught of global capitalism has made 
press baron Rupert Murdoch a hero. Mafia dons sit in the houses 
of the people and genocide takes place in a variety of forms as 
evident in the war on Iraq; embedded journalism is the buzzword. 
It is in such adverse circumstances that names such as Julius 
Fucik have a significant place in the history of progressive and 
democratic journalism.

The anniversary of Julius Fucik's death is still, for many, a day 
to express human solidarity and determination to defend life 
against death. It is a moment to defend peace with his famous, 
historic appeal: "People I love you. Be on your guard"  an 
inspiring legacy for progressive democratic journalism. As he 
states in the preface to his book: "I have seen the film of my 
life a hundred times, in thousands of details.

"Now I shall attempt to set it down. If the hangman's noose 
strangles before I finish, millions remain to write its happy 
ending." He says in the end, "We always reckoned with death. We 
knew that falling into Gestapo hands meant the end. And we acted 
accordingly, both in our own souls and in relation to others, 
even after being caught. My own play draws near its end. I can't 
write that end, for I don't yet know what it will be.

"This is no longer a play. This is life. In real life there are 
no spectators: you all participate in life. The curtain rises on 
the last act. I loved you all, friends. Be on guard!"

It was a call to be on guard against fascism in a variety of 
forms and guises. It is still visible in many parts of the world 
today.

* * *
People's Democracy, Communist Party of India (M)

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