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Roman Jakobson, linguistica e poetica

Edoardo Esposito
Stefania Sini
Marina Castagneto

Jakobson nel XX secolo

Which Side Are You on? Roman Jakobson in Interwar Prague

Peter Steiner

Texte intégral

  • 1 Roman Jakobson’s letter to Grigorij Vinokur, November, 1920.

Two people are playing chess and you are interested in
the game but not in its results. You watch with curiosity,
sympathize with the loser, rejoice at the winner’s clever
check and calculate the “moves” of both: the whites and
the blacks. For a minute you can even sit down at the
table and play a little for one of them. This is my attitude toward politics today.1

1Roman Jakobson is, undoubtedly, one of the most important figures of the modern Slavic philology. But besides being a formidable scholar, he was also an active participant in the turbulent events that informed the 20th century. And with the past receding at a dizzying speed of 60 seconds/minute, students of Jakobson seem less and less satisfied with treating his ideas in abstracto, as an autonomous, ahistorical system. Instead, they strive to recapture the fleeting multidimensional social context of their becoming – whether the ideological underpinnings of Jakobson’s thought, his situation within the émigré Russian community, or his struggle with the conservative Czechoslovak academic establishment. My contribution will focus on archival documents illustrating Jakobson’s complex and often contradictory relations with trio of the political institutions within whose orbits he was moving during his interwar stay in Czechoslovakia: 1) the Ministry of Interior; 2) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (a.k.a Zamini in Czech or, alternatively, as Černín because of its domicile in a Baroque palace of this name; 3) and the Soviet Red Cross Mission (morphing in 1921 into a Commercial Delegation, upgraded in 1922 to a de facto Political Representation).

  • 2 The boxes contained 15 million in so called ‘duma rubles’, currency issued by the Provisional Russ (...)

2Thanks to the report of an anonymous Czech police confident dispatched to watch over the Soviet Red Cross Mission from the moment its Berlin train crossed the borders, posterity knows exactly when Jakobson (as a translator) and six other members of the group, headed by Dr. Solomon Gillerson, reached Prague’s Woodrow Wilson station: July 10, 1920 at 4:32 p. m. Since the Czechoslovak government did not officially recognize the Soviet regime, the Mission’s charge was supposed to be purely humanitarian, the repatriation of Russian P.O.W.s stranded in that neck of the former Habsburg empire. But given the political situation, the ongoing Russo-Polish war, and the recent Communist uprisings in Germany and Hungary inspired by the Soviet October revolution, the atmosphere was heaving with distrust. The personal belongings of the travelers were searched and ten large boxes that the wayfarers imported from Berlin impounded for later inspection.2

3The septet provisionally settled in a downtown Hotel Imperial where a suite also substituted for an office, and a squad of undercover detectives began its surveillance. Yet, about two weeks later, the local Red Cross offered their Russian colleagues an additional three rooms in its own building in Neklanova St. in the Vyšehrad section of Prague. This, though, was not an entirely charitable act as we learn from a confidential report by the Ministry of Interior from July 27. What apparently motivated it was «the Czechoslovak Red Cross’ suspicion that the [Soviet Mission] is not concerned solely with humanitarian or social activities but with political and commercial ones». Moreover, the vice-President of the national Red Cross, Dr. Procházka, approached by the Ministery of Interior two days prior to the Soviet delegation’s arrival, promised to share with the police his ‘extra-official’ observations.

4The separation of the Mission’s dwelling from the office space complicated, to some degree, the surreptitious watch on its members. The distance of about 3 km between the Hotel Imperial and 34 Neklanova St. necessitated the doubling of the surveillance team, as requested by the Prague police in a July 30th letter to the Ministry of Interior’s Councilor, Mr. Šlechta. Because of this, all moves of the dodgy Bolsheviks, from the moment they would leave their dwelling until their return, are pretty well documented. But, alas, these reports yield uninspiring reading, void of any salacious indiscretions, abounding, instead, with transportation details, names of visited places, and the identities of those trying to contact the delegation. We also know the addressees of the letters deposited by the Mission at the local post office. Furthermore, all telegrams went through special scrutiny to determine whether or not they could be actually sent. It was several of Jakobson’s messages to the head of the Russian Telegraph Agency, Mikhail Levidov, relating the political situation in Central Europe, which compelled the police on July 21 to notify Černín Palace that «the Russian mission does not seem to be concerned solely with the issues of friendly social help but that it also pursues other objectives».

5A cat-and-mouse game between the police and Jakobson took an unexpected twist on January 24, 1922 at 11:30 a. m. when Jakobson deliberately locked up an undercover agent, František Böhm, in the Hotel Imperial’s room no. 64 used to accommodate diplomatic couriers. The police protocol taken immediately after the incident and dully signed by Jakobson describes what happened. The cause of the altercation was the presence of another member of the Moscow Linguist Circle, Peter Bogatyrev, whom Jakobson put up in the room overnight (apparently in the company of the Mission’s stenotypist, Ms. Tamara Iulievna Lange whom Bogatyrev married a year later) without a proper hotel registration. Learning about this, the vigilant Böhm, who was on duty at that time, decided to identify the stranger and entered the room asking Bogatyrev (who arrived in Prague on January 10 to join the Commercial Delegation) for his ID. Jakobson protested this action on the grounds of exterritoriality and since the policeman blatantly disregarded his objections, he ran out locking up the room. He did so, Jakobson stated in the protocol, since Böhm’s action violated the self-jurisdictional status of the premises and he was off to call Zamini to dispatch somebody to record this breech of diplomatic protocol. The police did not buy his argument, and only a police doctor’s intervention pronouncing Jakobson sick (his temperature was measured at 100.4 F) spared him from immediate arrest. Two days later, the Presidium of the Interior Ministry passed a dossier containing all the incriminating evidence on to the Ministry of Justice requesting that the felon be charged with the criminal offence of impairing Böhm’s personal freedom.

  • 3 The incident, however, did not go unnoticed. It was reported, for example, in the leftist paper «T (...)

6But this was not to happen! On the afternoon of February 1, the phone rang on the desk of Dr. Novák of the Justice Department with Dr. Beneš, the Foreign Minister and, simultaneously, the Czechoslovak P. M., on the other end of the line. According to the memo, Novák jotted down about this conversation, Beneš, despite Novák’s objection that neither Jakobson, nor Bogatyrev enjoyed diplomatic immunity, affirmed that Jakobson was in his right for the mission’s space was, indeed, exterritorial. To this the P. M. added that he was also concerned about the safety of the Czechoslovak representatives in Moscow who might be equally amerced by the Soviet police. Finally, he insisted that the indictment was quashed for otherwise, «the blunder we committed would be revealed to the entire world».3 The M. P.’s wish, needless to say, was followed, and Jakobson got off scot-free.

  • 4 In a letter dated October 20, 1920, Gillerson informs the Minister of Foreign Affairs that Roman J (...)
  • 5 When, exactly, Jakobson resumed his job with the Mission is not entirely clear. According to the m (...)

7It was not just the Ministry of Interior that was concerned with Jakobson’s activities in Prague. Alarming messages were also coming from the Czechoslovak Mission in Moscow: the first one in mid-1922 reflecting the change of Jakobson’s station in life. In the fall of 1920 he quit the Soviet delegation to enroll at Charles University as a visiting student.4 Whether he stopped working for the National Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (Narkomindel) completely is not altogether clear. True, Jakobson moved out of the Hotel Imperial to a rented room on October 25. But the police report of January 26, 1921 showed that he was still frequenting the Soviet Mission almost every afternoon conferring with its members until the evening hours as well as visiting the apartment of Mrs. Solodovnikova (supposedly a Soviet spy). The career change, though, proved quite short-lived. The School of Philosophy’s faculty approved the application, yet the Russian émigré professors blocked Jakobson’s admission, and he was just allowed to audit a couple of courses with the consenting pedagogues. Dissatisfied with the outcome, Jakobson left academia in late 1921 to become a Press Attaché with what was now the Soviet Commercial Delegation headed by Pavel Mostovenko.5

8The full story, it seems, did not reach Moscow. «According to the information we received», the Mission’s Chief, Josef Girsa, alerted Prague in a «confidential» message on July 1, 1922, «the Russian student of the School of Philosophy, Jakobson, is a snitch for the Russian Soviet Delegation in Prague». Alas, the timing of Girsa’s caution was off as a hand-written directive in the margin of the document makes clear: «Inform the Mission». the recipient commands, «that Jakobson is a member of the Mission of Mostovenko». The instruction, it seems, was not followed; for, on January 18, 1923, Girsa forwarded to Prague a second «strictly confidential» note questioning Jakobson’s official status, because «persistent rumors circulate [in Moscow] that he is a spy and a provocateur». A draft of a rejoinder to this message indicates that the Černín apprised the Moscow office about Jakobson’s current situation asking Girsa in turn to specify «the ground for such ‘persistent rumors’».

9The reply was post haste. On February 15, Girsa explained to Zamini that his source was the parents of Russian students now in Prague who keep imploring him to warn their faraway offsprings through diplomatic channels about Jakobson’s foul play. Girsa openly declined to do so out of fear of being compromised, but since those who asked him were numerous and trustworthy, he became convinced «beyond any doubt that Jakobson is an agent of G.P.U. charged with the intelligence task among the Russian emigrants in the Czechoslovak Republic». A two-page long rebuttal to Girsa’s allegation came from a trusted employee of Zamini’s 3rd section (intelligence and propaganda) Jaroslav Papoušek, Jakobson’s personal acquaintance, who categorically denied any merit to all Girsa’s accusations. The letter is pretty factual and does not mention any working relation with Jakobson. Yet, it suggests certain ambiguity in his position. «My overall impression from Jakobson’s behavior», Papoušek opined on March 5, «is that he meticulously avoids not only all politics but also all that could compromise him and that he is gradually preparing the ground for settling either in Czechia or in Germany to devote himself fully to scholarly and literary work while keeping the door to Russia open».

  • 6 Marina Sorokina, ‘Nenadezhnyi, no absoliutno nezamennyi’: 200-letnii iubileii Akademii nauk i ‘del (...)

10The first known leak of a confidential information to the Czechs on Jakobson’s part occurred in 1924. That year the Russian Academy of Sciences began preparations to celebrate its bicentennial anniversary and the highest echelons of the Soviet power were involved in selecting the distinguished invitees from abroad. The new head of the Prague Mission, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, suggested to Moscow on June 9, at Jakobson’s instigation, as a possible candidate, Tomáš G. Masaryk – a well-known philosopher – but also, currently, the Czechoslovak President. But while Moscow mulled over this idea, Jakobson apparently disclosed this nomination to another employee of the 3rd section of the Černín, Josef Šrom, who passed it on to Masaryk himself. Whether Jakobson did so to curry a favor with the President is a matter of interpretation but the Soviets who learned about this indiscretion were put into an uncomfortable situation, and they launched an official inquiry to find out who blabbed. But even before the results were known, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgii Chicherin, in his account to the Secretariat of the CC of the Bolshevik Party pointed his finger at Jakobson calling him «unreliable but absolutely indispensable for the functions he performs». And Ovseenko’s report about the affair sent three days later (July 9) explains why it is so: «Jakobson is extremely useful for us and his actual benefit to us exceeds the potential harm. So far there are no evidence incriminating him in any duplicity. A good half of our information comes from him or his sources».6

  • 7 See, e.g., Igor Lukes, Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Beneš in (...)

11Ovseenko’s defense of Jakobson was well warranted because his «loose tongue» need not to be viewed solely as a liability but could also be harnessed as a useful tool of misinformation. Let me explain. One of the perennial irritants in Czechoslovak-Soviet relations was the lack of the de-jure diplomatic recognition of the Moscow government by Prague. The Kremlin increased its demand in late 1926 when Narkomindel threatened to close the Czechoslovak Khar’kov Mission unless it was upgraded to a consulate and the same status was granted to the Soviet Mission in Bratislava.7 Jakobson’s confidential report to Papoušek from October 25 was undoubtedly part of this campaign. It purported to divulge the Kremlin’s retaliatory plan if Czechoslovakia failed to recognize the Soviet government within weeks: «Those who demand a decisive solution took over in Moscow», Jakobson intimated sub rosa, from an insider’s perspective, and he provided a short summary of the broken promises by various Czechoslovak political parties to change the status quo. «For all these reasons», he concluded, «it has been allegedly decided that short of quick recognition, the [Soviet] Political Representation would be recalled to Moscow, all commercial orders cancelled and relations suspended until the USSR is recognized».

  • 8 Curiously enough, the author uses a Russian idiom vvesti v zabluzhdenie for to hoodwink.

12Yet, the Czechoslovak Mission in Moscow who received a copy was not impressed by Jakobson’s scoop at all. This warning cannot be taken seriously, the anonymous correspondent blasted the messenger just five days later, because there are many weighty reasons why the USSR cannot afford to snub Prague (the missive lists three of them). Furthermore, he also questioned its author’s intentions. «Earlier I have already given the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a notice concerning Jakobson’s attitude towards us and the Soviets. The attached document convinces me once again that the Soviets are using [him] to pass on to the Ministry unofficially what the Soviets wish that our government knew. There cannot be a slightest doubt that ‘Mr. Jakobson’s message’ is no act of a goodwill on his part but a simple execution of an order from above…. It is clear to me that via Jakobson the Soviets are exerting pressure on the Ministry and it cannot be ruled out that this is their way of hoodwinking it».8

13But if it suited its own purpose, the Czechoslovak political leadership was more than eager to rely on Soviet fabrications. I have in mind a curious affair of the ‘political’ General Radola Gajda unfolding on many levels from 1926 to 1928 in which Jakobson’s spins played a role. President Masaryk viewed this hero of the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia during the Civil War with a dark suspicion because of his evidently pro-Fascist leanings. He was afraid that Gajda might misuse his position as the Acting Army Chief of Staff and imitate a successful coup d’état staged in neighboring Poland by Józef Piłsudski in May, 1926 to become a local strongman. The Soviets too had their own axe to grind with Gajda and were happy to collude. He was not only one of the initiators of the so-called ‘Cheliabinsk incident’ - the Legions’ refusal to surrender their weapons to the Bolsheviks that enabled them to fight their way through Siberia to the port of Vladivostok, but also a general in the army of Admiral Kolchak - one of the principal leaders of the White forces challenging the Reds in the Civil War. The plot was hatched and Gajda was accused of being, among other wrongdoings, a Soviet spy who, during his studies at the French Military Academy in the early 1920s, passed on to the Soviets sensitive military manuals for which crime Ovseenko vowed to provide the incriminating evidence.

  • 9 Quoted from Antonín Klimek and Petr Hofman, Vítěz, který prohrál: Radola Gajda, Paseka, Litomyšl, (...)
  • 10 Ivi, p. 188.

14In this affair the Soviet Mission, the preserved documents suggest, used Jakobson in two ways. On the one hand, he was pressing the Czechs, not entirely confident that the charges against Gajda would stick in court, to take a quick action. He allegedly, «advised the director of the propaganda section of the Foreign Ministry, Hájek, and repeated the same during the reception at Minister Beneš […] on July 4 that Gajda knows that he is being accused and is contacting those who could testify against him to win them to his side. He also warned, that the French already know about the case and there is a danger that they are going to publish [what they got] one way or another». Therefore, he argued, «it’s preferable to speed up the solution and investigation». On the other hand, Jakobson was also striving to explain to the local skeptics why the evidence against Gajda initially promised by the Mission might not materialize. Around July 28 he was apparently clarifying for Arne Laurin, the Editor-in-Chief of the «Prager Tagblatt», the semi-official German newspaper in Prague which counted Masaryk among its readers, «a rather tense relationship between the Military and the Foreign Affairs Soviets […] and he expressed his opinion that it will be difficult for Ovseenko to obtain permission from the Soviet government to release the documents […] because the Military Soviet would hardly pass these documents on to the Foreign Soviet if it exposed its spies».9 The promised evidence never arrived and so still in 1928 the desperate Masaryk dispatched the above-mentioned Josef Šrom to inquire with Chicherin, «whether he could be allowed to copy the materials pertaining to G. by hand. Mr. Chicherin listen with interest», Šrom reported back, «and promised to respond later».10 But he never did.

  • 11 For details, see Vladimir Genis, Iakobson, konechno, vozmutitsia…, in «Voprosy istorii», dicembre (...)

15Jakobson’s diplomatic career came to its end in 1928. He was fired as a non-Communist during a wholesale reshuffling of the press officers at all important Soviet Missions abroad despite Ovseenko’s valiant efforts to retain him.11 But this separation was definitely not inimical because despite Jakobson’s decision to stay in Czechoslovakia, he retained Soviet citizenship and the Representation regularly issued him new Soviet passports (the last one in 1934).

16According to the Prague police report dated February 1, 1933 (I will return to this document later), «Jakobson – even after terminating his official relationship, was often visiting the Soviet Representation […] and the Commercial Delegation». And, as if this was not strange enough, despite «Jakobson’s refusal to obey the order to return to Moscow […] he did not begin to speak against the Soviet government and, also, the Soviets did not take any reprisals against him». At the same time the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry issued him a re-entry visa so that he could visit Germany. Later he was regularly obtaining temporary Czechoslovak passports to travel abroad where his nationality was listed as ‘indéterminée’. He was also granted permission to stay in Prague until December 10, 1932.

  • 12 The initials A. G. suggest that this article was authored by Jakobson’s erstwhile boss, Vladimir A (...)

17Despite a marked change in his status, the Czechoslovak security apparatus did not let Jakobson vanish from its crosshairs. But, at the same time, its negative assessments of him as a security risk were always counterbalanced by Foreign Ministry interventions. Thus, in February 1929, for example, the Ministry of Interior informed all relevant governmental bodies that an article critical of the political situation in Ruthenia appearing in the Soviet paper, «Proletarskaia pravda», under the initials A. G. was, most likely, authored by Jakobson.12 The Prague Police Directorate – from where the information emanated – was, however, forced to retract this insinuation on July 3 after strenuous objection from the Černín Palace that this could not be the case. Jakobson, its statement of June 10 insisted, was currently fully occupied by preparing himself for a doctoral examination and by editing an academic journal, «Slavische Rundschau», published by Franz Spina, who, it should be mentioned, was then not only Jakobson’s Doktorvater but also the Minister of Health and Physical Education in the Czechoslovak Government.

18This tug-of-a-war about Jakobson between the Interior and the Foreign Affairs Ministries intensified in the 1930s when, after receiving his PhD from the German University in Prague, he was invited by Brno Masaryk University to join its newly established department of Slavic philology. Prof. Bohuslav Havránek, a member of the Prague Linguistic Circle and Jakobson’s strong supporter, chaired the hiring committee. As expected, the reactions of the two Ministries involved in the vetting process were quite different. The Interior’s position stated in its memo to the Ministry of Education on October 18 was reserved if not outwardly hostile. «Quite exceptionally, we do not have any objections to Roman Osipovič Jakobson’s appointment as a contractual Professor of Russian philology» providing that there are no suitable native candidates for the job.

19The Černín Palace, as expected, was much more forthcoming. It should also be noted that while hitherto its letters concerning Jakobson were supportive but aloof, from this point on they turned enthusiastic, presenting Jakobson as the Ministry’s ally and a valuable asset. Reacting to Havránek’s four questions about Zamini’s position on Jakobson’s appointment from March 6, Jan Hájek denied the contention that his Ministry was involved in any way with scuttling Jakobson’s application to study at Charles in 1920. On the contrary, he declared, we are «ready, if necessary, to support [Jakobson’s] candidacy if Masaryk University proposes it». And his colleague, Papoušek to whom Havránek’s letter was addressed, amended a copy of Hájek’s reply with a marginal jotting. «Pro domo: Minister Dr. Beneš was apprised about the matter. He agreed that the response should be positive and favorable».

20The «positive and favorable response» addressed to the Ministry of Education was drafted on October 16 by the Černín Palace man number two, the historian Kamil Krofta, who signed the letter «On behalf of the Minister». «The Ministry of Foreign Affairs», he did not mince his words, «does not know a single case of Dr. Jakobson’s disloyalty or incorrectness toward our state; on the contrary, it knows many cases when Dr. Jakobson evidently wished to help our nation and did help». Thus, «the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no doubts that Dr. Jakobson will be able to render very good services to our state also in the future; therefore, we do not only have no objections to his appointment as a contractual Professor at Brno Masaryk University but, in accordance with the Ministry’s interests, we recommend it».

21Krofta’s recommendation was heeded and Jakobson appointed in Brno. But to make his position regular, he still had to go through the customary ‘habilitation’ procedure. This took place in 1932/1933 and precipitated yet another confrontation between the two Ministries. A four pages long memo prepared by the Prague Police Directorate for the Interior Ministry Presidium on February 1 (from which I have already quoted) listed all instances of Jakobson’s purported criminal, subversive or treasonous behavior and culminated with a devastating coup de grâce: «After taking into account all presented circumstances, this office considers Jakobson politically unreliable [original emphasis] and justifiably suspects that he resides in the Czechoslovak Republic on behest of the Third International which charged him with a political mission. It is likely that he is, at its instigation, striving to attain an influential position precisely in Slavistics in which field, as a university professor, he could foremost apply Communist principles and further the interests of the USSR». Fortunately, this document has also its comic relief: a fifth page appended to it containing additional accusations by some Dr. Fišer, a functionary at the Interior Ministry, who «in connection with the appointment of Dr. Roman Jakobson as a contractual professor at Masaryk University in Brno brought out that, 1) his brother is a Professor in Berlin and [Jakobson] frequently commutes there; 2) that he lives above his means, patronizes bars and recently in one Prague bar he made a scene slapping somebody across his face».

22But Zamini did not allow the Interior to have the last word in this confrontation. On February 21, a Czech diplomat of whom we have heard before, Josef Šrom, sent Havránek from Vienna his personal testimony absolving Jakobson of any connections to the Communist cause. Šrom emphasized in his letter that he has not only known him for more than ten years but that he is also acquainted with his wife and their relatives in Moscow. Because of this, he wrote emphatically:

I could, esteemed Mr. Professor, declare solemnly and in front of any forum that the Jakobsons were never members of the Communist Party, never rendered it any special services and never to the least vitiated their gratitude to Czechoslovakia for the hospitality extended to them. Dr. Jakobson, because of his knowledge and his sympathy toward the Czechoslovak Republic, would be the pride of any of our universities.

23With the rise of Hitler in neighboring Germany in the mid-1930s, the political situation in Central Europe changed considerably. The threat of Nazi expansionism displaced to a considerable degree the earlier fear of Communist subversion and in 1935, Czechoslovakia fully recognized the Soviet government. Under these new circumstances Jakobson’s scholarly expertise was welcomed by the 3rd section of Zamini as a valuable intellectual component of its ‘Kulturkampf” with German propaganda. The Foreign Ministry covered his expenses to attend scholarly meetings abroad and subsidized his travel within the country. Černín also solicited Jakobson’s advice in matters related to Russia, like the program for a delegation of Soviet journalists visiting Czechoslovakia in October 1935. But the old suspicions lingered in some quarters even after Jakobson was granted Czechoslovak citizenship in 1937—a condition for making his teaching position at Masaryk University permanent. On June 12, he even felt obliged to write to a high official at Zamini, Dr. Jan Jína, urging him to alert Krofta, now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that his job might still be at jeopardy so that he would intervene on his behalf if needed. As his source of information, Jakobson listed a prominent Czech journalist, Hubert Ripka.

24The German occupation of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 propelled Jakobson into his second, Scandinavian, exile. If his loyalty toward Czechoslovak Republic was previously in doubt, now, after this state ceased to exist, he avowed it unconditionally. In the letter from Charlottenlund, Denmark of April 27, 1939 Jakobson notified Ripka who was now in Paris busy with organizing the National Czechoslovak Committee that he places himself «at the full disposal» [original emphasis] of this body. And, on December 16, after moving to Norway, he signed at the Czechoslovak consulate in Oslo the following declaration: «By my signature I affirm my pledge to voluntarily join the Czechoslovak army in France if such, in the case of a war, is established. If recognized as fit for military service, I will present myself whenever summoned».


1 Roman Jakobson’s letter to Grigorij Vinokur, November, 1920.

2 The boxes contained 15 million in so called ‘duma rubles’, currency issued by the Provisional Russian government after the February revolution still used in Russia at that time, and 6 million in old Austrian notes which, however, without the revenue stamps of the Czechoslovak Finance Ministry, separating them from the same currency circulating in other successor states of Austro-Hungary, were not considered legal tender.

3 The incident, however, did not go unnoticed. It was reported, for example, in the leftist paper «Tribuna» on February 1 under the heading: Exterritorialy and the Prague Police. With glee, the blunder was attributed to the fact that the policeman most likely did not understand the word exterritoriality.

4 In a letter dated October 20, 1920, Gillerson informs the Minister of Foreign Affairs that Roman Jakobson «left the service at his own request and is no longer my employee».

5 When, exactly, Jakobson resumed his job with the Mission is not entirely clear. According to the memo from the Foreign Ministry to the Ministry of Interior of February 14, 1922, Jakobson, at the time of the Hotel Imperial incident, was not the Mission’s official («nejsa v úředním poměru… k delegaci»). His name appears on an addendum to the list of new members of the Mission the Černín submitted to the Presidium of the Interior Ministry on April 22, 1922.

6 Marina Sorokina, ‘Nenadezhnyi, no absoliutno nezamennyi’: 200-letnii iubileii Akademii nauk i ‘delo Masaryk-Iakobson’, in In Memoriam: Istorcheskii sbornik pamiati A. I. Dobkina, edited by Vladimir Alloi and Tatiana Pritykina, St. Peterburg, Fenix, 2000, p. 139. It is most likely that «the Czech journalist Shromm», the conduit between Jakobson and Masaryk, according to Sorokina, was Josef Šrom who from 1921 to 1929 served with the Czechoslovak mission in Moscow as an intelligence and propaganda officer [zpravodajský referent] and from 1930 was the Head of the Press Office at the Embassy in Vienna. We will return to this man later.

7 See, e.g., Igor Lukes, Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Beneš in the 1930s, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 21.

8 Curiously enough, the author uses a Russian idiom vvesti v zabluzhdenie for to hoodwink.

9 Quoted from Antonín Klimek and Petr Hofman, Vítěz, který prohrál: Radola Gajda, Paseka, Litomyšl, 1995, pp. 91-92 and 114.

10 Ivi, p. 188.

11 For details, see Vladimir Genis, Iakobson, konechno, vozmutitsia…, in «Voprosy istorii», dicembre 2008, pp. 120-125.

12 The initials A. G. suggest that this article was authored by Jakobson’s erstwhile boss, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Antonov-Ovseenko (transferred to Lithuania in 1928), who used the pseudonym A. Gal’skii.


University of Pennsylvania: psteiner[at]


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