- Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia by James Mace Ward
As the first rigorous biography of Slovakia’s priest-president Jozef Tiso available in English, this book addresses a major gap in Czech and Slovak studies and represents a considerable contribution to the study of political Catholicism, World War II collaborationist regimes, the Holocaust, and the politics of nationalism in twentieth-century Europe. James Mace Ward casts Tiso as a cunning, dynamic player in “a modern, Central European story.” Ward draws on extensive research in Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, and Austrian archives to provide a chronological account of the priest’s early training and influences, first forays into interwar politics, gradual radicalization, and ascent to the presidency of the Nazi-allied First Slovak Republic (1939–1945). Although the book highlights Tiso’s key role in advancing Catholic and Slovak interests within the fractious and ultimately catastrophic political milieu of post-Munich Europe, Ward argues that those achievements were marred by a “lifelong pattern of collaboration” (p. 3), a pattern that eventually cost Tiso his life before a Czechoslovak court of retribution in 1947. Ward presents a careful and in the end damning analysis of Tiso’s responsibility for the deportation and murder of more than 70,000 Slovak Jews, and he combines this with a critical assessment of Tiso’s dual character. At once an idealist and opportunist, Tiso “continually denied the tension between his actions as a priest and a politician” (p. 288) and gradually abandoned notions of Christian morality for a radical nationalist program that also furthered his personal power. Ward thus revises nearly all twentieth-century literature on Tiso—both post-1989 and Soviet-era—that has alternately praised the president as a martyr to the nation or condemned him as an outgrowth of Austro-Hungarian parochialism and a case study in the evils of nationalism. [End Page 215] This portrayal of Tiso is nuanced, at once a tragic “morality tale” and a chronicle of “radical evil” (p. 290).
The rapidly shifting social and political currents that shaped Tiso’s life occupy a central place in Ward’s telling. Born in the Felvídek (Upper Hungary) in 1887, the exceptionally intelligent and ambitious young priest (then known as Tiszó József) spoke both Slovak and Hungarian fluently and rose quickly within the clerical hierarchy. Despite training at an elite Viennese seminary and earning a reputation as a gifted, energetic man of service, Tiso’s promising career in the Magyarone church was checked by nationalist revolution, secularization, and a lack of patriotic credentials during the period of Czechoslovak state formation. Without hesitation, the young “soldier of god” undertook a “startling, profound, and enduring” transformation. Almost overnight, Tiso restyled himself the “guardian of the Slovak nation” and adopted a pro-Czechoslovak platform (p. 63). He remained committed to parochial concerns as a career Christian Socialist politician—doggedly advocating for Catholic education and family values in his interwar position as Czechoslovak minister of health, for example—but he also increasingly espoused a brand of Christian Socialism that privileged ethnic Slovaks at the expense of Czechs, Hungarians, and Jews. Particularly during times of revolution (which Ward identifies as 1918–1919 and 1938–1947), Tiso embraced a politics of exclusion in order to advance his vision of a Catholic Slovak state and to widen his portion of the political pie. Shortly after World War I, as the editor and chief author of a Slovak Catholic circular, he had already begun playing to anti-Semitic hysteria by launching an aggressive campaign against Czechoslovak Jews, labeling them as harbingers of godless Social Democracy, “war profiteers, hoarders, revolutionaries, and usurers” who stood in the way of Slovaks’ economic and social development (p. 52). Such “Jew-baiting” could occasionally garner Tiso censure from the Vatican, but it also helped him to win supporters in interwar Slovakia.
Beyond providing a portrait of Tiso deeply rooted in the president’s own speeches and writings, Ward lends this project depth by inscribing Tiso within the intersections...