Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

La Solidaridad!

Only a few weeks after the still-birth of the association, a new literary-political child was set on its feet which did not only prove its viability but also caused the Spaniards some trouble even at its tender age; this was the "La Solidaridad".

The first copy of the fortnightly periodical "Soli", as the newspaper was soon affectionately called, was published on February 15,1889 in Barcelona under the direction of the triumvirate of Graciano Lopez Jaena, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce. It was a modest publication of the political refugees, whose editorial staff did all the publication functions.

Shortly after the launching of the newspaper, del Pilar reported the following: "We, finally, have a newspaper, democratic in its policy, but even more democratic in its organization. You should see how Graciano, as editor, writes, proof-reads, distributes copies and even carries the packages to the post office; how Ponce collects the contributions as manager, himself writes, proof-reads, collects and writes addresses, dispatches the mail and delivers copies as well ..."

Many of the people working with the periodical were well-known artists and scholars, whose names would later become known as politicians and generals of the revolution, among them a Spaniard too, the historian and former minister, Dr. Miguel Morayta.

The main article of the first copy of the "Soli" contains the objective of the periodical: "Our aims are modest, very modest. Our program is clear and simple: to fight against the reaction, to stop all reactionary measures, to adopt and promote all liberal ideas, to uphold progress."

It should be the task of the "Solidaridad" to stimulate the awakening of liberal ideas in all fields, be it politics, science, arts, literature, trade, agriculture or industry. Thus, it was essential to devote the greatest attention to the defense of the democratic rights of the Philippines, in whatever aspects of her, that needs the greatest assistance, since she is not represented in the Parliament; this is a patriotic duty. "The nation of the Philippines, made up of eight million souls, should not and must not remain the exclusive reservation of theocracy and traditionalism," the main article concludes.

Subsequently, through the deafness of the Spaniards regarding all attempts for reforms, this "modesty" cleared the way for a certain radicalization expressed in the following article of Rizal which contains an admonition to the Spaniards, of what the Filipinos would reproach them with, if there were no progress: "Spain, you remained deaf and arrogant, you proceeded with your false ways and accuse us of being traitors just because we love our country, just because we tell the truth and abhor injustice ... O, Spain! Must we tell the Philippines one day, that you have no ear for her misfortune and that if she wants to save herself, then she must do it herself?"

In the final analysis, the view of Rizal has shown the inflexibility of the Spaniards which was responsible for the radicalization (and the eventual loss of their colony) and which was exactly identical with that of Blumentritt's. In the "Österreichische Monatsschrift für den Orient" (Austrian Monthly journal for the Orient), Blumentritt gets even with those Spanish groups which dread the secession of the colony from the country, so that they, "blinded by racial arrogance and national vanity not only by uncivilly denying the Filipinos of their legitimate demands, but also by abusively ridiculing them," unfortunately worked with zeal at alienating the Filipinos from the mother country.

And, as far as the refusal of a representation of the Philippines in the Cortés is concerned, for the first time, Blumentritt sanctions the idea of the revolution and full independence, as when he asserts: "If this legitimate and sincere wish is not fulfilled, then the Filipinos themselves will probably take the parliamentary representation for themselves, that is, the way the Cubans exacted the same thing for themselves, namely by means of an uprising or the way the American mainland struggled for their independence."

In this publication, by giving information about the "Soli", which was created because the censor in the Philippines made every public treatment of national affairs impossible, Blumentritt proves to be, above all, an important informant of the European public. "For this reason, the leaders of the liberal movement of that island country founded a fortnightly publication, 'La Solidaridad', which espouses vigorously the rights of the oppressed." And, immediately after that, he proudly adds that the campaign of this review has not been unsuccessful.

That such was the case can be considered primarily as Blumentritt's own success: his espousal of the Philippine cause, but above all, his active contribution to the periodical effected a significant change in the position which the "Soli" assumed in the political and literary world of Madrid and Spain in those days. Through Blumentritt's contribution to the journal, the publication, which previously was regarded as subversive as well as anti-royalty and anti-church, at least, by the monarchical and conservative groups, won some unexpected respect and distinction.

Blumentritt's contribution caused embarrassment if not apprehension in the royal court, in the Madrid government and the high ranking clergy. It went beyond these groups' horizon and comprehension that an internationally esteemed and respected scholar - a man to whom the education of children has been entrusted in his native country, whose monarchy is closely connected with Spain by tradition; a man who was a devout Catholic - made a common cause with a little band of "irresponsible rebels and conspirators" publicly and unhesitatingly.

This circumstance only made the "Soli" a provocation to the colonial power. It would be unimaginable that at that time - the 80's of the past century - a somewhat similar publication of the Indians in Great Britain or the Indochinese in France would become the object of the attention of the London or the Paris government, let alone cause for polemics or a counter attack.

Even in Spain, the reaction to the "Soli" came unexpectedly because the interest of the Spanish public, if it concerned itself at all with colonial matters, was aimed at the problem of Cuba or Puerto Rico, at the danger of losing the remaining dominions in the American continent, and not at the Philippines, which was far away and about which hardly anything was known.

All the same, the "Soli" was considered important enough to create, sometime in 1891, two years after its foundation, an official counter-organ, which under the title "La Politica de España en Filipinas" (The Politics of Spain in the Philippines) engaged in the defence of the Spanish policy in the Philippines against the criticism and attacks of the "Soli". Yet, the most difficult venture of the colonial defenders was to find the right arguments against Blumentritt who was not a Filipino, who could not be reproached with personal or national interests. Thus, there was no other alternative but to make Blumentritt appear ridiculous either through satire or, as it had already been done before, to cast suspicion upon Blumentritt as an agent of Bismarck, who wanted to prepare the way for the German occupation of the Philippines.

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning, that Rizal in the polemics against the conditions in his native country cited the tragedy of Mayerling to illustrate a personal misfortune. When Rizal's brother-in-law died of cholera in Calamba, the parish priest would not rest until he had informed the Archbishop of Manila by telegram about the death, referring to the circumstance that the deceased had never gone to confession since his wedding. The senior shepherd of the capital city, however, did not flinch from the joint liability of the family of the ostracized Rizal and forbade a Christian burial for the brother-in-law. He was not allowed burial at the town cemetery; his body was buried hastily on a hill outside the town.

Rizal answers in the "Soli" with an article calling the priest ignorant and a defrauder, since he could not possibly know when and where, the deceased went to confession when he was alive, whether or not it was outside of his place of residence. And at the end he cites the suicide of the crown prince Rudolph and the Barones Vetsera: "An adulterer who murders his mistress and then commits suicide is buried not only in consecrated ground and earth, but over the scene of the adultery, murder and suicide, a chapel is erected just because the wrong-doer was of royal blood . . . but a good, respected man, benefactor of the Church, himself a nephew of priests, educated by priests, a patron of the poor and the unfortunate is buried hurriedly in a field, only because he is, by chance, a brother-in-law of Rizal ... " (Rizal, by the way, had a foreboding of the tragedy in advance when two years before this incident, he depicted this similar fate for the father of the hero of his novel.)

The launching of the "Soli" roused Rizal into enthusiasm. "Onward with the magazine!", he writes from Paris to the editor-in-chief Jaena and appealed to all not to make mistakes, to be dilligent, to take care of the paper like a first-born child, to present neither exaggerations nor untruths, not to copy others, to proceed honesbly and justly. "We must show our enemies that morally and humanely, we are worthier than them," Rizal orders in a friendly manner and tells of the opinion in Parisian liberal and emigrant groups, according to which the periodical is becoming better with every issue.

In a later letter to del Pilar, Rizal appraises the value of Blumentritt's contribution: "The magazine is now gaining prominence ... imagine the appearance of such names as Blumentritt ..., if our countrymen see, that Rizal is no exception . . . there is nothing better than the example ... our foes will be surprised ..."

The significance of Blumentritt's contribution to the "Soli" emerges very clearly in the correspondence between the two friends. The Spaniards simply cannot believe in Blumentritt's contribution and for this reason constantly fabricate new arguments in order not to be compelled to accept the fact: "Your articles in the 'Solidaridad' are suddenly becoming better ... Many Filipinos still believe that you do not exist; they ascribe your articles to me. And the best thing about it is some Spaniards believe that you are just lending your name to us ... they do not understand that a foreigner, a European, other than a Spaniard, is supporting the Filipinos with love and devotion ... for this reason, they are forced to think that I need the surveillance of the friars and the Spaniards and must sign my name with a borrowed name ... "

Blumentritt, on his part, is not content with his contribution: "I regret very much that I cannot live in Madrid amidst the "Solidaridad", he writes and apologizes, not having given a package with several copies of the magazine to a friend, Dr. Schadenberg, who requested them. Nevertheless, the copies were found with him, a German, in Manila - copies of a publication strictly prohibited in the Philippines - consequently this gave the propaganda lie a new twist, which was, that Bismarck financed the "Soli".

The months and years of polemics and agitation in the columns of the "Soli", without any tangible result, with no progress in the anticipated reforms by the Spaniards, certainly made Rizal despondent. In addition to this, there were the unavoidable differences, personal wranglings and arguments about the relevant policy in the little emigrant group. And where at the beginning, there was enthusiasm, soon Rizal refuses to contribute: "You would like me to write an article for the "Soli", unfortunately, I must confess that I have the intention of no longer writing an article for the periodical. I could have told you this earlier ... I agree completely with what you write. Whatever Blumentritt and Rizal can do, Blumentritt can do alone ..."

Of course, Blumentritt tried to encourage up Rizal again: "The struggles of the "Solidaridad" are not futile. I would not draw such optimistic views merely from my head. But some Spaniards, who, at the beginning of the campaign, avoided me like I was a heretic, are writing to me again. And they say they think I was right ... "

Rizal persists in his political resolutions: "For this reason, I believe that the "Solidaridad" is no longer our battlefield. It is now a question of a new battle. The battle (field) is no longer Madrid. Everything will be lost time ... Yes, I do not want to hurt you anymore; I only want to tell you that I have given up hope in Spain. Because of this I shall not write anymore a word for the "Solidaridad". It seems to me that it is useless ..."

But Blumentritt judges the situation in an entirely different manner: "Perhaps my words were harsh and caustic, but my heart is soft and good. I shall never leave my poor Philippines, I am not a deserter. I cannot share your opinion about the 'La Solidaridad' because the enemies themselves acknowledged the importance of the 'Solidaridad' by setting up the fortnightly magazine, whose task is to fight against the former. We cannot expect a miracle from the publication.

He says that what other nations succeeded in achieving in four decades cannot be achieved in four years, even though everything has been developing faster now at the end of the century. And Blumentritt analyzes: "I reiterate: A political party needs an organ, a newspaper, and the Filipinos have it and should not neglect it, because it upholds the honor of the country and the native race. The Filipino can attain nothing at all with the arms now, therefore we can only fight with the plunra (pen). At best, we can express our personal opinions through some pamphlets: In our time, only a newspaper can evoke the right impression ... "

If one considers the significant role that the newspapers of the revolutionaries in exile had played as an organizer, agitator, mouthpiece and discussion platform, then Blumentritt's analysis - with no relevant experience - was all the more remarkable.

[Austrian-Philippine WebSite] [Culture and History]
[Rizal-Blumentritt Friendship] [Up]
created: January 20, 1997
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger