The Republic of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed in 1918 after the Hapsburg Ausro-Hungarian Empire. The first president was Tomas Masaryk. The creation of Czecheslovakia had been urged by President Wilson and was associated with the Versailles Treaty--making the country with a large German minority an anethma to the NAZIs. The two major ethnic groups comprising Czecheslovakia weee the Czechs and the Slovaks. The Slovaks like the Czechs desired independence from the Austo-Hungarian Empire, but there were substantial cultural differences. The Slovak areas of the country were not as developed economically and thus found it dificult to compete. The Czech lands were highly industrialized and ejoyed a standard of living comparable to Western Europe. Slovakia was a largely agrarian society. The Czechs were highly secular while most Slovaks were strongly Catholic. The Czechs were generally better educated than the Slovaks and mre experience with self-government than the Slovaks. Czecheslovakia tried o pomote the industrialization of Slovakia, but these efforts achieved little success in the 1920s and the world-wide Depression in the 1930s made further efforts difficult. The open, dmocratic Czech state, however, offered considerable freedom for Slovaks in a Czech-dominated country. Czechoslovakia was the only east European country to remain a parliamentary democracy during the inter-War era. Even so, there were problems, not only the Czech-Slovak conflict but also problems in the substantial German minority. Especially in the 1930s with the advent of he Great Depresion, resntment grew in Slovakia over the Czech-dominated Government. Right wing groups began agitating or independence. Some Slovak Church leaders partivcipated in the independemnce movement. mmigration increased. Another problrem was the German minority. Over 20 percent of the population was German who were mostly concentrated in the German/Austrian border regions called the Sudetenland. After the NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933, they began to promote unrest and the German press reported real and imagined invcidents, accusing the Czechs of brutally supressing the German minority. President Masaryk was succeeded as president by Edvard Benes in 1935.
The country of Czecheslovakia created in the World War I peace settlement is viewed very differently by people from different countries. Americans and British as well as the French vuew the country as a gallant outpost of democracy in Eastern Europe that was bandoned by the Allies to the horrors of NAZI Germany. To
many Germans in the 1930s Czecheslovakia was a state created by the Allies without legal justification that trampled the rights of ethnic minorities. This was the issue that the NAZI propaganda machine enthusiastically joined. It was a country constructed of several nationalities. One author suggests that it was primarily a creation of French diplomacy to surround Germany.
The Republic of Czecheslovakia was proclamaed on October 18, 1918, even before the end of World War I. The country was created by Czechs and Slovaks.
The Sudeten Germans who did not to be part of the new country played virtually no role in the country's creation. The 6.7 million Czechs mostly in Bohemia and
Moravia demanded a state of their own.
The Sudeten Germans responded to the right of self-determination expressed in American President Woodrow Wilson 14 Points expressed a desire to join
Austria. Many Austrians in turn wnted to unite with Germany. Sudeten Germans were disappointed at finding themselves a minority in the new Czecheslovakia.
Domonstraions followed. Czech soldiers On March 4, 1919, fired on Sudeten Germans who were demonstrating for their right to self-determination. The soldiers
killed 54 of the demonstrators.
Several different peace conferences were needed to end World War I with the various members of the Central Powers. The best known Conference was the
Versailles Peace Conference to create a peace treary with Germany. The St. Germain Peace Conference created the treaty ending the war with
Austro-Hungary--even though the country no longer existed. The various national groups in the Empire made their case at the Conference. The Conference,
however, decided against the Sudeten Germans. They were not allowed to join Austria and Austria was not allowed to join Germany. The problem for the
peace-makers in 1919 was to fashion new nations out of the often patch-work quilt of Eastern Europe. It was decided to include the heavily German and
industrialized Sudetenland with Czech-populated Bohemia and Moravia to create a economically viable state. Germans were incensed at the severity of the World
War I peace treaties. Hitler and the NAZIs made a major issue of this in their rise to power, but it was a attitude widely felt by a broad spectrum of German public
opinion. This national consensus in fact helped Hitler draw support from many who disagreed with other aspects of NAZI dogma. The Germans had a point. They
agreed to an armistace on the relatively generous terms of Wilson's 14 Points. The actual peace traties were more harsh. That said, it should remembered that the
harshest terms of the various treaties ending World War I was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the treaty Germany forced on Russia.
Czecheslovakia was a very ethnically diverse country. The Czechs had a very narrow majirity in an ethnically diverse country. The new country of Czecheslovakia
was composed of: 6.7 million Czechs, 3.1 million Germans, 2.0 million Slovaks, 0.7 million Hungarians, 0.5 million Ruthenians, 0.3 million Jews, and 0.1 million
Poles. Czecheslovakia was also once of the few real demiocracies that emerged in Eastern Europe.
Czech treatment of the ethnic minorities is a matter of considerable controversy. Sudeten Germans maintain that they were abused by Czech officials. A German source charges, "The Czechs broke their promise to make their newly-established country multinational, modelled after Switzerland. Instead, they set out on a policy of Czechization, conducted as follows: 1) Against the German language and culture by closing down German schools and by declaring Czech the only
official language to be used in all communications with the authorities; 2) by ousting Germans from civil service jobs and in enterprises owned and controlled by the government; 3) by curbing the German economy and taking over German firms into Czech ownership; and 4) by restricting the powers oflocal government in the
German-speaking towns and districts. As a result of this policy, one out of every three Sudeten Germans was unemployed during the depression, and they had to
live on the extremely meager social welfare benefits. The policies on finance and exchange control, in particular on borrowing on customs tariffs, on investment,
transport, nationalization of enterprises, on the promotion of cultural institutions and on student grants, were all designed to further the aims of Czechization, thus
creating a unitary Czech nation which was in fact a multinational country."
HBC is unsure precisely how to interpret these charges. We certainly agree that a democratic government is no guarantee against the violation of civil rights,
especially those of a minority. A democracy can be just as oppressive toward minorities, if not more so, than an authoritarian regime. The best examples here are
violation of minority rights in the American Republic, especially of blacks and Japanese. Minorities can only be protected if democarcy (rule of the majority) is
limited by constitutional guarantees of rights, suxh as the Bill of Rights in America. Any assessment of Czech treatment of minoritoies can not be reasonably
assessed on some esoteric basis of political ideals. With our modern 21st century sensabilities the Czechs would seem to have fallen far short of the ideal. A more
reasonable assessment would be to compare the Czech policies with those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or those of Germany (including those in Imperial
Germanyu, the Weimar Republic, and NAZI Germany). We have only limited informtion at this time, but we believe that the Czech policies that the Germans found
offensive were the very same policies that the Germans routinely followed toward ethnic minorities, especially the Poles in their country. Here we would be very
interested in any details that Czech. German, and Polish readers can provide.
The situation in the Sudetenland changed in the 1930s with the coming of the worldwide Depression in 1929. The Sudetenland was heavily industrialized. There
was massive unemployment as a result of the depression. German's who had lost their jobs in the Depression began to think that they might be better off in
Then Hitler and the NAZIs seized power in Germany in 1933. Unemployed workers were susceptible to the anti-semitic, anti-Czechoslovakia, pro-German
rhetoric of the NAZIs. Local leader Konrad Henlen founded the Sudetendeutsche Partei (Sudeten German NAZI Party). Along with with discriminatory actions of
local Czechoslovakian officials incidents provoked by the local NAZIS brought about the Munich crisis of 1938. The NAZI media publicized largely manufactured
new stories of how the Czechs were mistreating Sudenten Germans. These reputed incidents were emphazsized in news reels, radio, and newspapers in gorry
detail. The NAZIs aided the Sudetendeutsche Partei and secrectly created and armed the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps (the Sudeten German Freecorps). The
Freekorps caused numerous incidents and created so much unrest that on the May 20, 1938 the Czech Army mobilized to restore order. The NAZIs on
September 12, 1938 held a huge rally at Nuremburg. Hitler made his famous Sudetenland speech, were he insisted that Sudetenland should be part of Germany or
they would invade Czechoslovakia.
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