The Czechoslovakian state

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16. The Czechoslovakian state

After four years of war with destruction and hunger in Europe, the people craved for peace more and more. Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Benes went into exile to America during the war and managed to establish a principle which weighed heavily in later negotiations with Austria, namely, that a "Czechoslovak National Council" was recognized as the government of a nation at war. When in October of 1918, the government of Austria appealed to President Wilson for peace on the basis of Point X of his Fourteen Points which reads: "The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.", President Wilson declared this point as now irrelevant since Czechoslovakia has been recognized as a sovereign state. On October 28, 1918, a national committee in Prague proclaimed the sovereign Czechoslovak state and assumed governmental powers. The government in Vienna acceded. After only a few days it became evident that the new state was asserting power over the whole of Bohemia, Moravia and Austro-Silesia and would refuse autonomy for the Sudetengermans for which President Wilson had given his word. Masaryk stated in a governmental declaration on December 23, 1918: "The Bohemian regions populated by Germans belong to us and shall remain our property. We have fought for this state and the legal position of the Germans, who once came as immigrants and colonists, is therewith settled once and for all. We have a legitimate right to the riches of the whole of our land …". Worth to note, in October 1918 in Philadelphia he proclaimed: "The rights of the minority shall be secured by proportional representation; equal rights shall be enjoyed by national minorities.

The Czech military began occupying the Sudetenlands in November and concluded the operation by January 1919. Resistance was inconceivable in the war-exhausted regions. Reluctance voiced by the winners, especially English and American diplomats, was successfully hushed by Benes with a falsified demographic map. On March 4, 1919, when hundred thousands of Germans demonstrated for their autonomy, the Czech military fired into the masses in several towns. 54 dead and 104 injured were the result of this day. After the signing of the Versailles Treaty, June 28, 1919, the Sudetengermans realized that little opportunity was left for getting their demands considered. Even so, the Germans participated in the first local elections. The vote count reflected the coherent German-populated regions; a fact now evident for the western powers too. In the following years the Czech administration modified these regions systematically; important positions in the civil services were filled by Czechs (this included post office and railroad). Germans were discriminated against in all fields of public life and in the economy. Up to 1927 approximately 500 German schools with about 3500 school classes were closed, and the ones that continued were practically excluded from maintenance by the state. During the years of the first Czechoslovak republic, more than half of the total number of unemployed happened to be Sudetengermans.

From the very beginning, the new state proclaimed itself as Czechoslovak "national state". The Sudetengermans were made citizens of this new state against their will, were kept out of the drafting-process of the constitution and 300 further fundamental acts. Later on, words of oppositional initiatives were suppressed by the "Law for the Protection of the Republic" of 1923, under which political opponents were taken to court. Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, a 26-year-old author with Sudetengerman family connections, wrote in an article in 1921: "The German question is the essential question to the survival of the Czechoslovak Republic; should the Republic be able to reconcile the three and a half million Germans with nine million Czechs and Slovaks, it will become rich, respected and an example for the development of future supranational states. Should this reconciliation fail, the republic is bound to stagger from one crisis into the next, and German Bohemia will tear itself from this republic as soon as international political circumstances provide for an opportunity … If Czechoslovakia departs from nationalism, it can set an example for a new Europe where language conflicts have become a thing of the past.


Copyright © by Inge Schwarz 1997 (Heimatstelle Maffersdorf) 
Copyright © by Anton Möller • 2005

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