The first Czechoslovak Republic (Czech první Československá republika), refers to the first Czechoslovak state that existed from 1918 to 1938. The state was commonly called Czechoslovakia (Československo). It was composed of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia. After 1933 Czechoslovakia remained the only functioning democracy in eastern Europe as other eastern European states had authoritarian or autocratic regimes leading them. Under enormous pressure from Nazi Germany and the Sudeten German minority living in the country, Czechoslovakia was forced to submit the German-populated Sudetenland region to Germany on October 1, 1938, as agreed in the Munich Agreement as well as southern parts of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia to Hungary and the Zaolzie region in Silesia to Poland. This effectively ended the First Czechoslovak Republic, which was succeeded by the Second Czechoslovak Republic.
- Main article: History of Czechoslovakia (1918–1938)
The independence of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed on October 28, 1918, by the Czechoslovak National Council in Prague. Several ethnic groups and territories with different historical, political, and economic traditions had to be blended into a new state structure.
The full boundaries of the country and the organization of its government was finally established in the Czechoslovak Constitution of 1920. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk had been recognized by WWI Allies as the leader of the Provisional Czechoslovak Government, and in 1920 he was elected the country's first president. He was re-elected in 1925 and 1929, serving as President until December 14, 1935 when he resigned due to poor health. He was succeeded by Edvard Beneš.
Following the Anschluss of Nazi Germany and Austria in March 1938, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's next target for annexation was Czechoslovakia. His pretext was the privations suffered by ethnic German populations living in Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland. Their incorporation into Nazi Germany would leave the rest of Czechoslovakia powerless to resist subsequent occupation.
To a large extent, Czechoslovak democracy was held together by the country's first president, Tomáš Masaryk. As the principal founding father of the republic, Masaryk was regarded similar to the way George Washington is regarded in the United States. Such universal respect enabled Masaryk to overcome seemingly irresolvable political problems. Even to this day, Masaryk is regarded as the symbol of Czechoslovak democracy.
The Constitution of 1920 approved the provisional constitution of 1918 in its basic features. The Czechoslovak state was conceived as a parliamentary democracy, guided primarily by the National Assembly, consisting of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, whose members were to be elected on the basis of universal suffrage. The National Assembly was responsible for legislative initiative and was given supervisory control over the executive and judiciary as well. Every seven years it elected the president and confirmed the cabinet appointed by him. Executive power was to be shared by the president and the cabinet; the latter, responsible to the National Assembly, was to prevail. The reality differed somewhat from this ideal, however, during the strong presidencies of Masaryk and his successor, Beneš. The constitution of 1920 provided for the central government to have a high degree of control over local government. From 1928 and 1940, Czechoslovakia was divided into the four "lands" (Czech: "země", Slovak: "krajiny"); Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia. Although in 1927 assemblies were provided for Bohemia, Slovakia, and Ruthenia, their jurisdiction was limited to adjusting laws and regulations of the central government to local needs. The central government appointed one third of the members of these assemblies. The constitution identified the "Czechoslovak nation" as the creator and principal constituent of the Czechoslovak state and established Czech and Slovak as official languages. The concept of the Czechoslovak nation was necessary in order to justify the establishment of Czechoslovakia towards the world, because otherwise the statistical majority of the Czechs as compared to Germans would have been rather weak, and there would have been more Germans in the state than Slovaks. National minorities were assured special protection; in districts where they constituted 20% of the population, members of minority groups were granted full freedom to use their language in everyday life, in schools, and in matters dealing with authorities.
The operation of the new Czechoslovak government was distinguished by stability. Largely responsible for this were the well-organized political parties that emerged as the real centers of power. Excluding the period from March 1926 to November 1929, when the coalition did not hold, a coalition of five Czechoslovak parties constituted the backbone of the government: Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, Czechoslovak National Socialist Party, Czechoslovak Popular Party, and Czechoslovak National Democratic Party. The leaders of these parties became known as the "Pětka" (pron. pyetka) (The Five). The Petka was headed by Antonin Svehla, who held the office of prime minister for most of the 1920s and designed a pattern of coalition politics that survived until 1938. The coalition's policy was expressed in the slogan "We have agreed that we will agree." German parties also participated in the government in the beginning of 1926. Hungarian parties, influenced by irredentist propaganda from Hungary, never joined the Czechoslovak government but were not openly hostile:
- The Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants was formed in 1922 from a merger of the Czech Agrarian Party and the Slovak Agrarian Party. Led by Svehla, the new party became the principal voice for the agrarian population, representing mainly peasants with small and medium-sized farms. Svehla combined support for progressive social legislation with a democratic outlook. His party was the core of all government coalitions between 1922 and 1938.
- The Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party was considerably weakened when the communists seceded in 1921 to form the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, but by 1929 it had begun to regain its strength. A party of moderation, the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party declared in favor of parliamentary democracy in 1930. Antonín Hampl was chairman of the party, and Ivan Dérer was the leader of its Slovak branch.
- The Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (called the Czech Socialist Party until 1926) was created before World War I when the socialists split from the Social Democratic Party. It rejected class struggle and promoted nationalism. Led by Václav Klofáč, its membership derived primarily from the lower middle class, civil servants, and the intelligentsia (including Beneš).
- The Czechoslovak Popular Party—a fusion of several Catholic parties, groups, and labor unions—developed separately in Bohemia in 1918 and in the more strongly Catholic Moravia in 1919. In 1922 a common executive committee was formed, headed by Jan Šrámek. The Czechslovak Popular Party espoused Christian moral principles and the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII.
- The Czechoslovak National Democratic Party developed from a post-World War I merger of the Young Czech Party with other right wing and center parties. Ideologically, it was characterized by national radicalism and economic liberalism. Led by Kramář and Alois Rašín, the Czechoslovak National Democratic Party became the party of big business, banking, and industry. The party declined in influence after 1920, however.
Edvard Beneš, Czechoslovak foreign minister from 1918 to 1935, created the system of alliances that determined the republic's international stance until 1938. A democratic statesman of Western orientation, Beneš relied heavily on the League of Nations as guarantor of the post war status quo and the security of newly formed states. He negotiated the Little Entente (an alliance with Yugoslavia and Romania) in 1921 to counter Hungarian revanchism and Habsburg restoration. He attempted further to negotiate treaties with Britain and France, seeking their promises of assistance in the event of aggression against the small, democratic Czechoslovak Republic. Britain remained intransigent in its isolationist policy, and in 1924 Beneš concluded a separate alliance with France. Beneš's Western policy received a serious blow as early as 1925. The Locarno Pact, which paved the way for Germany's admission to the League of Nations, guaranteed Germany's western border. French troops were thus left immobilized on the Rhine, making French assistance to Czechoslovakia difficult. In addition, the treaty stipulated that Germany's eastern frontier would remain subject to negotiation. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, fear of German aggression became widespread in eastern Central Europe. Beneš ignored the possibility of a stronger Central Europe an alliance system, remaining faithful to his Western policy. He did, however, seek the participation of the Soviet Union in an alliance to include France. (Beneš's earlier attitude towards the Soviet regime had been one of caution.) In 1935 the Soviet Union signed treaties with France and Czechoslovakia. In essence, the treaties provided that the Soviet Union would come to Czechoslovakia's aid only if French assistance came first.
In 1935, when Beneš succeeded Masaryk as president, and Prime Minister Milan Hodža took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hodža's efforts to strengthen alliances in Central Europe came too late. In February 1936 the foreign ministry came under the direction of Kamil Krofta, an adherent of Beneš's line.
The new nation had a population of over 13.5 million. It had inherited 70 to 80% of all the industry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including the porcelain and glass industries and the sugar refineries; more than 40% of all its distilleries and breweries; the Škoda Works of Pilsen (Plzeň), which produced armaments, locomotives, automobiles, and machinery; and the chemical industry of northern Bohemia. Seventeen percent of all Hungarian industry that had developed in Slovakia during the late 19th century also fell to the republic. Czechoslovakia was one of the world's 10 most industrialized states.
The Czech lands were far more industrialized than Slovakia. In Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, 39% of the population was employed in industry and 31% in agriculture and forestry. Most light and heavy industry was located in the Sudetenland and was owned by Germans and controlled by German-owned banks. Czechs controlled only 20 to 30 % of all industry. In Slovakia 17.1% of the population was employed in industry, and 60.4% worked in agriculture and forestry. Only 5% of all industry in Slovakia was in Slovak hands. Carpathian Ruthenia was essentially without industry.
In the agricultural sector, a program of reform introduced soon after the establishment of the republic was intended to rectify the unequal distribution of land. One-third of all agricultural land and forests belonged to a few aristocratic landowners—mostly Germans (or Germanized Czechs – e.g. Kinsky, Czernin or Kaunitz) and Hungarians—and the Roman Catholic Church. Half of all holdings were under 20,000 m². The Land Control Act of April 1919 called for the expropriation of all estates exceeding 1.5 square kilometres of arable land or 2.5 square kilometres of land in general (5 square kilometres to be the absolute maximum). Redistribution was to proceed on a gradual basis; owners would continue in possession in the interim, and compensation was offered.
Ethnic groups Edit
National disputes arose due to the fact that the more numerous Czechs dominated the central government and other national institutions, all of which had their seats in the Bohemian capital Prague. The Slovak middle class had been extremely small in 1919 because Hungarians, Germans and Jews had previously filled most administrative, professional and commercial positions in, and as a result, the Czechs had to be posted to the more backward Slovakia to take up the administrative and professional posts.
Furthermore, most of Czechoslovakia's industry was as well located in Bohemia and Moravia, while most of Slovakia's economy came from agriculture. In Carpatho-Ukraine, the situation was even worse, with basically no industry at all.
Due to Czechoslovakia's centralized political structure, nationalism arose in the non-Czech nationalities, and several parties and movements were formed with the aim of broader political autonomy, like the Sudeten German Party led by Konrad Henlein and the Hlinka's Slovak People's Party led by Andrej Hlinka.
The German minority living in Sudetenland demanded autonomy from the Czech government, claiming they were suppressed and repressed by the Czech government. In the 1935 Parliamentary elections, the newly founded Sudeten German Party under leadership of Konrad Henlein, financed with Nazi money, won an upset victory, securing over 2/3 of the Sudeten German vote, which worsened the diplomatic relations between the Germans and the Czechs.
See also Edit
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938)|
- Germans in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938)
- Poles in Czechoslovakia
- Ruthenians and Ukrainians in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938)
- Slovaks in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938)
- Hungarians in Czechoslovakia (Slovakia)
- Kárník, Zdeněk: Malé dějiny československé (1867-1939), Dokořán (2008), Praha, ISBN 978-80-7363-146-8 (Czech)
- Olivová, Věra: Dějiny první republiky, Karolinum (2000), Praha, ISBN 80-7184-791-7 (Czech)
- Peroutka, Ferdinand: Budování státu I.-IV., Academia (2003), Praha, ISBN 80-200-1121-8 (Czech)
- Gen. František Moravec: Špión jemuž nevěřili ISBN 80-200-1006-8 (Czech)
- Axworthy, Mark W.A. Axis Slovakia - Hitler's Slavic Wedge, 1938-1945, Bayside, N.Y. : Axis Europa Books, 2002, ISBN 1-891227-41-6
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