- Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938)
Infobox Former Country
native_name = "Československá republika"
conventional_long_name = Czechoslovak Republic
common_name = Czechoslovakia
continent = Europe
government_type = Republic
year_start = 1918
event_start = Independence from Austria-Hungary
October 28, 1918
year_end = 1938
life_span = 1918 — 1938
September 30, 1938
p1 = Austria-Hungary
flag_p1 = Flag_of_Austria-Hungary_1869-1918.svg
p2 = German Austria
flag_p2 = Flag of Austria.svg
p3 = German Empire
flag_p3 = Flag of the German Empire.svg
s1 = Second Czechoslovak Republic
flag_s1 = Flag of Czechoslovakia.svg
s2 = Nazi Germany
flag_s2 = Flag of Germany 1933.svg
s3 = Kingdom of Hungary (Regency)
flag_s3 = Civil Ensign of Hungary.svg
s4 = Second Polish Republic
flag_s4 = Flag_of_Poland.svg
flag_border = Flag of the Czech Republic
flag_border = Flag of the Czech Republic
symbol = Coat of arms of Czechoslovakia
capital = Prague
national_motto = Czech: "Pravda vítězí"
national_anthem = "
Kde domov můj", " Nad Tatrou sa blýska" and " Podkarpatskiji Rusíny
common_languages = Czech, Slovak, German, Rusyn
government_type = Republic
title_leader = President
leader1 = Tomáš G. Masaryk
year_leader1 = 1918 – 1935
year_leader2 = 1935 – 1938
title_deputy = Prime Minister
year_deputy1 = 1918 – 1919
year_deputy2 = 1938
stat_area1 = 140800
stat_pop1 = 14800000
stat_year1 = 1938
The Czechoslovak Republic ("Československá republika"), refers to the first Czechoslovak state that existed from 1918 to 1939. The state was commonly called Czechoslovakia ("Československo"). It was composed of
Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakiaand 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 Germanyand the Sudeten German minority living in the country, Czechoslovakia was forced to submit the German-populated Sudetenlandregion to Germany on October 1 1938, as agreed in the Munich Agreementas well as southern parts of Slovakiaand Subcarpathian Rutheniato Hungary. This effectively ended the First Czechoslovak Republic, which was succeeded by the Second Czechoslovak Republic.
The independence of
Czechoslovakiawas 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, 1935when he resigned due to poor health. He was succeeded by Edvard Beneš.
Following the "
Anschluss" of Nazi Germanyand Austriain March 1938, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's next target for annexation was Czechoslovakia. His pretext was the privations suffered by ethnic Germanpopulations 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. [citebook|title=World War II: A Political, Social, and Military History|author=Spencer Tucker, Priscilla Mary Roberts|year=2005|publisher=ABC-CLIO|id=ISBN 1576079996]
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 Washingtonis 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 Senateand the Chamber of Deputies, whose members were to be elected on the basis of universal suffrage. The National Assembly was responsible for legislativeinitiative and was given supervisory control over the executive and judiciaryas well. Every seven years it elected the president and confirmed the cabinetappointed 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 partiesthat 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 " Petka" (The Five). The Petka was headed by Antonin Svehla, who held the office of prime ministerfor 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
agrarianpopulation, representing mainly peasantswith 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
communistsseceded 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 democracyin 1930. Antonín Hampl was chairman of the party, and Ivan Dérer was the leader of its Slovak branch.
Czechoslovak National Socialist Party(called the Czech Socialist Party until 1926) was created before World War Iwhen the socialistssplit 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
Catholicparties, groups, and labor unions—developed separately in Bohemiain 1918 and in the more strongly Catholic Moraviain 1919. In 1922 a common executive committee was formed, headed by Jan Šrámek. The Czechslovak Popular Party espoused Christianmoral principles and the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII.
*The Czechoslovak National Democratic Party developed from a post-
World War Imerger 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 ministerfrom 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 Nationsas guarantor of the post war status quoand the security of newly formed states. He negotiated the Little Entente(an alliance with Yugoslaviaand Romania) in 1921 to counter Hungarian revanchismand Habsburgrestoration. 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 Hitlercame to power in 1933, fear of German aggression became widespread in eastern Central Europe. Beneš ignored the possibility of a stronger Central European alliance system, remaining faithful to his Western policy. He did, however, seek the participation of the Soviet Unionin 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 porcelainand glass industries and the sugar refineries; more than 40% of all its distilleries and breweries; the Škoda Worksof 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 agricultureand forestry. Most light and heavy industry was located in the Sudetenlandand 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 Rutheniawas 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
agriculturalland and forests belonged to a few aristocraticlandowners—mostly Germans (or Germanized Czechs – e.g. Kinsky, Czerninor 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). Redistributionwas to proceed on a gradual basis; owners would continue in possession in the interim, and compensation was offered.
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
1919because 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 Slovakiato 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 Partyled by Konrad Henleinand the Hlinka's Slovak People's Partyled by Andrej Hlinka.
The German minority living in
Sudetenlanddemanded autonomy from the Czech government, claiming they were suppressed repressed by the Czech government. In the 1935 Parliamentary elections, the newly founded Sudeten German Partyunder leadership of Konrad Henlein, financed with Nazi money, won an upset victory, securing over 2/3 of the Sudeten Germanvote, which worsened the diplomatic relations between the Germans and the Czechs.
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 cs icon
* Olivová, Věra: Dějiny první republiky, Karolinum (2000), Praha, ISBN 80-7184-791-7 cs icon
* Peroutka, Ferdinand: Budování státu I.-IV., Academia (2003), Praha, ISBN 80-200-1121-8 cs icon
František Moravec: Špión jemuž nevěřili ISBN 80-200-1006-8 cs icon
* 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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