Anna M. Cienciala (
History 557 Lecture Notes
Spring 2002 (Revised Fall 2003; fall 2007)


The Birth of Czechoslovakia, 1914-1920.

I. Wartime.

1. Czech political groups.

Several groups of Czech politicians worked for independence at this time. The best known group was led by Thomas G.Masaryk [1850-1937], but it was not the only one.

(a) Chronologically, the first group appeared in Russia. Its members were descendants  of Czech settlers brought in with Germans by Catherine the Great in the 18th century, and settled mostly in the lower Volga region. Almost immediately after the outbreak WWI, a Russian-Czech  delegation met with Emperor Nicholas II in St. Petersburg and expressed the hope that the "Independent Crown of St. Venceslas would shine in the rays of the Romanov crown." They wanted a Romanov prince as King.

[NOTE: In September 1914, a map was published in St. Petersburg showing a postwar Bohemia ruled by a Romanov prince. It also showed Russian Poland under the Russian crown, with the addition of Prussian and Austrian lands except for East Galicia (western Ukraine) which was joined to Russia; Polan'ds western border was to be on the Oder river. This map, which reflected Russian government ideas at the time, was a remarkable forecast of the frontiers of Poland in 1945, showing continuity between the policies of Imperial Russia and the USSR].

On Sept. 15, 1914, Grand Duke Nicholas, the 7 foot tall Russian Commander-in-Chief, issued a manifesto to the "Peoples of Austria- Hungary" It expressed the hope they would develop and prosper, preserve their languages and faiths. This was a calculated gesture which fell short of independence, but aimed at drawing volunteers to the Russian Army. A few days later, a Czech volunteer unit, made up of Russian Czechs, left Kiev for the front. These Czechs gave a very good account of themselves in fighting the Austro-Hungarian army. Many Austrian Czechs soon deserted the A-H army to join the Russian side..

In Bohemia, the pro-Russian politician, Dr. Karel Kramar (1860-1937), leader of the Young Czech Party, told his people to sit tight and wait, for the "Russians will do it for us."

(b) T.G. Masaryk, leader of the Czech Realist Party, had stood for autonomy within the Austro-Hungarian Empire but changed his mind soon after the outbreak of war. As he says in his memoirs, his conversations with Austrian politicians convinced him that a German-Austro-Hungarian victory in the war would mean the germanisation of the Czechs in Bohemia. * Perhaps he also believed, as early as fall 1914, that the Central Powers would be defeated. In any case, he decided that the Czechs and Slovaks must cast their lot with the Entente, especially France and Britain.

* [Thomas G, Masaryk,The Making of a State: Memories and Observations, 1914-1918 New York, 1927].

Masaryk had effective supporters in Dr. Edvard Benes (1884-1948), a Czech Socialist who had joined his Realist Party, and Milan R. Stefanik, (1880-1919) a Slovak, who was an astronomer and a pilot in the French air force. As a French citizen with good social contacts in Paris, he proved very useful to Masaryk and Benes.

Masaryk also contacted the British government. His first, indirect contact there was through R.W. Seton-Watson, who had authored several books on the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1915, Masaryk gave him his first project for a postwar Czechoslovak state, which was to be ruled by a Western prince. [See R.W. Seton-Watson, Masaryk in England, Cambridge, Eng., 1943].
We should note that R.W. Seton-Watson did a great deal through his prewar books to familiarize the British reading public, especially the political leadership, with the non-German and non-Magyar-speaking peoples of the Empire. During the war, he did this mainly through the periodical he published, The New Europe. [The full run is in the K.Uís Library collections]. Masaryk taught for a time at King's College, University of London. (This was the origin of the London University School of Slavonic and East European Studies, including the T.G. Masaryk Chair of History). He was introduced to British Prime Minister, Herbert H. Asquith,(1852-1928) by Henry Wickham-Steed, the former London Times correspondent in Vienna.

[pictures from Vera Olivova, The Doomed Republic, London, 1972].

However, Masaryk saw his main area of activity in France. On November 14, 1915, he and Benes established a Czech Foreign Committee in Paris. It demanded a an independent "Czecho-Slovak" state. In 1916, the Committee transformed itself into a National Council of the Czech Lands.. In late Feb. 1916, Benes became its Secretary. In mid-May 1916, it was transformed into a smaller Czecho-Slovak National Council; its members were Masaryk, Stefanik, Benes and Josef Durich, a member of the Agrarian Party.

2. The Entente Powers and the Czechoslovak Cause.

In June 1917, in response to President Woodrow Wilson's appeal for a statement of war aims, the western allies declared that these included the "liberation of Italians, Slavs, Romanians and Czecho-slovaks from foreign domination." (Of course, Czechs and Slovaks are Slavs, so by "Slavs" the allies meant the Serbs of Serbia).

Meanwhile, in May 1916, the Russian government welcomed Josef Durich, a member of the  Czecho-Slovak National Council, Paris, who went to Russia on its behalf. However, Druich repudiated the Paris Council and formed a rival one in Petrograd (new Russian name adopted to replace the old German-sounding name, St. Petersburg). This showed that the Tsarist government was interested in dominating, or at least influencing postwar Bohemia. However, Durichís  council collapsed together with Tsarism in the revolution of March 1917.

French support for an independent Czechoslovak state waned in 1917-18, due to secret talks aiming at a separate peace with Austria-Hungary. These talks were arranged on the initiative of A-H Emperor Charles I (who succeeded Francis Joseph in 1916). His wife, Empress Zita, the former Duchess of Bourbon-Parma, had brothers in the French and Belgian armies and they served as intermediaries. The talks lasted until April 1918, when a leak led to their repudiation by both the French and Austrian governments. Here we should note that with these talks in mind,  point 10 of President Woodrow Wilson's 14 points of Jan. 1918,  mentioned only autonomy (self-government within another state) for the peoples of Austria-Hungary, though point 13 spoke of an independent Poland.

c. The Russian Revolutions of 1917 and the Czechosloak Cause.

The first Russian revolution of  March 1917 (known as the February revolution due to the old Russian calendar), which overthrew Tsardom, was an important turning point for the Czechs (See below). For them, the entry of the United States into the war in April was also important because Woodrow Wilson supported national self-determination, though as mentioned above, pt. 10 fell short of independence for the peoples of Austria-Hungary except for the Poles, some of whom lived under Austrian Poland (Galicia)..

The immediate impact of the Russian revolution on the Czechs was most visible in the Austrian parliament in Vienna. It was convened by Emperor Charles in May 1917, for the first time since the outbreak of the war. The Czech Club (uniting all Czech deputies) now demanded "the union of all branches of the Czechoslovak Nation" in a democratic Bohemian state within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This formulation reflected not only Czech views but also Slovak appeals to the Czechs to champion their cause. One Czech deputy even demanded Czech independence outside the Empire. Furthermore, the Czech Social-Democratic Party, which had been anti-Russian because of its opposition to the repressive Tsarist Empire and therefore opposed the Entente powers, now openly supported Czechoslovak independence.

T.G. Masaryk now traveled to Russia to organize a Czech army there,  arriving in the capital, Petrograd, in May 1917. When Alexander Kerensky became head of the Russian Provisional Government in July, he agreed to the raising of a Czechoslovak army  made up of Czechs and Slovaks who had deserted from the A-H army. Some of them had already fought in the Russian army against the Germans and Austrians.  However, the Bolsheviks opposed  independence for Austro-Hungarian Slavs, due to their view that nationalism was a bourgeois phenomenon contrary to international Socialism.

Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd on November 7, 1917 (known as the October Revolution as in the old Russian calendar). They signed an armistice with the Central Powers on Dec. 7. Bolshevik negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk [P. Brzesc Litewski] finally led to the Bolshevik signature of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, March 2, 1918, taking Russia out of the war.

Masaryk visited Russia again in spring 1918 and obtained Bolshevik agreement to the transfer of what now became the Czecho-Slovak Legion through Siberia to the Pacific and thence to the Western front. The Legion, about 85,000 strong, entrained in Moscow and set out on the Trans-Siberian railway for Vladivostok whence it was to sail for France. However, in May 1918, at Chelyabinsk, some Czech soldiers clashed with Hungarian POW's returning home. The local Bolsheviks arrested some Czechs and took them to the City Hall for an investigation, but they were liberated by their comrades who shot some Bolsheviks in the process. Lenin and Trotsky then decided that the Legion was a force on the side of the "Whites" in the Civil War, which had just broken out. Thus, the Czecho-Slovak Legion had no option but to fight the Bolsheviks if it wanted to reach Vladivostok.

Admiral Alexander V. Kolchak (1873-1920), head of the White forces, led an offensive against  the Bolsheviks in spring 1919, but was defeated. He joined the Czechs in traveling East along the Trans-Siberian railway toVladivostok. However, he and his officers blamed the Czechs for not helping them against the Bolsheviks and they were unpopular with Czech soldiers. Also Kolchak's seven trains carrying the gold of the Bank of Russia were an added burden. Finally, in order to proceed on their way, the Czechs gave up  the gold and Kolchak to the Bolsheviks, who shot him at Irkutsk. (For a popular account of the Legion, see: Edwin P. Hoyt, Legion Without a Country, New York, London, 1967). An attempt to "rehabilitate" Kolchak in post-communist Russia failed in 2001.

The Legion was a great asset to the Czech delegation at the Paris Peace Conference (Jan. 12 - June 28 1919). After returning home, it formed the nucleus of the national army.

d. The United States, the other Western Powers and the Czechoslovak cause, 1918.

When the United States entered the war, it was formally at war with Austria-Hungary as well, which made the U.S. the great hope of the Czechs and Slovaks. However, as mentioned above, because of the French and British  hope for a separate peace  with Austria-Hungary, point 10 of W. Wilson's 14 points spoke of the autonomous development, not the independence of the peoples of A-H (except for the Poles, who were to get independence, pt. 13). After the secret peace talks failed, the Western allies declared their support for the independence of these nations (May 29-June 3, 1918).

e. The Czech movement at home.

Some Czech politicians were arrested and imprisoned, but they were released. Benes established contact with the leaders of major parties in Geneva, Switzerland, and secured their support for the Czechoslovak leadership in the West. On June 13, 1918, came the establishment of a 30- member Czechoslovak National Committee in Prague. It did not include the Social Democrats, who felt under-represented, and established their own Socialist Council on Sept. 6. However, this Council cooperated with the Czechoslovak National Committee.

f. The Slovaks and Rusyns (Ruthenes).

Masaryk, Benes and Stefanik believed that a Bohemian-Moravian state (Czech lands) would be too weak to survive. Therefore, they aimed at a union with the Slovaks and Ruthenes (Rusyns), who had been under Hungarian rule for over 900 years. Furthermore, Subcarpathian Ruthenia, inhabited by the Ukrainian - -speaking Rusyns, was to provide a land bridge to Russia, seen by the Czech leaders as a future ally against Germany.

(1) On May 30, 1918, Masaryk and Slovak leaders in U.S. signed the Pittsburgh Manifesto. This envisaged a Czechoslovak state, in which Slovakia was to have its own administrative system, its own diet (legislature), its own law courts, and schools. As we shall see, the interpretation of the Pittsburgh Manifesto would be disputed and even lead to a treason trial and the conviction of a Slovak leader in 1929. (For details, see: Slovakia below).

Four months later, on Oct. 30, 1918, the leaders of Slovak political parties in Slovakia, led by the Catholic priest Father Andrey Hlinka, head of the "Peopleís Slovak Party," assembled at Turciansky Svaty Martin. Here, they voted a resolution stating that they were the "National Council of the Slovak Branch of the Czech-Slovak Nation." They insisted on the Slovaksí right to self-determination, and on the Czecho-Slovak nation's right to complete independence.

(2) A Congress of Ruthene (Rusyn) immigrant leaders in the U.S.was held in Homestead, PA, in July 1918, but there was no agreement on the future of Subcarpathian Ruthenia (SCR). The second congress, held in Scranton, PA., in Dec. 1918, was won over to union with the Czechs by the leader of Rusyn Uniates (or Ukrainian church, also known as the Greek-Catholic Church) Dr. Gregory I. Zsatkovic,  a bishop of  this Church,who had discussed the matter with T.G. Masaryk.
On May 8 1919, the Rusyn National Councils in the cities of Presov, Uzhorod and Hust declared  in favor of union with Czechoslovakia, calling this region "Subcarpathian Ruthenia." (For details, see: Subcarpathian Ruthenia, below).

NOTE: Masaryk and a Polish leader,Ignacy Jan Paderewski, signed the charter of the "Federation of Central European Nationalities" in the U.S. in, fall 1918. Masaryk saw it as the first step toward a federation of Central Europe, but it did not materialize. (Paderewski was more interested in a large Polish-Lithuanian-Belorussian-Ukrainian federation).

II. The Czechs, Slovaks and the Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

By the end of Sept. 1918, the German High Command realized that it could not stop a western advance into Germany. To prevent an allied invasion and occupation of Germany, the High Command (Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorff) advised a change of government in Berlin and an approach to President Woodrow Wilson to mediate peace on the basis of his 14 points. But Germany had rejected them in Jan. 1918 and the Western Entente Powers had never accepted them as a basis for peace. When a new, Social Democratic government was established in Berlin and asked for peace, an armistice was signed on the western front on Nov. 11 1918 at 11 a.m. (Armistice Day). Peace terms were to be worked out later.

On Oct. 16 1918, Emperor Charles I of Austria-Hungary issued a manifesto proposing the federalization of the Austrian half of the Empire on the basis of self-determination. T.G. Masaryk, then in Washington, feared the Western Powers might negotiate with Charles on this basis, so he issued a declaration of Czechoslovak independence. However, he need not have worried for President Woodrow Wilson and other Western leaders had no intention of negotiating with Emperor Charles.

On October 24, an Italian offensive against the A-H armies in Italy led the A-H government to ask President Woodrow Wilson for help arrange an armistice on the Italian front. This A-H-Italian armistice was signed at Padua on November 3, 1918, i.e. 8 days before the armistice on the W. front on Nov. 11.

Meanwhile, ostensibly in response to Charles's manifesto, the German Austrians withdrew from the Reichsrat (parliament for Austrian half of Empire) and established their own Provisional National Assembly for an independent Austrian Republic in Vienna.

Czechoslovak independence was declared in Prague on October 28.

On November. 14, the Czechoslovak National Assembly elected T.G. Masaryk ( still in U.S.) President of the country.

The other nations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire followed suit:

Late October saw the union of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Rumania. There was a Rumnian majority in Transylvania.

November 1918, saw the emergence of an independent Hungary and an independent Poland.

Early December 1918, saw the proclamation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in Zagreb

All these events took place several months before the Peace Conference opened in Paris, Jan. 12, 1919, so it is incorrect to say that the Versailles Treaty, or/and the other peace treaties, "created" new national states in Eastern Europe. The peace-makers in Paris generally confirmed what had already been done, though in some cases they made the final decisions on disputed territories.

The Austro-Hungarian monarchy collapsed because nothing could have preserved it once military defeat was clear.
It is unrealistic to claim that that Eastern Europe would have been better off if the Empire had continued to exist. It is clear that most of its non- German and non-Hungarian-speaking citizens wanted to live in their own independent states - although these states could not satisfy everyone who lived in them.

III. The Peace Settlement: Czechoslovakia and the German Problem.

There were some 3 million Bohemian Germans in 1918,most of whom lived in a mountain region of the "Bohemian diamond," known after one part of it, the Sudeten mountains, as the Sudetenland. Germans also lived in elsewhere in Bohemia, also in Moravia, and Silesia. (See map below). They were the descendants of medieval German settlers.  Bohemia had been part of the Holy Roman Empire, but had never belonged to a  modern German state. The Bohemian Germans were the politically dominant ethnic group in Bohemia-Moravia when it belonged to the Austrian Empire, so they did not want to live in a Czechoslovak state where they would no longer be the ruling nationality.
Some saw their only chance to escape this fate if the Sudetenland was united with the new Austrian republic.  Indeed, the latter demanded union with the Sudetenland, but could not press the issue. Meanwhile, in November-December 1918, the Germans of Bohemia proclaimed several small states of their own. However,  these were not recognized and Czech troops put down resistance.

(The title should read:"Distribution of the German-speaking Population in Bohemia, and Moravia-Silesia." The Sudeten Germans lived in the northern and north-western part of Bohemia. However, all the Germans of Czechoslovakia were usually called Sudeten Germans.)

At the Paris Peace Conference (Jan. 12 - June 28, 1919), the Czechoslovak delegation, led by Edward Benes, did not encounter any significant opposition to their aim of including the preponderantly German-speaking Sudetenland in the new Czechoslovak state. The Czechs based their claim on the "historic lands of the Bohemian Crown," and  the fact that the region formed a cohesive economic unit. They knew, of course, that the Sudetenland was rich in minerals and all kinds of industry. [A German economic expert noted in 1938, that without this area Czechoslovakia would not be economically viable]. Finally, the mountains formed a natural defense for the new Czechoslovak state against Germany, though a discontented German-speaking population could undermine this defense from within.

At the Peace Conference, the Czechs promised to grant extensive rights to the German minority. Benes even spoke of Czechoslovakia as the "new Switzerland of Eastern Europe," though he did not mean this literally. In fact, Czechoslovakia was a like a miniature A-H Empire, except that the ruling Czech nationality formed 51% of the total population. Like the other new states, Czechoslovakia signed a Minorities Treaty in late June 1919, but observed it better than the others. Furthermore, the Czechoslovak Constitution of February 1920 and the Language Law of the same year, declared Czech and Slovak as the official languages of the new state, but allowed another language to be used in the administration and schools of any region where a minority formed at least 20% of the population. (This was based on the Moravian Compromise of 1907).

Most Bohemian German parties, except for the  Social Democrats, boycotted Czechoslovak political life until 1929, when Bohemian German political parties began to take an active part in Czechoslovak politics. Unfortunately,  the Great Depression hit the region hard in 1930 and led to great unemployment, especially in the mostly German-speaking industrial towns in the Sudetenland. This, in turn, led to complaints that Czechs were treated better than Germans (some were).

A Nazi Party was created in 1933, called the "Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront" (Sudeten German Fatherland Front) led by a local Phys. Ed. teacher, Konrad Henlein (1898-1945). This party was declared illegal, but in 1935 it reappeared as the Sudetendeutsche Partei (Sudeten German Party) which received regular secret funding from Berlin. (We will return to the SDP when discussing the Czechoslovak Crisis of 1938).

 [Bibl Note: For a survey of the period 1914-1919 see: Victor S. Mamatey and Radomir Luza, A History of the Czechoslovak Republic 1918-1948, Princeton, N.J. 1973, part One ch. 1; for a detailed study sympathetic to the Czechs, see Dagmar Perman, The Shaping of the Czechoslovak State: Diplomatic History of the Boundaries of Czechoslovakia, 1914-1920, Leiden, 1962, also the memoirs of Masaryk and Benes. On the German-Czech problem in history and in interwar Czechoslovakia, see: Elizabeth Wiskemann, Czechs and Germans. A Study of the Struggle in the Historic Provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, Oxford, London, Toronto, 1938, reprint 1968 (This work goes to the end of 1937). For a short, concise study, see: J.W. Bruegel, "The Germans in Pre-War Czechoslovakia," ch. 4 in Mamatey and Luza].

IV. The Slovaks and Rusyns in Czechoslovakia.

A. Slovakia.

This region was mountaineous in the north and agricultural in the south, which had rich arable land. Here, however, lived some 700,000 Magyars out of a total population of 1,684,681 (A-H census of 1910).

The Pittsburgh Manifesto of May 30 1918 and the Declaration of Turciansky Svaty Martin of Oct. 30, 1918, became objects of bitter controversy between Czechs and Slovaks. Slovak leaders claimed that these documents either granted them full autonomy in a federated Czechoslovak state, or that a secret agreement was attached to the Turciansky Sv. Martin declaration stating that it would be revised after ten years, i.e. in 1928. The Czechs denied both claims,and President T.G. Masaryk even declared that the Pittsburgh Manifesto was not legally binding. This was his answer to the Slovak claim that the diet (parliament) mentioned in the Manifesto was to have been a parliament for Slovakia. In view of these disputes, it is important to recall the exact wording of these two texts. The relevant part of the Pittsburgh Manifesto reads:

The representatives of the Slovak and Czech organizations in the United States, the Slovak League, the Czech National Alliance and the Federation of Czech Catholics deliberating in the presence of the Chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council, Professor Masaryk, on the Czechoslovak question and on our previous declaration on the progam, have passed the following resolution:

 We approve of the political program which aims at the Union of the Czechs and Slovaks in an independent State composed of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

Slovakia shall have her own administrative system, her own diet and her own courts.

The Slovak language shall be the official language in the schools, in the public offices and in public affairs generally.

The Czechoslovak State shall be a republic, and its constitution a democratic one.

 (Jozef Lettrich, History of Modern Slovakia, Atlantic Press, London, 1956, pp. 289-90).

Thus, the Pittsburgh Manifesto seemed to envisage an autonomous Slovakia joined with the Czech lands. The Declaration of Turciansky Sv. Martin of October 30, 1918, was much more general. It was passed to counter Hungarian claims to speak for the Slovaks, and supported the independence of "the Czecho-Slovak nation." However, it also stated:

We are convinced that our industrious and talented Slovak people, which despite unprecedented oppression have achieved such a degree of national culture, will not be excluded from the blessings of peace and from the community of nations, but that they will be given the opportunity to develop according to their character and contribute in the measure of their strength to the general progress of mankind.                 (Lettrich, p. 289).

Vojtech Tuka, (pron. Voytekh Tooka), who had declared himself a Magyar in 1918, was the number 2 leader of Hlinka's Slovak Populist (People's) Party and editor of its paper, The Slovak.  In 1928, he published an article titled "Ten Years after the Martin Declaration." He claimed there had been a secret agreement attached to that document stating that after October 1928, the current laws would cease to be binding and the Slovaks would be free to determine their fate. The Czechoslovak government construed this as treason so in January 1929, Tuka was tried and condemned for treason. This seems a drastic sentence, but we should bear in mind that he had declared himself  a Magyar as late as 1918, so the Czechoslovak government had reason to suspect he was still working for Budapest -- and the Magyars aimed at  the restoration of old Hungary. Indeed, a book published in Bratislava shows evidence of Magyar funding for Tuka's activity. (The book is cited in: Carol Skalnik Leff, National Conflict in Czechoslovakia. The Making and Remaking of a State, 1918-1987, Princeton, N.J., 1988, p. 82 and note 20, ibid).

As for the leader, Father Andrej Hlinka (pron. Andrey Khleenka),he always held that all the Slovaks wanted was "the political independence guaranteed them by the provisions of the 1918 Pittsburgh Agreement." (See James R.Felak, At the Price of the Republic. Hlinka's Slovak People's Party, 1929-1938, Pittsburgh, PA., 1994).  Hlinka died on August 16, 1938, just before the Munich Agreement, which gave Hitler the Sudetenland.  The Czechs did grant the Slovaks self-government in the Zilina Agreement of Oct. 1938, but this did not work well and had no chance to do so. Indeed there was a dispute between Czechs and Slovaks and Czech troops entered Slovakia. On March 15, 1939, as German troops entered Prague, Hitler pressured the Slovak leaders to declare independence under the protection of Germany.

Why did the Czech-Slovak relationship fail to work? Why did T.G. Masaryk and Edward Benes establish a centralized state? Some Czechs claimed there were not enough educated Slovaks to administer an autonomous Slovakia. Indeed, since the Slovaks only had a few Elementary Schools of their own before Oct. 1918, most of those who had a  High School diploma ( roughly equivalent to our present B.A.), or/and a university degrees, were Catholic Priests and Protestant Pastors. In any case, they had studied in Magyar High Schools and/or Universities, and were therefore suspect to Prague.

Literacy grew with Czechoslovak independence. After 1918, with the help of Czech teachers and funds, High Schools proliferated and a Slovak University was established in Bratislava, so by 1930, only 8.16% of the Slovak population was illiterate. (see: Dr. R. Stransky, The Educational and Cultural System of the Czechoslovak Republic, Vladimir Zikes, Praha, n.d. [around 1936-37], p. 20). We may assume that by 1938, if not earlier, the Slovak High Schools and the Slovak University at Bratislava had produced the first generation of educated Slovaks.

Slovak political leaders resented Czech rule from Prague. Indeed, the country's government was centralized in Prague and there was never a diet (ie. Legislature or Parliament) for Slovakia, though a county system of local governments was introduced. However, counties were abolished in 1927. Although Slovakia was then declared an autonomous territory, it had no legislative or executive authority.

We should also note that Hlinka's People's Party, which stood for full Slovak autonomy, never won more than 34% of the vote in Slovakia, though this was more than any other party in the region. The situation changed in fall 1938, not only because Czechoslovakia lost the Sudetenland to Germany, but also because, by this time if not earlier, the Slovaks had an educated class of their own. *[For 1938, see Lecture Notes on Appeasement implemented).

 *[For a history sympathetic to the Slovaks, see: Stanislav J. Kirschbaum, A HISTORY OF SLOVAKIA. The Struggle for Survival, St.Martinís Griffin edition, New York, 1995; contrast this account of the interwar period with Felak's book: At the Price of the Republic].

B. Subcarpathian Ruthenia.

This was the poorest region of Czechoslovakia. Located in the easternmost part of the country, it was populated mostly by Ukrainian-speaking people who called themselves "Rusyns" but were known in the West as Ruthenes. The vast majority were Greek Catholics (Uniate or Ukrainian church), as were most Ukrainians in East Galicia, though the Orthodox church grew in strength in SCR after 1920. In the towns, there was a predominance of Magyars, magyarized Rusyns, and Jews.

Masaryk and Benes said they wanted union with SCR in order to have a common border with Romania, as an ally against Hungary. This was true, but their main goal was a common border with Russia to which they looked for future support against Germany. Therefore, they supported Russian claims to East Galicia against Poland, and even proposed in 1919 that it should come under Czechoslovak administration. The Polish victory over the Red Army in August 1920, meant that East Galicia went to Poland, so there was no common Czechoslovak - Soviet border.

Of course, the Poles deeply resented Czech support for Soviet claims to East Galicia, as well as the Czech blocking of the transit of French military supplies for Poland in the summer of 1920 during the Soviet advance on Warsaw. They also resented the fact that Czechoslovakia granted asylum to escaped Ukrainian nationalists from East Galicia. Above all, they resented the inclusion of the Polish-speaking part of western Teschen in Czechoslovakia in late July 1920. [See pt.V. below].

Returning to the period 1914-18, we should note that Rusyn immigrants in the U.S. were divided into 4 factions, each of which had a different view of its future fatherland: (1) those who wanted union with Russia; (2) those who wanted union with a free Ukraine; (3) those who wanted autonomy within Hungary, and (4) those who wanted autonomy within Czechoslovakia. At a meeting of American Rusyn leaders at Homestead, Pa., on July 12, 1918, it was resolved that the Rusyns should have autonomy in whatever state they would find themselves in, so as to preserve their national character. This was opposed by a group of American Rusyns who wanted independence.

However, in November 1918, most American Rusyns opted for union with Czechoslovakia, persuaded to accept this solution by their Uniate Bishop, Dr. Gregory I. Zsatkovic. He later claimed that when he met with Masaryk in Philadelphia, the latter had promised a fully autonomous Rusyn state, though no written agreement was made. Finally, at a meeting of the National Rusyn Council held in Scranton Pa., it was agreed that SCR would join with Czechoslovakia but with full autonomous status.

On November 13, 1918, Zsatkovic met with Masaryk, who expressed great satisfaction, but said there should be a plebiscite. It was held in the Rusyn organizations in the U.S. and produced a majority for union with Czechoslovakia (67%).

In the SCR itself in 1918-19, there was a replay of the conflicting attitudes already seen in the U.S. Thus, there was a struggle between pro-Hungarian, pro-Ukrainian and pro-Czechoslovak groups. In spring 1919, there was even a short-lived Soviet Rusyn State, supported by Soviet Hungary (Bela Kun). However, on 8 May 1919, a Central Rusyn National Council met in Uzhorod and proclaimed union with Czechoslovakia, on the basis of full autonomy. Czech troops drove out the Hungarian army.

Nevertheless, the Czechoslovak government made SCR a province of the new state, thus frustrating Rusyn desires for full autonomy. Therefore, Zsatkovic, who was the first Governor of the region, resigned and returned to the U.S.

We should bear in mind that like the Slovaks, the Rusyns had hardly any people with higher education in 1918-19, though they did make great progress by 1939. What is more important, Hungarian claims to both Slovakia and SCR threatened the existence of the Czechoslovak state. Finally, the Czechs - including Masaryk and Benes- regarded the Slovaks and Rusyns as "little brothers," and refused to acknowledge they were separate nationalities. We should bear these factors in mind when evaluating Czech policies in these regions.

 (On the Rusyns, see: Paul Robert Magocsi, The Shaping of a National Identity. Subcarpathian Rus', 1848-1948, Harvard Univ. Press, 1978).

V. Teschen (P: Cieszyn; Cz: Tesin) and Polish-Czechoslovak Relations.

(NOTE: In scholarly literature, the German name Teschen is customarily used to denote the Duchy, or the town of Teschen, the former Duchy's administrative center. The German name is used here because it is more familiar to western readers).

History. The Duchy of Teschen, located on both sides of the Olza river, belonged to Poland until 1291, when it became a fief of the Bohemian Crown. In 1653, on the death of its last ruler from the old Polish house of Piast, it devolved to the Austrian Habsburgs.

There was a dispute between Poles and Czechs over Teschen Silesia at the Slavic Congress in Prague, in June 1848. In that year, a Polish attorney in Teschen, Andrzej Cinciala (pron. Andzhey Chinchiala, 1825-1898) began to publish the first Polish language paper in Teschen. His Vienna correspondent was another patriotic Teschen Pole, Pawel Stalmach.(1824-1891). Cinciala had been the moving spirit in founding a Polish People's Library in the town of Teschen a few years earlier and was very active in developing Polish national consciousness in the region.

The Austrian census of 1910 showed a Polish-speaking majority in most of the duchy except for its furthest western part. The census did not, however differentiate between Polish-speaking Silesians, called "Slunzaks,"who identified themselves as Poles, and those who did not. Both spoke a dialect called " our way." Like the Szlonzaks of Upper Silesia, they could have multiple natonalities: their own plus Czech, or German, or Polish. *

*[On the Slunzaks, see: Tomasz Kamusella, Silesia and Central European Nationalism. The Emergence of National and Ethnic Groups in Prussian and Austrian Silesia, 1848-1918, Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, IN, 2007.]

The whole area is divided approximately in half by the Olza river, which runs through the town of Teschen. The Poles called the part west of the Olza "Zaolzie" (pron. Zaaolzye), or the land beyond the Olza. This was the western part of the former Duchy of Teschen.

[From B. Kozusznik, The Problem of Cieszyn Silesia. Facts and Documents, London, 1943. Dr. Boguslaw Kozusznik, a Polish native of Teschen Silesia, was a member of the Polish National Council attached to the Polish govrnment in London at this time. He did not differentiate between Silesians who identified themselves as Poles, and those who identified with Germans or Czechs.]

On November 5, 1918, an agreement was signed by local Polish and Czech Councils, dividing the Duchy of Teschen along ethnic lines, i.e. Polish and Czech. William J. Rose (1885-1968) a Canadian Quaker, who had been interned in Teschen by Austrian authorities in 1914, participated in drawing up this agreement, and then went to London to report on it. (See Daniel Stone, ed., THE POLISH MEMOIRS OF WILLIAM JOHN ROSE, Toronto, 1975, ch. 3). Rose later became a historian of Poland.

In December 1918, Jozef Pilsudski, Head of the Polish state, sent a small delegation to Prague with a proposal to negotiate an amicable settlement on Zaolzie. Masaryk met briefly with the delegates, agreed that negotiations for an amicable settlement were desirable, and told them to discuss the matter with members of the Czechoslovak government. However, the latter did not want to negotiatiate, so the delegates returned to Warsaw empty-handed. (For this episode, see Wandycz book in bibliography below).

Here we should note that Masaryk and most Czechs believed that all of western Teschen, including Zaolzie, should belong to Czechoslovakia for three reasons: (a) it was part of the historic lands of the Bohemian Crown, and Benes had obtained French recognition that all these lands should go to Czechoslovakia (although the French did not realize at the time that this included Teschen); (b) because good coking coal and the steel mill at Trynec (pron. Tshynets) were deemed vital to the Czechoslovak economy, while the Poles were expected to get the same with eastern Upper Silesia by a decision of the Peace Conference: (c) they pointed to the fact that the only railway line connecting Bohemia-Moravia with Slovakia went through Zaolzie.

The Polish government emphasized the predominantly Polish character of the region, but also believed that Poland needed the coal and steel. Furthemore, it argued that a branch railway line could be built elsewhere to connect Bohemia-Moravia with Slovakia.

In late December 1918, the Polish government proclaimed elections to the Constituent Assembly and the designated electoral districts included Zaolzie. The Czechoslovak government feared the elections would demonstrate the preponderantly Polish character of the region, and so decided to seize it. Czech troops were sent into Zaolzie in January 1919. The local Polish troops were too weak to offer effective resistance and could not be reinforced because most Polish troops were then fighting the Ukrainians for the city of Lwow (Ukr. L'viv) in East Galicia. The Czechs occupied the disputed territory, but the allied powers forced them to leave.

In the period January 1919-end July 1920, there were several Polish and Czech attempts to resolve the problem peacefully, either by plebiscite or by arbitration, but no agreement was reached. Finally, as the Red Army was advancing on Warsaw in early July 1920, the Polish delegation went to Spa, Belgium,where allied leaders were meeting to discuss German reparations. The Poles asked the allied leaders for aid against the Soviets. The Poles agreed to submit the Teschen dispute to the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris. They did not know that Benes had secretly obtained French and British agreement to his proposal that the Ambassadors' Conference would simply award the disputed area to Czechoslovakia in return for his promise to persuade Czech railwaymen to allow the transit of French military supplies to Poland. However, Benes did not fulfill this promise and Czechoslovak railwaymen continued to block the supplies. *

*(For the Franco-British-Czech deal at Spa on Zaolzie, see Anna M. Cienciala and Titus Komarnicki, From Versailles to Locarno. Keys to Polish Foreign Policy from Versailles to Locarno, Univ. Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Ks., 1984, p. 171).

The decision of the Conference of Ambassadors, on July 28, 1920, to award Western Teschen (Zaolzie) to Czechoslovakia without a plebiscite or arbitration, was a shock to the Poles and remained an unhealed wound. The Czechoslovak government always refused to negotiate the issue. It also refused to consider an alliance with Poland in the 1920s, when the Poles were interested in it. Masaryk and Benes believed that Poland would have to cede some of its territories to Germany and the USSR, so they did not want an alliance with her which would antagonize Berlin and Moscow. Finally, the Czechs implemented a policy of Czech assimilation on the Poles of Zaolzie, that is, they were pressured to declare themselves Czechs and send their children to Czech schools if they wanted to keep their jobs and avoid being transferred to other parts of the country.


Zaolzie as well as the western part of the town of Teschen were annexed by Poland in the wake of the Munich Conference (see lecture notes on the Austrian and Czechoslovak Crises of 1938). Hitler took it over with the rest of Poland in September 1939, and Stalin awarded it to the Czechs in 1945. There is only a small, but lively Polish minority in Zaolzie today. Many speak "our way" at home, but identify with Poland.

Bibliographic Note on the Teschen Question.

The Czech point of view is to be found in: Dagmar Perman, The Shaping of the Czechoslovak State: Diplomatic History of the Boundaries of Czechoslovakia, 1914-1920, Leiden, 1962, ch. V, X. For an excellent diplomatic study which explains the Polish view but is fair to the Czechs, see Piotr S. Wandycz, France and her Eastern Allies 1919-1925. French-Czechoslovak- Polish Relations from the Paris Peace Conference to Locarno, Minneapolis, 1962, ch. 3. There is also a study published in London in 1943, by Dr. Boguslaw Kozusznik, a member of the Polish National Council (surrogate parliament): The Problem of Cieszyn Silesia. Facts and Documents. While clearly pro-Polish, it has some hard- to- find maps and population statistics. On the Austrian Silesians of the Duchy of Teschen, see Tomasz Kamusella, Silesia and Central European Nationalism. The Emergence of National and Ethnic Groups in Prussian Silesia and Austrian Silesia, 1848-1918 (Purdue University Press, Lafayette, IN.,2007).