The Czecho-Slovak Nation

By Thomas G. Masaryk

[The Nation; October 5, 1918]

In one of his latest speeches the German Emperor characterized this war as a struggle between American and German (Prussian) ideals. In fact, the war is a struggle "between democracy and theocratic monarchism, the latter represented by Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. In this struggle the Czecho-Slovak nation joined the Allies; for it is our nation which initiated the Reformation, opposed Austria and the Germans, and which all the time was struggling for the modern principles of democracy and revolution. It was the principles of the American and French revolution which strengthened our national revival and opposition to Austria. The war, and the role which our nation is playing in it, is thus not a single temporary phenomenon, but an organic link in the whole historic chain.

Immediately after the declaration of war the whole Czecho-Slovak nation arraigned itself against Austria-Hungary and Germany on the side of the Allies. The movement was spontaneous and general. The Austrian Government cancelled all liberties of its citizens; there was; no Parliament, all political patties were placed under police surveillance, newspapers were muzzled or suppressed, political meetings forbidden—in short, the war abroad was accompanied by terror at home. An open opposition to the war and to Austria was begun by the Czecho-Slovak soldiers. They refused to fight, surrendered to the enemy en masse, and soon formed Czecho-Slovak legions in the Allied armies. The movement was wholly popular and spontaneous. We have our different political parties, but our political maturity is shown in the unanimous attitude on the question of the war and its meaning; and in that respect there are no party divisions among the Czechs.

The national movement is very strong. The most cruel terrorism, the decimation of our regiments, the hangings and shootings at home, the confiscation of property and the jailing of citizens were of no avail. The Polish deputy Daszynski declared in the Austrian Parliament that the Emperor Francis Joseph had ordered the execution of some 30,000 to 60,000 civilians (not only men, but women and children, have been brutally murdered) in the first two years of the war, in order to hold his position against the Czechs and the rest of the non-German and non-Magyar nationalities of his Empire, The Emperor Charles tried new tactics: he promised coronation, federalization, and autonomy, but without results; our nation does not, cannot, and will not believe the Hapsburgs. It stands on the firm basis of our historical rights for complete independence. The Czech nation elected the Hapsburgs to its throne; the Czech lands did not come under Austria by conquest; the Czechs are still independent even though the Austro-Germans and Magyars, under the leadership of Berlin, are trying to deprive them of their rights.

In this situation, in complete understanding and with the unanimous approval of the people at home, the Czechoslovak National Council was formed. The Council, being in fact the provisional Government, organized the Czech and Slovak colonies in the Allied and neutral countries; it also organized the army, and in its declaration of November 14, 1915, it declared the Hapsburgs deposed from the throne of Bohemia. The Czecho-Slovak state must be a republic. We have elected the Hapsburgs to the throne of Bohemia, and we have therefore the right to cancel our contract with them; we do not recognize their theocratic origin or divine right. They have existed by the will of the nation, and by the will of the same nation they cease to be the lords of Bohemia. They violated the mutual agreement by their anti-Czech activities; they are guilty of this war, and they are an obstacle to the sound development of Europe. The recognition afforded to our army and National Council by the Allies is the recognition of historical development and historical necessity. Austria originated in the union of three States—Bohemia, Hungary, and (German) Austria, against the Turkish danger. With the disappearance of this danger she has lost her raison d'être. The Czecho-Slovak army in Russia, France, and Italy has been formed of prisoners of war who were set free by the Russian Government, not only under the old regime, but also by the Kerensky and Bolshevik Governments, and who entered the army as free Czecho-Slovak citizens. Last spring the army in Russia passed under the military and financial administration of the Allies and was declared a part of the army in France. France, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, and Japan recognized the army as an Allied regular force. Our army, then, fighting on three fronts—in France, Italy, and Russia—is, on the basis of our historical and natural rights, a regular army; the Austrians have no right to proclaim us traitors; our revolution is fully justified by the democratic effort for the restitution of our rights and independence.

Recognition by the Allies makes the Czecho-Slovak question an international question; not simply an internal question of Austro-Hungarian policy, as the Austrians and Magyars maintain. It has in fact always been an international question, but the Allies paid little attention to political matters in eastern Europe until the war aroused general attention and taught the nations the significance of the Czecho-Slovak and the other eastern European questions. The recognition of our army and National Council, accordingly, must have a bearing on the peace conference, in which Czech delegates, I hope, will participate. Clearly, also, the recognition of the Czecho-Slovak National Council means that the Allies, recognizing our independence, no longer think of preserving Austria-Hungary in her integrity.

Austria-Hungary issued an official declaration against the British recognition. In Germany Solf, and later von Hertling, spoke against it. Both maintain that our National Council is a private committee, that only a small part of the army is Czech or Slovak, and that we have no territory. In reply, I call attention to the fact that last spring the Emperor Charles sent his delegate to our army in Russia to persuade it to return home, with the assurance that all its members would receive amnesty, and that the nation would obtain full autonomy. Similar advances were made to our leaders at home. The army, however, after a four days' battle at Bachmatch, defeated the Germans, and the German commander asked for a truce, which was granted, although the Commander-in-chief, General Linsingen, subsequently cancelled the agreement. It is not true that we have no territory, for the whole nation is with us unanimously, as is continually proclaimed by the political leaders at home. Serbia and Montenegro had for some time no territory, but they nevertheless had an army; Belgium has control of only a small part of its territory, but it has an army. We have an army in Russia, France and Italy—a much larger army than Belgium or Serbia has to-day; and an independent army is always considered one of the chief attributes of sovereignty.

If the Allies recognize the right of Italy to the Italian provinces of Austria, then Austria-Hungary cannot be preserved in her integrity; the same result follows from a recognition of the claims of the Rumanians, Jugoslavs, and Poles. If a United Poland is to exist, a part of Galicia must be included in it; the Rumanians have a natural right to the Rumanian provinces in Bukovina, Transylvania, and Hungary, and the Jugoslavs to their territories in Croatia, Slavonia, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Istria, Carniola, Carinthia and Styria. Nor must the Ruthenians (Ukrainians) in Galicia, Bukovina, and Hungary be forgotten. In the same way the Czecho-Slovaks have a right to their full independence. The dismemberment of Austria-Hungary will also best help Russia. Between Germany and Russia there will arise free Poland, Bohemia, and Slovakia, United Rumania and Jugoslavia; the Italian provinces of Austria will be joined to Italy. The Germans and Magyars will be surrounded by a wall of these Slav and Latin nations. Russia will cease to be a neighbor of Prussia; she will be saved from the direct influence of Berlin, and the Russians, and the nationalities of the Russian federation will be able to develop more freely.

The friends of Austria-Hungary try to persuade us and themselves that small nations cannot exist, but that they must join in a federation. Austria, they say, is such a federation. Austria was a federation as long as its component states, Bohemia, Hungary and Austria, were independent; for a federation, as the examples of Switzerland, the United States and Germany show, presupposes the freedom of its component parts. A free Bohemia may federate with another free state if she likes. Austria-Hungary, however, is not a federation, but a state originated in and maintained by force. The contention that small states and nations cannot exist is contradicted by history. Of the twenty-seven states in Europe, twenty-one are small.

The Pan-Germanists long since made it clear that Austria-Hungary is the chief instrument of the German "Drang nach Osten." That was Bismarck's policy after 1866, and it has been the German policy up to the present time. Without Austria-Hungary, Germany would be obliged to depend on her own national forces. Austria-Hungary is for Germany a bridge to the Balkans, and thence to Asiatic Turkey and Africa. That is the reason why Germany in this war has so strenuously defended Austria. Germany will willingly give up Belgium, all French territory, even Alsace-Lorraine, if Austria-Hungary is preserved in its entirety, because Austria is the German vanguard to the East and a protection against Russia. Germany is looking towards the East, and for her progress in that direction the Eastern Empire of. Austria-Hungary is the necessary instrument. Austria will never turn against Germany; it cannot. Austria is gravitating in the same direction as Prussia—towards the East; the Hapsburgs are basing their strength on the Germans and Magyars, and in a true Prussian spirit against the Slavs and Latins.

The dismemberment of Austria, so her defenders say, will strengthen Germany by adding to her domain the German parts of Austria. I do not think that the Hapsburgs will join Germany; they will rather vegetate as a sort of small Byzantine empire. On the whole, however, the problem is one of arithmetic: which is greater, 51 or 7? At present Germany has all of Austria-Hungary, with 51,000,000 of people, at her disposal; after dismemberment she would have only the German provinces with about seven millions. (The German minorities in Hungary and Bohemia will not be joined to Germany.)

The Czecho-Slovak state will be an effective barrier against Germany. The Czechs are the westernmost anti-German wedge: in their more than a thousand years of struggle with Germany they have became hardened, and know how to defend themselves. Bismarck said that whoever is the master of Bohemia is the master of Europe, and the Pan-Germanists know why they are the sworn enemies of our nation. Even the historian Mommsen did not hesitate to incite the Germans to break our hard skulls. The Czechoslovak state will not be one of the smallest in Europe. It will be formed of the so-called lands of the Bohemian Crown (Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia) and of Slovakia (the northern part of Hungary). This territory is four times larger than Belgium; the population would amount to twelve or thirteen million, depending on how the national minorities are disposed of. Of Czechs and Slovaks there are ten millions. In size the Czecho-Slovak state would be the eighth in Europe.

In all the Allied countries the correct understanding of the Czecho-Slovak question made slow progress during the war; for the fact that the French, the British, and the Americans were fighting only the Germans made it possible to forget Austria. The strength of Austrophilism lay for a time in the fact that Rome, was working for the Hapsburgs. Austria-Hungary is the last great Catholic state. The greatest and most authoritative organ of the Catholic, published in Cologne, some years ago applied the term "mire" to Austrian Catholicism; and after the defeat in Galicia at the beginning of the war the same paper repeated its verdict, and demanded a radical reform in head and members. But the Hapburgs are not defending either religion or Catholicism, but rather have degraded the Austrian Catholic church to an inexpensive spiritual police. For that reason, not only in Bohemia but also among the Jugoslavs and everywhere else, the Catholic people and Catholic parties are opposed to Austria. With Rome there go the international financiers who fear for the Austrian public debt. They forget that the new states into which Austria will be divided will each take over its share of the public debt as it was before the war; at least, that is a part of the Czecho-Slovak programme. The war debts incurred since 1914 must of course be paid by the Hapsburgs.

Another peculiar form of Austrophilism is entertained by the German-Austrian Socialists and a section of the Liberals in all countries. They admit that Austria cannot remain as it is, and they therefore demand reforms, and primarily autonomy or even federation for the Austro-Hungarian nationalities. Autonomy in Austria has no meaning. It is the principle of democracy which is at stake. National autonomy will not transform the Hapsburgs, nor will it transform the Germans and Magyars; Austria will still remain an instrument of Germany. A real federation presupposes the freedom of the federating nations; the free nations will themselves decide whether or not they wish to federate, and with whom. When the Austrian Premier, Hussarek, was said to have proposed federation, and even so in very indistinct terms, Germany immediately declared with emphasis that it would not allow the federalization of Austria.

So far as the Socialists are concerned, the German Socialists of Austria follow Scheidemann, Renner, Pernerstorfer, Bauer. The well-known writers and leaders of the German-Austrian Socialists are first of all Germans, and they misuse the Marxian economic materialism to defend great states against small ones. The Czecho-Slovak and Polish Socialists do not accept the argument of the German Socialists. Internationalism, as it is invoked by the Austrophiles, is not menaced by nationalism. On the contrary, true internationalism, the organization of all conscious and enlightened nations, will be made possible by liberating the oppressed nations. We do not accept an internationalism that has been bought at the price of enslaving a great number of nations.

Finally, one hears the argument that the German minorities in the new national states might be endangered. The question of the national minorities is admittedly a serious one. The peace congress will very probably conclude that there should be as few of them as possible, and that they should be as small as possible. So long as they exist, however, the democratic rule of the majority must be put into effect. Is it more just, for instance, that ten million Czechs and Slovaks should be oppressed by Austria-Hungary, than that the Germans in Bohemia and Slovakia, numbering only three millions, possess national freedom constitutionally guaranteed? In Bohemia, German minorities will exist because of the large and peculiar intermixture of the two nations. The Czecho-Slovaks claim the historical boundaries of Bohemia, because they have many large minorities in the German cities and on German territory.

To sum up: the Czecho-Slovak nation invokes the principles of the Declaration of Independence for its revolution. On that basis the United States has given recognition to various revolutionary movements, and we are convinced that there is not and cannot be a more just case before the political forum of the world than our case against the Hapsburgs. The United States cannot accept Austrianism, for it is a denial and a contradiction of the Declaration of lndependence and of American ideals. We value the recognition by the United States for reasons of principle: we consider the great American republic to be the mother, of modern democracy. Her recognition, accordingly, is of special value to us.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

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