|Foreign Affairs, April, 1920||Special Supplement|
Czecho-slovakia is an island of democracy in an ocean of reaction, said Dr. Benesch, the Czecho-Slovak Minister for Foreign Affairs in an interview granted to the representative to a big English paper. Of a surety many people are curious to learn what this peculiar island of democracy looks like.
Freedom In Czecho-Slovakia.
The Czech State, created in Paris by the peace makers, contains 4,000,000 Germans and about 1.3 million Magyars, Ukrainians, and Poles. All these peoples have been forced against their will under the rule of the present Czech Government, and delivered over to Czech oppression. Of these Germans, more than 3,000,000 live in unmixed territories directly bordering upon either the Republic of Austria or Germany, The greater number of the two million Slovaks is dissatisfied, too, with, the Czech rule. So it may very easily happen that the Czechs will become a minority in their own country. Their dominance is now based purely upon force.
More than a year has elapsed since the revolution and the formation of the Czecho-Slovak State. Yet in this island of democracy no real Parliament has been convened. It is a well-known fact that the so-called National Assembly was not chosen by the people, but was nominated by the Czech party leaders from among their own followers. More than five million Germans, Magyars, and people of other nationalities have not a single representative in this National Assembly, and all claims advanced by them have been waived aside by the Czechs. All the fundamental laws concerning the Constitution and the language to be used in its administration, as regards social reform, the expropriation of land, etc., have been determined by this arbitrarily formed National Assembly without a single German-Bohemian or Magyar having been allowed a voice. Moreover, the Constitution has been framed in such a way that the Czechs, who form a minority of the population, get the majority of seats; and the Constitution is so framed as to make its amendment practically impossible!
Rule of Chauvinism.
It is true that some slight improvements have been introduced since the advent of the present Social Democrat Prime Minister, Mr. Tusar. The slaughter of German-Bohemian working people by Czech soldiers and the worse forms of other excesses have become less frequent, although only lately a number of German peasants were shot by Czech soldiers because they offered resistance to harsh requisitions. There are countless cases of German-Bohemians having been oppressed, insulted, and otherwise tormented. The Prime Minister is personally a judicious and moderate politician, but he is just as powerless against the ruling chauvinism, imperialism, and militarism of the Czech bureaucracy, soldiers, and demagogues as is President Masaryk himself. The latter only a short time ago urged his fellow-countrymen, in the Czech paper Venkov, to moderation, and pointed out specially how the Czech treatment of the national minorities must influence Czech relations with the neighbouring States. Tusar has spoken repeatedly in a like sense. It was with this in mind that he confronted the former Prime Minister, Dr. Kramarz, in the National Assembly on January 22 last. The latter had loudly proclaimed that the State was entirely and wholly a Czech one, and the Czechs its exclusive rulers. Kramarz also demanded a strong hand in the administration, one which the German-Bohemians would be forced to respect. The German-Bohemians, in his opinion, would never become reconciled with their fate, and would bring about a revolution at once were it possible.
Tusar stigmatised this utterance as the utterance of a firebrand, for which expression he was called to order.
Dr. Kramarz has spoken in the same way on many recent occasions, notably at Weinberge, near Prague, on February 29, when he said that he did not fear being reproached for urging force, for the Czechs were the conquerors and the German-Bohemians the conquered, who must bear the consequences of their defeat; and a short time ago he declared in the National Assembly that the principle væ victis must hold good also for the Germans in Czecho-Slovakia. This is also the standpoint of the former Minister, Rasin, who at Nimburg announced publicly that the Czecho-Slovak State has been won by fighting, and must remain a Czecho-Slovak one. The Peace of St. Germain gives us the right so to manage our affairs as if no other nation existed. This is the fundamental basis of our State. We need neither negotiate nor compromise with anybody. (Tremendous applause.) It is quite unnecessary to speak of a compromise, for we have won our State by the sword. The German-Bohemians certainly should not be curtailed in their rights; they should have the possibility of being educated in their own tongue. But they must understand that they are in the minority, and have not the same rights as the Czecho-Slovaks so far as the State-language is concerned.
Even the official paper, the Czecho-Slovak Republic, a short time ago described the German-Bohemians as rebels because they protested against being shut out from the National Assembly; rebels who could have no seats in Parliament because they persisted in revolution, and argued that they would on1y have the right to sit in Parliament when the Constitution was definitely established. Another paper, the Vecer, wrote that, in spite of the desire for justice towards the minority, no conscientious Czech will ever allow the State to be regarded as one of mixed nationalities. The Germans have their own State already. It is large enough, and they must not give themselves airs in our country. The Czecho-Slovak State must, under all circumstances remain a Czecho-Slovak one.
Curbing the German Language.
Unfortunately, policy is more directed in conformity with the wishes of the chauvinists than with those of the more enlightened Prime Minister. Not a single day passes without the public announcement in the daily papers that some German school has been closed down for the German children and given over to the use of the Czech ones or that the number of classes in the German schools has been reduced. In certain towns, Znaim, for instance, the officials appointed to look after the welfare of the fatherless children have forced their German mothers to take them away from the German schools and send them to the Czech ones, on pain of forfeiting the relief granted. Another crass example of intolerance is to be found in the town of Budweis, in which the twelve German elementary schools have been reduced to four. In Brünn, the capital of Moravia, the Czechs have decided to close down thirteen German elementary schools and to discontinue for the future seventeen parallel classes in the German public schools. All the German inscriptions and directions have been removed from the German University of Prague in spite of the Prime Minister having expressed to a deputation of University professors his dissatisfaction at this petty vexation. Further, a law decrees that the German University of Prague is to be deprived of the greater part of its rights and property in favour of the Czech university. Again, a law has been passed exalting the Czech language as the State language, and degrading the German to an inferior plane. In the actual administration of the country, too, the German language is in many respects made subordinate to the Czech one. A glance at the new bank notes will serve to show what the Czech Government understands by equal rights to all nationalities. The German text is printed almost entirely in Czech. The German text is limited to exactly two words printed in such small letters that one must search to find them. And yet more than three-fourths of both commerce and industry are in German-Bohemian hands. A short time ago the Minister Staniek declared in the National Assembly that they were obliged to send Czech officials to German districts because the Czech population could not do without German-Bohemian officials as there were not sufficient Czech ones to go round. In other words, German-Bohemian officials are sent to Czech districts, where under the present regime they are naturally quite powerless, in order that Czech officials may be transferred to German-Bohemian districts to oppress, denationalise, and domineer over the German population there.
Insulting People Speaking German.
Not long ago the Czech newspaper, Tribuna, published an article ironically suggesting that sign-boards should be placed in all the streets, cafes, and restaurants in Prague bearing the motto, It is forbidden to speak German here under pain of one days imprisonment or a fine of a hundred crowns, to be paid into the Government Disposition Fund. The Tribuna blames the Czechs for insulting the English, French, Italians, Russians, or other foreigners for speaking German, though they have no other common language of intercourse. It has even happened that English people speaking English with one another have aroused the ire of the Czech chauvinists, because they thought the strangers were speaking German, The Tribuna sarcastically asks what language the Inspector of the Czecho-Slovak army speaks, to the French General Pellé, or again in what tongue the many negotiations with foreigners are carried on in the Ministry of Commence.
No Autonomy for the German-Bohemians.
The Peace of St. Germain grants autonomy to the half-million Ukrainians who have been forced into the Czech State. They are even to have their own Diet. But this has been denied to the 4,000,000 Germans, to the 2,000,000 Slovaks, and to the 800,000 Magyars and Poles. Brutal force has everywhere been resorted to. These latter nationalities are not entitled to manage their own affairs or to use the taxes they pay for this purpose, but are forced under the thumb of Czech rule. Moreover, they have to provide the financial means for their own oppression.
The Czechs proclaim aloud to the world that under the rule of the old imperial Austria they were the oppressed. As a matter of fact they had far more rights than they themselves grant to-day to the German-Bohemians and Magyars. In old Austria, Bohemia and Moravia enjoyed a far-reaching autonomy. They had their own Diets, in which the Czechs formed the majority. But in the new State of Czecho-Slovakia the German-Bohemians have none of these rights. In old Austria the Czechs held the highest places in the Government. Many dozens of them have been Ministers at one time or other. At present not a single German-Bohemian has even a seat in Parliament, let alone a ministerial position.
Moreover, the Czechs, who were ardent federalists in old Austria, have now become extreme centralists. They claimed and obtained the right to rule over the Germans on the ground that Bohemia and Moravia were indivisible historic units, but now these historical provinces, with their Diets, have been abolished altogether, and a uniform centralised bureaucratic State has been erected on a basis similar to the French Department system. During the war Masaryk concluded with the American Slovaks the pact of Pittsburg, pledging himself to grant autonomy to the Slovaks, in order to obtain their support. But to-day this pact is completely disregarded on the most flimsy pretexts.
German Landed Property to be Expropriated.
The so-called National Assembly has formulated a law for the purpose of expropriating the larger estates. Naturally those which are chiefly German are aimed at. Czech legionaries are to settle on them, as Dr. Kramarz said publicly in his speech of January 29 of this year, already cited, i.e., the Czechs intend doing as the English did in the seventeenth century in Ireland, which has wrought such terrible evils both for the English and Irish, the effects of which continue to this day.
The Confiscation of German Newspapers.
On January 9 the Czech Minister of Justice, Vesely, informed the Budget Committee that during the year 1919 no less than 764 papers were confiscated in Czecho-Slovakia, and that of these 664 were German ones .
The Grievances of the German-Bohemians.
At the end of December, 1919, representatives of all the German political parties, in an audience with the Prime Minister, laid all the grievances of the Germans before him. In the two memoranda presented to him were full particulars of the persecution to which the German leaders and the German schools were subjected and the illegal practices of the Czech military and Czech chauvinists upon the territory, and against the persons of the German-Bohemians. In the memorandum presented by the German-Bohemian Democrats it was urged that all laws and regulations should be printed in the German as well as in the Czech language, and that the use of German should be allowed in all official intercourse with German municipalities; that the claims of the German-Bohemians he considered in the appointing of officials; that the city councillors in the dissolved town councils be reinstated; that the town councils be again convoked; that there should be equal rights in the distribution of raw materials for German-Bohemian and Czech industrial undertakings, and also in the distribution of State orders; and that the use of German be permitted in all intercourse between German officials. Above all, they asked for the immediate dissolution of the so-called National Assembly, and for new and honest elections.
The memorandum presented by the German-Bohemian Social-Democratic party does not differ essentially from that of the Democrats. But attention is therein especially drawn to the very great social and economic distress due to the mistaken policy followed by the Czecho-Slovak Government, and to the fact that this Government had hitherto done nothing towards the reconstruction of economic life or towards an economic understanding with the neighbouring States. It further states that the way in which social economic problems have been handled hitherto by the Czech Government has rather strengthened the conviction that those responsible are opposed to such a policy on national grounds, and that to further the interests of Czecho-Slovak capitalists and imperialists German industries are placed at a disadvantage, a policy which would lead to the complete ruin of the entire social and economic existence of the State. The memorandum goes on to say that the policy followed in educational matters is just as mistaken, that the German schools have been placed under a dictatorship and arbitrarily closed down, that German children are prohibited from attending German schools, that German clerks and others employed in the public services have undergone disciplinary punishment purely and simply by reason of their being Germans. Finally the memorandum of the Social-Democrats concludes by pointing out the fact that the German-Bohemians have no rights in the Czecho-Slovak State and are being treated as if they were helots, and that both democracy and self-administration were non-existent in the country.
The Prime Minister Tusar, in his reply, acknowledged that the German-Bohemians had much cause for complaint and promised that, in future, conditions would be improved for them, more especially now that there was a prospect of the writs for Parliament soon being issued. The Czech Press seeks to represent this audience as an expression of German-Bohemian loyalty in order to show that they, the latter, are content with their lot. As a consequence of these manœuvres the leader of the German-Bohemians, Dr. Lodgman, has issued an explicit denial. In speeches delivered by him at Teplitz he said : At present we see everywhere around us a monstrous chauvinism, an hallucination which makes the Czechs imagine that Prague is not only the centre of Europe but also of the whole world. The standpoint of the Czechs is that others must pay the taxes; and have no voice in the expenditure.
Czecho-Slovakia a pinnacle of Militarism.
This same mental exultation finds its expression in militaristic display. A new law relating to military service has just been passed by which every male between the ages of 17 and 60 will be conscripted for a period of two years, later to be reduced to eighteen months. At the end of this period the conscript passes into the reserve, but will be called up for military service periodically. The right to decree mobilisation is relegated to the President of the Republic, the National Assembly having nothing to say in this matter. The worst feature of all is that those liable to military service are bound to the soil as were the serfs in the middle ages. No citizen of Czecho-Slovakia dare emigrate without permission from the War Office. In spite of the supposed Peace, Czecho-Slovakia has command of a very large and fully equipped army, and continues arming at full speed. For on the basis of existing policy she will undoubtedly have to defend herself presently against the annexed districts, and against foreign enemies as well, more especially against Poland and Hungary. Czech ambition is even reaching out for possession of one of the colonies of which Germany has been deprived by the Peace of Versailles. For lack of an external war the Czechs are waging an inland one. Their legionaries treat the German-Bohemians as deadly enemies and subject them to all sorts of persecution, violence, and petty vexations. They seem to delight particularly in overthrowing the statues of Joseph II, than whom no monarch was more beneficial to his people; their king who nearly a hundred and fifty years ago emancipated the peasants and granted freedom to members of the Protestant faith. They close down the German schools and use the buildings as barracks.
A Reasonable Czech Voice.
The French Government has allowed the Czech chauvinists to annex land peopled by more than 5,000,000 Germans, Magyars, and other nationalities in order to make Czecho-Slovakia a bulwark against Germany and Russia. Enlightened Czechs doubt whether this will not serve to weaken and imperil their country rather than to strengthen it. This is the view taken by the leader of the advanced Socialist Party, Modracek, who, writing In the Socialiste Listy on German-Czech relations, calls the so-called Peace Treaty of Versailles a piece of paper which will be unable to prevent the overthrow of the Czecho-Slovakia Republic when the first international complications arise. Modracek is also very sceptical as to the character of the Parliament now in process of creation. This Parliament, he says, will in no way be a Czech one because from 90 to 100 German-Bohemians and 50 Czech social democrats will sit in it. It will rather be a Czecho-German Parliament in which the old struggles between German and Czech for their irreconcilable ideas will repeat themselves. Modracek concludes that the incorporation of German-Bohemia into the Czecho-Slovak State was a blunder that can never be retrieved, one that will bring the Czecho-Slovak State its language and national unity, into a situation of permanent danger.
In the draft of the Army Bill it is expressly laid down that this law is necessary as the non-Czecho-Slovak population cannot be depended upon. This is nothing less than a public avowal that the Czecho-Slovak State has been founded by force and not by the free voice of her people. The French have undertaken the training of the Czecho-Slovak army, and the provision of armaments, munitions, and other war materials. According to the plan recently promulgated by Clemenceau, French policy aims at making Czecho-Slovakia a vassal State, a part of the barbed-wire fence against Bolshevik Russia.
Ruin of the State Finances through Militarism.
The greater part of the taxes, both direct and indirect, are used for military purposes. In 1919 the deficit amounted as a result of this policy to 5,000 millions of Czech kronen. This at the present time is equal to about 51 milliards of Austrian kronen. Poverty stricken Austria, now possessing but little of the natural wealth in which Czecho-Slovakia is so rich, has only a deficit of 7 milliards, e.g., one half of that of its more fortunate neighbor. Such are the inevitable consequences of militarism!
Economic Decay in Consequence of Chauvinism.
The chauvinistic hatred towards Vienna has led the Czecho-Slovak and Jugo-Slav Governments to break up the former common currency and stamp their notes. They hoped by this process to raise considerably the value of their own currencies. The consequence, however, has been that the value of their kronen has fallen tremendously. Shortly before the notes were stamped, that is somewhat more than a year ago, 100 kronen equalled about 30 Swiss francs. To-day 100 Czechs kronen are only worth 5 to 6 Swiss francs.
The former Secretary of State and present General Director of the largest iron industrial joint-stock company, Dr. Matys, a well-known Czech socia1 economist in an article appearing in the Czech chauvinistic daily Nardony Listy, stated that social-economic conditions have become materially worse during the past year. In 1919 we had a stock of raw materials dating from the old regime which, however, are now used up. He went on to say that the Minister for Foreign Affairs assumption that in the course of next year there would be a return to normal social economic conditions was liable to call forth a pitying smile from such Englishmen as are aware of the true state of things. In 1919 there was no sign of improvement and nowhere is a return to normal conditions to be observed. It is quite the other way about.
Terrible Corruption Prevailing.
The social-economic breakdown has brought in its train a widespreading corruption. Every man has his price. A short time ago much sensation was aroused by a trial in which one of the highest Czech functionaries of the Ministry of Commerce, named Jirak, was the defendant. He was accused of having tried to bribe Dr. Benesch, Minister for Foreign Affairs in Czecho-Slovakia, with the sum of 4,500,000 francs, in order to get him to conclude a deal in sugar with a group of foreign banks under terms which would have been very unfavourable to his own country. Dr. Benesch was prepared to accept the offer in order to found a fund for propaganda abroad. However, when the money was offered for his own personal use he had Jirak arrested. He was convicted, but curiously enough the actual infliction of the sentence has been postponed for five years. At the trial a witness ingenuously remarked that once a gentleman had left an envelope containing 40,000 crowns in the Finance Ministry and that he (the witness) had divided the money among the different officials, but Jirak had refused the share apportioned to him. By this testimony the witness sought to exonerate the accused. He little thought in what a light he placed officials who converted to their own use a sum left at the Finance Ministry and divided it among themselves!
Enormous sums have been expended for bribing newspapers and more especially for foreign propaganda, in order to hide the true state of things in Czecho-Slovakia from the world, and present the false picture of a truly democratic and social State.
Czecho-Slovakia and the Hunger Blockade of Vienna.
For decades past Vienna has obtained a considerable part of her supply of food and coal from the territories now forming part of Czecho-Slovakia, and in return has sent manufactured goods to the latter. The initiative, experience, and intelligence of Viennese engineers were used to develop Czecho-Slovak industries. The Czecho-Slovakian frontiers are now closed to Vienna, and to this is largely due the terrible conditions prevailing in that city, conditions which call forth the horror and sympathy of the whole civilised world. Although, for instance, the coal mines and sugar refineries in Czecho-Slovakia are owned by Viennese capitalists, only a minimum quantity of coal and sugar products may be sent to Vienna. At the same time Czecho-Slovakia demands five times as high a price for sugar delivered to Vienna as is paid for by the consumers in Czecho-Slovakia. In other words, Czecho-Slovakia first robs Austria of the property acquired by generations of hard work on the part of her people, and then turns the terrible distress ruling there to its own advantage by charging usurious prices for a common necessity of life. The German peasants in South Moravia have sent entreating letters to the Czech Government begging to be allowed to send foodstuffs to starving Vienna, but all their efforts in this direction have been in vain. Austrian factories and railways are lying idle, and England and America, which will not allow the Viennese to die of starvation, are paying millions for the relief of ,the Viennese, because, in consequence of the Czech blockade, Austria is not able to live on the fruits of the toil of her people. It seems as if the Czechs wished to bring this great seat of ancient culture to ruin wholly and solely because national hatred and envious competition blind their eyes to justice.
The Czechs and the World War.
The Czech nationalists base their hatred towards everything German on the assumption that the Germans were the cause of the war, and because of the severe treatment meted out to such Czechs as were against the war. But neither of these charges can be truthfully brought against the Austrian-Germans. Even the foolish Pan-Germans in Austria (unlike their partisans in Germany) were against all expansion, because they feared an increase in the Slav population of the State. The German people of former imperial Austria-Hungary were betrayed and maltreated by the war makers just as were the Slavs. Moreover, as long as the Czechs thought that the Central Powers would win the war, they were loud in their manifestations of loyalty, which they expressed in the most subservient language. A short time ago the Czech social democrat Stivin wrote in the Pravo Lidu, the official paper of the Prime Minister Tusar, as follows: During my three years of service I learnt to know the brutality of the officers, more especially that of the Czech reserve officers. I have served successively under German, Polish, Magyar, and Italian officers, but I look back on none with, such horror as on the Czech ones. It was precisely when the persecution of the Czechs for high treason began, that the Czech officers exerted themselves to show that they were better and more trustworthy officers than those of other nationalities. And these are the men who are now in the service of the Republic!
From the disclosures made in the French papers concerning the negotiations between the ex -Emperor Karl and the French Government it is evident that the ex- Emperor was ready to do all in his power to put an end to the war in a fair manner, even at the price of great sacrifices. It was a monstrous crime that this offer was not used to put an end to the war, and so to save millions of lives and Europe from ruin. The Czech leaders played their full part in this prolongation of the war. As was disclosed a short time ago in the columns of the Daily Herald, Masaryk and his supporters did all they could to make the offer of Peace abortive, even going so far (though perhaps unwillingly) as to consent to the Czech soldiers in Siberia fighting as mercenaries, in Koltchaks army against the Bolsheviks. But when that General began to lose they quickly deserted; just as they did in the German and Austrian armies when fortune turned against them.
During the war the ex- Emperor Karl himself offered the Czechs complete autonomy for their country. This fact was disclosed a short time ago by the Czech Member of Parliament, Stanek. But the Czech nationalists were not so keen for their own freedom as they were for the oppression of the German race. What they wanted was the realisation of their dream once again to rule over the German-Bohemians. And the price paid for the realisation of their desire has been the breakdown of European civilisation through the prolongation of the war.
Is an Understanding Between the Czechs and German-Bohemians Possible?
An understanding between these rival peoples would be easy were reason and justice the guiding motives. It cannot be maintained with any degree of truth that in old Austria the Germans would have been able to rule as harshly over the Czechs as do now the Czechs over the German-Bohemians. It is undoubtedly true that the narrow-minded and short-sighted German nationalists must bear the reproach of having done much to embitter and offend the Czech nation, that is, so far as it lay in their power to do as regards local government. In any case the Czech nationalists were equally guilty. The latter now use their far greater powers in a similar unreasonable manner. It is very sad that a people so highly developed, capable, and sympathetic as are the Czechs, should weakly allow themselves to be led by their narrow-minded nationalists. Even the Czech social democrats are largely chauvinistic.
There were many possibilities of solving the problem in a reasonable and just way which would have been satisfactory to both sides. The most natural one would have been for all the German parts of the former Austria to have joined Germany. The Czechs maintain that were they to give up the German districts of Moravia and Bohemia they would have no possibility of economic existence. This is not accurate, but it is obvious that a close economic relationship between Czecho-Slovakia and German-Austria would have been advantageous to both countries. But co-operation on a sound basis is only possible if each race has equal rights and is treated on an equal footing. Each nation could have enjoyed complete autonomy and, at the same time, have worked together for the common good of both. A like dualistic system previously existed between Austria and Hungary. Its introduction put an end to the violent struggles between Austrians and Magyars. In this way the struggles between the Czechs and German-Austrians could also have been brought to an end, and a way opened for peaceful and mutual co-operation between these countries and peoples.
This seems, however, to have been made impossible for all time owing to the violent manner in which the Czech nationalists have acted. Force is met by counter-force and violence provokes counter-violence. So in Czecho-Slovakia it seems that events are leading to a forcible solution. Unless the Czechs completely alter their policy Central Europe will in the near future again be prostrate and ruined by the ravages of war, revolution, and economic disorganisation, and Czech imperialism in its turn will be overthrown, as German and Russian imperialism have been.