NOW that the Anschluss is an accomplished fact, the two largest German minorities outside the Reich are those in Switzerland and in Czechoslovakia. The former has been the backbone of a free Swiss Confederation ever since it was separated from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. The latter for eight centuries formed an integral part of the Kingdom of Bohemia, whose sole link with the old Empire was the Hapsburg dynasty. But it is important to realize that there are no less than twelve states in Europe today in which there are German minorities, and that with the solitary exception of the Ukrainians (who are entirely under alien rule) there is no race in Europe of which so large a proportion is governed by foreigners as the German. This fact, taken with the renewed strength and racial self-consciousness of Nazi Germany, should serve as a reminder that so long as the minorities question remains unsolved at many points it will continue producing acute irritation and providing excuses for dangerous propaganda.


Bohemia, it is too often forgotten, is one of the most ancient national states in Europe. Yet from the earliest times it has always contained a strong German element, especially in the towns. We need not go into the largely academic question whether the autochthonous tribes whom the invading Czechs conquered in the sixth century were mainly German. It is sufficient that for some generations in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Czech national dynasty of the Přemyslides pursued a persistent policy of settling German townsmen and miners in Bohemia, and that when their greatest successor, Charles IV, became Emperor, he linked the Bohemian Crown with one of the seven electorates and founded the University of Prague on a supra-national basis as the first great university of Central Europe.

Under Charles's incompetent son, Prague became a center of the conflict forever associated with the name of John Huss; and this conflict assumed a double form, religious and national, the Germans siding with the more orthodox currents which triumphed at the Council of Constance, seceding to found the University of Leipzig and eventually taking a leading part in the Crusades which aimed at reducing Bohemia to the Church's obedience. The long Hussite Wars greatly reduced the German element, but the Reformation of the sixteenth century brought a détente between the two races. Luther suddenly found that "we have all been Hussites unawares." Lutheranism became almost as powerful as Hussitism, and there was a fresh influx of Germans. In the period of the Counter Reformation, Hussite and Lutheran, Czech and German stood together against the Hapsburgs and shared the same fate when Bohemian independence was overthrown in 1620. The Czech nobility and intellectual class was nearly rooted out, and the German urban population was decimated. For the next two centuries, during the period of Czech national eclipse, the centralist, autocratic tendencies of the Hapsburgs were largely identified with Germanization; and by the time that the Czech renaissance began early in the nineteenth century, not merely the upper, but almost the whole educated middle class in Bohemia had acquired a German veneer. None the less, in the absolutist period preceding 1848 there was little friction between the two races, and more than one German-Bohemian writer chose his theme from the heroic age of the Hussites.

In 1848, however, the two fell rapidly apart. The Czechs declined the invitation to the German Federal Parliament in Frankfurt, and convoked a Pan Slav Congress in Prague itself, though their leader Palacký coined the catchword, so often misused since, "If there were no Austria, it would be necessary to create one." From 1848 to 1918 the political and linguistic struggle between German and Czech was the central feature of that "question of nationalities" for which the Hapsburg Monarchy got its unenviable reputation. It was waged in every town and village, in every sphere of administrative and social life, in school and law court. The establishment of the Dual System in 1867 as between Austria and Hungary took place against the wishes of the Czechs, who till 1879 refused to attend the Austrian Parliament; but from that date onwards the Germans in Austria, though of course the dominant race and throwing their weight in favor of the Emperor's foreign and military policy, found themselves with every decade more on the defensive. While the Germans were splitting up into Nationalists, Pan-Germans, Liberals, Clericals and Socialists, all sections of Czech opinion presented a united front whenever a national interest was at stake, and coöperated with the other Slav races of the Monarchy. One feature, however, distinguished the Czechs from most of the other subject races: they were all inside the Austro-Hungarian boundaries, and had no kindred national state towards which they could gravitate. Till the vast hazard of the war made independence possible, their chief aim was the restoration of the so-called "State Rights of the Bohemian Crown," by which Bohemia-Moravia-Silesia would again become a kingdom, enjoying equal status with Hungary and the hereditary Austrian provinces.

This thumbnail sketch provides a necessary background to the problem of today, for foreign opinion does not sufficiently realize that the rivalry of German and Czech inside Bohemia is not a problem created by the Peace Treaties, but has in varying forms lasted for over seven centuries.


The Great War instantly brought the tension between Czech and German to its height. To the Czechs, who had always disliked Austria's entanglement in the Triple Alliance, conflict with their Russian and Serbian kinsmen had almost the character of a civil war. They surrendered in thousands to the "enemy" and soon proved that their motive was the reverse of cowardice by enlisting in Czechoslovak Legions on the Allied side. Then, as the Russian Bolshevik Revolution made it impossible for them to be transferred to the Western Front, they eventually reached Europe across Siberia, the Pacific and the Atlantic -- one of the most romantic Odysseys in all history. These legions formed the trump card in the long propagandist efforts of the Czech National Committee, organized by the triumvirate, Masaryk-Beneš-Štefanik, from their headquarters in Paris. From the first it was obvious that the full program of independence was only attainable if the war was a prolonged one and ended in complete victory for the Allies. It was the great merit of the "realist" Masaryk that, Russophil though he was, he rejected the fatuous idea of waiting passively for the Russian steamroller to crush Austria-Hungary and for reactionary Tsarism to liberate the democratic Czechs.

Masaryk and his colleagues played a decisive part in convincing the three western Allies and the United States that Austria-Hungary could not be weaned away from Germany and that her component races genuinely desired the break-up of the Empire. By successive stages in 1918 the necessary diplomatic and military recognition was conceded, and when the exchange of notes between the Governments of Vienna and Washington caused the walls of the Austrian Jericho to fall,[i] the transference of power in Prague from the crumbling Hapsburg executive to the new Czechoslovak Republic was accomplished in a few hours and without bloodshed. It can never be sufficiently stressed that not merely long before the Peace Conference met in Paris, but actually before an armistice could be concluded on the Italian or Balkan fronts, Czechoslovakia -- like other "Successor States" of Austria or Russia -- had already come into existence, without the intervention of Allied troops, as the result of a spontaneous national movement that swept all before it. The function of the Allies was confined to ratifying accomplished facts, while making their recognition of the new state conditional upon its assumption of certain general obligations, notably towards minorities.


The settlement of 1918, following as it did upon the repressive measures adopted towards the Czechs during the war, and the perfectly natural indignation felt by the Germans at the "treason" of the legionaries, marked the high point of the ancient Czech-German quarrel. What was to one race the recovery of lost liberties and independence after three centuries, was to the other the loss of its privileged position in favor of an "under-dog" whose culture and language it had long despised. It is useless to shirk the fact that the new state was created against the will of its German population, and that only to the Czechs and Slovaks could the epithet staatsbildend be rightly applied. This is also the place at which to admit that Czechoslovakia rests upon two somewhat conflicting principles -- upon the "historic State Rights" in the case of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, and upon nationality and self-determination in the case of the Slovaks, who ever since the ninth century had formed an integral part of the Hungarian Kingdom. This latter problem, however, lies beyond the scope of the present article.[ii]

The task of setting the new state's limits was of especial concern to the Germans. It soon became apparent that there was no practical alternative to the old historic frontier, which after the Pyrenees and the Tatra is probably the best natural frontier in all Europe, and which has for that very reason remained virtually unaltered for many centuries. In the northwest, northeast, east and southwest it corresponds with the watersheds of the Erzgebirge, Riesengebirge, Adlergebirge and Böhmerwald, and to cut off narrow strips of territory from Bohemia and unite them with the districts north of those ranges would be to detach their valleys from their natural outlets. True, exception might have been made for the districts of Cheb (Eger), Rumburk (Rumburg), Frýdlant (Friedland) and Broumov (Braunau), all predominantly German. But the detachment of these from Czechoslovakia would have left unsolved the two main difficulties: that the major part of the lands inside the present boundaries is inseparably bound by geographical and economic ties with central Bohemia, and that no human ingenuity has hitherto availed to draw a possible ethnographic line between German and Czech. This latter assertion could be abundantly demonstrated by the history of Bohemia between 1879 and 1918, when the idea of Zweiteilung (or "partition in two") was broached time after time, only to be abandoned as unworkable. But it also emerges very clearly from the events immediately following the collapse of Austria, when the Germans of Bohemia for some time declined to recognize the accomplished fact and desired to be united with the new Austrian Republic (not, it should be noted, with the Reich), and when, with a view to attaining this end, provisional German administrations were set up at Liberec (Reichenberg), Opava (Troppau), Krumlov (Krumau), and Znojmo (Znaim). Reference to a map will show that these places, and Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), Cheb and Tachov (Tachau), could hardly be united into a single unit, especially if it was to act in opposition to the central authorities in Prague or Brno (Brünn).

Indeed, if we place Bohemia under a statistical microscope, the German minority is seen to consist of not less than eight distinct fragments, separated from each other by Czech or mixed districts: (a) Northwest Bohemia -- Egerland, with Karlovy Vary and Marianské Lázně (Marienbad); (b) Southeast Bohemia -- a narrow strip of Böhmerwald from Nýrsko (Neuern) to Kopisty (Kopitz); (c) North Bohemia, from Ústí (Aussig) and Děčín (Tetschen) to Liberec, with two small salients into Germany at Hanšpach (Hainspach) and Frýdlant; (d) Northeast Bohemia -- Trutnov (Trautenau), Broumov; (e) North Moravia and Silesia -- Opava, Krnov (Jägerndorf) to Staré Město (Mährisch-Altstadt); (f) the enclave of Svitavy (Zwittau) and Moravská Třebová (Mährisch-Trübau); (g) the enclave of Jihlava (Iglawa); (h) South Moravia -- Mikulov (Nikolsburg), Znojmo (Znaim). Thus the sole possible alternative to what was actually done in 1918 would have been to allow each of these fragments to gravitate to the nearest outside German district, which would have meant the incorporation of (a) and part of (b) with Bavaria; of (h) and part of (b) with Austria; of (c) with Saxony; and of (d) and (e) with Silesia. In this way, between one-half and two-thirds of the German population could have united with their co-nationals of the Reich (for the first time in history), but in total disregard of their economic interests, which are closely bound up with the Czech districts.

The one thing which could not have been done would have been to create a unified German-Bohemian or "Sudeten" province, governed from a single center. And this remains today as impossible as ever. In other words, a case can be made out for the complete absorption in the Reich of all the Bohemian Lands, both Czech and German, lock, stock and barrel. Needless to point out, this case can be accepted only by those who are indifferent to questions of race and of liberty, and who see no objection to the establishment of a German totalitarian hegemony over the whole Danubian and Balkan area, such as would assuredly follow the downfall of Czechoslovakia. A case can even be made out for frontier rectification at specific points where only a negligible number of Czechs would have to go with a German majority. However, this would not appeal to those whose aim it is to include all Germans under a single roof, since the effect would necessarily be to weaken the German as against the Czech element in what remained of the Republic. The plain fact is that Czech and German are doomed to live together, with not less than 400,000 Czechs in the predominantly German districts and not less than 750,000 Germans in the predominantly Czech districts. We thus come by a process of elimination to the least bad of several admittedly imperfect solutions -- namely, to leave the old frontiers virtually untouched, as justified by many centuries of practice and as necessary for the new state's economic viability. It was this solution to which the Peace Conference eventually consented, subject to certain undertakings as to the status of minorities.

Of this decision the Germans of Bohemia openly and violently disapproved, and though they soon had to abandon organized resistance they held aggressively aloof during 1919, the critical period when the Peace Treaties were being signed and when the National Assembly in Prague was framing the Constitution and the basic laws of the new state. At the first elections, in May 1920, they voted; but the first use which they made of their representation was to issue a statement declaring that Czechoslovakia had been created against their will and that they therefore did not regard the Constitution as binding upon them. They also refused to take part in the election of Masaryk as President, though they were fully aware that in any racial issue his whole influence would be used in a moderating sense. Bearing in mind that this was a culminating period of national effervescence and social and religious unrest, we are bound, in the perspective of eighteen years, to admit that the new order then established reflects high credit upon its authors, and, subject only to minor blemishes, corresponds to the democratic and liberal principles which they professed. A comparison of the Minorities Treaty of September 1919 with the Language Law of February 1920 shows that the latter, quite voluntarily, went even farther than the former, condemning in strong terms "every form of forcible denationalization." It is true that "Czechoslovak" was declared to be the official language of the state, thereby seeming to degrade German to a lower level -- a distinctly illogical step for the Czechs, who had always agitated in the old Austria against the idea of German as "Staatssprache." But all the essential guarantees without which a minority cannot hope to survive were freely granted and on the whole have been fulfilled. Anyone disposed to accept Nazi propagandist denunciations of Czechoslovakia for her "oppression" of minorities might well compare the position of the Germans in Czechoslovakia with that of any other minority in Europe, and especially of the German minorities in Italy, Poland, Hungary and Jugoslavia.

These essentials may be summed up under four heads:

(1). The Germans enjoy exact Proportional Representation in Parliament and in municipal life.

(2). In the field of education they possess their own University, two technical High Schools, an Academy of Music, 90 secondary schools (55 gymnasia, 22 "Realschulen," 13 girls' schools), 14 training colleges, 629 commercial and agricultural schools, 430 higher and 3,363 lower primary schools, and 501 kindergartens. In 1935 there were 343,500 German children attending primary schools, and of these all save 10,117, or 3 percent, went to German schools: in these there was a class to every 36 children, whereas in the Czech schools there was only one to every 39. In the German secondary schools there were 800 classes, with 25,700 pupils, or 27.6 percent of the total (though they form only 22.5 percent of the population). The concrete complaints which they formulate relate to inadequate buildings and subsidies, especially for the German University, the erection of so-called "Minority Schools" for Czech minorities in the German districts (before the war the lack of such schools was a permanent grievance of the Czechs), the closing of various German primary and technical schools between 1921 and 1935, and the lack of an autonomous German section in the Ministry of Education. But the very nature of these complaints shows that the Germans are not in the remotest danger of denationalization.

(3). They possess a complete network of cultural institutions and societies, a highly developed musical and theatrical life and a large daily and periodical press. It is true that the "conflict of ideologies," resulting in the growth of totalitarian views among the Sudeten Germans, has made the censor more active in recent years.

(4). They are assured the right to use their language in intercourse with all state and municipal authorities, and especially the law courts, in all districts where their minority exceeds 20 percent of the population. The original decision to separate the Jews from the Germans and enter them in a special census rubric was much resented. There is no little irony in this fact today in view of the general German attitude towards non-Aryans, which is shared by the dominant German party in Bohemia.

Broadly speaking, the fulfilment and extension of minority rights should be perfectly capable of attainment, given the necessary good will on both sides. This the present rulers in Prague have shown themselves to possess.


The German attitude in 1920 only served to confirm the Czechoslovak Government in its extreme centralizing mood -- a mood which, however, it was the first among the Successor States to recognize as mistaken. The utter barrenness of Sudeten policy in these first years of the Republic's existence, combined with the crisis through which neighboring Germany was passing, produced a sobering effect on the German minority. In 1922 there was a split in its ranks, and the two rival tendencies of "activism" and "negativism" slowly emerged, the former led by the Agrarians and Christian Socialists, the latter by the prewar nationalists of Lodgmann and the National Socialists. The Social Democrats held aloof from both. The elections of 1925 strengthened the Agrarians; and in 1926 (thanks mainly to the efforts of President Masaryk, and of Dr. Hodža, then Minister of Agriculture) they and the Christian Socialists sent their representatives, Professors Spina and Mayr-Harting, into the Cabinet. This was the beginning of twelve years of "activism." One logical result was a turn towards decentralization, expressed in the creation of four Provinces (Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia, Slovakia and Ruthenia), each with a President, a Diet (in all save name) and District Councils, in which, it is true, one-third of the members were nominated from above. It may be freely admitted that the "activist" Ministers were in too weak a position towards their Czech colleagues to secure more than piecemeal concessions, and that the Czech chauvinists blocked even these wherever possible and tried to drive a wedge of Czech settlers northwards to the frontier, hoping to divide up the Germans still further, extend Czech peasant ownership and reduce the German industrial lead. None the less, though the two races continued as ever to inhabit watertight compartments, there was a slow breaking down of the old social barriers. Already on the eve of the war the battlecry "Rather die as Germans than decay as Czechs" had been yielding to the saner "Germans, learn Czech!" Now under the altered postwar circumstances common sense imposed a change of tactics. In 1929, as a result of a strengthening of the Left parties among the Czechs, a corresponding change took place among the Germans, and the German Socialists under Dr. Czech entered the Cabinet in place of the German Clericals.

Since 1931, however, two vital factors have transformed the whole situation -- the world economic crisis and the rise of Hitlerism in Germany. The depression fell with peculiar force upon German Bohemia, which had been over-industrialized even before the war, and which had strained its resources and reserves in trying to adjust itself to its new status in a country of only 13 million inhabitants. Worse still, the new economic policy adopted by Germany to meet the crisis led to a catastrophic decline in the trade between the two countries,[iii] and this hit the German districts even more than the Czech. Simultaneously the currency control adopted by the Reich made it difficult for Germans to visit Czechoslovakia, and this nearly ruined Karlsbad, Marienbad and other famous watering places in the German districts. The porcelain and glass trade also suffered from underselling and dumping by Reich firms; while the musical instrument trade, which mainly supplied Germany, sank to a minimum. Rampant unemployment bred political discontent and despair, and the Prague Government was faced by a most difficult situation in which its efforts to relieve distress in any district brought reproaches of discrimination from the others. However, it was able to point out, as examples of its good will toward the Germans, that it had taken over heavy commitments arising from the former Austrian War Loans, that it had saved the German Central Savings Bank from collapse, and that the amount paid by the state under the Ghent system to the German trade unions was out of all proportion to that paid to the Czech unions. None the less there remained a background of misery and friction and against it Hitler's solution of the unemployment problem and his rapid revival of German power in Europe stood out in high relief.

Already in 1933 advantage was taken of the too easygoing "activists" by the two extremist German parties -- the National Socialists (under Krebs and Jung, heirs of the prewar Austrian leaders Schönerer and Wolf, who had preached Anschluss, "Away from Rome, anti-Semitism and Hohenzollern against Hapsburg") and the old German Nationalists. The leaders aimed to create a "National Front," resting on totalitarianism and Volksgemeinschaft (community of race), and in this they were encouraged by the successes of Hitler, with whom they had coöperated in Munich as long ago as 1920. But in June 1933 Nazism was suppressed in Austria, owing to its illegal and terrorist methods, and in October the National Socialist Party of Czechoslovakia forestalled dissolution by voluntarily disbanding. It encouraged its members to enter the newly constituted "Home Front" (Sudetendeutsche Heimatsfront), led by Konrad Henlein, head of the German gymnastic union and an active promoter of the so-called "League of Comrades" (Kameradschaftsbund). At the general elections of May 1935, Henlein's party, reconstituted as the Sudetendeutsche Partei -- often spoken of as the SDP -- sprang suddenly into fame by winning 44 out of the 75 German seats in the lower chamber. It received 1,249,580 votes, or 62 percent of the total German vote,[iv] and thus became the second largest single party in a Parliament of 300 seats.

The new party gathered together many heterogeneous elements, united by a common discontent and influenced by the new principle of Volksgemeinschaft being preached in Nazi Germany. But it affirmed complete loyalty to the state, recognized the Czech nation as an equal in civilization, claimed "to employ all the methods of democracy" in the struggle for equality between the peoples, and denounced Marxism and the "class war" as incompatible with social justice.

The speeches and pronouncements of Herr Henlein reveal a distinct evolution. During the first year or so he was careful to insist that despite a natural identity of feeling with the great German nation ("of which we are a section" -- Bestandteil), his party did not regard Fascism or National Socialism as "transferable to our special circumstances." While treating "the failure of the liberal epoch" as "today unquestionable," he declined to renounce the liberal tenet of "unreserved respect" for individual rights. At the same time he denounced all idea of Hapsburg restoration anywhere as a permanent danger both to the Republic and to the peace of Europe, and no less bluntly disclaimed all interest in "any kind of frontier revision," while putting forward the ideal that "frontiers should cease to be dividing walls." In domestic policy he was as yet less precise, but launched the slogan "democracy is self-government," expressed himself against all centralist and bureaucratic tendencies, and demanded that the principle of proportional representation as between the races should be applied to all offices in the state, high and low, alike in administration, justice and army.

Unfortunately, in these days of moderation several things conspired to render the Czechs reserved and suspicious. First, the disbanded Nazis were received into the new SDP, while the former Nazi leaders Krebs and Jung, who had gone to Germany, received seats in the Reichstag and became active in the anti-Czech campaigns of the Ministry of Propaganda. Second, great emphasis was laid on the idea of "leadership." Henlein did not present himself for election and remained outside Parliament, though conducting the party on increasingly totalitarian lines. Third, the Czech parties were unable to come to terms with Henlein without at the same time throwing over their "activist" allies of ten years' standing. This was all the more difficult because it would inevitably have caused a rupture in the coalition of parties on which the whole structure of parliamentary government in Czechoslovakia has rested. The price of winning the SDP would have been the secession of the Czech parties of the Left, and this would have meant the substitution of a non-national majority for a national one. Needless to say, the "activists" strained every nerve to checkmate the wing of the Czech Agrarians favorable to a deal with Henlein (which would have moved the finger on the political balance definitely towards the Right) and sought to convince their Czech allies in the government that the Henlein party was only a passing phenomenon, that it was rent by internal dissensions and was bound to disintegrate as the economic situation improved.

This calculation, however, was overthrown by events in the foreign field. As the Nazis strengthened their hold upon the Reich, withdrew Germany from the Geneva system and pushed rearmament to fantastic lengths, the gulf inevitably widened between Germany and a country whose whole policy had from the first rested upon the League Covenant, the network of pacts and conventions connected therewith, the Little Entente, and in general the idea of collective security and national disarmament. Like other small states in Europe, Czechoslovakia now had no alternative save to increase her armaments. She joined France in concluding a pact of non-aggression with Russia, and for a time hoped that Germany might consent to accede to this. But when Berlin not merely refused, but refused with violence, and set up the rival anti-Comintern alliance, Prague declined to be intimidated and upheld the Russian alliance as an essentially defensive factor entirely compatible with League principles. Meanwhile the SDP imitated Berlin's growing intransigeance. In home politics it became increasingly totalitarian, denying to all other parties, Clerical and Agrarian no less than Socialist and Communist, any right to speak for the Sudeten Germans, while in foreign policy it was equally opposed to the League, to the Little Entente, and to the pacts with France and Russia.


During 1936 even the most unreasonable among the Czechs realized that it was not enough to refuse coöperation with Henlein, that the Germans had definite grievances which it was essential to redress. The three principal government leaders -- Dr. Beneš (who succeeded Masaryk as President in December 1935), his successor at the Foreign Office, Dr. Krofta (who had been Minister in Berlin), and the Slovak Agrarian Premier, Dr. Hodža (who had helped Svehla to bring in the German "activists" in 1926) -- all favored a moderate policy. In August 1936 President Beneš made a series of speeches in the German districts in which he put forward the formula of "reasonable decentralization, with economic and administrative regionalism." And on February 18, 1937, the Cabinet, in answer to a memorial from the "activist" groups, announced an agreement by which the shortcomings of the Minority Law were to be made good as speedily as possible. The main grievance, as ever, centered around the fact that at the critical period when the whole administrative framework of the new state was being created the Germans adopted a policy of hostile abstention, and the great majority of official posts were therefore filled by Czechs or Slovaks. To apportion posts on a strictly numerical basis between the races is something that can only be done gradually, since vacancies only come gradually; it is equally impossible to dismiss wholesale; and the necessary linguistic qualifications could not be acquired overnight. This is one of the grounds on which Dr. Hodža appealed for a year's grace in which to achieve visible results.

These proposals were rejected as quite inadequate by Herr Henlein, who now demanded völkisch or racial autonomy, and attempted to interpret this ill-defined conception of Nazi ideology in six bills laid before Parliament by his party. Their essential aim was to set up for every race in the Republic (Czech and Slovak as well as minorities) a far-reaching system of racial autonomy, based on "Corporations" with a "racial personality" of their own. The Council of each Corporation would consist of the deputies of the particular nationality, and the executive would be in the hands of a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, elected by a bare majority, with the result that the lesser parties would be in effect unrepresented, while the Speaker would acquire virtually totalitarian powers on the approved lines of Nazi "leadership." Great stress was laid upon protection against denationalization. One original and by no means unsympathetic feature was the demand for a free, but irrevocable, declaration of nationality by every citizen at the age of eighteen, the contention being that this would stereotype the racial position and forestall tendencies towards the national "renegadism" which was so harmful in generations past.

All sections of Czech opinion united in rejecting Henlein's project, but by the end of 1937 it could no longer be denied that progress in fulfilling the February Agreement had been far too slow. And meanwhile the tension in the foreign situation grew steadily, culminating in the German Army purge and Hitler's seizure of Austria. The effect in Czechoslovakia was tremendous. Herr Henlein openly welcomed the achievement of "Greater Germany" and summoned all his co-nationals in the Republic to join a single people's front, adding significantly that the SDP would admit new members till May 31, but not after. The result was a regular landslide away from "activism." Dr. Spina resigned office, and his party, the German Agrarians, went over bodily, giving as a ground the failure to apply the February Agreement. A week later the German Clericals followed suit, though claiming that in the last year "valuable successes were achieved, which brought to thousands of our co-nationals employment, bread and help once more." Even the German Socialists left the Cabinet, though continuing to support it.

The Czechs thus had to reckon with the collapse of their German allies and a rally of Sudeten opinion behind Henlein, now openly playing Berlin's game. His demand at the moment these lines are written is for complete autonomy, on lines which would inevitably create a state within a state, and recognition of the Germans as a legal personality. He no longer conceals that his policy is "inspired by the principles and ideas of National Socialism," and lays down as a condition for an understanding between the Czechs and the Germans inside and outside the Republic "a complete revision of foreign policy" -- i.e., the abandonment of the French and Russian alliances and acceptance of a position of isolation in which Czechoslovakia (and the other Danubian states) would pass helplessly into the Berlin orbit.

In thus throwing off his mask Herr Henlein has done much to clear the issue. In domestic and foreign policy alike there is a straight pull between incompatible principles. Totalitarianism in the German districts will mingle with a democratic party system among the Czechs and Slovaks as satisfactorily as fire with water; while to renounce existing foreign alliances would be nothing short of national suicide. If the Reich were to endorse and press such demands a clash could not be permanently avoided. But both President and Premier have made it clear that they do not regard the difference of political régimes and ideologies as necessarily an obstacle to a political understanding between the two countries, and have proclaimed their readiness for further discussions as to the admitted deficiencies in minority rights, the resultant fresh concessions to be embodied in a minority charter. They say they will go to the utmost limits "within the framework of the existing Constitution." President Beneš, in an interview with the correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph (March 6, 1938), while insisting on the purely internal character of the minority question, declared good relations with Germany to be of vital importance, frankly recognized "the moral right of Europe to take an interest in our minorities," and expressed Czechoslovakia's readiness to make her contribution to a general settlement. After Mr. Chamberlain's speech in the House of Commons (which, without accepting any "automatic" pledge of help to Czechoslovakia, gave clear expression to his doubt whether Britain could keep out of the entanglements which aggression might produce), Dr. Hodža gratefully accepted this attitude as adequate to the situation, and welcomed the interest shown by the British Government in the problem. This interest was energetically demonstrated in the crisis of May 21; and it ranks with the calm but firm resistance shown by the Czechoslovak Government on that occasion as a principal reason why Herr Hitler did not support Herr Henlein in pushing matters to a show-down.

The situation may be summed up as follows. Czechoslovakia has already carried minority rights farther than any other country, though not far enough to satisfy certain just grievances of the German minority. Her Government, with the sanction of public opinion, stands committed to concessions so far-reaching that if they were applied throughout Europe they would take the real sting out of the whole vexed minorities problem. Frontier revision in favor of Germany would not solve the problem, and would raise other problems by destroying the viability of the Czechoslovak state. Autonomy for all Germans in a single unit is a physical impossibility. The demand for a Swiss solution is sound if it means absolute equality for all races, but rests on a misconception if it means the cantonal system (since the Swiss Cantons are units in a Confederation of States). The ideas of national "cadasters" and cultural as opposed to territorial autonomy offer hopeful lines of exploration. It must be repeated that with good will on the part of both Prague and Berlin an honorable compromise can be reached. Perhaps it is a good sign that London has been playing a certain mediatory part. But if the German minority is merely to be the Trojan Horse by which the defenses of Czechoslovakia are to be pierced, and if she is to be forced to abandon her defensive alliances and accept an isolation which would make her and her colleagues of the Little Entente mere vassals of Greater Germany, then the question assumes an entirely different complexion. Czechoslovakia occupies a strategic key-position, alike from the geographical and from the ideological point of view. Her survival is a vital interest to the western democracies, and not a matter of complete indifference to America.

[i] I question whether to this day American opinion has grasped the full and decisive significance of President Wilson's attitude towards Central Europe in October 1918.

[ii]Cf. the author's "The New Slovakia" (Prague: Borový, 1924) and "Slovakia Then and Now," by several Slovak authors (London: Allen and Unwin, 1931).



  Czech Imports from Germany Czech Exports to Germany
1929 5,003,000,000 Kč. 3,973,000,000 Kč.
1933 1,209,000,000 1,045,000,000
1936 1,388,000,000 1,160,000 000

[iv] About 100,000 Germans voted Communist, obtaining four mandates.

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  • R. W. SETON-WATSON, Masaryk Professor of Central European History in the University of London; founder and editor of The New Europe, 1916-20; author of "The Rise of Nationality in the Balkans," "Sarajevo," "Britain in Europe," and many other works
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