IN JANUARY 1942 I wrote an article for FOREIGN AFFAIRS dealing with the organization of Europe after the war. I indicated that it was premature at that time to go into the subject in detail, since any such discussion would necessarily partake of the nature of propaganda rather than a scientific study of postwar conditions, the further continuation of the war being bound to change the situation in Europe fundamentally. Subsequent developments proved this caveat correct; only some of the things I wrote about in the article materialized as I had foreseen them.

On the whole, the victory which has been achieved is far more complete than I foresaw. But the subsequent organization of Europe as a whole is being planned and is taking place much as I supposed would be the case, even though the German situation is far worse than was to be expected, and will become worse still. When I wrote the article, it was supposed that the principle of federation would be far more generally applied in Central Europe. However, I emphasized very clearly that there would be great revolutionary changes in that region, that there would be no room in it for the Hapsburgs and other monarchies, and particularly that the problem of the German and Hungarian minorities as well as many economic questions would have to be solved radically. This diagnosis naturally concerned the Czechoslovak Republic primarily.

What is the state of affairs today in 1946, after the victorious conclusion of the Second World War?

First of all, any hopes that monarchies may be restored are definitely at an end. This is particularly true of the Hapsburgs, as I foresaw in 1942; but other old monarchies are disappearing also. There are two reasons for this process: the revolutionizing of internal conditions in all the Central European states and the immediate proximity of the Soviet Union.

This proximity has facilitated the national unification of the Ukrainians, i.e. the joining of Czechoslovak Carpatho-Russia with the Ukraine. Geographically speaking, the Soviet Union itself is now a part of Central Europe. Czechoslovakia could not on principle oppose this union, and did not do so. As far back as 1918, President Masaryk and I regarded Czechoslovakia as only a trustee of that land, and we were willing to relinquish this trusteeship to the Ukraine as soon as the Ukrainian people were nationally united. This occurred when Eastern Galicia became a part of the Ukraine, and thereby of the Soviet Union. Our attitude thus respects the principle of national unification as applied to the Ukrainians. This fact -- i.e. the participation of the Ukraine in political life south of the Carpathians -- a priori excludes a Hapsburg restoration in the neighboring countries of Hungary and Austria.

The same factor also affects substantially the second problem, that of federation. Now that the Soviet Union has become territorially a part of Central Europe through the merger of Carpatho-Russia into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic it cannot now be ignored when questions of a new political constellation in this area arise. As is well known, the Soviet Union even during the war expressed its reserve toward the formation of large federative complexes of states in Central Europe, feeling that they might develop into the prewar type of "cordon sanitaire" and might separate or isolate the U.S.S.R. from the rest of Europe.

In considering the formation of some greater Central European confederation in the period between the two world wars, Czechoslovakia and the other states concerned were anxious above all to find a way to survive. They were afraid of German expansion. This reason, it is generally admitted, has now been removed for a long period to come. Moreover, for some states -- Czechoslovakia, for example -- the new proximity of Russia is added reason not to fear Germany so much. As a result, the year 1946 as compared to 1942 speaks against the idea of a confederation in Central Europe in its original form, so much so that it now is scarcely ever mentioned in political plans.

The foregoing is a plain statement of fact regarding political life today in the region called Central Europe. I say the region "called" Central Europe designedly, for the concept of Central Europe itself was open to controversy even before the war. It is a third reason why the problems here under discussion are formulated differently today than used to be the case.

It was always a controversial question which states should be considered Central European states. There was never any doubt about the inclusion of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria, and no controversy about Jugoslavia and Rumania. There was doubt, however, concerning the necessity of Poland's being included, as well as about Bulgaria and some others. Next to the position of Poland, that of Germany was most in doubt. But since the intention in uniting these countries was to create a barrier against Germany, she was excluded. Naturally Germany was opposed to this conception, as was Italy, whose expansionist policy aimed at Jugoslavia and the Balkans. Germany wished to be considered a Central European state in order to facilitate her penetration of Central Europe and in order to create conditions favorable to her "Drang nach Osten," the forerunner of her attack on Southeastern and Eastern Europe.

All this has been substantially changed by the simple fact that the Soviet Union has geographically become a Central European state through Eastern Galicia and Carpatho-Russia. The result is that since the Second World War the concept of Central Europe is more a geographic than a political concept.

The fact that the Soviet Union today is a part of Central Europe will have a great influence on this region's future policy and development. Czechoslovakia became an ally of the U.S.S.R. for 20 years in 1943. Rumania and Hungary will both be affected also. In particular, Hungary must understand that in future she cannot become a tool of a German aggression, as happened twice in the last 25 years. Poland must definitely choose between Russia and Germany. The changes in her territory (the loss of her eastern provinces and the acquisition of a large portion of German territory) are bound to force her to decide definitely and clearly for an eastern orientation, i.e. for coöperation with Russia, although this will not mean that she will not be able to coöperate with the Anglo-Saxon states and with France as well.

Such is the prospect for the reorganization of Central Europe. I consider it, following the fall of Austria-Hungary after the First World War, as a necessary solution of the entire Central European problem, one far more logical and reasonable, moreover, than all other attempts which have been made in that direction, despite the fact that it completely and fundamentally changes earlier traditions and political concepts concerning the fate of Central Europe. It corresponds realistically to the actual given ethnic and geographical situation and to the inevitable future ethnic development of Central Europe generally. For the first time in the history of this region, the principle of nationality is adhered to almost to the limit; that is to say, each state is so constituted that its territory can contain either one people or several closely related peoples which belong together. Jugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are examples of the latter condition.

II

In international affairs Czechoslovakia never followed a policy of aggression or made national or state demands that were unreasonable or unfair. It always was consistent in defending to the limit the principles on which the future organization of the world for peace -- or rather, security -- can be built.

Czechoslovak foreign policy appraises all situations coolly. For example, it follows carefully the development of Hungary's internal policy, as enunciated by her new political and official leaders. It notes that they declared recently that Hungary is doing all she can to achieve peaceful coöperation among the nations in that part of Europe; and it notes that as yet they have taken few actions to convince Hungary's neighbors that the principles of democracy have really replaced the Arrow-Cross policy and have become the political creed not only of the Hungarian people but also of their government representatives.

The territorial status in Central Europe is recognized in principle as being that which prevailed before the aggression of Germany and her totalitarian satellites (Hungary, be it remembered, being not the last in line among them). In my opinion, it is inadmissible, under present conditions, to allow the question of revisionism to be opened. The pre-Munich frontiers of Czechoslovakia with Hungary, Austria, Germany and Poland are intact. No political, military or economic considerations can change this reality. After what happened to her in 1938, Czechoslovakia has a right to complete moral satisfaction. The Soviet Union and Great Britain made this clear before the end of the war. The United States was not bound by the Munich dictate and never recognized it.

The choice is between the concept of a national state and the formerly recognized Wilsonian concept of a state of nationalities, with all that involves. In a national state there is no room for minority problems. The rule applies just as much to the Germans as to the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia; and it concerns not only Czechoslovakia but also Hungary, Jugoslavia, Rumania and Poland. Even the Great Powers have recognized that in the interest of peace in Europe there remains no other solution but the removal of the Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. The Potsdam Conference solemnly and definitely recognized this principle and notified the Czechoslovak Government of it. Poland and Hungary were also notified by the Powers of their decision in regard to Germans living in their territory, and both of them accepted this essential change.

As far as the Hungarians of Czechoslovakia are concerned, the removal will be carried out on a reciprocal basis: they will be exchanged for Slovaks from Hungary. The minority problem between Germany and Hungary on the one hand, and all their neighbors on the other, must be solved finally and irrevocably on a purely national basis. Members of minorities who refuse to return to their national state (for example, Slovaks who stay in Hungary and Hungarians who stay in Czechoslovakia) will be definitively sacrificed and given up to national assimilation in the other state.

Czechoslovakia has clearly shown her desire to come to an understanding with Hungary concerning this exchange. Hungary, on the other hand, although she intends to transfer her German population to Germany, hesitates to recognize and accept these principles and their consequences (principles, incidentally, which are internationally accepted for Germany). I am convinced, however, that she will come to the conclusion that there is no other solution, either for herself or for her neighbors. In recognizing this fact, she could facilitate the development of sincere, peaceful collaboration among the smaller Central European states, notwithstanding the obstacles created by the fact that she fought to the bitter end alongside of Germany against the Soviet Union, or that her troops invaded Jugoslavia alongside the Germans, or that she served as a springboard for German armed forces against Slovakia at the time of the Slovak revolt at Banskà Bystrica.

The Hungarian revisionist policy nevertheless seems to live on, despite a second political and military debacle. It might well be included in the term "hostile aggression" as defined in the Briand-Kellogg Pact, one of the legal bases of the Nuremberg indictments of the war criminals. It was under the banner of revisionist ideology that Hungary went to war in company with Germany against her neighbors and against Russia, the United States and Great Britain. I repeat: I believe that Hungary will recognize the error of this, and that in the end she will come to an understanding with her neighbors. To fail to do so would mean a new threat to her own future.

I consider it necessary, in endeavoring to achieve closer collaboration in Central Europe, to create a firm and lasting relationship with another of Czechoslovakia's neighbors, Poland. The Beck ideology in that country was not very far removed from the political doctrine of Nazi Germany; and it so deeply infected a certain section of the Polish people that although they themselves were in mortal danger they would not understand that there exist certain limits in the field of political morality which a state cannot and must not overstep under any circumstances. The Beck régime brutally overstepped the bounds with regard to Czechoslovakia in 1938. It was as bad as, if not worse than, the aggression against us by the Hitler régime at that time. Its results must now be wholly undone. It seems likely that there will be a thorough understanding of this on Poland's part and that she will act accordingly. It then would be possible to arrive at a direct and lasting understanding between the two Slav states, linked together by the fact that Germany is an equal threat to both of them.

This kind of agreement is in the interest of a lasting peace among nations and hence is preferred by the Great Powers concerned, especially the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Should it not materialize, Czechoslovakia is determined to defend her point of view before the Peace Conference and to demand a full share in the eastern part of Upper Silesia detached from Germany. Let the rest of the world, the Great Powers, decide this question justly. The uncompromising insistence of Czechoslovakia on her prewar boundaries with Poland in the Teschen region, like those with Hungary, is supported equally by the argument that they are economically vital to her and by arguments based on international law and generally recognized political morality.

I do not exclude the possibility that danger of the German "Drang nach Osten" will compel Czechoslovakia and Poland to a closer collaboration in the political as well as the economic field, in full accord with the Soviet Union. I personally would welcome such a development.

Such is my view of Czechoslovak international relations after the Second World War. The conception which I have outlined points to a final and definite solution of the problem of minorities and nationalities in Central Europe, as indicated in my article in the pages of this review in 1942.

III

A further basic problem facing Czechoslovakia after this war is the question of the relationship of Czechs and Slovaks. Both peoples know that what happened in 1938-39 must never be repeated. They belong to each other; and the national existence of each cannot be solved in any other way. The Slovaks, numbering about three million people, cannot exist as an independent state, politically or economically. If they tried to do so, they would inevitably become the victims of their much stronger neighbors. Now that they are direct neighbors of Soviet Russia it is even less possible for them to think of this than it was before. On the other hand, the Czechs must and do understand that they cannot oppose the Slovak demand for broad decentralization and local government. They agreed to it fully, freely and democratically; and in the discussions of June 1945 the present government of Czechs and Slovaks decided that the constitution should be adjusted accordingly. Naturally, there are many details which are not yet settled. There is no doubt, however, that a full accord based on the accepted principles will be reached and incorporated in the definitive constitution of the Czechoslovak state.

The Slovaks as a whole, progressives and Catholics alike, approve this development (I received, for instance, a delegation of all the Slovak clergy, headed by the Archbishop of Nitra). The religious questions which concern them will be solved just as liberally as was done in the Czech area. The political development of Slovakia is not so far advanced as is that in Bohemia. The situation being more complicated in Slovakia, the postwar consolidation there will take longer than in Bohemia and Moravia. But in its main principles the relationship between the Czechs and Slovaks is already solved; and after the elections of the National Constitutional Assembly take place in the spring, the solution will be incorporated into the constitutional laws of the Republic.

It is not necessary to add that these national elections will be absolutely free and will be carried out in the spirit of Masaryk's democracy. They will be universal, direct, secret and proportional. The configuration of the political parties in the Republic is more or less stabilized. There are four political parties in the Czech lands, and Slovakia will probably have the same number. I do not think, however, that the party development is ended. During the war, I personally recommended that the former system of too many political parties should be superseded by a system of three really democratic parties in both the Czech lands and in Slovakia.

Another problem facing us today is the punishment of the war criminals -- all the war criminals, German, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak. The guilty Germans and Hungarians will be punished within the framework of the transfer of population. There is not one among the 11 million Czechs and Slovaks in Czechoslovakia today who would believe it possible to live together in one state with the Germans and the Hungarians. Since it is impossible to return either to the Munich territorial dictate or to accept a territorial revision in favor of the defeated countries, there is only one solution of the problem and that is the transfer. It also will accomplish the punishment of hundreds of thousands of Germans and Hungarians for their Fascism and for their betrayal of the state in 1938-39. The Nazi war criminals are gradually being tried by special tribunals, established for the purpose, strictly in accordance with our existing laws and according to the principles of justice and equity. In addition, it was decided by law that special national courts should be constituted to try guilty Czechs and Slovaks, particularly members of the Hácha Government in the Czech lands and of the Tiso Government in Slovakia. The Slovaks will judge the Slovak criminals. This national purge is necessary for both Czechs as well as Slovaks, because it signifies the liquidation of all forms of Fascism and Nazism in Czechoslovak life and the return to the pure essence and forms of Masaryk democracy.

Another great problem presents itself in the field of financial reconstruction. I do not wish to review here all our postwar difficulties and our plans for the reorganization of a healthy national and private economy. I shall mention only a few basic factors in the terrible inheritance left us from the German occupation. During their seven years of occupation the Germans plundered Czechoslovakia, sapping its financial and economic strength and leaving it considerably impoverished. Fortunately the wartime destruction did not strike us with the same force that it did other countries, and we did not suffer so much ruin and devastation as they. The result is that although we are today financially and economically very exhausted, we can begin with our own means to reconstruct and reorganize our industry and agriculture and thus restore to a great degree our country's prewar prosperity and wealth. In combating inflation, we face the task of putting our finances in order. We must reduce the 120 billion crowns left by the Germans to 30 billion Czechoslovak crowns and bring into equilibrium the other economic figures -- on the one hand, the level of wages and salaries and, on the other, the price level of industrial and agricultural products. Until recently these were based on the banknote circulation of 1938, amounting to eight billion Czechoslovak crowns.

One of the most serious of our financial difficulties arises from the fact that the Czech banks were completely ruined during the German occupation. During the seven years that it lasted, the Germans forced all Czech banks to accept German notes, German government securities and various other German stocks and bonds amounting to hundreds of billions of Czechoslovak crowns, thereby exhausting the real assets of these banks and their depositors. Today these German securities are not worth the paper they are printed on. Hence all our banks without exception, and all their deposits, are without cover. This means that the banks are ruined. Realizing that it was impossible to count on receiving any real German reparations, the Czechoslovak state set itself to find some solution of the problem in order to save hundreds of thousands of its citizens from financial ruin.

After long deliberations, the Government decided that the easiest, best and most economical way to save the Czech banks from general bankruptcy (along with the entire financial structure of the state) would be to nationalize them. This also serves as an example of the kind of situation that must be dealt with today by the financially and economically mature states which have been plundered during the years of German occupation.

Many economic and technical difficulties resulting from the war were of a temporary character and are in process of liquidation. Take, for instance, the transportation problem. In 1938, the Czechoslovak Republic owned more than 100,000 railway cars. After the liberation in May 1945, only 15,000 remained. The rest had been stolen by the Germans and sent to Germany, Poland, the Balkans and elsewhere. Today we are already able to manufacture and repair cars. The American Army was helpful in rounding up for us those that had been dispersed throughout Europe, so that we now have more than 50,000. This means that the transportation difficulty has almost been overcome and that by next year our railroad communications will be back to normal. Railroad tracks and bridges damaged in the course of the fighting, particularly in Slovakia, are being quickly put into order. Some important railway constructions, e.g. bridges across the Danube to Hungary, were repaired or rebuilt with the help of the Red Army.

Our supply of food and raw materials also passed through a crisis, which now has been largely overcome. We introduced a strict system of rationing which functions satisfactorily in the whole state with the exception of some districts in eastern Slovakia. UNRRA has helped us effectively, so that we can safely say that there will be no absolute hunger, and no social unrest because of hunger. We have no surpluses, not even the smallest reserves, but with the help that UNRRA will give us in 1946 we can survive until the next harvest and shall be able to feed our people modestly and provide them with clothing and shoes.

The raw materials imported with the help of UNRRA, and the others which we receive in return for our exports of sugar, malt, beer and some products of our metallurgical industry, are sufficient to set our industrial production into motion slowly. The morale of our labor is far from what it was in 1938; but it is steadily improving. The nationalization of certain of our industries was also effected in order to bring the workmen back to the factories and gradually improve their working morale. There is a great lack of coal for heating homes, but next year the coal output will be normal.

In transportation, industry and foreign trade we are today hindered, slowed down and sabotaged not by events in our own country but solely by the economic, financial and transportation difficulties in neighboring states and by the political disorder and unrest prevailing there. Our geographical position is unfortunate. We are surrounded by Germany, Austria and Hungary, states which fought against us, which lost, and which today are in a state of almost total upheaval. This sets a handicap on our speedy consolidation. In spite of it, and although we fought Germany and were occupied by her, we have succeeded in extricating ourselves from disaster after the hostilities were over by our own power, by the work of our citizens and by our own political and economic efforts. Such has been our progress toward consolidation that, in economic health, we stand with Belgium at the top of the list of European nations which underwent enemy occupation. Czechoslovakia will be the first among all the Central European states to find its normal way in 1946.

IV

I would also like to say a few words about the problem of nationalization or socialization of our industry. First of all, I wish to stress that while we are carrying out the nationalization of some of our industries, we do not claim the necessity for this in other states. We have no desire to meddle in these vital questions of other states. In my previous article I pointed out that all these questions would certainly have to be solved in Czechoslovakia after the war on the basis of socialization. I realized then that Europe's evolution would follow that line, and subsequent events have proved me right.

Whether there should or should not be socialization depends, of course, upon the political, economic, geographic and ethnic situation of each state and upon its tradition and history. In other words, the possibility and need of carrying out socialization reforms arise exclusively from the individual situation of particular countries and cannot be generalized. The conditions in Czechoslovakia after this war were such as to make the nationalization of certain industries possible, or even necessary.

It is a fact that the Second World War produced an internal political revolution in most of the occupied or warring European states and also greatly affected economic problems and made necessary the rebuilding of prewar democracy into something substantially changed. The shortcomings of Europe's prewar liberal-bourgeois democracy contributed greatly to the rise of the prewar dictatorships -- first the development of Fascism, then of Nazism. The changes in liberal democracy are being carried out in accordance with the conception that political democracy must be transformed into social and economic democracy.

The internal evolution of European society which began at the time of the French revolution was necessarily different from the evolutionary development in the United States. European international political disunity, the result of natural conditions, has no historical analogy in the United States. That is why the national and nationality development within European society followed other patterns than the evolution in America and cannot be measured in all respects from the point of view and experience of America, just as the American situation cannot be analyzed and judged exclusively from the European point of view.

The Second World War has set European society toward a social rebirth. The United States certainly will consider the results of the social-revolutionary changes now under way as a contribution toward a new and more just organization of Europe and toward the establishment of a more just and lasting peace, based on better social and economic conditions. The socializing tendencies of reconstructed democracy are going to facilitate this type of organization. Should the tendency also bring about a revaluation of spiritual and moral values, represented by the newly deepened and broadened democratic type of régime, this also would certainly contribute toward the moral rebirth of mankind as a whole.

These are theoretical reflections concerning the future social evolution of Europe generally. I will take Czechoslovakia as an example, to show how the actual development of political and economic conditions produced the necessity for the nationalization of the country's industry.

German interference in Central Europe, and above all the establishment of the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, assumed in a great measure the form of economic subjugation. The Germans took over the control of all key industries and banking. German big business concerns and trusts practically expropriated all large Czech properties, and in this way automatically prepared the nationalization of Czechoslovak industry from the economic point of view. The Czechoslovak state after its liberation could not satisfy numerous individuals by returning to them the properties they formerly had owned; often they had sold them voluntarily to the Germans. There also were instances in which great properties had been stolen from Jews, who afterwards were killed or perished without leaving any heirs. And there were many other similar cases. It was impossible to return this sort of property or to distribute it to individuals. It seemed more advantageous, then, to leave the property in the ownership of the state, even though it was decided that it would be administered in accordance with the principles of private enterprise.

If Czechoslovakia is to be a truly national state, and if it carries out the necessary transfer of Germans as decided at the Potsdam Conference in an organized and humanitarian way, the question arises what should be done with the big industries and the banks which belonged to the "Sudeten" Germans who were guilty of treason against the Republic. (For instance, the paper and porcelain industry was in the hands of "Sudeten" Germans belonging to the Nazi Party.) There is no better solution than to take this property, the profits of which paved the way economically and financially for Munich, and transfer it to the state as the confiscated property of traitors.

The nationalization of a part of Czechoslovak industry does not merely reflect contemporary political tendencies; it also conforms to what seems a correct appraisal of future evolution. Political tendencies in Great Britain and the result of the elections in France leave no doubt as to the growing influence of the socialistic element in modern democracy. Without any pressure, without strikes, revolts and political upheavals, Czechoslovakia is openly and honorably trying to prepare herself for this development by making her working people conscious of the great responsibility that falls on their shoulders as a result of these social and economic changes.

It is natural that the socialistic system of the neighboring Soviet Union should exercise an influence on the economic reorganization of Czechoslovakia. In spite of this fact, Czechoslovakia remains and will remain absolutely independent, with her own political democratic régime and her own parliamentary democracy. The Soviet Union does not interfere in any respect in Czechoslovak affairs. Czechslovakia is following her own way, her own methods and traditions. This does not mean isolation from the Soviet Union; it simply represents an endeavor on her part to create her own national policy, one which will satisfy the needs and requirements of her own national and state existence. Czechoslovakia takes whatever can be advantageously adapted to her own needs from the Soviet Union, just as she takes what she needs from America, Great Britain or other countries. In every case and always she acts so as to continue most successfully on her own Czechoslovak path.

The present form of organization simply means that three kinds of ownership are developing in Czechoslovakia: private, coöperative and state ownership. The reorganization of Czechoslovak economy is being undertaken very carefully, in full consciousness of the importance of the problems involved for the future of the state and for the adjustment of its relations with its neighbors. Czechoslovakia has confidence in the success of her nationalization measures and believes that she will again become as important a factor in the European economic world as she was before the war. She will endeavor to develop and broaden her economic and financial relations with all Allied and friendly countries. She knows that she is facing very important and responsible tasks. She realizes that she will have great difficulties, that she will not be able to accomplish what she has set herself to do overnight. But she has faith that ultimately she will succeed.

I have sketched, now, Czechoslovakia's international problems and those facing her in internal reconstruction. She has begun her postwar tasks with courage and enthusiasm. She is and will remain an independent, democratic and progressive state, with a pacifist policy. She will follow in the tradition of her first President, T. G. Masaryk. I know that during the last six months fantastic rumors have been circulated about her, based on propaganda and a lack of knowledge about actual conditions. I am sure that the year 1946 will prove they were fantastic by giving evidence of her normal development.

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  • EDUARD BENES, President of the Czechoslovak Republic; Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1918 to 1936; author of "My War Memoirs," "Democracy, Today and Tomorrow" and other works
  • More By Eduard Beneš