China on the Offensive
How the Ukraine War Has Changed Beijing’s Strategy
CZECHOSLOVAKIA is often represented as an artificial state, one that owes its existence to the caprice of an individual and the chances of circumstance. Strangely enough, we Czechoslovaks have unwittingly done as much to spread this erroneous idea as have our political adversaries. Such was our joy at the restoration of our independence and political liberty, and such the zeal with which we expressed our affection, gratitude, admiration, and filial devotion to our venerated leader, Thomas G. Masaryk, that even sincere people have accepted the thesis that Czechoslovakia's resurrection was a miracle, comparable to that which occurred when Prometheus caused the goddess Pallas Athene to spring from the head of Jupiter. Let us consider the reality.
If the fable of Czechoslovakia's artificial birth were not a fable, if it were true, that truth would be fatal for Czechoslovakia and -- what is more important -- tragic for Europe. A Czechoslovakia arbitrarily and miraculously created could not endure. Nor could the European order of which it is an integral part. Fortunately for both Czechoslovakia and Europe, the way in which our state was created in 1918 had nothing to do with caprice and chance. It had very different origins from the eternally virgin Pallas Athene. And its existence is justified by realities -- living realities which are an integral part of European history and the European tragedy.
Czechoslovakia is a country whose existence and character must be quite incomprehensible to anyone who is ignorant of her antecedents and her geographical situation. As the "Great Moravian Empire," she existed as a separate entity as early as the ninth century. Under Svatopluk (870-894) she lived through her first great tragedy, produced largely by her geographical situation. The Christian faith was spreading at the time, and Svatopluk's Empire was torn between the Western and Eastern Churches. He was incapable of making his choice in time, and his realm dissolved. What remained of it -- Bohemia -- was then faced with a choice between Western and Eastern civilization. The political consequences of such a serious choice would have been quite different if it had been made by the Great Moravian Empire and not by little Bohemia. The Empire would have been in a position to defend itself much more efficiently than could the smaller state. When Bohemia chose the West, she was forced, due to her geographical situation, to accept the Western civilization and the Western church represented by Germany, her neighbor to the west. This meant that she was obliged to submit to German ecclesiastical domination, and in turn to German political supremacy. Her priests and monks came from Germany. The Christian Jehovah became the God of the Germans and their protector against the foreigner.
By strength of character the Czech people resisted this necessity to a certain extent. The Kings of Bohemia became Prince Electors of Germany, that is to say, they acquired the right to elect and to be elected Emperors of Germany -- with the result that in the fourteenth century they were, in fact, so elected. Under Charles the Fourth, King of Bohemia and Emperor of Germany (1346-1378), it came about that by reason of the ascendancy of the Church a large portion of the soil of Bohemia was in the hands of a clergy and of ecclesiastical organizations which were almost entirely German. Naturally, these took advantage of the situation to entrench themselves in every domain of public life. The Czechs had to embark on a fierce struggle against this economic, social and political domination, alike clerical and German. This was the origin of the historic duel between Czechs and Germans. In their defense against German infiltration and domination, the Czechs had recourse to every sort of moral and spiritual and religious method. The culminating period of this struggle, which built up and moulded the Czech national soul, was marked by the movement of Jan Hus and by the Hussite Wars of 1400-1471. Those events were the reaction of the Czech people against German domination over their territory and life -- a result, in turn, of their earlier choice of Western civilization and of the Western church.
At the height of this struggle, the Turks invaded the Valley of the Danube and on August 29, 1526, at Mohacs, conquered Hungary. Threatened in her turn by the Turks, and with the idea of strengthening herself to deal with them, Bohemia freely elected the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, of the House of Hapsburg, as King. Hungary followed suit. In this personal union between Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, it was the latter which played the leading rôle. The reasons for this were several. In the first place, Bohemia alone (apart from her possessions) contributed as much to the common defense against the Turks as did the three Austrias together. I say "the three Austrias," because, after the death in 1564 of Ferdinand the First of Hapsburg, Austria was divided into three parts. The Archduke of Hapsburg, who was at the same time King of Bohemia and Hungary, reigned only over Lower Austria, which was but a third of Greater Austria. If to Bohemia's own efforts we add the contributions made by her possessions, we see that the Crown of Bohemia contributed twice as much to the common struggle against the Turks as did the three Austrias together, and seven times as much as Hungary alone. To this must be added a second fact: The King of Bohemia was a Prince Elector of Germany, and it is chiefly because he was King of Bohemia that the Hapsburgs succeeded in acquiring and preserving the Imperial Crown of Germany. In consequence, during the reign of Emperor Rudolf the Second of Hapsburg (1583-1682), the seat of the Emperor of Germany, who was then a Hapsburg, was Prague.
Unfortunately, by reason of the fact that the Hapsburg who was King of Bohemia had, as Emperor of Germany, his seat in Prague, there naturally occurred a great influx of Germans into Bohemia. During the period of the Reformation these Germans accepted the teachings of Luther and thus were drawn close to the majority of the Czech people, who were Hussite. But the Hapsburg dynasty was and remained Catholic. As such, it saw its dynastic and political position threatened by the religious alliance of the Germans from Germany with the Hussite Czechs. In order to defend the dynasty and its imperial prerogatives, the Hapsburgs, flying the flag of Catholicism, entered into a struggle with the states of Bohemia. The result was the defeat of the Czechs in the battle of the White Mountain in 1620. Thereafter, Bohemia was wiped off the political map of Europe. Three-quarters of her lands were confiscated by the Hapsburgs and distributed amongst their followers from abroad. The Hapsburgs inaugurated a period of Germanization, not only of Bohemia, but of Hungary as well.
Fate so willed it that the defeat of Bohemia in 1620 coincided with the birth of modern nationalism in Europe. Everyone knows that Cardinal Richelieu, between 1624 and 1642, with the assistance of the German and Swedish Protestant princes, unified, created and organized a French state on a national and not a religious basis. Following the French example, England proceeded to forge her national unity. The effect of these two examples of unification on the whole of Europe was enormous. Inspired by them, Peter the Great undertook the organization of modern Russia. Italian and German nationalism still slept during most of the eighteenth century. But in the end the French Revolution came and lighted their torches too, with the result that the nineteenth century witnessed the creation of modern Italy and Germany's great effort to achieve unity. The decisive moment in the political evolution of Europe was approaching.
The Czech nation considers its original election of the Hapsburg dynasty in 1526 as the most injurious act in its history. However, it was not that which most concerned Europe. For Europe as a whole, the crucial question was whether the Hapsburgs were going to aspire to leadership amongst the German princes in the family of German states, or whether they would remember the European mission conferred upon them by the personal union of Austria, Bohemia and Hungary, and would protect those countries against the foreigner. The union had been created in 1526 for the common defense of all three against the Turks. In the nineteenth century it was a question of defending the Valley of the Danube, not only against the Turks, but against the new Russia and the Germany then in process of being born.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the German Reich of today was merely a mosaic of little states, a handful of free cities and ecclesiastical territories. The effort at unification into a modern national state was accompanied by ferocious struggles between the individual German states and their dynasties, each one ambitious to have the leadership over the others. This struggle crystallized in the rivalry between the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties.
In 1815, a Germanic Confederation was constituted, at least in theory, with the Hapsburgs at its head. If that position was simply decorative and moral, it nevertheless constituted the first victory of the Hapsburgs over the Hohenzollerns in the struggle for leadership amongst the German states. Nevertheless, the idea of German unity was making progress. In 1848, under the powerful impetus of the French Revolution, the Germans conceived the idea of creating a genuine German federal state, that is to say, "Greater Germany." A Diet was convened at Frankfurt for the purpose. The Hapsburg dynasty, having achieved the presidency of the Germanic Confederation, sought to change this honorary position into a practical one, and hence agreed to meet at Frankfurt to carry the project further. The Austrian parliament also agreed to be represented.
Bohemia, forming part of the personal union with Austria, was also invited. On April 11, 1848, Palacky, the Czech political leader, declined this invitation because, as he said in his reply, "it would mean the end of Austria, Bohemia and Hungary." He further added: "The maintenance of Austria (Austria, Bohemia and Hungary), its integrity, and its consolidation are of the utmost importance, not only for my own people, but for the whole of Europe, for humanity and civilization. A formidable empire is arising in the east of Europe; it is almost invincible, and an irresistible instinct drives it towards the West and South. Further successes for this empire would lead to the establishment of a universal monarchy. I am not hostile to Russia, any more than I am hostile to Germany. But I am hostile to a universal domination which I consider fatal to the general welfare and progress. In southeastern Europe, along the frontiers of Russia, history has grouped peoples that differ in language, customs and history: Slavs, Rumanians, Magyars, not to mention Greeks, Turks and Albanians. These nationalities are brought together by their weaknesses, since none of them is sufficiently strong to resist its formidable neighbor. They are linked together by the Danube, and Austria, which holds them together, cannot abandon them without risk. The Austrian state is indispensable to the security of Europe and of humanity. If there were no Austria, it would have to be invented."
In order to justify their willingness to go to the Diet of Frankfurt for the purpose of constituting Greater Germany, the Austrians said: "Austria will be German or nothing." Through the mouth of Palacký, Bohemia replied: "If Austria did not exist, it would have to be invented." Palacký spoke of Austria because, as it included Bohemia and Hungary in addition to its own territory, Austria at that time represented Central Europe. When he said: "If Austria did not exist, it would have to be invented," his meaning was: "If a free and independent Central Europe did not exist, it would have to be invented."
The historic decision was in the hands of the Hapsburg dynasty. It had to choose between a national German mission and a European mission, between presiding over the destinies of Greater Germany or over those of the peoples of Central Europe. In 1848, it was the Czechs, not the Austrians nor the Hapsburgs, who were defending Austria. It was Bohemia which refused to sacrifice Austria, Bohemia and Hungary to Greater Germany.
Did the Hapsburgs realize their great European mission? Alas, the answer is in the negative. Instead of choosing to preside over the destinies of the peoples of Central Europe they decided to embark upon the Germanization of Bohemia and Hungary. To what purpose? For the mere satisfaction of Germanizing? Most certainly not! When the Hapsburgs undertook to Germanize Bohemia and Hungary it was in order to be able to present them, at least in appearance, as German states to the other states of the German community, so as to be able to boast that they had added not only Austria, but Bohemia and Hungary as well, to Greater Germany, and thus create an argument in favor of their claim to German leadership and the right to wear the Imperial Crown.
In Germany, there was a statesman who understood the truths of history; his name was Bismarck. He knew that Austria, Bohemia and Hungary could not be incorporated into Greater Germany without danger to Europe. Since the Hapsburgs would not renounce the Imperial Crown of Greater Germany, he decided to declare war. This was in the year 1866. Bismarck conquered the Hapsburgs at Sadowa. King William of Prussia demanded as the price of victory the annexation of Austria; but this Bismarck resolutely opposed. The Hapsburgs and Austria were eliminated from Greater Germany.
Amongst other reasons, Bismarck must certainly have argued that Austria was Catholic and that he did not want a reinforcement of the Catholic element which might interfere with the welding together of the elements which were to constitute Greater Germany. But Bismarck's mind was possessed by another idea, which extended far beyond the limits of German nationalism. That idea was of vital interest to the future of Europe itself. It was something which, to Bismarck's mind, was an insurmountable obstacle to the annexation of Austria. What was this obstacle? Palacký, the Czech political leader, had pointed it out when, refusing the invitation to be present at the Diet of Frankfurt, he declared that if Austria did not exist it would have to be invented. Agreeing with him, Bismarck defined the obstacle in these terms: "Bohemia in the hands of Russia would mean the enslavement of Germany. Bohemia in the hands of Germany would mean war to the knife with the Russian Empire."
So Bismarck spoke and reasoned. He knew that Europe could never allow Central Europe to be in the hands of either Germany or Russia. Now that they had been conquered by Bismarck, would the Hapsburgs learn their lesson? Would they finally accept the evidence that their great historical mission was to preside over the lives and happiness of the nations of Central Europe? This was their last opportunity to submit to the realities of history. To their own undoing and the misfortune of Europe, they persisted in their determination to remain German princes in order to preserve their chance of one day wearing the Imperial Crown of Greater Germany. After the defeat of 1866, the Hapsburgs, so far from organizing Austria as a federation of Central European nations -- as the Czechoslovaks wished and hoped, not for themselves only, but for Central Europe and Europe as a whole -- made the decision to divide the Empire in two, handing over Hungary to the Magyars exclusively, reserving Austria for the Germans exclusively.
Such is the significance of the famous Compromise concluded in 1867 by the Hapsburg dynasty with the Magyars, who had revolted in 1848 under the leadership of Louis Kossuth. But the Austrian Germans were a very considerable minority in Austria itself and the Magyars formed a purely artificial majority in Hungary. In the circumstances, the Germans and the Magyars, in order to retain their political advantage in each of the two halves of the Dual Empire, were obliged to rely more and more on Germany.
From the moment the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell under German domination, realization of the double prophecy of Palacký and Bismarck became inevitable. It came with the catastrophe of 1914. The result of the World War was the fall and dissolution of the Austria-Hungary which had come into being in 1526, when Ferdinand the First of Hapsburg was freely chosen King of Bohemia and King of Hungary.
Palacký refused in 1848 to sacrifice Austria to Greater Germany. In 1867, when the Hapsburgs reached the Compromise with the Magyars and definitely forfeited their historical mission in Central Europe, this same Palacký wrote: "Bohemia existed before Austria; it will still exist when Austria is no more." The prophecy was realized in 1918 when, even before the Armistice, Bohemia, taking the name "Czechoslovakia," resumed the place in Europe which she had occupied as early as the ninth century. It was on October 28, 1918 -- and so prior to the Armistice accorded by the Allies to Austria-Hungary on November 3 -- that Czechoslovakia declared its independence and constituted itself a Republic.
Those who persist in believing that Czechoslovakia is an artificial and arbitrarily created state, without historical antecedents and without social and ethnological foundations, are advised to read a study which the learned Magyar, Oscar Jászi, published in FOREIGN AFFAIRS in October 1933 under the title "Kossuth and the Treaty of Trianon." There will be found the correspondence which passed between the great leader and idol of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Louis Kossuth, and Count Ladislas Teleki, his diplomatic emissary in Paris. In order to enlist Western sympathies, Teleki proposed to Kossuth to establish the provincial autonomy of the Serbs and Rumanians inside Hungary. Louis Kossuth rejected this suggestion for the reason that everything that Hungary granted to the Serbians and the Rumanians she would also have to grant to the Slovaks, the Ruthenians and the Germans. As he pointed out, the plan "would mean the dismemberment of Hungary into six parts," and "the Serb, Rumanian, Slovak, Ruthenian and German provinces would inevitably yield sooner or later to the force of attraction exercised by the neighboring nations." And what would be the end? Not federation but secession: "Secession of the Vojvodina to Serbia; of the Rumanian province of Transylvania, of the Bánát, and of the counties Arad, Bihar, Szathmár, Mármaros, K. Szolnok, Zaránd-Kraszna-Kövár to Wallachia; of the Slovak territory (a colossal province) to the Czechs; of the Ruthenians, with the Galicians, to Russia; of the Germans (Vas, Sopron, Moson) to Austria. And the Magyars to whom? To death."
One has merely to look at a map of Central Europe in order to see that the geographical delimitation indicated by Louis Kossuth makes a series of frontiers which strangely resemble those determined by the Treaty of Trianon seventy years later.
The outstanding triumph of the World War was that the nations achieved the right of self-determination. Liberation of the oppressed nationalities was an indispensable condition to any fruitful international collaboration in Europe in general and in Central Europe in particular. More, this preliminary condition, once realized, might in itself become a means, an instrument, of fruitful coöperation. Here a very grave danger threatened. If the builders of the new Europe were not careful, the right of national self-determination might become an end in itself, instead of being used as the means of collaboration. Thus a new disrupting element might be brought into Europe instead of an element of unification.
Fortunately, above the material, social, moral, human and political ruins strewn everywhere by the World War, a new principle arose and only waited to be put into practice. I refer to the principle of solidarity. Men saw that the war had been won solely because of a mighty effort at organization, coöperation and solidarity. After that experience, why did they not see that, in order to overcome hatred and the destructive forces of exaggerated competition in every day life, even more coöperation and solidarity were necessary than had been needed during the war, particularly as the war had on the one hand destroyed sources of wealth and on the other had accelerated communications and reduced distances?
A political solution of the problem of Central Europe was within reach. The component national units, now free and independent, could at last organize a new Central Europe in which no one nationality would be exploited by another. Whether the World War was to be a triumph for good or for evil depended on man. If the first, action was necessary; but to let things drift would be to allow evil to triumph automatically.
Now science was given to man for his liberation, but often it ends by enslaving him. Science frees only those who know how to use it to control life. Those who do not know how to use it for that purpose are themselves enslaved. Let me explain myself. Because modern science has transformed the material side of human life, people have been quick to conclude that all that is necessary is to surrender body and soul to science and one will become prosperous, free and happy. Such people use the formulæ of leadership. But they have interpreted them in such a way that, instead of becoming the masters of material things, they have become the slaves of material things. In the intoxication of material success they thought of everything except the principal thing, which was man himself, who lives not through material forces alone but by his strength of will and by virtue of his ideas.
The Allied and Associated Powers had won the World War by virtue of their ideas as well as by means of cannon, machine guns and airplanes. Now in a Europe still filled with the repugnant fumes and odors of the war, would they preserve the ideas which had enabled them to triumph, not merely as precious memories, but as their chosen companions in their march along the road leading to a New Europe? Or would these ideas become poor relations, handicaps of which they were ashamed and which they would like to forget?
It is constantly asserted that the Paris Peace Conference dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One fact only need be cited among many to prove this statement incorrect. Czechoslovakia had effectively proclaimed herself a free and independent Republic as early as October 28, 1918, whereas the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not sign the Armistice until November 3, and then only because it was in a state of complete dissolution.
In the process of organizing themselves for an independent existence the Czechoslovaks did not forget the lessons of history. Accordingly the first Czechoslovak Minister of Finance, Aloîs Rašin, requested the Peace Conference to take steps to avoid monetary collapse in Central Europe. M. Beneš and I left no stone unturned, going from one delegation to the other, in order to explain that if the Peace Conference would act in concert it could bring the Central European nations to collaborate in warding off a monetary catastrophe. Our entreaties fell on deaf ears; they came to nothing.
The peace treaties nevertheless had to deal with the economic and commercial problems of Central Europe. Under Article 217 of the Treaty of St. Germain, Austria undertook not to discriminate against the commerce of the Allied and Associated Powers; but these latter, remembering the bonds which existed between Bohemia, Austria and Hungary, agreed (Article 222) not to enforce their rights in a manner that would nullify whatever special arrangements the Austrian Government might make with the Governments of Hungary or Czechoslovakia with a view to establishing a special customs régime. The same article stipulated that the duration of this arrangement should not exceed five years. The Treaty of Trianon, in Article 205, embodied the same terms for Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Unfortunately these arrangements were never put into force. Why? I will not pretend that just at the end of the war the Czechoslovak people displayed much enthusiasm for plunging into a close collaboration with Austria and Hungary. They had just freed themselves from the political servitude imposed upon them for centuries by Vienna and Budapest. Their feelings towards their ancient oppressors could hardly be ones of great tenderness. I think it is to the honor of the Czechoslovak people that they nevertheless realized quickly that the nations of Central Europe had not become free and independent in order to exploit and fight each other, but that they would have to collaborate on an equal footing for their joint prosperity and happiness. Such collaboration had been impossible so long as some of them were free and the others slave. Liberty made it possible by placing all on a footing of equality. Lord Balfour, British delegate to the League of Nations, once reproached me severely. He accused Czechoslovakia of never having really wanted to apply the Treaties of St. Germain and Trianon. Quite rightly he said that if their provisions had been executed, certain of the old economic bonds between Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary would have been maintained and that various economic and financial catastrophies would thereby have been prevented. I had little difficulty in proving to him that this was not Czechoslovakia's fault and that the secret of the failure was to be found in the Chancelleries of the Great Powers.
However that may be, here is what happened. As the economic and financial difficulties of Austria grew steadily worse, the Great Powers decided in February 1922 to come to its financial assistance. England lent it 2,250,000 pounds sterling; France, 155,000,000 francs; Italy, 70,000,000 lire. To this help for Austria the little state of Czechoslovakia contributed no less than 500,- 000,000 Czechoslovak crowns! On October 4, 1922, the Protocol for the financial restoration of Austria was signed. The sum of 650,000,000 gold crowns was allotted to Austria, guaranteed as follows: Great Britain and France, 24.5 percent each; Italy, 20.5 percent; Belgium and Sweden, 2 percent each; Holland and Denmark, 1 percent each; and Czechoslovakia, 24.5 percent, that is to say, as much as France and Great Britain and more than Italy, even though her own financial needs were great and she was herself compelled to undertake a thoroughgoing reorganization.
In order for this loan to have produced its full financial and economic effect it should have been followed by another. Why was this second loan delayed until 1933? Because it could not be made without authorization of the Reparations Commission. The answer to the mystery reposes in the archives of the Commission. I do not wish to speak evil of anyone. But I must say that I represented Czechoslovakia on the Reparations Commission from the day of its birth to the day of its death, and I feel at least qualified to state that it was not Czechoslovak opposition which postponed the granting of the second Austrian loan until 1933.
So much by way of testimony that the new Czechoslovak state remained faithful to Palacký's idea as expressed in the words I have quoted above: "If a free and independent Central Europe did not exist, it would have to be invented." It was because of that faith that the new Czechoslovakia cared not only about her own fate but also about the fate of her neighbor Austria.
We are sometimes reproached with having created the Little Entente. This political formation is presented to the world as being incompatible with the new European spirit. We are also reproached with the manner in which we treat our linguistic and racial minorities. What do these grievances actually amount to?
Until February 16, 1933, the Little Entente was simply a dike raised against the recrudescence of an evil past which had been definitely condemned by the World War. Its transformation step by step into something more positive and general was due solely to the fact that the League of Nations did not take the position which the New Europe had expected. The League's failure has had more immediate political consequences for Central Europe than for most other parts of Europe. Czechoslovakia, for example, knows as a result of the experience I have already described how painful it is to choose or not to choose between the West and the East. For her the League of Nations offered the ideal solution. By choosing the League, she politically chose the West without thereby -- as had been necessary in the tenth century -- surrendering to her powerful western neighbor, Germany. On the contrary, she could collaborate with Germany to the full extent that her geography and her economic interests dictated. But since the League has not yet proved itself a decisive force in the affairs of Europe, the Little Entente is trying with all its soul to organize joint forces in order that its component states may not become again an instrument of national and imperialist policy in the hands of some Great Power. Due to their geographical position, the Little Entente states simply cannot side with one Great Power without siding against others.
To whatever extent misunderstandings exist between Czechoslovakia and Poland they are due in essence to the fact that the Poles believe that Czechoslovakia, being forced to choose between West and East, has chosen the East. That is how Warsaw interprets the policy of Prague. The Polish Government cannot see, cannot believe, that Czechoslovakia really is exercising every possible effort to avoid making the choice. I know that sometimes appearances seem to contradict the thesis here advanced. That is because the means at Czechoslovakia's disposal for defending herself against having to make a choice are very rudimentary. If the League of Nations had asserted itself firmly and definitely in the politics of Europe, Czechoslovakia would not today be in a position which lays her open to the suspicion of having chosen the East.
A few words, now, about the treatment of minorities. If Czechoslovakia had not done her full duty in this respect, as prescribed by the Minorities Treaty, would not Germany between 1919 and October 1933 have officially drawn the attention of the Council of the League of Nations to her derelictions? Would not Poland and Hungary have done so too, in order that the Prague government should be officially and publicly blamed? Why would so much propaganda through the press and on the radio have been wasted on the attempt to create an unfavorable impression of Czechoslovakia if the sounding-board of the League of Nations could have been utilized to prove to all the world that Czechoslovakia was mistreating her linguistic and racial minorities?
This simple fact would justify me in merely saying that the whole attack is a fraud, and in abstaining from discussing the question of minorities any further. In recent months, however, a newspaper campaign has been launched against Czechoslovakia in order to try to convince the world that Prague has organized to bring about the economic ruin of the Sudeten Germans. I must reply to this campaign with facts set forth as briefly and clearly as possible.
On the territory which is now Czechoslovakia was concentrated 70 percent of the entire industry of old Austria-Hungary. The products of this industry were available to all the 51,000,000 inhabitants of the Empire, without customs or other barriers. After the dissolution of the Empire, the number of consumers on Czechoslovak territory was reduced from 51,000,000 to 14,000,- 000, with the result that the Czechoslovak Government was compelled considerably to limit industrial production. Naturally the most highly industrialized regions suffered the most from this limitation. And the most highly industrialized regions were precisely those in the northern part of Bohemia, inhabited largely by Germans.
On the other hand, during the first years following the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, Sudeten German industry did not have much confidence in the currency of the new state and deposited its savings (as did the German merchants in Czechoslovakia) in banks and savings banks in the Reich. When inflation destroyed the German mark they of course lost large sums of money. Then during the subsequent period of prosperity, as they were making money easily, they easily got into debt. They modernized their plants without calculating just what their commercial profits would be in normal times. The crisis of 1929 ensued and the enterprises failed. The banks involved with them abandoned them, considering that they had been badly managed and were poor risks even for the future.
The world commercial crisis struck Czechoslovakia with particular severity because of the importance of her export industries. In 1928 Czechoslovak exports were 21,224,000,000 crowns; in 1933 they had fallen to 5,923,000,000 crowns. Great losses occurred in such export industries as porcelain, glassware and textiles, the great majority of which are situated in regions inhabited by Germans.
These are the simple facts which explain why the Sudeten German population of Czechoslovakia has been so hard hit in recent years.
It may be asked why, when it was a question of organizing Central Europe, more was not done and why it was not done more rapidly. There are several reasons. The first is that each of the new states was so absorbed in the work of organizing its administration, its schools, its roads, its railways, all the details of its social and economic life, that it had little leisure to think of other things, particularly of broad European interests. As for the older states, Austria and Hungary, they were so weakened and exhausted by defeat and by the disruption of their former structure that they hesitated for a long time before they took courage and determined to build anew.
A touchingly optimistic spirit infected great regions of Central Europe. The Ottoman Empire had been broken up, the Empires of the Tsars and the Hohenzollerns had collapsed. Suddenly these great Powers, whose political aspirations had weighed so heavily on Central Europe and clashed along the Danube, had disappeared from the scene. Now that the Danubian nations no longer felt threatened politically from without, they quickly forgot the deep-rooted and remote cause of their past difficulties and misfortunes. They lived in a state of beatitude, believing that the victory which had crowned their efforts in the World War would suffice for everything, that it had removed forever their political misfortunes -- misfortunes due in fact to something quite different, namely their geographical situation. The creation of the League of Nations confirmed this state of mind. They regarded the League both as a product of the New Europe and as something less than a necessity for Central Europe in view of the fact that the World War had settled once and for all the historic conflicts which formerly had troubled them.
In reality, of course, the League was a vital necessity for Central Europe. How could the various nations living there collaborate without leaving each of them open to reproach on the score of having betrayed their separate national interests? The defeated governments found it hard to take a forward step without risk of arousing popular suspicion that they were going to Canossa. The victors were too full of their success to run after old enemies now conquered. The League of Nations was there precisely for the purpose of clearing the atmosphere -- morally, and in personal and political terms. It was neither humiliating nor dishonorable for either side to meet the other on the neutral territory of Geneva. Unfortunately, few statesmen were found at Geneva, just as there had been few at the Peace Conference, who believed that the organization of Central Europe presented a major task and a major opportunity. The accepted idea was that the problem had been settled by the mere fact that the various national states had come into being.
Years have been needed for the world to become conscious of the broad necessities, rooted in geography and history, of the Central European situation. Italy, for example, had been concerned until 1918 simply with the problem of how to defend herself against the Austro-Hungarian drive towards the Adriatic. Now that she has become a Great Power she claims a place on the banks of the Danube -- a reminder that the affairs of Central Europe are not solely the affairs of the Danubian states. Then there is the return of Russia to Europe. And there is the national resurgence of Germany. These are brutal reminders to the world that, though Central Europe has undergone profound transformations from a national and local point of view, though politically and morally its internal situation is much healthier, the problem of its relationship to the Great Powers is the same as it was in 1815. The only difference is that the Ottoman Empire has disappeared from the ranks of those claiming to have vital political interests in that region.
One last and important observation. The Central European concept of the nation and the state differs from that held in Western Europe and in America. It is not a cultural and spiritual concept so much as a linguistic and material one. It is definitely Germanic, with blood, race and language holding an importance beyond anything known in Western Europe or in the Western Hemisphere. This Central European concept of state and nation influences political ideas so intensely and so profoundly that it becomes confused with patriotism and even with the loyalty of the subject towards the state. Let me cite one example to show what harm so materialistic a concept of nationality has done even in the national domain. My example will indicate, perhaps, that it lies at the very source of those internal difficulties which critics use abroad as grounds for reproaching the Czechoslovak Government. I believe that it is the Germanic concept of the nation which has led the Czechs into error in their manner of treating the Slovaks. If the relations between the Czechs and the Slovaks had not been disturbed -- I almost said "corrupted" -- by the materialistic and linguistic concept of nationality, I am sure that there never would have been any doubt abroad as to the Republic's stability. The myth of Pallas Athene alone would not have been enough to create this doubt. Further, the problem of the Sudeten Germans would never have become what it is today. Deliberate choice or policy on the part of the Prague Government is not the root of this error. The original fault is the concept held by the peoples of Central Europe as to what constitutes a nation. This concept, as I have said, is fundamentally of Germanic origin.
In concluding, let me observe that just as a science without ideas is merely a craft, so is political empiricism without ideas. Those who practise it are like navigators endlessly wandering the seas, without a compass and without a definite objective. In the case of Central Europe there are three sorts of ideas. There are ideas which history has proved a failure. There are others which can be practised only if one is resigned to living dangerously. Finally, as far as we are concerned, there are healthy ideas. The great healthy idea for us Czechoslovaks is that a country like ours should identify its interests with the general interests of Europe. Mr. Baldwin, the British Prime Minister, has stated that the Rhine is the frontier of England -- that is to say, that England cannot be defended at all unless she defends herself on the Rhine. History would indicate that as a result of her geographical situation Czechoslovakia runs great risks if she does not choose between the East and the West, and that, whichever she chooses, she must resign herself to living dangerously. But, fortunately, there is an escape from this dilemma, which is simply for Czechoslovakia to take the over-riding choice of identifying her interest with the general European interest. She must cling unshakably to the interests, the ideas, and the general aspirations of Europe. To these ideas, these interests, these aspirations, she must help attract all those who love Europe sufficiently to accept the sacrifices necessary in order that the Continent shall continue to breathe and live.