Second Czechoslovak Republic

Second Czechoslovak Republic

The Second Czechoslovak Republic (Československá republika), refers to the second Czechoslovak state that existed from October 1, 1938 and March 14, 1939, existing for only 167 days. It was composed of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and the autonomous regions of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia.

The Second Republic was the result of the events following the Munich Agreement, where Czechoslovakia was forced to submit the German-populated Sudetenland region to Germany on October 1, 1938, and as well as southern parts of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia to Hungary.

The Second Czechoslovak Republic was destroyed when Germany invaded it on March 15 1939, and annexed the Czech region into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

History

The Czechoslovak Republic had become a of its former self, and was now a greatly weakened state. The Munich Agreement had resulted in Bohemia and Moravia losing about 38% of their combined area to Germany, with some 3.2 million German and 750,000 Czech inhabitants. Lacking its natural frontier and having lost its costly system of border fortification, the new state was militarily indefensible. Hungary, received 11,882 square kilometers in southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia; according to a 1941 census, about 86.5% of the population in this territory was Hungarian. Poland acquired the town of Těšín with the surrounding area (some 906 km², some 250,000 inhabitants, mostly Poles) and two minor border areas in northern Slovakia, more precisely in the regions Spiš and Orava. (226 km², 4,280 inhabitants, only 0.3% Poles). Moreover, the Czechoslovak government had problems in taking care of the 115,000 Czech and 30,000 German refugees, who had fled to the remaining rump of Czechoslovakia.

The political system of the country was also in chaos. Following the resignation of Edvard Beneš on October 5, General Jan Syrový had acted as President until Emil Hácha was chosen as President on November 30, 1938. Hácha was chosen because of his Catholicism and conservatism and because of not being involved in any government that led to the partition of the country. He appointed Rudolf Beran, the leader of the Agrarian Party since 1933, as prime minister on December 1, 1938. He was, unlike most Agrarians, rather rightist, and sceptical of liberalism and democracy. The Communist Party was dissolved, although its members were allowed to remain in Parliament. Tough censorship was introduced, and an Enabling Act was also introduced, which allowed the government to rule without parliament.

Ethnic tensions

The greatly weakened Czechoslovak Republic was forced to grant major concessions to the non-Czechs. Following the Munich Agreement, the Czechoslovak army transferred parts of its units, originally in the Czech lands, to Slovakia, meant to counter the obvious Hungarian attempts to revise the Slovak borders.

The Czechoslovak government accepted the Žilina Agreement stipulating the formation of an autonomous Slovak government with all Slovak parties except the Social Democrat on October 6, 1938. Dr. Jozef Tiso was nominated as its head. The only common ministries remained were National Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finances.

Similarly, the two major factions in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the Russophiles and Ukrainophiles, agreed on the establishment of an autonomous government, which was constituted on October 8 1938. Reflecting the spread of modern Ukrainian national consciousness, the pro-Ukrainian faction, led by Avhustyn Voloshyn, gained control of the local government and Subcarpathian Ruthenia was renamed Carpatho-Ukraine.

On October 17, Ferdinand Ďurčanský, Karmazin and Šaňo Mach were received by Adolf Hitler. On January 1, 1939 the Slovak State Assembly was opened. On January 18 the first elections of the Slovak Assembly took place, where the Slovak People's Party received 98% of the votes. On February 12, Vojtech Tuka and Karmazin met with Adolf Hitler, and on February 22 Tiso proposed the formation of an autonomous Slovak state during his presentation of the Slovak Government to the assembly. On February 27 the Slovak government asked the central government for the Slovakisation of the Czecho-Slovak army units stationed in Slovakia and for Slovak ambassadors and consuls to be named as representatives of the autonomous SLovak state.

Disputes continued, and on March 1, 1939 the Ministerial Commitee of the Czecho-Slovak government met, where the question of Slovak departure from the state was in focus. There were some disagreement between Tiso and other Slovak politicians, and Karol Sidór (who had represented the Slovak government in the meeting) returned to Bratislava to discuss the matter with Tiso. and on March 6 the Slovak government proclaimed their loyalty to the Czecho-Slovak Republic and its wish to remain a part of the state.

However, in a meeting with Hermann Göring on March 7, Ďurčanský and Tuka were pressed to declare their autonomy from the Czecho-Slovak state. After their return two days later, the Hlinka Guard was mobilised, which in turn forced the Czecho-Slovak President, Emil Hácha, to react strongly and declared martial law in Slovakia.

Division of Czechoslovakia

In January 1939, negotiations between Germany and Poland broke down. Hitler, intent on war against Poland, needed to eliminate Czechoslovakia first. He scheduled a German invasion of Bohemia and Moravia for the morning of March 15. In the interim, he negotiated with the Slovak People's Party and with Hungary to prepare the dismemberment of the republic before the invasion. On March 13, he invited Jozef Tiso to Berlin, where he offered Tiso the option of proclaiming the Slovak state and ceding from Czecho-Slovakia. In such a case, Germany would be Slovakia's protector and would not allow the Hungarians to press on Slovakia any additional territorial demands. In case the Slovaks would not accept, Germany would occupy Bohemia and Moravia and leave Slovakia to the mercies of the Hungarians and the Poles. Tiso thus returned to Bratislava, and on March 14, the Slovak Diet convened and unanimously declared Slovak independence. Carpatho-Ukraine also declared independence but Hungarian troops occupied it on March 15 and eastern Slovakia on March 23.

Meanwhile, President Hácha was summoned to a meeting with Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring during the early hours of March 15, and informed Hácha of the imminent German invasion. Here Hácha was threatened with aerial bombardment of Prague unless he signed a document accepting the capitulation of the Czechoslovak Army and the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia into Germany. After several strokes, he was forced to sign the document even though he did not consult the parliament beforehand.

On the morning of March 15, German troops entered Bohemia and Moravia, meeting no resistance. The Hungarian invasion of Carpatho-Ukraine did encounter resistance but the Hungarian army quickly crushed it. On March 16, Hitler went to Czechoslovakia and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia).

Thus, independent Czechoslovakia collapsed in the wake of foreign aggression and internal tensions. Subsequently, interwar Czechoslovakia has been idealized by its proponents as the only bastion of democracy surrounded by authoritarian and fascist regimes. It has also been condemned by its detractors as an artificial and unworkable creation of intellectuals supported by the great powers. Both views have some validity. Interwar Czechoslovakia comprised lands and peoples that were far from being integrated into a modern nation-state. Moreover, the dominant Czechs, who had suffered political discrimination under the Habsburgs, were not able to cope with the demands of other nationalities. In fairness to the Czechs, it should be acknowledged that some of the minority demands served as mere pretexts to justify intervention by Nazi Germany. Considering that Czechoslovakia was able to maintain a viable economy and a democratic political system under such circumstances was indeed a remarkable achievement during the interwar period.

Bibliography

  • Jan, Gebhart and Kuklík, Jan: Druhá republika 1938–1939. Svár demokracie a totality v politickém, společenském a kulrtuním životě, Paseka (2004), Praha, Litomyšl, ISBN 80-7185-626-6

References

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