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Czecho-Slovakia Within.
[66]
Chapter 12

The primary preoccupation of the Prague Government is the denationalization of all its minorities and their absorption into the Czech whole. If they are allowed to have their way, not only the Sudeten Germans but also the Hungarians, Ruthenians and Poles will lose their individuality. Having regard to the clauses of the Treaty of St. Germain this policy on the part of the Czechs is a standing reproach to those responsible for the making of that Treaty in the name of justice and peace. In spite of all the evidence which is obvious to any competent observer the Chancellories of Europe have as yet taken no action in the matter. It is always easiest to follow the line of least resistance, and the asseverations of Czech statesmen who boast of their regard for humanity and its rights make pleasant hearing.

The Germans who live in the bastard state of Czecho-Slovakia are made to feel that they are persona non grata. More and more strongly as time goes on their circumstances grow worse. They claim the rights of equal citizenship in the new Republic. It would seem that their right to political, economic, social and cultural equality can hardly, in equity, be denied. Their further demand that German-speaking territory shall no longer be regarded as a possible settlement for Czech migrants seems to be justified.

[67] Nothing but a complete change of heart on the part of the Czechs can right the wrong done and avert a tragedy.

It is hardly surprising that the Sudeten Germans acclaim all who draw attention to their sufferings. They welcome Britons; they naturally feel thankful to Germany for various kindnesses, and their feelings were, perhaps, best described in The Times of August 1st, 1938, in which the report on the way they greeted Hitler at the National Gymnastic Festival at Breslau concluded as follows:

    "Marching a few steps behind, the Sudeten German athletic leaders in turn came abreast of the tribune, received the crowd's ovation, the Führer's full salute - and broke out in isolated pairs to grasp Herr Hitler's hand. The gesture, a spontaneous variation on a protracted monotony, unloosed a rising flood of enthusiasm. The succeeding group of Sudeten German girls immediately broke
    Welcome
    Just minutes before the Führer's arrival.
    [Reinhard Pozorny (ed.), Der Sudeten-Anschluß 1938. Zeitgeschichte im Bild, Druffel-Verlag 1988, p. 137.]
    their ranks, clustered round the foot of the tribune, and offered up a wild profusion of bouquets. Herr Henlein held out willing hands, and the bent-down face of the Führer broke into a smile.
          "At that point restraints were thrown aside. Marchers incontinently left their ranks, smashing down ropes and barriers, and attached themselves to the widening pyramid of arms and bodies round the Führer's tribune. The posses of Secret Service men were powerless to restore order from the growing chaos. Only the Sudeten German labour service corps, marching in an inner circle of the field, retained a vestige of discipline. Young and middle-aged Sudeten German women, their handkerchiefs to their faces, were the evident victims of fatigue and intense emotion. For an hour and a half the Badenweiler March beat out its reiterated and unheeded course. For an hour and a half the 40,000 Sudeten German athletes spent themselves in a homage such as King or President can rarely have received from the subjects of another State."



 
[68]
Chapter 13

The tourist trade in Czecho-Slovakia has suffered severely in recent years. Sight-seeing tours in and around Prague are constantly abandoned owing to a lack of sight-seers. The many English and German tourists who used to frequent the country have been conspicuous by their absence lately. American visitors are almost a thing of the past.

Drastic restrictions upon foreigners are one of the main causes of this loss of the tourist trade. Passport regulations are vexatious and largely unnecessary; it is no uncommon thing for a visitor to find himself deprived of his passport for three or four days; this regulation is ostensibly directed against spies.

I, myself, was at Strbské Pleso recently. It is a pleasure resort and on the occasion of my visit was almost empty. My passport was taken from me and by reason of its absence I was unable to continue my journey. When it was returned to me I called for my bill, whereupon I was told that unless I stayed on my registration would be cancelled. It was only on my threatening to call up the British Embassy at Prague that I was permitted to leave. A fellow guest at the hotel was without papers for three days. As it was impossible to tell if ever one's papers would be in order, it became equally impossible to [69] book a sleeper. When all the formalities in my case were finally completed I found that the sleeping cars were full. Had I stayed another night in this inhospitable town it would have meant fresh registration, confiscation of my passport once again, and further interminable delay. Consequently I caught the first train to Prague and, owing to the inadequacy of the rolling stock, stood for most of the ten-hour journey.

The British are not welcomed outside Prague. On my return from any excursion into the surrounding country my car was invariably searched for contraband. On one three-hour drive from Prague to Marienbad my passport was minutely examined no less than three times. Hotel proprietors in German and Slovak territory are friendly enough and sincerely regret the present state of affairs, but the law is there and they have to obey it. Vexatious inquisition which the law renders obligatory at every hotel, renders travelling a thing to avoid. Tourists who are used to the hospitable treatment they receive in most civilized European countries generally leave Czecho-Slovakia after the shortest of stays, much to the astonishment of the Czechs, who regard their much-vaunted Republic as an earthly paradise.

The Slovaks deny their kinship with the Czechs. Their Travel Propaganda Bureaux advertise "Slovakia" without the "Czecho" (posters such as "Visit the Slovakian Paradise" may often be seen). One meets with a friendly welcome in Slovakia but this is spoilt by the petty persecution of Czech officials. The Czech mentality is only happy when annoying [70] and harassing others. On the few occasions when they tire of ill-treating the minorities they turn their attention to tourists, as a relaxation.

The country is in a state of constant unrest. Street fights are a daily occurrence in Prague; during the municipal elections clashes between parties took place in all districts. The police are armed cap à pie with truncheons, swords and automatics - the visitor has the impression of being in a war zone.

I was present recently when a street fight occurred in Prague. - Turning a corner I came upon some 2,000 Czechs gathered together in front of the German House where the Sudeten Germans were holding a meeting. When the proceedings finished and the Germans tried to leave the dense crowd of Czechs refused to make way. On the arrival of the police the Germans were advised to leave in groups of twos and threes by a side door. This naturally took a long time and those who were impatient for their beds finally decided to leave in a body. They were roughly handled by the crowd and fighting became general, amid hysterical cries from the Czechs. Whether by design or not the small force of Czech police was quite inadequate to control the crowd.

These continual disorders and the general lack of discipline among the officials contribute to driving tourists from the country. Systematic overcharging of foreigners is widespread. It is advisable for the foreign visitor to keep a sharp eye on taxi drivers, who are in the habit of tampering with their meters unless closely watched.

[71] Democracy as we know it does not exist in Czecho-Slovakia. The country is plagued with a horde of officials and bureaucrats and is ruled by force alone.

Conscription in Czecho-Slovakia is more widely applied than in any other country in the world. At the time of the "incidents" in May last, boys of sixteen were called to the colours. They were provided with arms and equipment, but no uniforms, and marched about the country in undisciplined bands, a danger to themselves and others. Railway lines were everywhere guarded by men in mufti bristling with weapons. Motor cars were seized and foreign motorists were constantly held up and searched. In more than one case seats and upholstery were ripped up in a search for "incriminating documents."

Even when the crisis was over soldiers with fixed bayonets were still to be seen on the platforms of railway stations; even the main line stations of Prague - the Wilson and the Masaryk depots - were no exception. "Hiking" in mountain and forest land should only be undertaken at one's own risk, for Czech outposts are dotted about all over the place and one is constantly stumbling on sentries with fixed bayonets. In Slovakia and the Sudeten German areas there is intense bitterness against the troops, who trample crops and make a general nuisance of themselves to the farmers. The Czech soldiery largely consists of raw recruits without discipline and inadequately supplied with reliable N.C.O's.

The Jews, who are accorded special unofficial [72] privileges, seem to be the only people who find conditions in Czecho-Slovakia tolerable and even customary.

The official Czech Travel Bureaux have scarcely any work for their employees and guides. Nevertheless Prague manages to exist comfortably enough at the expense of the minorities.

Plans are on foot to prevent any foreigner earning a living in the Republic. No English is taught in the schools. German is more or less a lingua franca, but those who speak it are looked on with suspicion by the Czechs. The permission given by the English Government to Henlein to visit London was regarded by the Czechs as an unfriendly act. They are obsessed with the idea that England and France should assist them in keeping down their non-Czech population. A sense of justice does not enter into their composition, nor have they the faintest idea of the workings of a true democracy.

The Czechs are prospe[r]ing, as has already been pointed out, for the moment, at the expense of the minorities. This is a state of affairs which can hardly continue, for business is becoming harder and harder to carry on under the twin handicaps of state interference and constant disorders.

It is not the English habit to look with favour upon deserters. Many Czechs have proudly described to me how they crossed to the enemy lines during the War. They have never regarded themselves as traitors, for they hold that in pre-war days they were an oppressed people living against their [73] will under an alien government and were thus entitled to fight for their own freedom.

When I suggested that the position of the various minorities, within their own frontiers, was exactly analogous to their own in pre-war days they said that that was " quite different," though they were unable to adduce any argument in favour of that difference.

They trust no race other than their own and distrust more especially the racial minorities within their gates. This is hardly surprising for, having once stabbed in the back the country of which they formed part, they are now constantly on the lookout for similar conduct on the part of those they are oppressing.



 
[74]
Chapter 14

England has been mainly instrumental in securing the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Esthonia. Separate states were created in each case, the inhabitants of which, though closely related, are not of identical race. There is a far greater difference between the various peoples who inhabit Czecho-Slovakia.

While there can be no doubt of Czech terrorism, retaliation to it has wisely been held in check by the various minority leaders. In a leading article on May 23rd last, The Times referred to the shooting of Sudeten Germans in the following words:

    "The most serious incident was the shooting of two Sudeten Germans by a Czech policeman.... It is satisfactory and reassuring to note that this act of violence - whether justified or not - did not produce any impetuous counter-action.... In their own particular regions German minority form the bulk of the population... the minorities - and not only the Sudeten Germans - are being promised self-administration and proportionate representation in the control of public business...."
Again, from The Times of July 15th:

    "It is common ground that the condition of the Sudeten ought to have been improved many years ago."
That goes to the root of the distrust of the Prague Government felt by all the minorities. Prague has been lavish with promises during the last twenty years, but has done no single act to implement them. [75] The Nationalities Statute which might have put a stop to racial quarrels if brought into force eighteen years ago, is now being held out as a future prospect. To the minorities' demand for autonomy the Czechs counter that this would be to create "states within a state" and that this would lead to a state of affairs rendering central government impossible. When faced with the existence not only of Switzerland but also of the British Commonwealth of free Nations the Czechs have no reply.

Formation of an autonomous Czech State has more ethnographical and geographical justification than had any of the Baltic countries. The same remarks apply to Sudeten Germany and Ruthenia.

There are a number of countries in Europe whose populations are smaller than those of any of the provinces mentioned. Were the Czech State to be deprived of its racial minorities it would still be a considerable power with a population of 7,500,000. It has never been suggested that Greece, with a population of 6,200,000, is too small to continue to exist. Sweden has 6,000,000 inhabitants, a population considerably below that of Greater London, and manages to exist very comfortably. Denmark, a country where poverty is almost unknown, is a state with 3,750,000 inhabitants. Finland has but 3,000,000. The Sudetens - 3,500,000 strong - exceed in population Finland, Norway, the Irish Free State, Lithuania, Latvia, Esthonia, Albania, and Luxemburg. It will thus be seen that a Sudeten State would be by no means the smallest in Europe. As a reductio ad [76] absurdum one might point to the continued existence of Monaco, San Marino and Andorra. Further, if we take overseas examples, there is New Zealand, a flourishing pastoral country with a rapidly expanding industry and but 1,600,000 inhabitants.

There can be no doubt that Czechs, Sudetens, Slovaks, and Ruthenians are sufficiently numerous to form a state each. Political economy appears to raise no objection to such an action. Nor is the claim that Czechs and Slovaks are one people tenable. There are much greater differences between the Czechs and Slovaks than there are between Latvians and Lithuanians. The Czech language is distinct from the Slovak, though both have a common root. Customs and ways of life differ widely between the two countries.

Having regard to these national differences it can hardly be denied that the Slovaks are entitled to a State of their own. It seems unfortunate that England, so largely instrumental in obtaining the grant of independence to Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, cannot be persuaded to do the same thing for Slovaks, Sudetens and Ukrainians.

Czechs themselves would benefit by the action desired by their minorities, for they would cease to be in the position of ruling a hybrid State, 50% of whose population is passively, if not actively, disloyal to the Central Government.

It is of course true that there would still exist minorities even in a new State. In a new Sudeten State, with a population of 3,500,000 or thereabouts, [77] there would be about 300,000 Czechs; Slovakia would contain 100,000 Czechs and an almost equal number of Germans. That is unavoidable, such small groups would have to make the best of the situation or, it might be possible, to proceed to an exchange of population such as was successfully accomplished between Greece and Turkey.

The frontier problem is simple enough of solution. There are no natural boundaries between Latvia and Lithuania, nor between either of those two States and Poland. Yet those frontiers are respected, drawn as they were along ethnographical lines.

What has been done on the shores of the Baltic can be repeated in Central Europe. Lithuania, Poland, Esthonia and Latvia each had a minorities problem, which each has successfully solved. It should be the duty of all the Democracies to ensure a similar solution in Czecho-Slovakia. Slovaks and Sudetens are as much entitled to self-determination as Lithuanians or Latvians. They would be up in arms immediately if any one of the Baltic States endeavoured to swallow its neighbours under cover of a smoke screen of a new State with a high-sounding hybrid title. Can the Democracies, then, continue their complacent acceptance of a state of affairs where one-half of the Czecho-Slovakian population holds down the other half by brute force?


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