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Czecho-Slovakia Within.
[78]
Chapter 15

Though, to a certain extent, one can understand and appreciate Czech ambitions tending towards the aggrandisement of their country, yet the fulfilment of such ambitions must not be at the expense of the birthright of incorporated nationalities. In addition to the formation of the national states we have already contemplated, justice demands that the 800,000 Hungarians who are at present cut off by artificial boundaries should be returned to their own country. The northern bank of the Danube from Pressburg to Budapest always has been Hungarian soil and should become so once more. The two areas form in reality one economic unit. Much economic distress has been caused by their enforced separation.

On the other hand, justice could not be satisfied by the allocation of Slovakia to Hungary, for Hungary oppressed Slovakia in the past and racial enmity still subsists. It would be anomalous to free the Slovaks from the yoke of Prague only to hand them over to Budapest; to give them one form of servitude in exchange for another would be a travesty of justice.

That justice demands that Slovakia be an independent State having its own government with definitely stipulated and firmly founded rights opposite Prague. The Slovaks do not want to be controlled either by Czechs, Germans, or Hungarians.

[79] As regards the Poles, the best solution is to give them back to their own country. They live in the Tatra district on the Galician frontier so that this solution would present no difficulties. The country has few natural resources and its soil is very poor. The population is down-trodden and poverty-stricken and is in dire need of the aid which could be afforded to it by its Polish fellow countrymen. Geographically the mountains should be Polish.

The Sudeten Germans are equally entitled to benefit by the principle of self-determination. It is time and high time that they were free from their thraldom to Prague. They are racially very different from all their neighbours in the Czech Republic. It must not be forgotten that it has taken twenty years to induce the Czechs to go even so far as drafting the Nationality Statute. It might well be a further twenty years before they can bring themselves to put it into effect. If President Benes, who is as stubborn as ever his French counterpart "Poincaré la Guerre," had his way it will never be put into effect. President Benes is a man of simple origin whose tastes have remained as spartan as his upbringing. His mind is non-receptive to new ideas and he is totally unable to appreciate the point of view of those who differ from him. To this one-track mind a general European war is preferable to any diminution of the Czech realm. Unlike M. Poincaré he covers the iron hand with a velvet glove. He expresses his sympathy with the minorities but refuses to make any practical attempt to give satisfaction to their complaints. He [80] is a Czech Imperialist who simply cannot understand that any citizen of the Czech Republic should have ambitions other than for that Republic. Benes is the real stumbling block in the way of the Nationality Statute.

It seems probable that Hodza would have been willing to make concessions years ago. His knowledge of the minorities question is deep and his views are sympathetic to the minorities. But he is not so strong a man as Benes, whose tactics are gradually wearing him down. Had he been President, or were he even free to act now, he might and probably would have found a peaceful solution to the problem. Under Benes' autocratic rule his hands are tied.

A Czech intention of shelving the problem has been openly stated in the National Press. Hranicar, for example, says:

    "...Let no one interfere in our domestic affairs. It is our statesmanlike duty to persuade England that the forebearance which she urges us to exercise in the interests of the Nazi Party, is in reality doing disservice to England herself."
The Neue Züricher Zeitung expresses grave doubts as to Czech intentions. The opinion of this Swiss paper is the more valuable since it is opposed to National Socialism and its circulation is, in fact, prohibited in the Reich.

On June 30th last this paper had a leader from which the following is an extract:

    "Has President Benes, who is said to be determined to defend the unity of Czecho-Slovakia in a new battle in the Weisser Berg, [81] sufficient authority to persuade the Czech Nationalists, Hussite standard bearers, to have some understanding of German interests? Has the Prime Minister, whose whole career proves his expert understanding of the minorities problem, sufficient diplomatic skill to make the National Czech Coalition toe the line?"
The paper puts the matter in a nutshell. Hodza has already resigned and so shown his inability on this point so that as a result the fate of Europe is actually dependent on the actions of the indomitable Dr. Benes. Parliament is powerless; the Democratic machine exists only on paper.

The Daily Herald is also numbered among those who have come to realize the ill-treatment suffered by the Sudeten Germans. Its Special Correspondent, Mr. Ewer, recently paid a visit to the Sudeten areas and his dispatches proved the truth of the allegations concerning closed factories and "Czech" dumping. As the Herald is notoriously a Germanophobe organ, Germany's worst enemy could hardly accuse it of being under Nazi control. The evidence given in its columns is the most conclusive proof that anyone could wish for that even the friends of Prague and the enemies of Berlin are being compelled by the sheer weight of facts to admit that there is something amiss in the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia.

The discussions now at last in progress were impeded by the Czech nationals in every possible manner and drastic measures were taken further to depress the condition of the minorities. The Spiro paper mills were moved at the very last moment from Böhmisch-Kramau to Prague. As this firm was the [82] only considerable one in the former town the move means increased unemployment. Even while Lord Runciman was packing prior to his trip to Prague the Managing Director of a sugar refinery in Aussig announced his intention of moving the whole concern to Prague.

The ruin of the minorities and especially of the Sudeten minority was hastened although elsewhere efforts which promised to be satisfactory, were being made to bring about a just settlement.

But the Czech corps of officers have already stated that they are determined to oppose any development along the suggested lines. The Declaration published last month in the Army weekly, Dustoynicke Listy, which was tantamount to a demand for a rebellion against the Hodza Government, proves this. The officers in the Czech Army are almost exclusively of Czech nationality; they stated "that they would not permit" the overstepping of certain limits. Their Manifesto can hardly be regarded as a friendly gesture at the moment of Lord Runciman's arrival in Prague as an impartial mediator. Paris was filled with rumours as to the possibility of a military dictatorship overthrowing Hodza's Government consequent on the publication of this Manifesto. The Czech officers had much the same position in relation to the civil population as had those of Germany in pre-war days. They have no intention of renouncing their various privileges and will doubtless keep on to the very end with their sabotage of all efforts at appeasement.

[83] Henlein is reported by The Daily Telegraph on July 26th last as saying:

    "I will never ask my people to accept mere promissory phrases. This time there will have to be a real agreement based on genuine concessions by the other side as well as by our own."
There was, however, from the very start but little likelihood of any such concessions being granted. Lord Runciman was unable to get his way with the stubborn Benes. The Czech President has an iron will and the usual selfish obstinacy of the die-hard temperament. Many in this country are prone to think that British interests necessarily coincide with those of Czecho-Slovakia. This is not so. Again to quote The Times (25. 7. 38), Wiedemann, Hitler's A.D.C., stated that: "There were no fundamental differences that need separate the British and German peoples. Everything was capable of arrangement." In the same issue The Times added: "Herr Hitler sent an assurance that the German Government were anxious for a peaceful solution of the Sudeten German problem." The Daily Telegraph (21. 7. 38) remarks: "The Foreign Secretary expressed gratification at the spirit of Herr Hitler's message."

There is one way to achieve a satisfactory solution of the Czech problem, namely, by a secret plebiscite under English and, therefore, impartial supervision. In this manner England would be upholding the cause of world peace, a cause which cannot but suffer by threats employed by any nation against any other.

That Great Britain is the country most suitable to perform this task is clear. The Daily Telegraph (27. 7. 38) [84] confirms this, adding that Herr Kundt, Henlein's second in command, "welcomes the mission of Viscount Runciman and states that the Sudeten German Party will afford him every assistance."

Germany appears to have had the same opinion, for on July 26th last, the Angriff stated: "The British observer may count on Germany's best wishes in his difficult and delicate mission." In other words it was the universal opinion that England was the one country who could have conducted a plebiscite to the satisfaction of all interested parties.

The plebiscite would, of course, have had to be carried out in accordance with strictly Democratic principles - on the lines, say, of a General Election in England. The questions asked would have had to be clear and simple, for instance, "Are you a Czech?", "Are you a German?", "Are you a Slovak?", and so on. Consequent on this secret census the various peoples of Czecho-Slovakia would have had to be given self-government or transferred to the countries to which they really belong. The Swiss system is not really suitable to the present case, for while Switzerland has a centuries-old tradition, Czecho-Slovakia has nothing of the sort. Meanwhile, this possibility has been ruled out by the course of events. On the whole, the national groups will obtain their independence even without plebiscites. At the moment of writing, however, it is difficult to foretell how it will plan out, to which side they will lean, whether they will become completely independent States or live side by side with the Czechs in a Federal [85] Community. It would, for instance, be feasible for the Sudeten areas to form an autonomous State. With upwards of four million inhabitants this Sudeten State would be quite big enough to stand on its own feet. More probably, however, such a Sudeten State would of its own volition soon cease to be independent and become part of Greater Germany. Incidentally, this would be the most natural thing in the world. In the case of the Poles and the Hungarians the situation is similar. Here, too, it would be only natural if without much ado and formalities they would be permitted to return to their respective countries. The purely Czech areas with 7,500,000 inhabitants, Slovakia with 2,500,000 and, finally, Carpatho-Ukraine could then form a Confederation of autonomous States, each having jurisdiction over its own affairs and co-operating only with regard to representation abroad and finances according to well-considered and definite lines. The Slovaks and Carpatho-Ukrainians would surely welcome such a solution which conforms with self-determination. I even believe if the Czechs themselves were asked instead of President Benes and his minions in Prague there would be no opposition. The Czech question would thus be finished forever and a day, and European fears as to the future of peace would be allayed.

It has often been said that there is no need for England to have to act as "world policeman." That may be so. But England has been responsible for the creation of many of the smaller European States, and, through Mr. Lloyd George, took a large share [86] in the creation of the Czech Republic, although the Czechs gave the credit for it to President Wilson. On this account she cannot evade her share of responsibility for the present situation.

England alone with her age-long tradition for fair play and justice can take the initiative for all. Speaking of the difficulties of his position Lord Runciman described himself as a small boat alone on the wastes of the Atlantic. Prague made no secret of its hostility to his mission. The official Czech Press Bureau stated: "We will keep an anxious watch on our vital interests, independence and control of our own internal affairs,'' a statement implying that Lord Runciman should take care to avoid any appearance of action. Nevertheless, it is clearly England's duty to stand by those whose national status was guaranteed by the terms of the Peace Treaty, and whose wrongs under Czech rule are now patent to all. There can be only one solution to the problem - the right of self-determination for those who are unwilling any longer to endure the "benevolent" rule of President Benes. England should live up to her reputation for fairness, which would only be in keeping with the anxiety expressed by The Daily Telegraph on July 28th that "nothing should be left undone which might help to heal one of the sore spots in Central Europe liable to inflammation if not properly treated.".

That England is the only country able to undertake the task of doing something, was borne out by the speech made by Mr. Chamberlain at a dinner in Birmingham on July 14th, 1938, when he said:

    [87] "I am thoroughly convinced that the influence that this country can exert for good or evil - for others as well as for ourselves - is more powerful than that of any other country in the world. This is partly due to our inherent strength and to the many resources of which we are possessed. But it is due also to a general, if not universal, recognition of the fact that our policy as a country is not directed merely by selfish interest, but that it is rooted in the conviction that there can be no peace or security or permanency of happiness for mankind except under the rule of law and order, of reason, and of good faith.
          "It is much easier to formulate maxims of this kind than it is to apply them in practice, and those who endeavour to steer by these general but deep-seated principles should expect to suffer many disappointments and set-backs. They have their motives misrepresented and their sincerity doubted. But men who are worthy of their salt are not going to be turned from their purpose by temporary inconveniences or annoyances of that kind. The Government of which I am at present the head intends to hold on its course, which is set for the appeasement of the world.
          "We know that in every country there are vast multitudes of men and women who pray daily and nightly for the success of our efforts. We believe that by the example that we set to others that we can eventually win through to our goal, and when the time comes for us to hand on our responsibilities to others we shall be able to leave behind us a calmer and a safer world."
The whole British public wishes to assist in a solution - and could do so. The Times remarked in a leader on June 3rd, 1938, that:

    "...the letters which continue to reach this office bear witness to the interest taken in its (Czecho-Slovakia's) solution by British public opinion. One which was published yesterday from the Dean of St. Paul's was typical of many, and an effective expression of the view that the Germans of Czecho-Slovakia ought to be allowed, by plebiscite or otherwise, to decide their own future - even if it should mean their secession from Czecho-Slovakia to the Reich. With this view the majority of Englishmen probably agree..."
Further to the foregoing it seems only fair - within [88] the accepted rights of self-determination - that the Sudetens should have the option of deciding whether they will become an independent State or whether they prefer inclusion in the Reich. In either case, an exchange of German and Czech populations could be arranged under the supervision of a British Commission.

In a letter to The Times (2. 6. 38), Mr. W. R. Matthews supposes "that the British Empire has now adopted the view that it is both wrong and unwise to coerce a people into remaining within a state system against their will." He also referred to the possibility of the Sudetens wishing to join Germans with the following words:

    "I take it to be evident that the overwhelming majority of the Sudeten Germans wish to be incorporated in the Reich and that geography does not forbid this. I want to know on what moral grounds could we base a refusal to support a plebiscite to determine the future of these people.
          "It might, I suppose, be said that they do not know what is best for them, or that they have been carried away by propaganda, or that they hold a most unreasonable political theory - in short, all the common arguments against democracy might be used. Or, again, it might be said that their separation from Czecho-Slovakia would weaken that country and disturb the balance of power. I do not see how this could be urged with any show of reason, because it is difficult to think that the inclusion of several million people who are opposed to the State of which they are nominal members can be anything but a source of weakness."
The letter concluded with the words:

    "It would indeed be a tragic irony if, having fought one war, as we are assured, for the principle of self-determination, we found ourselves involved in another to prevent its application."
The present position is untenable; immediate action is required. Things are becoming more com- [89] plicated every day and the longer decisive action is deferred the more difficult the problem will become, and the greater will be the danger to the peace of Europe, which - when all is said and done - is surely the main consideration.

As regards the plebiscite, its results would have to be accepted by all concerned; that is to say, in the events of Sudetens, Hungarians, Poles or others voting in favour of union with their brothers, Prague would have to agree. On the other hand, any group which preferred the status quo would have to understand that it would become a part of the polyglot Republic once and for all. It seems unlikely that this would happen, but all contingencies would have to be provided for, and the result of the plebiscite made binding on all interested parties - that is to say, Germany, Poland and Hungary, as well as the national minorities. Preparatory to the holding of a plebiscite all Czech troops, police and secret service agents would have to be withdrawn from the areas described in official Czech publications as mainly German, Polish or Hungarian. Only then could British officials carry out a plebiscite in the knowledge that no pressure was being exerted on the various populations. Special local police could then be enlisted from the local population.

It would seem as though the immediate adoption of some such proposals as were made by Kundt (see Appendix A) can prevent further bloodshed in the Republic and so avoid European complications. The time to act is now, not next year or the year after. [90] The eleventh hour has struck and any further procrastination may well be fatal.

Prominent personages in France see no objection to the solution heretofore proposed. In Le Revue de France of August 1st this year, on page 295, President Flandin's views on possible German expansion are given. He states quite definitely that France and England should seek a basis for an entente with Germany and is of the opinion that German expansion would not affect France's vital interests. His words are:

    "Would Germany's economic expansion in Central and Eastern Europe along the Danube, always provided that the territorial independence of the States bordering on that river is respected, be of a nature seriously to affect France's major interest.
          "Whilst France is a great Continental Power she is, at the same time, a great Colonial Power, with possessions in all quarters of the globe, which would be the most dangerous for us: to see Germany expanding in Central Europe or, on the contrary, spreading all over the globe, notably in Mediterranean regions, and seeking to wrest from us and from our English friends various of our imperial possessions?
          "Of two evils we have to choose the lesser. For my part,
    my choice is made. In the solution of this question France and England are bound by common interests and aspirations. It is obviously our duty to seek for the basis of an accord with Germany in agreement with, and by common action with, Great Britain."
The neutrality of the new States whose creation is envisaged, that is to say, the lesser Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ruthenia, would have to be the object of a guarantee by the Great Powers acting in concert, [91] supplementing the nonaggression pact signed by the neighbour States.

A condition inseparable from this guarantee would be that the three new States should bind themselves to a strict neutrality and no longer act as advance landing grounds for the U.S.S.R. It can hardly cause surprise that Germany should be strenuously opposed to any form of alliance between Prague and Moscow. It is certainly not to England's advantage to give the Soviets new footholds in Europe, as has been amply proved by the Spanish Civil War.

England can arrange all this if she wishes. The Times (4. 8. 38) referred to the tribute paid to her by M. André Thérive who recently wrote in Figaro: "England proves by her example what civilization really is. Instead of ceaselessly seeking for the theory of it she is content to practise it." The Times concluded its leading article that day with the words:

    "Mutatis mutandis the foreign policy of this country is to try to play its part with honour in defence of its own interests, but always with due regard for the legitimate claims of others, and by fair dealing to establish relations of confidence and concord with an ever-widening circle of States. The one principle that is always valid is to act justly on every issue as it arises."
This paragraph aptly describes England's position. It is now for her to apply her usual fair-mindedness to the legitimate aims of the Czecho-Slovakian minorities, and to extend to them the benefits of the principle of self-determination. A wrong which was [92] done in 1919 can, to-day, be righted. It is never too late to right a wrong, and the fleeting opportunity that is afforded at the present moment should be grasped with resolution and whole-hearted decision.


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