[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] COUNT JANOS ESTERHAZY


Bohemia Becomes A German Protectorate

In the meantime, the Germans marched into Prague. In order to give this move a veneer of legitimacy, Emil Hacha, who became Benes's successor in the presidency, and Chvalkovsky were summoned to Berlin. In a meeting attended by Goring, Ribbentrop and Keitel, Hitler told Hacha that because nothing had changed since the January 22, 1939, meeting with Chvalkovsky, he, Hitler, was going to occupy Czechoslovakia. He called on Hacha to sign a proclamation requesting the establishment of a German protectorate.

Hacha wanted to obtain his government's approval first. Goring and Ribbentrop began threatening Macha. Goring said that he would turn Prague into rubble unless Hacha puts his signature on the request. *148

Hacha became ill from the excitement and a doctor was called. Finally, around four in the morning, Hacha and Chvalkovsky signed the declaration which placed the Czech people under the protection of the German Empire. *149

Hitler's promise of protection proved to be worthless. Hungarian troops which occupied Subcarpathian Ruthenia on March 14, marched into Eastern Slovakia on March 23. These events taught the Slovaks the worthlessness of their mutual defense treaty with Germany.

Within a short period, Slovakia was recognized by 27 governments, including its neighboring states and the Vatican

Later on when Berlin demanded that Slovakia join in the war on Poland and hinted at the return of territories in Northern Slovakia, which were annexed by Poland in 1938, the Slovak government was unable to refuse. *150

Certain Slovak authors talk about two political lines that had developed under the growing German pressure in the coming months.


One was represented by Father Tiso, the chief of state, the other by Dr. Vojtech Tuka, the Prime Minister. According to this view, Father Tiso tried to maintain a distance between Slovak politics and Nazi ideology. Dr. Tuka, on the other hand, was very much aware of Slovakia's dependence on Germany, therefore he was not in favor of taking any stand against the Germans.

Dr. Durcansky and Dr. Kirschbaum, Secretary General of theSlovak Hlinka Peoples Party, were Father Tiso's closest collaborators. The Germans did not trust Father Tiso and his circle. In 1940, they summoned him to Salzburg and told him that he must get rid of Durcansky and Kirschbaum.

Dr. Kirschbaum was sent to Rome. Later he was placed in charge of the Slovak legation in Berne. He and Dr. Arved Grebert, his press attache, were trying to persuade the Western powers that when it comes to the postwar political rearrangement of Europe they should be aware of the fact that the idea of a Czechoslovak nation is nothing but fiction and should keep in mind the needs of the independent Slovak nation. However, Benes's emigre organization kept thwarting these efforts. *151

Let us turn now to the political machinations of Benes, particularly the period after his resignation on October 5, 1938 and his escape to England. He was replaced by General Jan Syrovy as provisional president. Chvalkovsky, whose ties to the Axis powers were well known, became Foreign Minister. On November 30, Syrovy convened the National Assembly to elect a new President. Emil Macha, president of the Supreme Administrative Court, was chosen chief of state for a seven year term. Agrarian Party leader Rudolf Beran formed the new government, with Karel Sidor, a politician of Slovak origin, as his deputy

On March 14, 1939, Czechoslovakia split into two parts, with Bohemia and Moravia becoming German protectorates.


Further Political Machinations of Benes

In London, Chamberlain gave Benes a cool reception. This atmosphere did not change until the outbreak of World War Two and, above all, the fall of Chamberlain. Following the collapse of France, Winston Churchill, the new Prime Minister, gave his recognition on July 23, 1940, to the Czechoslovak Provisional Government in London. Once again, the British press portrayed Czechoslovakia as the model of European democracy. At the same time, it was not mentioned in the papers that after a twenty-year strnggle the Slovak people, long proclaimed by Benes as a "sister nation", took the very first opportunity to declare its independence from the Czechs.

As soon as the atmosphere turned in his favor, the exiled Benes started plotting again. He came up with the idea of a Polish-Czech confederation which was to play a pivotal role in postwar Central Europe. There were many obstacles in the path of this idea, not the least being the traditional animosity between the Poles and the Russians, or the problem of Teschen.

Following the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, in June 1941, the Soviet Union recognized the Czechoslovak Provisional Government in London and signed with it a treaty of mutual assistance against Germany. The Soviet Union also recognized Czechoslovakia's borders as they existed before the Munich Pact. On August 5, 1942, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden declared that his government no longer considered itself bound by the Munich Pact. Also in London, a Czechoslovak Council of State was formed and it declared Benes's presidency still valid, despite the election of a new president in 1938.

In the United States, Benes faced a more difficult situation. The American Slovaks regarded Hodza, who had broken with Benes, as the leader. And President Roosevelt was coming under increasing Soviet influence.


In 1942, Benes attempted to win the support of the American government with a major article in the journal, Foreign Affairs, entitled "The Organization of Postwar Europe." Presenting himseff as "one of the foremost authorities" in this question, Benes outlined the basic principles -- as he saw them -- for the postwar organization of Central Europe. Foremost among these were the restoration of twenty-year-old Czechoslovakia and the status quo as it existed before Munich.

Subsequently, Benes tnrned more and more to the Soviet Union. He went to Moscow and, on December 12, 1943, signed an agreement of friendship and mutual assistance. *152

The notes of Jaromyr Smutny, Benes's presidential chief of staff, provide a clear picture of the Moscow talks. They show that Benes had indeed offered his services to Stalin in a fashion that gave Stalin license to interfere in Czechoslovakia's domestic affairs. Benes, in fact, wanted to use the Soviets to intimidate Slovaks who had taken an anti-Soviet stand. In Moscow, he met General Secretary Klement Gottwald of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. They agreed on a solution to the question of national minorities. The solution was to expell the German and the Hungarian minorities and thus create a new national state. *153

Benes was opposed to any cooperation among the small nations. Thus, he opposed the so-called Hodza Plan which had envisioned a Czech, Slovak and Polish federation. He also opposed Churchill's idea of a South German Federation which would have included Bavaria, Austria, Wurttemberg and Hungary (the latter was opposed by Stalin, too). The only plan which, for various reasons, Benes did not oppose was Sikorsky's proposal for a Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation. However, that plan was rejected by Stalin.

Instead of promoting cooperation among the small nations, Benes was advocating the greatest possible Soviet involvement in European affairs. He conducted an intense propaganda campaign for that end, trying to convince everybody that the Soviet Union was becoming increasingly democratic and would respect the independence of the small nations.


"The Slovak National Uprising"

Benes Returns under the Protection of the Soviet Army

According to Slovak authors, Benes joined forces with a handful of third-rate Slovak politicians, living in Slovakia or abroad, in order to achieve his political goals. With Moscow's support, in August 1944, they organized the so-called Slovak National Uprising. Benes intent for the uprising was to demonstrate the Slovaks' desire to be reunited with the Czechs.

Only a few Slovaks, mainly Communists or members of the old Agrarian and Social Democratic parties took part in the uprising, according to the Slovak authors. Large numbers of Soviet partizans were parachuted into Slovakia to support the uprising. False rumors were spread to mislead the Slovaks into believing that Tiso had been killed and the German Army has invaded Slovakia.

The main purpose of this move was to open the way for the Red Army and to incite the Slovak population against the Germans. The "uprising" began with the killing of a German general and his entourage of 27, including women and children, who were traveling by private train from Bucharest to Berlin.

Some 30,000 Slovaks fell victim to the massacre. They had belonged to various politicalfractions. The "rebels" claimed the victims were "reactionaries," "liberals," and so on.

The "uprising" prepared the ground for the Soviet occupation. The Slovak authors consider the "uprising~ neither national, nor Slovak. It was thought to have been the best means to provoke German intervention. *154

These events, with the unspoken consent of the Western powers, prepared the return of Benes and Gottwald, the future Communist Prime Minister. They also resulted in the loss of Slovakia's independence which was won in 1939.

The Kosice Government Program, proclaimed in April 1945, in Kassa (Kosice), became the basic law of the new order in


postwar Czechoslovakia. Its provisions deprived the Slovaks of any hope for an independent, democratic state. We will discuss in Part Two its extraordinarily cruel measures against the Hungarians.

The "National Uprising" not only paved the way for Benes's return to Prague but also his reelection as President on May 19, 1946. A merciless fate awaited the functionaries of the erstwhile independent Slovakia. Thousands of Slovaks were deported to the Soviet Union and many of them were executed. A simple denunciation provided sufficient grounds for arrest. The Catholics were particularly hard hit, with hundreds of them taken away on grounds of alleged "conspiracy against the state and the people's democracy."

According to some statistics, 362 people were executed, 420 received life sentences and 13,548 were given jail terms of varying length. *155

Father Tiso, the President of Slovakia, was sentenced to death by the People's Court of Pozsony (Bratislava) on April 18, 1947. There was widespread hope that Benes would exercise his prerogative to set aside the death sentence. However, in order to get rid of his rival, Benes refused to grant clemency.

Ultimately, Benes' fall was brought about by the same Soviet Union which had restored him to power. On February 25, 1948, he was removed from office and on June 7, 1948, he resigned from the presidency -- for the second time. Four month later, he died on his estate at Sezimovo Usti.

Reportedly, the chief cause of Benes' fall was his refusal to agree to the new constitution. His death marked the departure of the most important symbol of twenty years of anti-Hungarian and anti-Slovak chauvinistic policies. Undoubtedly, Benes was the chief obstacle to the development of a sound, harmonious relationship among the nations of the Carpathian basin. The denial of the rights of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia also came to an end more or less at the same time with Benes' disappearance from the scene.



The Constitutions of 1948, 1960 and 1968

The new Constitution was approvcd on May 9, 1948. It is characteristic that it was based on the concept of the "national state," the same as the Kassa (Kosice) Program. "Our liberated nation will be a national state... free of hostile elements," says the first document. 'The Crechoslovak Republic is the unified state of two Slavic nations, the Czechs and the Slovaks, who share equal rights," says the second document. Neither has any provisions to protect the rights of the national minorities.

Twelve years later, on July 11, 1960, a new constitution was adopted. In 1968, Alexander Dubcek attempted to introduce

"Socialism with a human face." His attempt was crushed by military intervention by the Warsaw Pact nations, led by the Soviet Union. According to Slovak authors, the next constitutional law, approved on October 27, 1968, pays only lip service to the so-called federalization because all political power is concentrated in the hands of the Crechoslovak Community Party.

As we noted earlier, we will discuss in Part Two the various measures taken in this period to deprive the Hungarian minority of its rights. We will also discuss in Part Two the provisions of the Paris Peace Treaty of February 10, 1947. At this point we only wish to note that in addition to giving back to Czechoslovakia the territories returned by the 1938 Vienna Award to Hungary, the Paris Peace Treaty gave three more Hungarian villages -- Horvatjarfalu, Oroszvar and Dunacsuny -- to Czechoslovakia. The Crechoslovak government had demanded five villages on the South bank of the Danube, facing Pozsony (Bratislava) in order to broaden its "bridgehead" there. Following rejection of this demand by the United States and Britain, a compromise was reached, resulting in the transfer of three villages. These three villages were inhabited by Hungarians and Croats, with


no Czechs or Slovaks living there. Clearly, strategic considerations were allowed to prevail over ethnic principles.



Lessons for the Nations of the Danubian Basin from

the Slovak Efforts for Autonomy and Independence

We have surveyed the struggles of the Slovak people for autonomy and independence. As the subtitle of this work also indicates, it deals with the "lessons to be drawn from the events of a stormy period in European history, to facilitate the efforts for the achievement of a lasting and peaceful cooperation among the peoples of the Danubian basin." And, as we noted in the Introduction, our goal is not the "tearing up of old wounds or the endless repetition of old accusations."

With that in mind, let us see what lessons can be drawn from the Slovak efforts for autonomy and independence, as discussed earlier. These lessons are first of all for the Slovaks but could be applied just as much to the Hungarians, Germans and Ruthenians living in the Danubian basin.

We believe, the Slovaks are the most competent to carry out this task. Therefore, we look at Slovak publications for the most appropriate answers. Such as the publication, The Slovaks: Past, Present, Future, which attempts to bring together in a nutshell all these questions and the lessons that can be drawn from them. Here is what it says:

Slovakia typifies the tragic problem of small nations which within the present international community are stilt being handled like cattle. From a satellite of Germany. it. as part of Czecho-Slovakia, has become one of the Soviet Union. Thus, the international feudalism attaching the small nations to the wheels of a bigger power continues with impunity to destroy them. Within this system the small nations. deprived of their international identity and dignity. are not subjects of law and justice. They are peons of bigger powers.

In historical retrospect. the experience of the Slovaks during their over 60-year long life in one state with the Czechs has been a deception. There has been no


regime in Prague that has not abused the Slovaks. *156 Since 1918 Slovakia has appeared in European history as part of Czechoslovakia. It remained the lesser known or completely unknown part. of course, because the Czech policy at home as well as abroad was not interested in making the world acquainted with the Slovak problem. It has been the aim of all Czech political parties. government and exile groups to dominate Slovakia and to assimilate the Slovak people. Therefore, they presentedthe Slovaks as a branch of the Czech or Czechoslovak people and Slovakia as a backward country that needed the Czech rule. *157 Czech discrimination had been equally detrimental to Slovakia under the rule of T.G.Masaryk and E. Benes as it is under Communism. Not only has Slovakia been exploited economically and socially, but the Czechs have been doing everything possible to prevent Slovakia from culturally progressing at a normal pace...

The entire Central-European area should be recognized on the principle of equality applicable to all nations of the area. The realization of such a situation is the aspiration of the Slovaks in Slovakia as well as those in the free world. *158

As we have seen here and will see again in Part Two, the two neighboring nations had wasted too much energy for things of no benefit to them, but rather to the benefit of the great power which has promised some kind a solution, or help toward the solution, of the various problems. Much more could have been accomplished if we had had more patience, more goodwill, more mutual understanding, greater willingness for compromise to solve our own problems ourselves. That is one of the most important lessons.

How well a state takes care of its minorities is one measure of how far democracy has come in that state. The state that has been unable for twenty years to secure the loyalty of its national minorities should not expect those minorities to come to the rescue in time of international crisis. It is too transparent to try to blame those minorities, as demonstrated by the mistaken policies of Benes over twenty years. That is another very important lesson. Unfortunately, in some places there is still some confusion over this question.

The source of the problems has not been the decision of the Western powers to buy peace by handing the Czechoslovakia of Benes to the Germans. The error began much earlier than that, thanks to the same Benes who has been lamented by so many. It began when the vanquished small nations were deprived of the right of self-determination and were forced into such an intolerable situation that they became desperate in their search for a remedy by peaceful means. The great powers,


however, were concerned only with the interests of those who created the intolerable situation in the first place.

The drafters of the Paris peace treaties should have looked into the future, guided by the principle of reconciliation, instead of barring even the hope for reconciliation by creating rigid categories of victorious and vanquished states. Such a regime had its days numbered from the very beginning. Had Benes not denied the autonomy the Slovaks were promised in 1918, he could have counted on the their loyalty against the Germans when the great crisis came. This was equally the mistake of Benes and the great powers which had been trying to keep a nonviable political system alive to the very end. These, too, are important lessons.

The conclusion reached by the Slovak essay we have quoted is in full accord with the concepts outlined in the Introduction. The reorganization of Central Europe must be based exclusively on the principle of equal rights. That can be the only determining principle, as Janos Esterhazy declared in 1942. There is and there can be no other way.

In order to accomplish this between Hungarians and Slovaks, both sides face a great and difficult task ahead of them. As we have stated, the spiritual reconciliation must be the first step. And that can be accomplished only by setting our sights on the goal of reconciliation and cooperation and implanting it firmly into our consciousness.

The question is, do these two peoples, Hungarians and Slovaks, understand that the time has come and are they aware of their historic destiny? All is in vain if they do not. The proclaimed words, no matter how noble they may be, the brilliant intellectual exercises, no matter how deeply felt and sincere they may be, will go nowhere just by themselves. But if these nations are able to climb to the summit their Creator set before them, then and only then, there is no man-made obstacle they could not overcome.


 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] COUNT JANOS ESTERHAZY