|The New Central Europe|
The Munich surrender invited Nazi Germany to further aggression. Within half a year Hitler was in full control of what was left of Czechoslovakia. Within another half- year the Nazi- Soviet pact was signed in Moscow, and the Second World War was on. Thus did Hitler, the winner of Munich, lead his country and the world, via Moscow, to the ruin of war. Meanwhile President Benes, the loser of Munich, took a different road to Moscow, which proved ruinous too. Disgusted with the Western betrayal of his country in Munich, he drew the conclusion that once Czechoslovakia was reestablished, her security should rest on a close cooperation with the Soviet Union. Both developments belonged to the consummation of the Munich tragedy.
The post- Munich Czech government, which was formed hurriedly from the Agrarian critics of Benes's policy and included some Czech Fascists, tried to collaborate with Nazi Germany in fitting mutilated Czechoslovakia into the "new order" of Central Europe. The "Second Republic" (distinguished from the first by a hyphen, Czechoslovakia) also granted autonomy to the Slovaks and Ruthenes. But neither the change in the orientation of foreign policy, nor the reform in the relations among the three Slavic groups of the state, could give a new lease of life to post- Munich Czechoslovakia. Hitler carried out his determination to smash her completely by resorting to the terroristic methods which had previously paid him such nice dividends.
The same threat of force which had softened the two Western powers on the eve of Munich compelled Emil Hácha, President of post- Munich Czechoslovakia, to sign a treaty during the night of March 14- 15, 1939, which turned the Czech lands into a "protectorate," a Nazi term which meant occupation. Meanwhile the Germanophile Slovak autonomists, under Msgr. Jozef Tiso's leadership, proclaimed independence. "Independent" Slovakiawas of course a Fascist state and a German satellite. In spite of this, and not because of it, the Slovak Republic enjoyed a remarkable popularity. It was the first national state the Slovaks had ever had and it appealed to their pride, a quite normal sin in the age of nationalism.
The Ruthene remains of Czechoslovakia, after two days of "independence" proclaimed by the local autonomists, were occupied by Hungary with Hitler giving only reluctant approval inasmuch as he would have preferred to keep them under direct German control. Thus, in the Carpathians, where Ukrainians live on one side of the mountains and Ruthenes on the other, a restoration of the "Polish- Hungarian" frontier--a favorite aim of both the Warsaw and the Budapest governments--was celebrated. The myth about the desirability of a Polish- Hungarian frontier as a mighty source of strength--believed in with equal naivety by both governments--was soon to be exploded when Germany attacked and defeated Poland; the only practical gain drawn from the common frontier was that after Poland's collapse masses of refugees were received into Hungarywith the warmth of a romantic friendship which had long existed between the two nations. Meanwhile the Hungarian government pledged autonomy to the Ruthenes, boasting of giving them the rights they had never secured from the Czechs; but the "autonomy." granted by Budapest was a disappointment even to those Ruthenes who were Hungarophiles. After Munich, with help from Germany and Italy, Hungarybegan to recover her lost territories. Together with the Hungarians came people of other nationalities, and Hungarybecame again a multinational state. Here was the opportunity to prove the superiority of the "Saint Stephen idea" over the much criticized minority policies of Hungarys neighbors. But the "Saint Stephen idea"--as the author of the idea, the historian Gyula Szekf_, himself had to concede--failed the test of history. The national minorities, returned to Hungarian rule between 1938 and 1941, although better treated than they had been in pre- war Hungary did not receive the rights anticipated by those who believed in the modern mission of historical Hungary In addition, Hungarys reactionary social fabric was bitterly resented by everyone, the returning Hungarians included.
After the final liquidation of Czechoslovakia, Nazi pressure turned against Poland. On March 21, Hitler notified Poland that the Free City of Danzig, lying in the corridor between East Prussia and Germany, must return to the Reich; also the Warsaw government was violently attacked for mistreating the million- strong German minority in Poland. On April 27, Hitler denounced the German- Polish non- aggression pact of 1934. The threat of war was greater than ever. On May 19, Churchill asked: "If we are ready to be an ally of Russia in time of war, why should we shrink from becoming an ally of Russia now, when we might by that very fact prevent the breaking out of war?" Hitler's march into Prague, in violation of the Munich agreement, had cured Neville Chamberlain and the non- Fascist world at large of the illusion that, since Hitler was fighting against the injustices of the Versailles Treaty, a compromise with him by satisfying Germany's aspirations for "national self- determination" was possible. But the col- lapse of the appeasement policy did not yet make the long- pending alternative, alliance between Russia and the West, a reality. On the contrary, the chances of East- West cooperation against Hitler grew worse. East- West estrangement and the Russo- German rapprochement were the results of Munich. And the sly assumption of some people in the West that antagonism between nazism and communism would precipitate a war of mutual extermination between the two dictatorships proved as wrong as all the other Western assumptions which sought the easy way out of the European quandary.
In April, Britain and France extended guarantees to Poland, Romania and Greece. But the protracted negotiations in the spring and summer of 1939 between the Western Powers and Russia, which could have made these guarantees effective, ran into the same obstacles as had already barred the East- West alliance against Hitler before Munich. Thus no satisfactory formula could be found to ensure cooperation between Russia and her western neighbors, Poland, Romania and the Baltic states, within the broader framework of an alliance among the Soviet Union, Britain and France. The position maintained by the Russians was that the proposed Anglo- French- Soviet treaty should go into effect in the case of either "direct" or "indirect" aggression. In the annex to the proposed treaty, Molotov defined "indirect aggression" as "an internal coup d'etat or a political change favorable to the aggressor. Moreover, the Russians were anxious to reserve the right of any one of the interested countries to determine whether an act of "indirect aggression" had been committed. This meant in effect that the Soviet government would have been entitled to determine what kind of internal changes in the neighboring countries, exposed to German aggression, would be favorable to the aggressor. This, in the opinion of Russia's neighbors, would have constituted a serious encroachment of their sovereignty and a pretext for Soviet westward expansion. The fears of Soviet expansion among Russia's neighbors have been amply justified by subsequent events; but at that late hour in 1939, the Anglo- French- Soviet alliance was even more than at any time before, the only possible means of knocking Hitler out, either with or without war; and the sooner this alliance could have been concluded, the less, in all probability, would have been the danger of Soviet westward expansion. And although Munich was no excuse for what Soviet Russia did in partnership with Nazi Germany, one thing seems almost certain; it was the Munich blunder that cleared the way for the conclusion of the Nazi- Soviet pact and for its awful consequences.
When the Nazi- Soviet pact was signed in Moscow on August 23, Stalin knew that Hitler was determined to attack Poland. Also, Stalin had assured for himself a share in the event of Poland's "territorial and political rearrangement." However, the intent imputed to him of un- leashing war between Germany and the West was based on no more evidence than the Soviet assertion that "Britain and France, supported by the United States ruling circles . . . were maliciously inciting Hitler Germany against the Soviet Union."3 Stalin could not know, nor could he take it for granted, judging the West on the basis of Munich, that Britain and France would go to war to save Poland--he might have expected a second Munich. But no Munich materialized. On August 25, two days after the Nazi- Soviet pact, Britain had signed an agreement of mutual assistance with Poland. On September 1, Hitler invaded Poland. And three days later, on September 3, Britain together with France declared war on Germany. This was a decision of a Britain whose fighting spirit was aroused--but it was not a decision capable of saving Poland. No aid from the West could save the Poles from disaster. The Poles fought heroically, but succumbed to the superior force of the Nazi war machine, while the Russians entered the last phase of Poland's hopeless struggle to cash in on their share of the Nazi- Soviet deal. With the Nazi- Soviet pact and the outbreak of the Second World War the tragedy of Munich had been consummated. But seldom have victims of historical tragedies learned the lessons of their misfortunes--more often, tragedies have given birth to myths; and Munich was no exception.
The exiles from Nazi- occupied Czechoslovakia who found refuge in the West were in the best position to initiate a new policy of future cooperation among the Danubian nations. After a short eclipse, their country was regaining and even improving its reputation in the West due to the fast- spreading conviction that Munich was both a shame and a blunder. The opinions of the Czech exiles were most carefully listened to. lt was a great misfortune that the leader of the Czech exiles, ex- President Benes, bent his enormous energies and brilliant diplomatic talents to the restoration of Czechoslovakia rather than to the creation of a Danubian federation.
Humiliated and filled with vengeance, Benes was unable to progress from the idea of a Czechoslovak nation- state to the broader program of Danubian cooperation. Furthermore, as a reaction to the West's betrayal at Munich, he concluded that only Russia could safeguard the independence of restored Czechoslovakia. Thus, he was evolving a political ideology which during the Second World War drove him ever closer to Moscow. And while seeking Russia's protection against the recurrence of German aggression, he was also evolving unprecedented nationalist plans for Czech domination. Regressing from Masaryk's liberal concepts of minority policy which had earned so much in world reputation for his country, Benes conceived a program of expelling the disloyal national groups whom he blamed for the Czech tragedy. For reasons of expediency he glossed over the disloyalty of the Slovaks, but was the more uncompromising in his resolution to expel the Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovak martyrdom, Western guilt, Soviet innocence: these were the ingredients which shaped Benes's thinking after Munich.
While Western betrayal bitterly disappointed Benes, Soviet loyalty, in September 1938, impressed him deeply. Translating Munich into ideo- logical terms, he saw behind Western betrayal the work of European reaction and in Soviet loyalty the proof of democratic solidarity. In his thinking, as his memoirs clearly reveal, Munich became the symbol of a bond of union between Soviet Russia and Czechoslovakia. Soviet Russia was the only European power that "kept its word"; Czechoslovakia and Soviet Russia were the only countries that consistently pursued "anti- Fascist" policy; only they were ready to fight Hitler in September 1938, and they were "left alone." Munich was "a crime as much against the Soviet Union as against Czechoslovakia." Benes knew of course that Soviet assistance to Czechoslovakia was made conditional upon the fulfillment of France's treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia. Considering the small likelihood of French help, as well as the fact that Czechoslovakia was not contiguous to Soviet Russia (whereas Poland and Romania, who were, refused to let the Red Army cross their territories), the Soviet pledge of aid to Czechoslovakia was a platonic expression of loyalty indeed. Furthermore, Benes suspected that if war broke out the Kremlin would prefer to intervene with "social revolutionary" aims, when both sides had been exhausted. Nevertheless, after Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Benes did not cease to hope for an East- West alliance against Germany, and he tried his best to dispel Western distrust of Russia.
While in the United States as visiting professor at the University of Chicago in the spring of 1939, Benes had a meeting with President Roosevelt The meeting was arranged by Benes's long- time American friend, Hamilton Fish Armstrong editor of Foreign Affairs, and took place on May 28, at Hyde Park. During the interview Benes predicted the outbreak of war and also that Russia would be "on our side." He was pleased to find that Rooseveltunderstood well the importance of Soviet Russiain world politics; and he was no less pleased to hear the President say that, for him, "Munich does not exist." In London, where Churchill openly advocated an alliance with Russia, Benes's views were acclaimed warmly by the group of Conservatives who opposed Chamberlain's appeasement policy; and in the Liberal and Labour ranks too, Czechoslovakia had many friends. At a dinner given in Benes's honor, on July 27, by the pro- Czechoslovak group in Parliament, Churchill presided and the speakers included Sir Archibald Sinclair and Arthur Henderson, Jr., representatives respectively of the Liberal and Labour parties. All expressed their faith in the restoration of Czechoslovakia, without which, as Churchill said, "the peace will not be made." 5 In contrast to the sympathies of Czechoslovakia's friends in the United States and Britain was the animosity of the French. Even after the outbreak of the war, when Benes was visiting Paris in October 1939 Daladier refused to receive him. In Paris, where Benes once had earned his greatest success, he gathered the impression that, for the French government, Czechoslovakia was "definitely dead."6 In Paris, J. Sverma, a Czech Communist leader, called on Benes and tried to persuade him to leave the West and go to Russia.7 Sverma thought that the liberation of Czechoslovakia would occur in the wake of a great Communist revolutionary victory in Europe. Benes, however, rejected Sverma's ideas; he disliked the extremist views concerning Soviet Russia of the Right as well as of the Left. Thus he disagreed also with Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Polish leader in exile, who anticipated "some repetition of the First World War," namely that Germany would first annihilate Soviet Russiaand then the West would crush Nazi Germany.8 What Benes believed in was an East- West cooperation, both in war and in peace; he longed for it; he was determined to work for it. When in March 1938 Hitler occupied the remains of mutilated Czechoslovakia, events began to move according to Benes's expectations. In September the war which he had predicted broke out. But another of his predictions, that Russia would be "on our side," was not fulfilled until June 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.
During the early stage of the war, plans for the inner reconstruction of restored Czechoslovakia were taking shape in Benes's mind. He was resolved to fight for the pre- Munich frontiers, which he called "the primary objective" of Czech diplomacy in exile; and simultaneously he decided to revise radically the minority policy of pre- war Czechoslovakia. To those who argued in favor of the old minority status quo, he retorted: "Do you want to prepare a new Munich?" His plan was "to reduce radically the number of minorities." This was to be achieved by expelling the minority population.
Benes had a series of dramatic interviews with Wenzel Jaksch, the exiled leader of the Sudeten German Social Democrats who first called on him on September 3, 1939, in London. Jaksch argued in favor of federalization and presented a plan for a broader Central European federation. Not even the Social Democrats who were loyal to the pre- Munich democracy, Jaksch pointed out, could accept the pre- Munich structure of Czechoslovakia. Benes, however, rejected these plans and, in the course of subsequent meetings with Jaksch, revealed his plan to expel the minorities. Jaksch protested vigorously, but Benes remained adamant. "We have to part for good," Benes argued; "only thus shall we be able at some time, when the present pains are forgotten, to meet as neighbors and live side by side, everybody in his own new home, without bitterness and in peace." And Benes concluded: "Yes, I recognize your tragic situation and I feel sorry for you from the bottom of my heart. But this is how it happens sometimes in the life of nations, due to historic circumstances and because of the guilt of their leaders."
To this Benes added in his memoirs, written after the Second World War at a time when the expulsion of the minorities already was in full swing: "These were natural conclusions which had to be valid for the Hungarians and Poles, too. . . . In this sense I was defending this solution in all the discussions with Britons, Americans, Russians and French. Experiments with minority treaties, carried out after the First World War with the aid of the League of Nations, should not be repeated, because they have ended in failure and disappointment. They have led us . . . to Munich." Chamberlain had believed in saving peace by detaching the minorities from Czechoslovakia. Benes believed in making peace by expelling them. So the modern myth of a homogeneous national state stood at both the beginning and the end of the Munich tragedy.
No dramatic farewell meeting like the one between Jaksch and Benes took place between Benes and a representative of the second largest minority of Czechoslovakia, the three-quarters of a million Hungarians, who were also marked by him for expulsion. The few Hungarians from Czechoslovakia who followed the Czech leader into exile were, unlike the Sudeten Social Democrat Jaksch, completely subservient to Benes. They also were slow to realize what Benes's post- war plans were; and some of them grew so bitter, during the war, against Admiral Horthy's reactionary regime, that they not only did not protest against, but on the contrary actively supported the Czech effort to brand Hungarys collaboration with Hitler as the collective guilt of the entire Hungarian nation.
The small group of democratic exiles from Horthy's Hungary headed by Michaelárolyi1">Count MichaelKárolyi, who had been President of the short- lived Hungarian Republic in 1918- 19, were also not in a mood to criticize Benes they were as much impressed by the democracy of the Czechs, whose hospitality many of them had enjoyed during the inter- war period, as they were depressed by lack of democracy in their Hungarian homeland. Sincerely, but naively, they were hopeful of a "compromise" between Hungaryand Czechoslovakia leading to a Danubian federation. In Károlyi's words: "Such a nucleus of permanent cooperation between Prague and Budapest would provide the Danubian region with a center of attraction well- fitted to become a stable foundation for that democratic grouping of peoples which the federation is to be."
Benes, however, was thinking in terms very different from Károlyi about the future of Czechoslovak- Hungarian relations. Infuriated with Horthy- Hungarys part in the tragedy of Czechoslovakia, Benes's feelings toward the Hungarians, as toward the Germans, were directed almost exclusively by desires of revenge and punishment. To equate the hated Germans with the Hungarians was nothing new. Lumping together the crimes of Germany and Hungarywas a Czech practice which had already been carried out effectively during the First World War. Now again the Czechs took the view that the main trouble in Central Europe was the German- Hungarian alliance. Czech propaganda went so far as to describe the "Axis" as not so much a German- Italian, as a German- Hungarian, alliance. In Benes's popular interpretation, Hungarywas, in effect, the villain of Central Europe: "Hungarywas following doggedly the so- called revisionist policy which marred for many years all the attempts and possibilities of establishing friendly relations between the countries of Central Europe in general, and was above all helpful in preparing Germany's aggression against its smaller neighbors."
This one- sided interpretation was, if not excusable, at least explicable by the Hungarians, even greater single-
mindedness in blaming Benes, usually, for all the troubles of Central Europe. As a matter of fact, the antagonism between Czechoslovakia, main pillar of the post- Habsburg system, and Hungary its implacable foe--the rivalry! that is, between Czechs and Hungarians, their mutual hatred and recrimination--was more responsible for the ruin of Central Europe than any of the other small- nation jealousies in the Danube Valley. The Czech- Hungarian rivalry was an antagonism between the principal democratic and the principal reactionary forces of the Danube area, but it was also a struggle between two rival nationalist "solutions" of the problem of Central Europe; and while the Trianon tragedy failed to teach the Hungarians that their "solution" was wrong, the Munich tragedy failed to teach the Czechs that their "solution" was wrong too.
Convinced that democratic Czechoslovakia created conditions superior to any that had existed before in Central Europe, the Czechs considered dissatisfaction with Czechoslovak policies a priori as an act of hostility against democracy. They viewed their struggle against disloyalty among their multinational citizens as a struggle for democracy. This conviction grew especially strong as Czechoslovakia became a target of Nazi aggression. No doubt the disloyal groups were always honeycombed with elements hostile to democracy, and obviously at the time of Munich the enemies of Czechoslovakia were identical with the enemies of democracy; but it was a gross distortion to explain the lack of loyalty to the Czechoslovak state as a conspiracy against democracy. The essential trouble with multinational Czechoslovakia was the same as plagued multinational Austria- Hungary As Walter Kolarz, a Sudeten German scholar of unimpeachable democratic loyalty, pointed out: "In essentials there was a repetition in Czechoslovakia of what had occurred in the case of the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy: those nationalities which had no full share in the state power deserted when circum- stances allowed."
The Czech leaders were unwilling to concede the fact of "essential repetition" in the tragedy of their nation. They had identified their national aspirations with the cause of democracy and they therefore branded disloyalty to Czechoslovakia as a crime against democracy. This was the moral basis upon which President Benes, when driven into exile after Munich, constructed his thesis which claimed that Czecho- slovakia had the right to expel its disloyal German and Hungarian subjects. This was a Verwirkungstheorie, a theory of forfeiture, similar to the one invoked by the Viennese absolutists after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848 49, according to which the nations, by their revolt against Austria, forfeited their rights to constitutionalism. It was also an ugly program for forcibly expelling those forcibly incorporated. After the First World War, Germans and Hungarians, with their land, had been incorporated into the Czechoslovak state against their will; after Munich, according to Benes's Verwirkungstheorie, they were to forfeit not only their right to self- determination but also their right to their land. They were to be treated, indeed, as intruders into an imaginary "thousand- years- old" Czechoslovakia. Benes, in terms reminiscent of the Hungarian revisionist vows, expressed the hope that "Czechoslovakia will return to its original thousand- years frontiers"; but, while he bent his efforts to the restoration of Czechoslovakia's territorial integrity, his Verwirkungstheorie foreshadowed the worst of all defeats: the betrayal of the Czech nation's hard- won democratic legacy.
The Czech program of the ethnically pure national state was a bad augury for the prospects of Danubian reconciliation. Perhaps the worst of it was that it precluded future cooperation even with the democratic elements of those nations who were branded collectively guilty of crimes against democracy. The Czechs, who could have contributed more than anybody else to the building of a truly democratic Central Europe, committed themselves to a program incompatible with democracy. So when the long night of the Hitler era was over, Benes's program of state- making was not a fit instrument for the revival of Western principles of freedom; instead, it fitted into Stalin's plans, and abetted the victory of Soviet tyranny.
|The New Central Europe|