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THE NATIONALITY PROBLEM IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA AFTER WORLD WAR II

FRANCIS S. WAGNER

THERE were sweeping political, socioeconomic, cultural as well as foreign policy changes in East Central Europe between 1918 and 1945. But the most critical question of this region since the late Middle Ages has remained unsolved. No political system has ever succeeded in organizing a lasting and peaceful co-operation among the various ethnic groups. I think their basic approaches failed because of their refusal to recognize the ethnically distinct entity of smaller nations and to apply the principle of self-determination.

More or less the same old mistakes were committed by the Marxist-Leninist nationality policy in all of the Soviet bloc countries after the February 1945 Yalta agreement which acknowledged de facto spheres of influence whereby the Kremlin was given a free hand in Eastern Europe and in a part of Central Europe, including Czechoslovakia.

The theory and application of the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist nationality policy were based on the Kosicky vladny program (Kosice Government Program) of April 5, 1945, as a result of the Moscow negotiations held in March 1945. 1) The Kosice Government Program was the cornerstone of the post-1945 political system. Because of this and from the point of view of the nationality question it was of utmost importance. Without a detailed analysis of the Kosice Program, the nationality policy of the Prague regime cannot be fully understood.

Foremost, the nationality policy of the Kosice Program made a very sharp distinction between Slavic (Czech and Slovak), and nonSlavic (German and Hungarian) nations. Some antecedents of this distinction far in advance of the Kosice platform clearly indicated that the forthcoming Republic would make serious efforts to eliminate the non-Slavic ethnic groups. Jan Sverma was one of those who months before had determined the guidelines for the Kremlincontrolled Czech and Slovak Communists. J. Sverma, in his October 3, 1944 address to the Slovenska narodna rada (Slovak National

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Council), among others, said; 2) "The new (Czechoslovak) Republic cannot be founded on the basis of artificial ties, agreements, but as a brotherly Republic of three Slavic nations: the Czechs, Slovaks and Carpathian Ukrainians. In this Republic, Czechs will be the masters of the Czech lands, Slovaks of Slovakia, and Carpathian Ukrainians of Carpathian Ukraine." At that time, Jan Sverma did not yet know that the new Republic would consist of only two state-forming nations: the Czechs and Slovaks because the Carpathian Ukraine would, similar to the Baltic states, be incorporated into the Soviet Union. The incorporation of the Carpathian Ukraine (Podkarpatska Rus; Karpatalja) into the USSR was already a topic at a Moscow meeting of Czech and Slovak Communists ( Klement Gottwald, Vaclav Kopecky, Ladislav Novomesky, J. Valo, E. Fris) in the first half of December 1944. According to the report of V. Kopecky, himself a participant at the meeting, the presiding Georgi Dimitrov, former secretary general of the Comintern, then head of the division of foreign affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, expressed his convictions concerning the Carpathian Ukraine that the will of the Ukrainian people must be respected and that the mass movement of Carpathian Ukrainians should not be hindered. 3)

In a stenograpically recorded dialogue with Compton Mackenzie which took place between July 1943, and May 1944, President Benes, while in exile, voluntarily offered Carpathian Ukraine and Eastern Poland to the USSR by saying: 4) "We are content that they should join the present Ukraine." Very characteristically, and completely in line with the Yalta spirit, the Western powers had no objection to the incorporation of the Carpathian Ukraine into the USSR in June 1945. The attitude of the Western powers has changed considerably between the wars and in order to prove this let us refer to T. G. Masaryk's remarks 5) about the 1919 peace treaty negotiations on the Carpathian Ukraine: "Our allies, the Western powers, would not wish to see Russians on the southern side of the Carpathian Mountains. Russiaís defeat enabled us to incorporate the Carpathian Ukraine into Czechoslovakia. "

Now, it seems clear why the Soviet Union has always so enthusiastically supported the creation of a "national state" in the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic. Even at the 1947 Paris peace treaty negotiations she was the only one of the great powers to do so. 6)

The nationality policy of the Kosice Government Program aimed at eliminating all the non-Slavic minorities in order to create a national state, was proclaimed in the new Constitution promulgated May 9, 1948. According to the Declaration 7) of this Constitution: "We have decided now that our liberated State shall be a national state, rid of all hostile elements, living in brotherly harmony with the family of Slav States and in friendship with all peace-loving nations of

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the world." ( 9) The same objective is expressed in one of the basic articles of the Constitution: 8) "The Czechoslovak Republic is a unitary State of two Slav nations possessing equal rights, the Czechs and the Slovaks." (Article II/1 )

The new nationality policy was carried out generally by the Czechoslovak and in Slovakia by the Slovak Communist party. It is based upon heretofore unpublished documents written by key figures of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, such as Klement Gottwald, Bohumir Smeral, Jan Sverma, and Vaclav Kopecky, while in exile in Moscow. They formulated the guiding principles of the Kosice Government Program, and even drafted the most significant chapters of the Program. It is interesting to note that, for instance, Vaclav Kopecky drafted chapters 4 on foreign policy, 6 on the national rights of the Slovaks, and 9 dealing with the status of the Germans and Hungarians in postwar Czechoslovakia. 9)

In order to camouflage the intentions of the forthcoming combined efforts for Sovietization and Slavification, the Stalinist Communist leadership and its bourgeois fellow travelers invented and applied the theory of collective guilt in relation to the role that the national minorities supposedly played in destroying the pre-Munich Republic. They argued that both minority groups should be held responsible for the creation of the foreign policy constellation which culminated in the Munich four-power agreement of 1938.10)

President Benes quickly and affirmatively responded to the idea of collective responsibility all the more because his policy concerning the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic minorities had never been sincere. He made an all-important statement 11) about the implementation of the Kosice Program in his brief stay in Bratislava en route from Kosice to Prague: "After this war there will be no minority rights in the spirit of the old system which began after the First World War. After punishing all the delinquents who committed crimes against the state, the overwhelming majority of the Germans and Hungarians must leave Czechoslovakia. This is our resolute standpoint... Our people cannot live with the Germans and Hungarians in our fatherland."

Dr. Gustav Husak, the most talented and highly influential leader of the Communist Party of Slovakia in the immediate postwar years and now in the Dubcek-regime, readily shared President Benes' views by saying: 12) "The past seven tormenting years have changed our opinion and the opinion of the majority of the world on the minority politics. This is the fourth lesson we are drawing from the fall of 1938, a lesson pointing to the historic crime of the Hungarian and German minorities in the destruction of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, a lesson showing the sufferings of the population of Czechoslovakia, a lesson on the inevitability of expelling and exchanging the

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minority populations in the interest of the European peace and the peaceful coexistence of the nations."

1945 through 1948 was the first period of the implementation of the Kosice Government Program. Its principal error was to convert a multinational state into a national one by means of force. Although there was dualism in the restored legislative, executive and judicial functions, significant divergences showed: on the one hand, in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia and, on the other, in Slovakia. But there was perfect harmony between Prague's centralism and Slovakia's local organs in the way they dealt with minority policies. The presidential constitutional decree No. 33/1945 (August 2, 1945) revoked the Czechoslovak citizenship of all Hungarians (then about 600,000) and of all Germans (then around 3,000,000) on the peculiar grounds that they all were enemies of the newly founded Republic. Subsequently, hundreds of discriminatory laws and statutes reminiscent of the Nuremberg legislation were issued by the president, the central organs, as well as the local administration which completely outlawed both minorities. Living under such inhumane conditions, the German ethnic group had absolutely no possibility for any means of legal defense. Their properties were confiscated and almost the whole ethnic group expelled. The situation of the Germans became more serious when in July, 1945, their expulsion from Czechoslovakia was authorized by the Allied and Associated Powers at Potsdam. The Potsdam conference did not authorize the transfer of the Hungarian population from Czechoslovakia but, due to the increasing Soviet and Czechoslovak pressures, the Budapest government was compelled to conclude an agreement with Czechoslovakia on the population exchange which was signed on February 27, 1946. The sole democratic and human aspect of this Agreement was that it allowed the Hungarian government to set up its diplomatic missions in Czechoslovakia for the purpose of rendering legal aid to that portion of the Hungarian minority which was designated by the Prague government for transfer to Hungary. Without this legal aid and intervention the Hungarian ethnic minority would have been de jure and de facto in the same situation in which the defenseless Germans 13) found themselves.

Between 1945 and 1949, there were two turning points in the course of the development of the Kosice Government Program,ófirst, the May 26, 1946 general elections in Czechoslovakia when the Communist Party obtained a relative majority: 43.25% in Bohemia, 34.46% in Moravia and Silesia, and 30.48% in Slovakia, while in Sovietoccupied Hungary, in November 1945, the Communist Party received only 17% of all of the votes. The comparatively small proportion of votes cast for the Communists in Hungary strengthened Czechoslovakia's position within the Soviet bloc in its fight against the Hungarian minority. Secondly, a secret agreement was reached on the

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basis of the status quo in the summer of 1948 by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the Hungarian Working People's (Communist) Party on the Hungarian minority problem. The chief obstacles to the friendship and mutual assistance pact concluded between the two countries in April 1949 were thus eliminated.

Beginning in the second half of October 1948, first in Bratislava, then elsewhere, Czechoslovak citizenship has been gradually regranted to the members of the Hungarian minority, a positive step on the road toward normalization. Undoubtedly, since then the position of the Hungarian ethnic group has improved.

As a consequence of the racially biased policies, far-reaching quantitative changes have occurred on the ethnic map of Czechoslovakia. From a statistical point of view, Czechoslovakia, beginning in 1945, lost its prewar multinational characterófrom 1948 onwards, 94% of its population consisted of Czechs and Slovaks, and only 6% of minority groups, while in the pre-Munich Republic the minorities constituted 36% of the whole population. 14)

As a direct result of the implementation of the nationality policy of the Kosice Government Program, the German ethnic group comprising several million virtually disappeared and the Hungarian minority suffered significant losses between 1945 and 1948.15)

On the threshold of the Stalinist era, Czechoslovakia once more experienced the worst type of national chauvinism stemming this time from the confused ideology of the February 1948 coup d'etat. Once again, though for a very brief period, a combination of nationalism and class warfare with a sharp racial overtone flared up. This evidently downward trend of morality captured the thinking of the political leadership in the heart of Europe before and during the Second World War. This new political leadership flagrantly disregarded all the constructive teachings and warnings of the past by flinging open the door to Racism so detrimental in Central Europe. In this postwar period, the Stalinist regimes prolonged the policies of racial prejudices through the application of collective responsibility toward certain nations. Their "laws" evinced little, if any, differences from those of the Nazi regime. Due to this racially biased attitude, 70% of the total number (8055) of war criminals convicted in Slovakia on the grounds of the so-called Retribucny dekret 16) was of Hungarian ethnic origin, although, in 1945, the Hungarian ethnic minority constituted only 18% of Slovakia's population and the Hungarian ethnic group did not support the Nazi regime more strongly than the Slovaks. It is of importance to recognize this Stalinist "proletarian racism" as having been for yearsósince the inauguration of the Kosicky vladny program (Kosice Government Program)óthe main feature of the nationality policies. This proletarian racism was contemporaneously recognized even by an influential, prolific Slovak Communist author, A. Kalina, who in his article, "Slovaci, Novoslovaci, Reslovaci",

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readily acknowledged the presence of racism in Czechoslovakia's Moscow-directed nationality policies by saying: 17) "Our situation is as follows: whether or not we are willing to acknowledge the existence of our racial laws, their existence is proven by practice." This statement is all the more important because it was published in a Communist weekly organ founded, owned and edited by Dr. Gustav Husak. But it should be emphasized that from about the middle of 1948, the regime changed its course to general class warfare thereby excluding large groups from the Czech and Slovak nations. Among all the nations of the country, the Czechs were affected most adversely by this new national policy because they had the best-developed and largest bourgeoisie which was en bloc excluded from the concept of the "proletarian nation." Theoretically, a proletarian nation could be composed of the following three layers only: industrial workers, working peasantry, and progressive intelligentsia. Starting with the February 1948 events, this social policy was energetically implemented in order to liquidate any remnants of bourgeois nationalism. As a result an entirely new social stratification, the proletarian nation, emerged.

SOCIAL COMPOSITION OF THE CZECHOSLOVAK SOCIETY 18
(in 1000)

Year Industrial Workers %Other Employees%Coop Farmers % Other Producers %Small Farmers % Free Occupat. %Capitalists%
1950 6,950 56.4 2,028 16.4 20 0.0 2,500 20.3 470 3.8 378 3.1
1961 7,738 56.3 3,834 27.9 1,466 10.6 164 1.2 484 3.5 60 0.5
1965 8,201 58.1 4,122 29.2 1,218 8.6 161 1.2 351 2.5 54 0.4

Keeping in mind the rigid Soviet theory of nationality and its application which is in conflict with the vital interests of oppressed peoples, let us now look at the essence of the Soviet concept. According to Lenin's dogma, all mankind is inevitably progressing towards its ultimate destiny, the classless Communist society where all nations of the world are melted into a uniform, new proletarian race. 19) Evidently, Lenin's prophecy is as utopian a scheme for the eradication of nationalism (and of nations) as was the Russian linguist. Marr's once popular theory that the conversion of tsarist Russia into a proletarian country would necessarily result in an entirely new, heretofore unknown, proletarian Russian language. In the early fifties, Stalin's authority was needed to expose and refute the falsity of that statement.

It is interesting to note that Czechoslovakia's socioeconomic development since the late fifties sharply disproved the applicability of Lenin's theorem. Despite the "proletarian nature" of the social composition of the country's population, the age-long nationality problem has reappeared and the Communist leadership has been forced to

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meet the challenge by promulgating the 1960 Constitution whichó quite contrary to the 1948 Constitutionódid acknowledge the existence and positive role of ethnic minorities. This new, socialist Constitution appears to contain ambiguous elements. On the one hand, its Chapter Two Article 20 (2) proclaimes 20) that "The equality of all citizens without regard to nationality and race shall be guaranteed." In addition to this, Article 25 of the 1960 Constitution declares that "The State shall ensure citizens of Hungarian, Ukrainian and Polish nationality every opportunity and all means for education in their mother tongue and for their cultural development." (p. 59) The Constitution does not contain any positive guarantees. In regard to the above-stated minority rights the 1960 socialist Constitution is seemingly nothing but a return to the bourgeois concept of cultural rights with the exception that it was not granted universally because the German minority was implicitly denied this "privilege". On the other hand, the 1960 Constitution negated any autonomy still enjoyed by the Slovaks as a result of the ;345 Kosice platform. This socialist Constitution eliminated virtually all the legislative functions of the Slovenska narodna rada (Slovak National Council) and abolished the all-important institution of the Sbor poverenikov ( Board of Commissioners), thus Slovakia and the Slovaks again came under the administration of the Prague centralism so reminiscent of the preMunich Republic.

The present socialist Constitution does not acknowledge the Slovaks de facto as an ethnically distinct nation. The 1960 Constitution recreated the same familiar source of nationality struggles for self-determination which were such characteristic features of the Slovak past under both the Hungarian or Czech domination prior to the Second World War. And the Novotny regime tore open the old scars of the Slovaks. It can safely be said that there has been no striking difference between the Benes and Novotny concepts of the Slovak nation because both concepts were deeply rooted in the same source: power politics in the service of centralism. 21) Neither was willing to recognize the political entity of the ethnically distinct Slovak nation and to act accordingly. They did not so much as allow some kind of cultural autonomy for the Slovaks, though Vladimir Clementis, a Slovak statesman and intellectual, decades earlier proved that not only Slovak separatists but also Communists fought for the idea of self-determination. On June 4, 1935, in his address at the Prague Parliament, Clementis 22) made these remarks: "We Slovak Communists are firmly for our national self-determination which we are about to realize in brotherly link with the proletariat of all nations of the state."

Up to now, the Dubcek regime has reached in its liberalization trend the farthest point of any political systemsóexcept Switzerland and maybe a few other countriesóin its acknowledgment of the

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ethnically and politically distinct entity of the nation by applying the principle of federalization and self-determination. 23) This is, most likely, the highest achievement of the Czech and Slovak intelligentsia which has been solidly united behind the democratization process. This reform movement. made indeed an unbelievably big step forward by promising to re-establish the minority rights and putting emphasis on the political representation of national minorities, Germans included. According to two experts on nationalism of the Dubcek regime, J. Zvara and J. Sindelka: 24) "Political representation of national minorities is a serious problem. It should be the minimum requirement to create state secretariats in the central government as well as in the Czech and the Slovak governments; also, parliamentary committees and various commissions in both the state and party organs. Present cultural associations are not the best possible forms of political representation of national minorities."

On the eve of the implementation of these plans, the Warsaw Pact troops began occupying Czechoslovakia on August 20, 1968 thereby reintroducing the centuries-old principle of divide and rule in the political activities of Eastern and Central Europe. Now the Kremlin has little hope of rekindling ideological enthusiasm among the Czech, Slovak and other Communists because the masses, especially in Czechoslovakia, have displayed continuing stubborn and near-unanimous resistance to Soviet aims. In this situation when no lasting modus vivendi appears to be shaping up between Prague and Moscow, the Kremlin is being forced to atomize any massive resistance cropping up anywhere in the Soviet orbit. For this purpose the nationality problem can be used as a weapon by the Kremlin. The Slovaks against the Czechs, and the large Hungarian ethnic minority in Transylvania and even in Vojvodina against Rumania or Yugoslavia if these countries are not willing to yield to Soviet pressure. An indication that the time has become ripe for applying divide et impera tactics may be the assumption of a key role by Dr. Gustav Husak, an experienced Slovak opportunist known for his anti-Czech and anti-Semitic views. The divisive role designated for Dr. Husak is all the more likely because his loyalty to the Soviet Union is the only feature of his personality which has never changed and has never been questioned since his first major political task assigned to him in conjunction with the Slovak National Uprising against the German troops in August 1944. Undoubtedly, Dr. Husak is well equipped to execute the new, as of yet partly known dictates of the USSR. Already in the spring of 1945 he eloquently expressed his unchanging views 25) of the Soviet Union: "Let no one be mistaken in one thing: no one and nothing can change the Eastern orientation of the Slovak nation, and its Slavic and Sovietophil conception."

I am fully cognizant that I cannot analyze in greater detail the complex conditions of the nationality question in Czechoslovakia

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with a view to making comments on the unforeseeable future due to the present brutal Soviet intervention. But one thing seems to be sure. It is truly admirable how the Czech and the Slovak nations have recently carried the banner of their democratic traditions by which they became united against Soviet objectives. Moreover, it seems to be evident that in this true mass resistance the teachings of T. G. Masaryk on democracy as a political expression of humanism as well as his resolute anti-Bolshevik and anti-Marxist views are being reflected. This mass feeling may indicate that the traditional RussoCzech cordial friendship has collapsed. The reform thinkers of Central Europe, similar to the presentday Czech and Slovak cultural elite, have always been convinced that the peaceful co-existence of ethnically different groups can be lastingly insured only within the framework of federations based upon a morally strongly rooted concept of freedom. The current experience in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in the Soviet sphere has demonstrated that the masses are prepared for and longing for such a solution. Now the only prerequisite for its fulfillment would be the neutralization of this much-tried region from any outside influence stemming from the power politics of East-West relations.

Washington, DC September 20, 1968.

1) Cf. Chapter "Moskovske rokovania" (Moscow Negotiations) in Gustav Husakís monograph Svedectvo o Slovenskom narodnom povstani. Bratislava, Vydavatelístvo politickej litelatury, 1964. See also Zdenek Fierlinger, Ve sluzbach CSR. II. Prague, 1948. Both authors participated in the Moscow negotiations and rightly emphasize in their books that the program of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was on the Moscow agenda which included the most essential points of the Kosice Government Program including the new concept of the Czecho-Slovak relationship as well as the idea of population transfer.

2) G. Husak, Op. cit., 522.

v 3) G. Husak, Opt. cit., 539.

4) C. Mackenzie, Dr. Benes. London: George G. Ilarrap & Co., 1946, 290.

5) T. G. Masaryk, Svetova revoluce. Prague, 1925, 301.

6) See Dalibor M. Krno, Jednali jsme mir s Madarskem. Prague, Orbis, 1P47, 317. D. Krno emphatically stated that the USSR was the only great power which fully supported the objectives and methods of the Prague government to solve the Hungarian and German minority questions.

7-8) The Constitution of the Czechoslovak Republic; Constitutional Act ofMay 9th, 1948. Prague, Czechoslovak Ministry of Information, 1948.

9) Cf. Bohuslav Lastovicka's article "Vznik a vyznam Kosickeho vladniho programu, ì Ceskoslovensky Casopis Historicky, vol. 8, no. 4, 1960, 449-471.

10) Jozef Jablonicky, Slovensko na prelome; Zapas o vitazstvo narodnej a demokratickej revolucie na Slovensku. Bratislava, Vydavatel'stvo politickej literatury, 1965, 401.

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11) Cas, Bratislava, vol. 2, no 19, May 12, 1945.

12) G Husak "Poucenia z jesene 1938," Nove Slovo, vol. 2, no 20, October 12, 1945, 1-3.

13) For a more detailed review of the de jure and de facto situation of national minorities in post-1945 Czechoslovakia see Francis S. Wagnerís study entitled "Hungarians in Czechoslovakia 1945-1949", a part of a collective work, Hungarians in Czechoslovakia. New York Research Institute for Minority Studies, 1959, 11-37; Samuel Cambel, Revolucny rok 1946. Bratislava, 1945, Konfiskace, sprava a prevod nepratelskeho majetku. Prague, 1947; E Benes, Sest let v exilu, and his Pameti; Precan, Slovenske narodne povstanieó Dokumenty, ete, and Kalman Janics' extensive book review ìKet tortenelmi tanulany a szlovakiai magyar kerdesrol," Irodalmi Szemle, Bratislava, vol 11, no 5, 1968, 439-454.

14) Rude Pravo, Prague, August 16, 1968, 5.

15) Cf "Nationalities in Czechoslovakia, 1950-1965" in Statisticka rocenka Republiky Ceskoslovenske, 1966. Prague, 1966, 77.

16) Cf. Dr. Julius Viktory's official report published in Pravda, Bratislava, March 20, 1948.

17) A Ralina, "Slovaci, Novoslovaci, Reslovaci," Nove Slovo, vol 3, Nos. 39-33, 1946, 20.

18) Statisticka rocenka Bepubliky Ceskoslovenke, 1966. Prague, 1966, 92.

19) M. D. Kammari, "V. I. Lenin ob osnovnykh zakonomernostiakh natsional'nogo razvitiia," Voprosy Filosofii, Moscow, no 4, 1960. See also Francis S. Wagner "Nationalism vs. Federalism in Historical Perspective," pub. in this book, and Frederick C. Barghoorn, Soviet Russian Nationalism, New York Oxford University Press, 1956, 232, and J. V Stalin, Marxism i natsional'ny vopros. Moscow, 1946.

20) The Constitution Of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Prague, Orbis, 1960, 57.

21) See E. Benes, Masarykovo pojeti ideje narodni a problem jednoty ceskoslovonske. Bratislava, 1935, 22. See also Karol Sidor, Slovenska politika no pode prazskeho snemu 1918-1938. Bratislava, 1943.

22) Francis S. Wagner, "National Communism: From Clementis to Tito," Free World Forum, vol. 1, no. 4, 1959, 30, and K. Sidor, op. cit.

23) The plenary session of the Czechoslovak government held August 13, 1968, approved the guidelines of the federalization of Czechoslovakia (by creating the Czech lands and Slovakia for this purpose), as well as the minority rights for all nationalities, including the Germans, for the first time since the war. See a CTK news report in Rude Pravo, Prague, August 16, 1968, I.

24) Juraj Zvara and Jan Sindelka, "Zijeme v jedne zemi; Narodnostni mensiny a jejich prava," Rude Pravo, Prague, August 16, 1968, 5.

25) Dr. Gustav Husak, "Z Bystrice do Bratislavy," Nove Slovo, vol. 2, no. 1, June 1, 1945, 1. See also G. Husak, "O pomere Cechov a Slovakov," Nove Slovo, vol 3, no. 11, 1946, 1-3.

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