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Chapter 16

Political Struggle
and Internal Conflict

The eastern European states born or restored in the wake of World War I evolved within considerably different political structures. Diverse national traditions and character played as much a part as the politics involved; the differences, however, should not eclipse the fact that a number of similarities did exist in most, although not all, of the emerging states.


The evolution of the eastern European countries was affected from the outset by the proximity of the Soviet Union. The October Revolution of 1917 unquestionably influenced their internal politics, and on two occasions shortly thereafter, bolshevism came uncomfortably close. The first lasted from March to August, 1919, when Hungary became a soviet republic, attempting in the process to pull Slovakia in the same direction. The second took place during the summer of 1920, when the Red Army advanced deep into Poland. These two events made a lasting impression upon the eastern European regimes, and all with the exception of Czechoslovakia responded by banning their Communist parties. The Party organizations immediately went underground, and Party leaders who were not arrested went into exile, usually in the USSR. Some of them, like the Bulgarian Dimitrov and the

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Hungarian Rakosi, waited patiently there for events to turn in their favor. Others, such as Bela Kun, organizer of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, perished in the Stalinist purges. Again with the exception of Czechoslovakia, the regimes either barely tolerated or banned socialist parties remaining loyal to the Second International, and strictly controlled or fettered all union activity. It should be noted that in these countries the relatively low level of industrialization would not have encouraged a strong union movement in any case, which explains the continued exception of the more developed Czechoslovakia.

One constant in eastern Europe was the existence of authoritarianism; all of the east-central governments, whether monarchies or republics, practiced repression to some degree. Even in Czechoslovakia, considered an exemplary democracy, the president of the republic retained considerable authority, firmly establishing himself as the seat of the government. With the exception of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the heads of state never hesitated to use force in applying their personal definition of power.

Due in part to the geographical boundaries set by the peace treaties, most of the eastern European countries contained populations of diverse nationalities. Accordingly, the leaders sought to encourage the theme of unity, and many thought that this was best accomplished through strict centralization. Centralization was the rule in Poland, Rumania and especially in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and abuses committed in its name fueled separatist tendencies which were often encouraged from without.

The combination of economic crisis and fascistic influence in the early 1930s fostered the growth of extremist movements inspired by the German and Italian models. These political groups attempted to destabilize the governments in power, relying on nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiments, and on financial support from Rome or Berlin. Groups such as the Iron Guard in Rumania and the Hungarian Arrow Cross were valuable auxiliaries in Hitler's expansionist plans.


Czechoslovakia: A "Westernized,, Imitation of Democracy

To many observers, Czechoslovakia seemed to be the only exception to authoritarianism in this part of Europe. It was the only country governed, at least outwardly, according to the standards of western democracies. Just after independence, the provisory constituent assembly drew up a constitution that was adopted on February 29, 1920. According to this constitution, legislative powers belonged to a national assembly composed of

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two houses, the chamber of deputies and the senate, both elected by suffrage that was universal, direct, secret, and mandatory. The members of parliament voted on the budget and legislation, as well as supervising the operation of the government and selecting the president of the republic. The president was head of the executive branch, and was elected for seven years by the members of the national assembly. He possessed extensive powers, notably the right to veto and the right to dissolve both houses of the national assembly. He was head of the armed forces, designated civil service officers, and appointed the president of the council. Professor Thomas Masaryk, the most important architect of the Czechoslovakian state, was elected to be its first president on May 27, 1920, and was reelected in 1927 and 1934. Masaryk retired for reasons of health in December, 1935. His closest associate, Eduard Benes, succeeded him in the presidency until October 5, 1938, when he resigned in protest over the agreements of Munich between Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier, and Mussolini. The strong personalities of these two statesmen lent much more authority and prestige to the office of president than had been anticipated by the constitution.

Political life in Czechoslovakia was first and foremost characterized by a multiplicity of parties, both national and those formed to represent minorities. The vote was split among more than 20 parties. The government was made up of coalitions formed and reformed amid bitter debate between party leaders, creating sharp divisions among the national parties. On the right, the National Democrats represented the financial and industrial sectors, the Agrarians spoke for the countryside, ranging from large landowners to small farmers, and the Populists represented the large bloc of Catholic voters. In the center, Benes, National Socialists tended to identify closely with the viewpoint of the state government, and constantly served as a foundation upon which each governmental coalition was built. Finally, on the left the Social Democrats and the Communists enlisted support from the working class in Bohemia and Moravia. Apart from these national parties, the Slovak autonomists were represented by Father Hlinka and Monsignor Tiso, while the various German, Hungarian, and Ruthenian parties helped make or break a government depending on their abstention or opposition during crucial debates.

Following the strong showing of the left and far left in the elections of 1920, blamed partly on postwar economic difficulties, centralist coalitions ranging from the Social Democrats to the National Democrats were most continually in power. Heading these coalitions were the Socialist Tusar (1920-1922), and the Slovak Agrarian Hodza (1935-1938). For years, the Communists systematically adopted a stance of opposition to the Czech governments. Until 1935, they denounced Prague's policies towards the national minorities as oppressive, and incorporated into their party platform

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support for minority autodetermination. After 1935, however, the Communists' attitude changed radically, and in 1938 the Communist secretary-general Klement Gottwald became a staunch defender of a republic plagued by the secessionist attempts of national minorities. Just as the Communists began to take a more active role in the government, however, a fascist movement composed of middle class and rural members dissatisfied with the established parties was gathering momentum. Victims of the economic crisis, they formed a national assembly (FR), but until 1938, their movement had only limited appeal.

The problem that plagued the politics of the First Czechoslovakian Republic was the relationship between the two dominant nationalities; 2,600,000 Slovaks lived alongside 7,100,000 Czechs counted in the survey of December 1 , 1930. The union of these two peoples, advocated during the war by most Czech politicians and holding the blessing of the American Slovak community, should have resulted in a federal state in which Czechs and Slovaks had the same rights and duties. These were the provisions of the agreement signed in Pittsburgh on May 30, 1918, by Masaryk and representatives of the North American Slovaks. According to the agreement, Slovakia was to have its own administration and legislative diet. But at the end of the war, in spite of a resolution put forward by the Slovak Assembly at Turoc Szt. Marton, the Czechoslovakian state was set up as a single and centralized structure. On January 1, 1919, soldiers of the new "Czechoslovakian,, army and their Sokol auxiliaries occupied Bratislava (formerly Pozsony) and the Slovak countryside. Slovakia was treated as conquered territory, while its "liberators" behaved more like conquerors than brothers. They systematically assaulted not only everything associated with the old Hungarian regime, but also the religious beliefs of the Slovaks. Hundreds of traditional calvaries were broken and Church statues mutilated. The anticlericism of the new regime, which claimed Jan Hus as its patron, deeply offended the conscientiously Catholic Slovaks. They were further shocked by their Protestant compatriots, cooperation with the iconoclasts of Prague.

From the beginning Slovakia was administered by Czechs, to the profound disappointment of the Slovaks who had hoped to occupy the positions vacated by Hungarian civil servants. As Slovak perceptions of inequality persisted, the local clergy, which had staunchly defended the rights of its flock under the Hungarian regime, resumed its opposition. Father Hlinka, one of the leaders of the resistance against Hungarian centralism in 1907, went to Paris with the intention of defending the rights of his countrymen at the Peace Conference. He was able only to file a long memorandum, in which he set out the grievances of the Slovaks against the Czechoslovakian government. However, the influence of the Czech leaders

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carried such weight in Paris that Hlinka was deported after two weeks. The Paris episode demonstrated the organization and resources of the Czechs: Benes' agents were everywhere.

Memorandum Presented by the Slovak Autonomists to

the Paris Peace Conference of September, 1919

". . .Instead of obtaining autonomy, we have fallen under Czech

hegemony. We have come to Paris in order to claim what we were

solemnly promised. . . . Slovakia has become a Bohemian colony and is

treated as such. We are being exploited by the Czechs. . . They mean to

wrest our Slovak soul from us. In our schools, those who teach the Slovak

language are Czechs who cannot speak it. . . Another matter that sets

Slovaks against Czechs is religious intolerance. The heresy of Jan Hus,

unknown until now in Slovakia, is avidly preached by the Czechs . . . The

soldiers, the Sokols, and Czech government employees deride the piety of

the Slovak people. Many statues of saints have been mutilated and many

churches profaned. . . The Czechs want to use us, without consulting us,

and against our will. There is no Czechoslovakian nation; there is a

Czech nation and a Slovak nation. We are not Czechoslovaks; we are

Slovaks, and wish to remain so. . . In order to demonstrate to the Peace

Conference that all we have said is the pure truth, we venture to request a

plebiscite in Slovakia, which will reveal the true sentiments of the Slovak

nation. But this plebiscite can only take place under the protection of the

Entente. "

Dr. Frantisek Jehlica, Deputy

Monsignor Andrej Hlinka, Head of the Autonomist Party

(Quoted from F. d'Orcival, Le Danube Etait Noir)

Once back in Czechoslovakia, Father Hlinka organized the autonomist movement into a Slovak Populist party which enjoyed the support of the Slovak Catholic church. As the main element of its political platform was Slovak autonomy, the party was opposed by conservatives and members of the Protestant minority. Despite vigorous campaigning by the opposition in the elections of 1925, the Populist party polled 34 percent of the vote. In the years that followed, the Party managed to hold its own, and in 1938 they won in a landslide victory. In the 1938 elections, the Populists obtained more votes than all parties favoring union with the Czechs combined, and if the votes for Hlinka's party were combined with the other parties opposed to centralization -- the German Slovak parties and the Slovakian Communists -- the result would be a clear majority for an autonomous Slovakia. The Slovaks, desire for autonomy was not, as the government in Prague claimed, a matter of a few "obscurantist priests," but rather the wish of an entire people.

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The Slovak question was of extreme importance to Czech authorities because if the Slovaks were given the autonomy and freedom to decide their own future, it would be the end of Czechoslovakia. President Masaryk was clearly aware of this: in an interview with the Berliner Tagblat on July 26, 1930, he unhesitatingly stated, "We cannot give the Slovaks autonomy because they will separate from us and join Hungary." Masaryk's statement reveals not only the mentality of Czech statesmen of the time, but also a curious interpretation of self-determination, as it implied that Slovaks preferred the old Hungarian "oppression" to Czech "liberation." For the leaders in Prague, there were only two possibilities: either accept the secession of Slovakia or keep the Slovaks in the state by force. From the beginning, the Prague government chose the latter policy and stubbornly held to it despite the risks and strains that it entailed. From that point on, the Slovaks were considered untrustworthy and were systematically denied important positions in government. An examination of job distribution in the government of 1938 shows that equality between Czechs and Slovaks was only a myth. Out of 140 high-ranking officers, only one was a Slovak, and among the 13,000 subordinate officers, only 420 Slovaks were to be found. In the ministry of foreign affairs, the numbers were 33 to 1 ,246, while within the central administration only 130 Slovaks were employed out of a total of over 8,000 civil service positions. The situation was identical in Slovakia itself, where in the railway offices, for example, 90 percent of the administrators were Czech and 70 percent of the subordinate employees were Slovak. Such ratios were far from coincidental, as the Czechs did everything in their power to maintain their position. A glaring example was the import of over 170,000 Czech "colonists" into Slovakia between 1921 and 1925, where they were the main beneficiaries of the agrarian reform. While it would appear that this state of affairs would have alarmed those who contributed to the creation of the Czechoslovakian state, the Prague governments proved so adept at manipulating influential journalists that the perception persisted that they had been the acolytes of Czechoslovakian "democracy." This was far from true; Slovakia was nothing more than a colony of the Czechoslovakian state, and one run entirely by and for the Czechs. Overwhelmed by rampant Czech nationalism, the Slovak nationalist movement seemed to become yet another disappointed and bitter element of destabilization in Danubian Europe. This was confirmed in 1938-39 by Slovakia's pro-German behavior during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, support which Germany rewarded with the creation of an independent Slovakian state.

To conclude, we have demonstrated that the image of Czechoslovakia as a democracy was an illusion. While the constitution was democratic and the parliamentary government was based on the principle of universal suffrage, these liberal institutions benefited only one segment of the population. Even

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if a liberal law was adopted, it was applied only at the discretion of Czech administrators that were all too often overzealous supporters of Czech centralization. The Slovak minority was not the only minority to suffer discrimination. The German, Hungarian, Ruthenian, and Polish minorities were also not considered brothers of the Czechs, and were discriminated against both directly and indirectly. We will examine these minorities in greater detail later.

Poland: From Parliamentary Democracy to Military Dictatorship

The restoration of the Polish state, the Republic of Poland, took place under particularly delicate conditions. Until 1921, the new state possessed largely undefined borders, particularly on the Soviet Russian side. Moreover, the founders of the new Poland were faced with the serious problem of trying to combine within a single state provinces that for over a century had been separated from each other, and that had been living under regimes with radically different political and social structures.

After the constituent assembly elections, however, the new state had a provisory constitution which granted power to the president of the Republic, Joseph Pilsudski. His considerable power was increased by his parallel role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces; a duality made necessary by the war against Russia which lasted until the armistice of October 12, 1920. While Pilsudski was leading Polish troops to victory, the deputies in the constituent assembly were working on the final draft of a constitution. Their task was made difficult, however, by the civilian government's lack of popularity next to the prestigious hero of the Vistula. After long debates between a right wing favoring parliamentary rule to counter Pilsudski's personal power (led by the Populist Witos), and a left desiring presidential rule, the assembly adopted a definitive constitution on March 17, 1921. The constitution set up a bicameral parliament with a diet elected by voters over the age of 21, and a senate by citizens age 30 and over. For both houses, the voting was direct, secret, and representatively proportional. At the head of the executive branch, the constitution provided for a president to be elected by the members of both houses meeting as a national assembly, and granted him a term of seven years. The president had nearly the same powers as delegated to the president of the French constitution of 1875; like the French president, he was given the right to dissolve parliament with the agreement of three-quarters of the senators.

The new institutions were established by November, 1922. Marshal Pilsudski, widely considered to be the most popular candidate for president, found presidential power too limited and refused to run. Following a close election, the Socialist candidate, Narutowicz, assumed office on December 9, 1922. His election, however, created a storm of protest; the right and the

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Nationalists condemned his Jewish background and his membership in the Freemasonry. Less than two weeks after coming to power, Narutowicz was assassinated by a Nationalist, and General Sikorski was named provisional head of government. Sikorski managed to restore peace, and proceeded with new presidential elections.

On December 20, 1922, Stanislas Wojciechowski was chosen by the national assembly as president with Pilsudski's support. His right-of-center government had to contend with a number of pressing issues, namely a falling currency, social unrest, and difficult relations with an army unhappily confined to its barracks while aware of its prestige. The temporary retirement of Marshal Pilsudski in May, 1923, seemed to solve the latter problem, but the Marshal had no intention of staying out of public affairs. Less than three years later, following the return of his old adversary Witos, Pilsudski was moved to action by a fear that the new chief of state might remove those generals and officers who supported him. On May 12, 1926, troops loyal to Pilsudski marched on Warsaw, to be resisted by loyalist troops under orders from General Rozwadowski. But on May 14, the sedition triumphed. While the right sanctioned resistance to the forceful takeover, the Socialists, who still believed Pilsudski to be one of their own, called a general strike in his support. President Wojciechowski and his government resigned en masse to put an end to the fratricidal conflict that had already caused the death of several hundred civilians. After an interim period, the national assembly agreed to name Pilsudski as president of the Republic. To the surprise of everyone, he refused, supporting instead the election of a Socialist friend, Professor Ignace Moscicki. The Marshal settled for the titles of Minister of War and of Inspector General of the Army.

In reality, with the support of the army, Pilsudski was the real power behind Moscicki's government, encouraging legislative reform that would benefit his later plans. The constitution of 1921 was modified to increase presidential powers; the president of the Republic was given the unrestricted right to dissolve parliament, and could adopt a budget by decree if the assemblies could not do so during parliamentary session. Elected to the presidency with the help of the Socialists, Pilsudski gradually began to engineer a break with them. With the support of a block within the government devoted to ultra-nationalist policies, his personal appeal, and sharing his hostility to the established parties, Pilsudski established a virtual dictatorship. The opposition, composed of Socialists now hostile to Pilsudski, Wito's Populists, and Korfantr's Christian Democrats, decided to join forces. During the congress held in Krakow on June 29, 1930, the opposition leaders demanded Pilsudski's removal and an end to the dictatorship in "defense of the law and the freedom of the people." Pilsudski reacted violently, dissolving both houses of parliament and arresting the

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principle leaders of the opposition. The Communists, few in number because Poles regarded them as having a close association with Russia, remained as semi-clandestine as they had been since 1926.

The elections of November 16, 1930, were far from free. Under strong pressure from the authorities, the Pilsudski government obtained an absolute majority despite the abstention of one quarter of all eligible voters. Once again, the constitution was amended to boost authoritarian powers, and even after Pilsudski's death on May 12, 1935, Poland remained an authoritarian state. The Marshal's dictatorship was replaced by a dictatorship of colonels. President Moscicki, re-elected for seven years in 1933, theoretically retained the powers of chief of state, but the government was actually controlled by the military. Colonel Beck, minister of foreign affairs from 1932 to 1939, and General Smigly-Rydz, Pilsudski's replacement as Inspector-General of the army, possessed the most authority.

In the face of such power, the opposition parties on the right and left alike were reduced to silence; their leaders were imprisoned or confined to their homes. Leaders of parties representing the numerous national minorities received equal treatment. Most of the Communist leaders fled to the USSR, but so many of them were eliminated in the Stalinist purges that in 1938 Moscow dissolved the Polish Communist party. The only tolerated form of opposition that remained was absention, although sporadic rioting occurred, particularly in rural areas. In June, 1936, the peasants of Myslenice revolted, and in August, 1937, agricultural workers went on strike in various parts of the country. This unrest, compounded by occasional striking in Lodz and Warsaw, was a strong indication that the country was not in agreement with the reign of colonels. While Pilsudski's prestige had facilitated acceptance of his dictatorship, his successors possessed no such popularity.

A Kingdom Without a King: Hungary Under Admiral Horthy

After the Hungarian Soviet Republic was removed by the joint forces of the Entente, the Rumanian army, and the Hungarian national forces, power was first exercised in Budapest by a coalition cabinet led by Huszar--a Populist with Christian-Democratic leanings--under the close supervision of Horthy's National Army in the summer of 1919. Huszar's cabinet called general elections in January, 1920, to be conducted under the principles of universal suffrage and secret ballot. The 1920 elections gave a clear majority to the Smallholder's party and the National Christian party, respectively considered the moderate and conservative parties. Both were staunchly opposed to socialist-communist ideas. These two parties were themselves split over the question of royalty; the Smallholders were hostile to the Habsburgs and desired an elected national monarchy, while the National Christians supported the restoration of the emperor, King Charles, who had

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resided in exile in nearby Switzerland since the spring of 1919. Because the allied countries, at the request of Czechoslovakia, had made it clear that they opposed any attempt to restore Habsburg rule in any of the Danubian countries, the national assembly selected Admiral Horthy as Regent of Hungary on March 1,1920.

Soon after June 4, 1920, the Hungarian government was compelled to sign the Treaty of Trianon, an act which immediately restored the country's sovereignty. Within Hungary, the government took decisive steps to quell the aftereffects of the Bolshevik revolutions of 1918-1919. Leaders of the Hungarian Soviet Republic who did not find refuge outside of the country were tried and some executed, while lesser members were issued heavy prison sentences. Count Karolyi was also judged in absentia and his goods confiscated. Alongside the official and legal repression, unofficial nationalist groups sprang up, whose members conducted summary executions and acts of terrorism against anyone with connections to the Bolsheviks. Termed the "White Terror" and often exaggerated by the media, it lasted until the end of 1920. The terror often took an anti-Semitic twist, partly due to the large numbers of Jews who had played important roles in the Soviet Republic. Out of 45 commissars of the people, 32 had been Jewish, including Bela Kun himself.

The election of Admiral Horthy as regent was considered by many a temporary solution that would last until the international situation permitted a restoration of the monarchy. But Horthy and his entourage of young nationalist officers were reluctant to accept the king's return. They made this clear in April and again in October, 1921, when the Habsburg King Charles tried to return to Hungary. The regent's hostile attitude backed by Council President Count Istvan Bethlen and the threats of armed intervention by Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia, caused the attempted restoration to fail. At the express request of the Allies, the Hungarian Parliament passed the "dethronement" law on November 6, 1921 , barring the Habsburg family from the throne and giving the country the right to elect the sovereign.

From then until October, 1944, Hungary was a constitutional monarchy in which the powers of head of state rested with the regent. The legislative power remained, as before 1918, with a parliament made up of two assemblies: the upper house was restored in 1926 and included representatives of the church, the nobility and the general population. The house of deputies was elected by universal suffrage. Elections were by secret ballot in the urban areas, but by public vote in the rural constituencies. This last restriction was eliminated for the 1939 elections. Unlike Poland under Pilsudski and the colonels, Horthy's Hungary was a conservative state with authoritarian tendencies, but one in which an opposition was permitted and tolerated. Although the Communist party was banned and went

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underground as a result of its role in the Soviet Republic, a Social-Democratic party existed with representatives in parliament who, like their colleagues, enjoyed parliamentary immunity and did not hesitate to criticize the government. Freedom of the press as well as freedom of assembly were guaranteed by the constitution, although parties on the left were selectively subjected to harassment.

Under the direction of Count Bethlen, prime minister from April, 1921, to August, 1931, the major political concern was the moral and economic reconstruction of a country devastated by war and by the amputation of two-thirds of its territory. Economic recovery began with the stabilization of the currency in 1926, but was upset by world crisis in 1930-1931 . The depression was first felt on the political level by causing a split within the party of small land owners, the Smallholders party, which was part of the ruling government coalition. The left wing of this party formed a new group under Zoltan Tildy and Bela Kovacs, the Independent Smallholders party. The governing party then swung further right and assumed a more authoritarian stance, notably pronounced under Gyula Gombos who was prime minister from 1932-1936. As a result of the exterior crisis, the extremist parties gathered strength. On the left, the clandestine Communist party organized workers, demonstrations against unemployment. On the extreme right, discontented nationalists, judging the government policies as too soft, joined various radical movements. These came together in 1937 to form a single group known as the Arrow Cross party under the leadership of Ferenc Szalasi, an anti-Semitic admirer of national-socialist Germany. Anti-Semitism spread in the governing party as well. In April, 1938, the cabinet under Prime Minister Kalman Daranyi (1936-1938) instituted a law limiting the number of Jews in certain professions to 20 percent. That cabinet's successor, the Imredy cabinet, wanted to lower the percentage of Jews allowed in the liberal professions to six percent, but came up against the opposition of the High Chamber. Cardinal Seredi, the primate of Hungary, became the spokesman for adversaries of the project, which was then abandoned by the government itself. The elections of May, 1939, were the only truly free elections of the Horthy era besides those of 1920. The governing party again obtained 180 of the 260 seats. The Social Democrats and the Independent Smallholders won about 15 seats each, but the far right managed to elect some 40 deputies, 31 of whom were of the Arrow Cross party. As the honest and conservative Count Paul Teleki took over the helm of government in February, 1939, Hungary stood out as a rare example of constitutional and parliamentary rule in a part of Europe dominated by dictatorships.

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