Front Page Titles (by Subject) OTTO VON HABSBURG, Czecho-Slovakia and the USSR - New Individualist Review
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OTTO VON HABSBURG, Czecho-Slovakia and the USSR - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Czecho-Slovakia and the USSR
IT IS CUSTOMARY in the Free World to consider the so-called satellite countries as having more or less identical standing within the Warsaw Pact system. This is a fallacy. In fact, there are basic differences from Moscow’s point of view.
The history of the last fourteen years proves that Eastern Europe is not the monolithic bloc that Khrushchev pretends it is. In two states, the population has shown, not only its overwhelming hostility against Communism and foreign rule, but also its readiness to make the supreme sacrifice in a desperate attempt to overthrow the tyranny. In Hungary, at least nine-tenths of the nation rose against colonial oppression in October, 1956. Khrushchev needed 21 armored divisions and protracted heavy artillery fire on the centers of resistance, especially Budapest, to impose the puppet regime of Janos Kadar on the vanquished country. The strength of continued opposition despite military defeat is shown by Kadar’s repeated purges and obvious efforts to placate the nation.
In the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany, the so-called “German Democratic Republic,” the oppressed population and especially the factory-workers of East Berlin and of the industrial areas of Halle and Leipzig, rose on June 17, 1953, and for several days fought valiantly against dictator Ulbricht’s police. Here, too, the Russian army had to step in, in order to keep the Communists in power.
In Poland we have had strikes and other acts of resistance in 1956, even before the Hungarian uprising. After Budapest fell to the Russians, the situation remained extremely critical for two months. Finally, a de facto compromise was reached: the Polish people represented primarily by the Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop Cardinal Wyszinsky, renounced—in the light of what had happened in Hungary—the use of violence, in exchange for an easing of the Soviet pressure and the elimination of the so-called Natolin-Stalinist group. The Soviets, on the other hand, recognized that a war in Poland would entail more dangers for them than the one in Hungary, since Poland has a mighty army and direct access to the sea, where it could receive arms and equipment from the West via the ports of Stettin and Danzig. Poland has thus obtained up to this day a special position in the Eastern Bloc. True, Gomulka is not a democrat, as certain Western observers would like to believe. Still, there are areas of freedom in Poland which Moscow tacitly accepts in both cultural and economic life, especially agriculture.
Compared to these developments, it is surprising that since 1948 only Czecho-Slovakia among the central European satellites has accepted without serious resistance both Soviet hegemony and the integrally Communist policies of its governments. In all that period only the liquidation of the Slansky group might be regarded as an attempt at liberalization, since the eleven Communist leaders hanged had been the most important liaison men between the Czech government and the Soviet Union. Even after the 20th Party Congress all remained quiet in this model Communist Republic. Never did Stalin or Khrushchev feel the need to intervene in Prague.
Slovakia is the only area in Czecho-Slovakia where major security measures have been called for. This shows an essential difference within the nation, which has deep historic roots.
The overwhelming majority in Slovakia has always opposed the fiction of the Czecho-Slovak nation. During the First World War, the leader of the Czech emigration and later head of the Czecho-Slovak Provisional Government, Thomas G. Masaryk, pledged to the American Slovaks in the Treaty of Pittsburgh that, in exchange for their political support, full autonomy would be given to their country, including an independent Parliament and administration. This agreement was never honored by the Czechs, despite strong Slovak protests. Masaryk later stated that he had only meant to make a non-committal declaration. To prove that this was not true, a delegation of American Slovaks brought the original document from Pittsburgh to Europe in 1938. The Slovaks, led by Mr. Hletko, entered their country through Poland and, at great popular gatherings, exhibited the signature of Masaryk. The energetic demands of the Slovaks for the fulfillment of the treaty contributed decisively to the collapse of President Benes’ regime in the summer of 1938.
The Slovaks considered themselves a separate nationality not “Czecho-Slovaks.” The same can be said of the Czechs, who never call themselves “Czecho-Slovaks.” The Slovak, Hodza, who was Prime Minister at the hour of the great crisis in 1938, went one step further and spoke of “Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks,” thus showing that he considered even the Slavs of Moravia as a nation. There is a Slovak language. Even the casual traveler will see it while reading public inscriptions. In the trains, compartments where smoking is forbidden are marked in Czech territories Nekuraci, while in Slovakia it is Nefajfarov. The difference between Czech and Slovak is approximately the same as between Slovene and Croat, Danish and Norwegian, or Dutch and German. Furthermore, the predominantly rural population of Slovakia is deeply religious and consequently resented the laicistic cultural policy pursued by the Czechs from 1918-1919 on.
The Slovak question turned out to be the fatal handicap of the Second Czecho-Slovak Republic from October, 1938, to March, 1939. The hyphen between the two parts of the State’s name was obtained by the Slovaks immediately after the Munich agreement. They also received a far-reaching autonomy with independent Diet and ministries. But new conflicts soon arose. When the central authority violated the constitution by removing the autonomous Slovak government, German diplomacy had no great trouble encouraging the Slovaks in their demand for a complete break with Prague. On March 13, 1939, the independent Slovak Republic was proclaimed in Bratislava. This was the cause of President Hacha’s ill-fated trip to Berlin.
The Slovaks, in whose make-up we find many Magyar and Polish elements, are much more temperamental than the Czechs. During the Second World War they rose in the autumn of 1944 against the Nazi occupier, while the Czech territories, the Protectorate, remained cooperative and quiet. The so-called Prague uprising of May 5, 1945, took place only because a false rumor had spread that American combat units had already entered the town. On the morning of May 9, the Red Army entered Prague and thus secured the victory of the Communists.
In Slovakia, resistance against Communism was much stronger than in the Czech areas despite the fact that the Communists at first recognized Slovak autonomy and abandoned the fiction of “Czechoslovak” by including the hyphenated version of the word in the constitution. It is practically unknown in the Free World that in the 1946 elections, the last which were relatively free, only the Slovaks gave a clear and sizeable majority against the Communists; this was not the case for the historically Czech provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. In May, 1946, 61.4% of the Slovak voters supported the strongly anti-Communist Slovak Democratic Party. While Communist votes amounted to 38% in the whole nation, Communist returns in the Czech territories exceeded 40%. The Socialist Party, led by Zedenek Fierlinger, closely allied with the Communists, received 12.8% of the total, almost exclusively from Czech areas. Thus the Communists and their satellites had, from 1946 on, a 50.8% majority in the State. Without the massive anti-Communist votes of the Slovaks this majority would have been much greater.
Had the Czechs voted in 1946 as did the Slovaks it might have been possible to form in Prague a government without Communists, or at least a cabinet in which the Communists would not have held the top positions such as the Presidency of the Council, the Ministry of Interior (with its control over the police), or the Ministries of Propaganda, Agriculture, Education and Culture. An “Austrian solution” would have been possible.
A realistic appraisal leads thus to the conclusion that, contrary to the Poles, the Hungarians and the East Germans, a majority of the Czechs gave in to the left wing totalitarians and dragged the unwilling Slovaks along with them into the catastrophe. Only 15.8% of the Czech voters gave their ballots in May, 1946, to the only party which presented a true alternative to the Communists, namely the Christian Lidova Strana, whose press had the courage in the years 1945-46 to expose the crimes of the Communists and to warn of their gradual take-over of the State. Especially the columnist Helena Kozeluhova, who later was able to escape to the West, spoke out with great courage and raised the hopes that her party might become a strong rallying point.
The Social Democrats were, as we mentioned, satellites of the Communists. It is true that in the year 1947, when the Social Democratic youth became restless, Fierlinger was removed as head of the party and replaced by Bohumil Lausman. Nevertheless, in 1948 Lausman was the first to recognize the new order demanded by the Communists and sanctioned by President Benes. Later on Lausman escaped to the West but very soon returned to Czecho-Slovakia and made his peace with the Gottwald-Fierlinger regime. There are good reasons to believe that he did not come to the West as a bona fide emigrant but as an agent sent to carry out propaganda actions in favor of the Communists.
Concerning the present-day situation in the country, one has to be most skeptical regarding alleged secret information coming from emigre political groups. There is no tangible evidence of an effective underground movement. Escapees and prisoners who were used as forced labor in the coal pits, stone quarries and uranium mines, and thus had the opportunity to speak with Czech co-workers or prisoners, report unanimously that there unquestionably is dissatisfaction in the country, but that real resistance can only be found in Slovakia.
This surprising attitude of the Czechs has its roots in three reasons which the West scarcely knows:
(1) the expulsion of the German population from the Czecho-Slovak Republic prepared systematically by Dr. Benes since 1939;
(2) Benes’ consistent policy of close alignment of his country with the Soviet Union; and
(3) the bloody so-called revolution organized by Dr. Benes after the liberation which did more than anything else to deliver the nation to the Communists.
The Germans were already in the First Czecho-Slovak Republic, from 1918 to 1938, a bulwark against Communism. Thus in the parliamentary elections of 1925, 42 of 182 Czecho-Slovakian seats went to Communists; of the 66 German seats only 6 were held by followers of Moscow. When the Social Democratic Party split in 1920 the majority of Czech Social Democrats joined the Communists, while only one-fifth of the Germans did the same thing. Thus the expulsion of the Germans was bound to be beneficial to the Communists. To this must be added the fact that the Communists very ably used the expropriation of the Sudeten Germans to strengthen their position in the nation’s economy by gaining the lion’s share of the spoils. On July 25, 1947, Godfrey Lias, one of President Benes’ most active apologists, wrote in the London Times: “Through their control of the Ministry of Interior and Agriculture the Communists were able to create in the frontier regions a party-state within the state.” This was the first time that in the pages of the Times, which to that moment had fully supported the Benes regime, the Communist danger in Czecho-Slovakia was being mentioned. The Times’ readers suddenly learned that through the banning of the Agrarian Party, many farmers had been pushed into the arms of the Communist Party: “Probably the strongest group of Communist supporters among the peasants were those who had received German land in the frontier regions.”
Farmers enriched by the expropriation of Germans were not the only followers which the Communists were able to gain with the help of Dr. Benes. The decisive role in the battle between the Communist and the non-Communist parties—in 1946 the Christian People’s Party, the Slovak Democratic Party and, to a lesser degree, the Czech National Socialist Party—was played by the decree which gave complete amnesty for all acts of violence carried out during the so-called revolution. The presidential decrees were issued in violation of the constitution. Benes had resigned from the Presidency in October, 1938, not because of strong foreign pressure, but because he was compelled to give in to adverse public opinion. He had sent his congratulations to the newly elected President Hacha from America. At first the Allies had refused to recognize the government which he formed in 1940 in London. The only genuine supporter he had was Anthony Eden. Thus in order to bolster his power and to destroy his opposition, Benes made a complete alliance with the Soviet Union. He rode into Czecho-Slovakia on the coat-tails of the Red Army coming from the East; he thus passed through the Podkarpatska Rus which, in a secret treaty, he had already offered to the Soviets in exchange for financial and diplomatic aid. This completely illegal decision was to give Russia the essential military bridgehead on the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains. In April, 1945, Benes formed a government in Kosice in which the Communists already held the decisive positions. His “program of Kosice” was inspired by the Communists. In order to prevent the expression of public opinion, the President decided to rule by decree in a period of transition, although it would have been easy to elect a Constituent Assembly immediately following liberation, as Austria did in November, 1945. Benes thus established a personal dictatorship. He permitted elections only in May, 1946, when he and the Communists had successfully weakened the social fabric of his nation and changed the legal order.
On May 16, 1945, Benes had entered Prague. In his first speech he declared that “the country must be completely purged of Germans.” On May 25 the Communist Minister of Propaganda stated that the Army was in readiness “to clean out the border areas of Germans and Hungarians and to give back all these old Slav territories to the Czechs.” These German “colonists” had settled in the area in the 12th and 13th century. The Germans had developed these virgin lands at the invitation of the Bohemian dukes and kings, 400 years before the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America.
On June 19, 1945, Benes issued a decree which ordered the confiscation and division of all land owned by Germans and Magyars, as well as by all “enemies and traitors” to the Czech and Slovak people. The confiscation extended not only to land, houses, factories and machinery, but also to all the private property of German-speaking citizens, such as clothes, furniture and household goods. During the deportation (Odsun) every German-speaking citizen was only permitted to take with him 70 kilograms, including no valuables. In most instances the Germans had already been robbed in the concentration camps to the point that they had nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
IN THE MONTHS following May, 1945, Czecho-Slovakia was the scene of innumerable crimes. According to the official statistics of the German Federal Republic,1 225,000 of 3,000,000 Sudeten Germans were killed—every 13th German-speaking citizen of Czecho-Slovakia was slaughtered during the orgy of terrorism. The first official Czecho-Slovak statistic2 stated that the number of Czechs killed during the Nazi regime amounted to 60,000—that is, one Czech out of 150. Later, the Prague Communists increased this number to 335,000, an obviously fantastic exaggeration. But even if it were true, the losses of the Czechs and the Slovaks would be much smaller than those of the Germans: one dead out of 27 inhabitants.
With indignation, a true Czech resistance fighter wrote in the Socialist weekly Cil:3 “We witnessed how human rats who had shown nothing but cowardice sallied from their holes against the vanquished enemy in order to avenge themselves in shameful manner for their own dishonor. We also saw uniformed and non-uniformed mobs who had insolently put on the Red armband of the revolutionary guards, attack dwelling places and plunder them. . . . This wave of crimes finally influenced even some among the true freedom fighters. It was the tragic consequence of the general demoralization brought by these hyenas.”
This state of affairs laid the ground for what happened in the 1946 and 1948 elections. Dr. Benes personally was largely responsible for the disregard of human rights in his country. On May 8, 1946, he proclaimed spontaneously the so-called amnesty-law, whose first paragraph stated: “Any action carried out in the period between Sept. 3, 1938, and Oct. 28, 1945, with the intention to help the fight for the reestablishment of Czech and Slovak freedom or which was a just vengeance for the crimes of the occupants and their associates is not illegal even if it is punishable by law.” Of course this paragraph in fact exclusively covers what happened between May 8 and Oct. 28, 1945. In most cases, as the long period of 5½ months after Germany’s surrender shows, acts covered by the amnesty were not emotional vengeance, as might have occurred in the first days of the liberation; indeed the great majority of these were crimes organized in cold blood.
In Prague alone, according to Czech newspapers published in June, 1945, there were 27,000 “suicides” of Germans within the three weeks following May 8. On that day there lived roughly 60,000 Germans in Prague, to which must be added a large number of wounded soldiers in hospitals who were killed almost without exception. In other words, according to the Czech press itself, we are asked to believe that almost 50% of all Germans committed suicide. It is quite obvious that, in reality, the word is simply a euphemism for murder and execution. No nation can stand such a wholesale outbreak of bloodlust without deep-seated moral and psychological consequences. This may well be an important cause of the Czech flight into Communism, which alone would give them protection from their bad conscience and a possible future vengeance. One must add that literally hundreds of thousands of Czechs were also imprisoned, robbed and even killed for alleged collaboration. There is good reason to believe that in the statistic of Czech victims of the war published by the Communists, these dead were also included and simply put to the German account.
Dr. Benes’ Secretary, Edvard Toborsky, admitted that his chief had already thought of the expulsion of the Germans in 1939,4 that is to say, at a time when there was as yet no cause for such cruel vengeance. In 1943 the Czech President-in-exile received Moscow’s consent for his plan. In exchange he offered to the Russians the transformation of his state into a Communist province. In the so-called “Narodni Fronta” which ruled the country after the manifesto of Kosice of April, 1945, and which gave Benes his dictatorial powers, only those parties were represented which in the emigration had supported Benes’ close alliance with Moscow: Communists, Social Democrats, National Socialists and Populists. On the other hand, the Republican Party (or Agrarians)—which had between 1925 and 1939 the strongest party in the Czech parliament and which from 1920 to 1939 had given the country all its Prime Ministers, a party which had produced first rate personalities like Antonin Svehla and Milan Hodza—was banned by presidential order. A similar fate befell the National Democratic Party, which was headed until 1937 by the great Czech patriot Karel Kramar, who had been condemned to death during the First World War, been released by Emperor Charles and had become Czecho-Slovakia’s first Prime Minister. If, in the case of the Agrarians, one could argue that one of their members had been for a time Prime Minister in the Hitlerite Protectorate, not a single act of collaboration could be charged against the strongly nationalistic National Democrats. Their only crime was that they had opposed Benes’ policy of alignment with the Soviet Union.
IT WAS OBVIOUS that these measures were aimed at the extermination of those national Czech forces which had prevailed during the critical days of May, 1945, and had tried to establish ties with the West. Thus the path was open for the Communists. Gen. Ingr, who had been Minister of War in Benes’ London exile government and had escaped to England after the events of February, 1948, declared immediately upon his arrival, in an interview with the London Catholic Herald, that the Army, which was in majority anti-Communist, was completely ready to prevent the Communist take-over and to guarantee a liberal order. But, as in 1938, Benes had been too cowardly to give the order. He had betrayed his people and liberty. This statement, coming from one of the most prominent collaborators of Dr. Benes, seems to show that the latter was driven by lust for personal power, had tried desperately to retain his position, and had hoped, even in 1948, to stay on as head of the State by carrying out the will of the Communists unquestioningly. That is why he remained in office despite the murder of two of his faithful friends, Jan Masaryk and Drtina, and the transformation of the People’s Democracy into open Communist Party dictatorship. Maybe his attitude was logical from his point of view. He had made his alliance with the Soviet Union in 1935 and had been elected President with the help of the Communist votes. In 1941 and 1943 he had delivered himself into the hands of the Communists and in 1945 had covered with the mantle of his name and authority all the crimes committed by left wing totalitarians. He had thus destroyed the moral foundations of a democratic community and delivered to the totalitarians the most important positions in the State. Such premises made final surrender to Gottwald just a matter of time. A few months after this last step, Benes was to die, alone, dishonored, and dismissed from the office to which he had clung so desperately and for which he had sacrificed all higher principles.
The Sudeten German leader, Wenzel Jaksch, who during the war was an emigre in London and at present is a Socialist member of the German Bundestag, has shown in his remarkable book, Europe’s Road to Potsdam,5 that Benes not only betrayed his own people and the Slovaks to Moscow, but also contributed decisively to the loss of Poland by giving President Roosevelt false information on Stalin’s plans, and selling the American public on the pipedream of a democratic Russia.
Thus the moral fiber of the Czech people was destroyed. This is felt even today. Khrushchev’s strongest support in the Eastern bloc comes from Czecho-Slovakia. It is only when Communism will have been defeated in Warsaw, Budapest and East Berlin that we can expect an end of totalitarian rule in Prague.
[* ] Otto von Habsburg is the present head of the House of Habsburg. He is a member of the Mt. Pelerin Society and a keen student of current international affairs, and has contributed numerous articles on historical and political topics to scholarly journals.
[1 ]Vertreibungsverluste (Wiesbaden, 1958), p. 325 ff.; p. 355.
[2 ]Encyclopedia Americana, vol. VIII, p. 383.
[3 ] No. 19 (May, 1947), p. 23.
[4 ]Pravda Zvitexila (Prague, 1947), p. 207.
[5 ] Stuttgart, 1958, p. 378 ff.