Find a Security Clearance Job!


1918-1939 - Czechoslovakia

In October, Czechoslovakia's government was formed. Toms Garrigue Masaryk became the first president of the Czechoslovakia. On 28th of October in 1918 the state of Czechoslovakia was declared. Peace Agreements in Paris finally established the Czechoslovakia as a new state on the map of Europe. On 29th of February 1920 the Constitution of Czechoslovakia was approved.

Shortly after the amalgamation of Czechs and Slovaks a large proportion of the important governmental posts were occupied by the Bohemians in Slovakia. When a protest was made against this act, efforts were made to disguise the situation by asserting that the Slovaks were not sufficiently educated to undertake these positions. Many professors and teachers from Bohemia were sent to Slovakia to instruct the young Slovaks. It was found that these men were mostly atheists, freethinkers, agnostics and materialists. It was evident that the Slovaks are not receiving a square deal from the Bohemians or Czechs.

The Czechs, who came under Austrian rule, were culturally more advanced than the Slovaks, who were under Hungarian rule, and among whom the percentage of illiteracy is still high. Moreover, whereas the Czechs are socialists, and incline to indifference as regards the church, the Slovaks are devout clericals, and are strongly influenced by their priests. But the chief factors tending to separate the two people were geographical and economic. By every road and every valley the Slovaks are bound to the Hungarian plain, across which from their mountainsides they have looked out for many generations, and from which they are now separated by a closed frontier. In summer, they were accustomed to go down into the plains to help with the harvest. In winter, they cut timber in the mountains, which they then hauled or floated down the valleys into Hungary. With the money they thus earned, they could buy the food-stuffs of the plains, to eke out the scanty produce of the mountains.

All this ancient commerce of mountainside and plain was interrupted. There were two railroads connecting Slovakia with Moravia and Bohemia, but these were inadequate to bind the two parts together. The Slovaks, unable to find as much work as before, unable to market their timber readily, lacking money and lacking food even when they had the money to buy it, nevertheless cast in their lot whole-heartedly, for the time being, with the Czechs, their kinsmen, partly no doubt to be free of the hard hand of the Hungarian administration, but largely, perhaps, because the Czechs, by a land reform, have given them the land, held principally, heretofore, by the great Hungarian proprietors.

Czechoslovakia's centralized political structure might have been well suited to a single nation-state, but it proved inadequate for a multinational state. Constitutional protection of minority languages and culture notwithstanding, the major nonCzech nationalities demanded broader political autonomy. Political autonomy was a particularly grave issue for the Czechs' partners, the Slovaks. In 1918 Masaryk signed an agreement with American Slovaks in Pittsburgh, promising Slovak autonomy. The provisional National Assembly, however, agreed on the temporary need for centralized government to secure the stability of the new state. The Hlasists, centered on the journal Hlas, continued to favor the drawing together of Czechs and Slovaks. Although the Hlasists did not form a separate political party, they dominated Slovak politics in the early stages of the republic. The Hlasists' support of Prague's centralization policy was bitterly challenged by the Slovak Populist Party. The party had been founded by a Catholic priest, Andrej Hlinka, in December 1918. Hlinka argued for Slovak autonomy both in the National Assembly and at the Paris Peace Conference. He made Slovak autonomy the cornerstone of his policy until his death in August 1938.

The Slovak Populist Party was Catholic in orientation and found its support among Slovak Catholics, many of whom objected to the secularist tendencies of the Czechs. Religious differences compounded secular problems. The Slovak peasantry had suffered hardships during the period of economic readjustment after the disintegration of the Hapsburg Empire. Moreover, the apparent lack of qualified Slovaks had led to the importation of Czechs into Slovakia to fill jobs (formerly held by Hungarians) in administration, education, and the judiciary. Nevertheless, at the height of its popularity in 1925, the Slovak Populist Party polled only 32 percent of the Slovak vote, although Catholics constituted approximately 80 percent of the population. Then, in 1927, a modest concession by Prague granted Slovakia the status of a separate province, and Slovak Populists joined the central government. Monsignor Jozef Tiso and Marko Gazlik from Slovakia were appointed to the cabinet.

Although Hlinka's objective was Slovak autonomy within a democratic Czechoslovak state, his party contained a more radical wing, led by Vojtech Tuka. From the early 1920s, Tuka maintained secret contacts with Austria, Hungary, and Hitler's National Socialists (Nazis). He set up the Rodobrana (semimilitary units) and published subversive literature. Tuka gained the support of the younger members of the Slovak Populist Party, who called themselves Nastupists, after the journal Nastup.

Tuka's arrest and trial in 1929 precipitated the reorientation of Hlinka's party in a totalitarian direction. The Nastupists gained control of the party; Slovak Populists resigned from the government. In subsequent years the party's popularity dropped slightly. In 1935 it polled 30 percent of the vote and again refused to join the government. In 1936 Slovak Populists demanded a Czechoslovak alliance with Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. In September 1938, the Slovak Populist Party received instructions from Hitler to press its demands for Slovak autonomy.

Join the mailing list