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again direct the course of Czechoslovak foreign policy.



17



IV. THE CONSTITUTION.

X he constitution framed and passed by the first National Assembly
of the Czechoslovak Republic on February 29, 1920 is one of the most
democratic in the world. The whole enactment is permeated with the
idea of giving expression to the principle of its first paragraph, namely,
that the people is the one and only source of all State authority. An
exclusively republican form of government, with an elected president
at the head, has therefore been chosen. All its regulations aim at se-
curing the expression of the people's will, not only in the legislative
body but even, if necessary, against the Cabinet and against the Presi-
dent, so that neither Government nor President shall be able by any
procedure aimed against Parliament, to act against the will of the ma-
jority of the people. The Constitution secures full rights for the racial
minorities, but it nevertheless seeks to protect the majority of the legi-
slative body, in particular the Lower House (the Chamber of Deputies),
both from a coup d'etat from above, as well as against obstacles which
might be placed in its way by a minority.

The two-chamber system was adopted after a severe struggle bet-
ween the National Democrats and the Social Democrats. The legislative
body (the National Assembly) consists of a Lower House (the Chamber
of Deputies) with 300 members, and an Upper House (the Senate), with
150 members. Both chambers, however, are set up on a purely demo-
cratic basis. The distinction between the two chambers lies in the qua-
lifications necessary for candidates and voters respectively. Thus, for elec-
tions to the Chamber of Deputies the franchise is granted to every
citizen, irrespective of sex, who has attained the age of twenty-one. For
the Senate the corresponding age is twenty-six. Elegibility to the Chamber
of Deputies begins at thirty; to the Senate at forty-five. The Chamber
of Deputies is elected for six years, the Senate for eight. Hence, although
the Senate is elected on a democratic basis, the Constitution avoids
creating two Chambers endowed with equal rights which might paralyse
each other's work, and hamper the normal course of legislation and
control. It has therefore laid greater stress on the Chamber of Deputies,
merely making the Senate an organ whose function it is to check and
control. All measures passed by the Chamber of Deputies are presented
to the Senate, which enjoys the right of initiating legislative proposals
and voting on Bills which the Government may first submit to it. Pro-
vision has further been made to prevent the Senate from frustrating the
decisions of the Lower House and to i)revent Bills, passed by the Senate
alone, from becoming law unless assented to by the Chamber of Depu-
ties. On this point tiie rights of the Chamber of Deputies are much su-
perior to those of the Senate. If a Bill passed by the Chamber of De-

18



puties is not assented to, or is not rejected by the Senate within six weeks,
or in the case of the Budget and Army Bills, within one month, the
Senate is considered to have agreed to it. The Chamber of Deputies on
its part is allowed three months to consider Bills passed by. the Senate.
If the Senate by a simple majority rejects a Bill passed by the Chamber
of Deputies, the Bill nevertheless becomes law if the Chamber of Deputies
confirms it in its original form by a majority of one half of the House.
If, however, the Senate rejects by a three-fourths majority a Bill passed
by the Chamber of Deputies, a three-fifths majority of the entire Lower
House is necessary for confirming the Bill and making it law. On the
other hand, Bills emanating from the Senate, which have been rejected
by the Chamber of Deputies cannot become law against the will of the
latter, and are to be re-introduced into the Senate and from thence again
submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. Should the Chamber of Deputies
once more reject it. the Bill is lost.

Similarly, the rights enjoyed by the President and the Government
as against the House of Deputies are strictly defined and limited. The
President is elected at a joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and
the Senate and by a three-fifths majority for a period of seven years.
He cannot be impeached, but the counter-signature of a member of the
Government is necessary for all his State acts. The President appoints the
Ministers, but he cannot do so against the will of the Chamber of Depu-
ties, for this House, unlike the Senate, can, by a simple majority of its
members pass a vote of lack of confidence against the Government, upon
which it is the dutj' of the Government to resign. In view of this fact
no provision has been inserted in the Charter of the Constitutioij for the
impeachment of the President.

The President has the right to convene Parliament. He is indeed
bound to do so twice a year — in March and in October, besides which
he may summon extraordinary sessions. He has also the right to adjourn
and prorogue Parliament. He can, however, prorogue Parliament for not
longer than a month and only once a year. In order to ensure that no
adjournment shall take place against the will of the majority, the Con-
stitution provides that on the petition of a majority of members the
President is bound within fourteen days to cause Parliament to re-
assemble, and should he fail to do so, the two Houses may assemble
within a further fourteen days on the summons of their respective Speak-
ers. Should the President dissolve Parliament, he cannot thereby bring
about a lengthy cessation of Parliamentary government, for a general
election must take place within sixty days.

The President has the right to veto Bills, but his veto has only the
power of postponement. Such vetoed Bills may be re-introduced into
Parliament and if then passed by a majority of all members, voting by

19 2"



name, they become law. If the Chamber of Deputies alone passes such
a vetoed Bill it becomes law, provided a three-fifths majority supports
it; so that against a three-fifths majority of the entire membership of
the Lower House neither President nor Senate can prevent certain me-
asures from being placed on the statute-book.

To prevent the President from concentrating the whole power of
government in his own hands, he is not to be elected for more than
two periods of office, each extending to seven years. Only for the first
President, President Masaryk, has an exception been made. Provision
is also made for the period during which Parliament is not sitting,
whether it be prorogued or dissolved, with the object of making it im-
possible for the Government to be left without parliamentary control.
A permanent Commission of twenty-four members, sixteen from the
Chamber of Deputies and eight from the Senate, shall sit with power
of control over the Government and the Executive. This Commission
may also make urgent legal regulations, but may not impose new per-
manent obligations on the people, such as extending the obligation of
military service, permanently adding to the financial burdens of the State,
or alienating its property.

In order to declare war, the President requires the previous consent
of Parliament, and this consent must be given by a three-fifths majority
of all members.

The Referendum is also — in a restricted form — provided for in
the Constitution. A Referendum can take place only on the proposal
of the Government, and only if Parliament rejects a GovBrnment Bill.
Every citizen, irrespective of sex, who has attained the age of twenty-
one can vote. The Government has thus a means, should both Chambers
refuse consent to its proposals, of appealing directly to the people
without being compelled, for the sake of a single question, to dissolve
Parliament.

The decisions of Parliament require generally a simple majority.
Only for declaraing war or for amending the Constitution is a three-
fifths majority of all members necessary. This rule differs from those
laid down in other constitutions, even in those where, as a rule, the
presence of two-thirds of the members and a two-thirds majority are
essential. In these cases a minority of one-third is able to frustrate any
amendment of the Constitution by simply absenting themselves. Accor-
ding to the Czechoslovak Constitution only a minority of two-fifths is
able to frustrate an amendment by simple abstention. On the other hand
a mere chance division cannot carry any amendment, since in order to
fulfil the condition demanding a three-fifths majority of all members,
the presence of at least three-fifths of the whole Parliament is essential

The Charter of Constitution also lays down rules relating to the

20



powers of the Judiciary and the common rights of citizens, especially
the rights of religions and racial minorities. These provisions follow
exactly the terms of the Peace Treaty (paragraphs 128 to 133). A spe-
cial feature, however, is the final paragraph of the Constitution making
unlawful any and every manner of forcible "denationalisation" — that
is, pressure directed towards alienating citizens from their inheritance
of race and language, whatever that race or language be.

Together with the Charter of the Constitution, a Franchise Bill be-
came law. It not only has a thoroughly democratic basis, but is absolu-
tely impartial and just to all ranks and all races. It is based on the
system of Proportional Representation, so that every minority is repre-
sented in Parliament in proportion to its numerical strength.

The electoral districts contain 500.000 to 1 million inhabitants. To
obviate the injustice which, at a first count necessarily arises from the
technicalities involved in the system of Proportional Representation, the
Franchise rules provide for a second and third scrutiny. The votes which
remain over from the first scrutiny are counted in such a way that all
the scattered remnants of votes throughout the Republic given to any
one party, are added together and additional seats are allotted at
the second and third scrutinies to that party, in proportion to the
sum total of such votes. Each party nominates its candidates for the
second scrutiny from the ranks of those candidates who proved unsuc-
cessful at the first count. This is an absolutely novel plan, both
progressive and democratic, and secures the fairest possible apportion-
ment of seats.

A special Franchise Court site to decide the validity of elections,
while a special Constitutional Court judges whether laws which are
passed by the Parliament are in conformity with the Constitution.

Further, there was passed together with the Charter of Constitution
a Bill dealing with the division of the Republic into "zupy", administrative
districts or counties. There are twenty-two of them. Each county embraces
511.000 to 700.000 inhabitants and at its head stands the "zupan", a state
official chosen by election.



V. THE GERMAN MINORITY.

Out of the thirteen and a half million of the population of Czecho-
slovakia, there are about three million Germans and half a million Ma-
gyars. A census was taken in February last, but, at the time of
writing, the figures of the racial division have not yet been published.
The above estimates, however, may be considered as fairly accurate.
It is obvious that this German minority is of considerable importance,

21



and its treatment constitntes a test case for the Czechoslovak states-
men ship.

When the Peace Conference recognised the integrity of the ancient
Czech territories, only a section of the Bohemian Germans did actually
protest, while the majority of them were apparently content with their
lot. Apart from a few chauvinists, the Bohemian Germans were shrewd
enough to think in economic terms. They were well aware of the eco-
nomic advantages accruing to them as citizens of Czechoslovakia. The
Northern Bohemian industries would be almost ruined if incorporated
into Germany, and this was why a good many Bohemian Germans pre-
ferred to remain citizens of Czechoslovakia.

In the old Austrian Empire the Czechs were able to obtain the most
rudimentary measures of national freedom only after many years of
severe struggles. As for the Slovaks, the extent to which they were
oppressed by Magyars passes the bounds of imagination. But on regaining
its liberty, the Czechoslovak people spared its former oppressors any
retribution they may have deserved for their past actions. On the con-
trary, the Czechoslovaks from the very beginning adopted an attitude
of reconciliation towards the German and Magyar minority. They have
granted them as many rights as they themselves have. The Czechoslovak
Constitution makes no difference between the races living within the
Republic. In certain cases, particularly as regards the number of schools,
the Germans are in a privileged position. They have about 3300 primary
schools, 80 secondary schools, two higher technical schools and one
University. In Bohemia and Moravia the Germans have 23 gymnasiums
(grammar schools) and the Czechs 28, although the racial proportion is
3 : 7. If there is any injustice here, surely it is not to the detriment of
the Germans, but to that of the Czechs.

Yet some of the German nationalists, who only a short time since
were openly expressing their desire to annihilate the Czech people, are
complaining of "oppression". They especially complain that some German
schools have been closed and given over to the use of Czech children.
This is undoubtedly true, but the reason why this was done is that no
German children attended them. In many towns there were no schools
for Czech children at all during the Austrian regime. Since the overthrow
of the Austrian regime, however, Czech schools have been established
in these towns, and Czech children, who up to then had to attend Ger-
man schools, went to the Czech schools, and the German schools re-
maining empty, naturally had to be closed. There were cases where
German schools iiad only two or three children, for whom a whole
school obviously cannot be maintained.

Another complaint of the Germans is directed against the law (con-
cerning the Austrian War Loans. In accordance with the Peace Treaty,

22



the Czechoslovak Republic has the ri^i^ht to repudiate th«' Austrian and
Hung^arian War Loans, but it offered the holders of these loans, who for
the i^reater part are Germans, 75 crowns in the Czech State Loan, at
the rate of SVg per cent, for every 100 crowns they had subscribed to
the former war loans. At the same time they were called upon to con-
tribute 75 Czech crowns in cash to the new Czech Loan bringing in 5*'.2
per cent, for each 100 crowns of their previous holding. The Germans,
however, will not subscribe to this new Czechoslovak Loan, and demand
a payment of 100 Czech crowns in the loan at o^'.y per cent for every
100 crowns they hoUl in the war loans. These demands are totally un-
reasonable, and if complied with, they would prove disastrous to the
Czechoslovak finances. In Austria the amount given for 100 crowns in
the Austrian War Loan is only 100 crowns in the Austrian State Loan
at 5V'.2 per cent, and 100 Austrian crowns are worth scarcely 20 Czecho-
slovak crowns. Hence the interest of 5^ 2 P^r (f nt on the Austrian Loan
is scarcely more than 1 per cent on the Czech Loan. It will thus be
seen that the Czechoslovak State is paying the German holders of Au-
strian War Loan nearly four times the value of the loan they hold, and
three times as much as these loans are fetching in Austria. An endeavour
is being made to introduce the Austrian War Loan on to Czechoslovak
territory, but none the less the Germans in Czechoslovakia continue to
complain that they are being robbed by the Czechoslovak authorities,
while in reality everything has been done in their interest to gain their
sympathies for the Czechoslovak Repubhc.

However the, conciliatory policy of the Czechs has met with no
response from those German circles which are under the influence of
Pan-German ideas. While certain of the German politicians showed them-
selves disposed to fall in with the new order of things, the Pan-Germans
such as Dr. Lodgman and others have not ceased to agitate against the
Republic. It seems as if the German nationalists regarded equality of
rights which they have been granted as an injustice towards them, since
they consider their only rights to be superior rights. They appear still
to believe in their old idea of a "ruling nation". The agitation of the
Pan-Germans has gone so far that in the middle of last year they attacked
the Czechoslovak legionaries, several of whom were killed. This happened
at Jihlava, a provincial town in Moravia. Since then, there have been
repetitions of provocative acts on the part of the Pan-Germans. The
agitators of Dr. Lodgmann's party iiave shown a preference for assembling
round the statues of the former Austrian Emperor, Joseph II, which still
exist in a number of towns, and from these meetings proceeded the
inflammatory utterances against the Czechs and the uncompromising
appeals to the spirit of revolt. Hence it was not surprising that the Czech
inhabitants of these towns and the soldiers who were stationed there

23



have come to regard the statues of Joseph II as the most arrant symbols
of Pan-Germanism. This explains why it was that the Czech soldiers
have overthrown the statues of Joseph II at Tephce and Cheb.

Among the responsible Germans there is, however, a clear indica-
tion of eagerness for a peaceful co-operation. Several German deputies
such as Kfepek and others expressed the desire on the pai-t of the
German inhabitants of the Republic for undisturbed labour and the need
for terminating all racial hatred. In reply the Czech deputies assured the
Germans that their loyal co-operation would be welcomed by the Czechs.

It will take some time before the racial antagonism will subside,
and before the Germans and Magyars fully reconcile themselves with
the new conditions. But sooner or later they will realise that the Czecho-
slovak Republic has come to stay, and that they have nothing to gain
by their negative attitude. On the part of the Czechs, as we have said,
there is a sincere willingness to come to terms with the Bohemian Ger-
mans, and President Masaryk especially is known to be anxious to bring
about a peaceful co-operation between all the races inhabiting the Re-
pubhc. There is no doubt that such a co-operation will take place when
the racial animosities left by the war have become less acute.



VI. SLOVAKIA.

xhe present position of Slovakia deserves special attention. Many
people readily believe the Magyar propagandists who assert that the
Czechs consider Slovakia as an annexed province, that the Czechs have
broken an agreement concluded at Pittsburg, in America, according to
which Slovakia was to receive autonomy, that it is not certain whether
the Slovaks wish to remain within the Czechoslovak State, etc.

It is, therefore, worth while to recall that neither the Czechs nor
the Slovaks demanded independence for each of them separately; they
demanded independence for the Czechoslovaks. All the Slovak local
National Councils, to the number of over 100, which were formed after
the military collapse of the Habsburg Empire, identified themselves with
the declaration issued on October 30th by the Central Slovak National,
to the effect that the Slovaks regarded themselves as an integral part
of the Czechoslovak nation. In view of these facts it is, therefore, neither
accurate nor just to say that the Czechs consider Slovakia as an annexed
province, or that they deny the Slovaks their right to self-determination,
for it is precisely because the Slovaks made use of their right to self-
determination that they find themselves in the Czechoslovak State. Of
course, there was no plebiscite, but to everyone who knows how the
Czechs and Slovaks struggled and fought in union during the great war

24



in order to achieve their independence, it must be obvious that this was
a sufficient proof of their will as regards their State allegiance. It is
absurd to imagine that those who had recourse to arms in order to
drive out their enemies, would be willing afterwards to revert to their
old state of subjection.

As regards the so-called Pittsburg agi'eement, of which the Magyars
are attempting to make capital in their agitation amongst the Slovaks,
it is necessary to explain the circumstances under which it was concluded.
This agreement or rather resolution was arrived at on October 18th,
1918, at a meeting of the representatives of the Slovaks in the United
States, and it was signed also by President Masaryk, who at that time
was in America. This resolution contained a scheme for the adjustment
of the relationship between the Czechs and Slovaks. The Pittsburg re-
solution, however, contains no reference to the manner in which a sui-
table system of administration was to be ensured upon the territory of
liberated Slovakia, the aim of the American Slovaks being to assure the
future autonomous status of Slovakia within the Czechoslovak State.

Slovakia, however, actually possesses an autonomy, since she has
a Minister plenipotentiary and decides about her own affairs. In accor-
dance with the principles of the Constitution, the whole Republic is
divided into 20 autonomous areas, 6 of which comprise Slovakia. These
areas will be administered by the Slovaks themselves by means of au-
tonomous bodies containing about 40 members, who will be elected by
the votes of all citizens, irrespective of sex, on a system of proportional
representation. These areas thus have all the attributes of democratic
local autonomy. From the representative bodies of all the areas will be
elected an administrative council for the whole of Slovakia, also by
proportional representation. This council will be composed of 24 members,
8 of whom, under the presidency of the director of Slovak administra-
tion, will attend to the executive authority for Slovakia. Hence, the ad-
ministrative autonomy of Slovakia is assured, on the one hand, by the
legal terms of the Constitution, and on the other by actual practice.

Absolute political and legislative autonomy is not desired by the
great majority of the Slovak people. Such autonomy would demand
also financial autonomy, but Slovakia, plundered as it was by the former
Magyar regime, is not financially self-supporting. A further reason why
the majority of the Slovaks do not desire political autonomy is that they
do not regard themselves as forming a subordinate minority in the State,
but, on the contrary they wish to take an active part in the affairs of
the whole State on an equal footing with the Czechs.

There is, however, a party in Slovakia, the so-called People's party,
which, under the leadership of Father HIinka, is endeavouring to obtain
political autonomy. But this party is in the minority, and at the parli-

25



ameiitary elections in April 1919 it obtained only 231.00(J votes out of
a total of 1,000.060 Slovak votes. Yet even this party takes its stand
unwaveringly upon the basis of the Czechoslovak Republic. Neither in
the National Assembly nor in the Senate does it ever take action as
an independent body, nor as an independent political club. Its 12 repre-
sentatives are members of the "Political Club of the Czechoslovak People's
Party", the chairman of which is Monseigneur Sramek, a Czech, the
vice-chairman being Father Hlinka. Indeed there is not a single Slovak
who is in favour of separation from the Czechoslovak Republic.

Since being liberated from the Magyars, Slovakia has made great
progress, especially as regards education. During the Magyar regime all
schools, whether elementary, secondary or high schools, were in the
hands of the Magyars. Properly speaking, there were no Slovak schools
at all. With the exception of a few schools where the work was carried
on by a handful of teachers who were evangelical for the greater part,
the instruction was Magyar both in letter and spirit. After the liberation
of Slovakia it was necessary to provide schools of a Slovak character,
at least in those districts inhabited by Slovaks in compact masses. As
the number of Slovak teachers was insufficient the work was carried
on with the help of Czech educationalists. To-day, there are over four
thousand elementary schools, over 50 secondary schools, together with
commercial and technical institutes, and also the nucleus of a University
at Bratislava. Moreover, 80 German schools have been established, where
under the Magyar regime, there were none.


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Online LibraryAles BrozThree years of the Czechoslovak republic, a survey of its progress and achievements → online text (page 2 of 4)