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Independent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty online

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parliaments for ratification, only the Viennese Government was afraid
to consult its peoples, because the majority of them would have
declared against the war. The representatives of the Czech nation would
have certainly protested with the greatest emphasis. That is why the
government did not consult a single Czech deputy or politician with
regard to taking so momentous a step.

"The Czech nation has always in modern times defended a thoroughly Slav
programme. Also during this war, which has found our nation unprepared
like all other peaceful nations, the Czechs have since the very
beginning expressed their sympathies for Russia, Serbia and their
Allies, notwithstanding the unprecedented Austrian terrorism,
suppressing every manifestation of the real feelings of the people. The
pro-Austrian declarations are enforced by the government. To-day the
leading Czech politicians are in prison, the gallows have become the
favourite support of the incapable administration, and Czech regiments
have been decimated for acting spontaneously up to our national Czech
programme. The rights of the Czech language have been ruthlessly
violated during the war, and the absolutist military rule has reigned
throughout Bohemia and other non-German and non-Magyar parts of the
monarchy as in enemy countries. Every declaration in the Czech journals
is suppressed, while our national adversaries are not only allowed to
make propaganda against the Czech nation, but even the pan-German
orgies in the spirit of Lagarde, von Hartmann, Mommsen, and Treitschke
are supported by Vienna and Budapest.

"Under these circumstances the Czech nation cannot continue to keep
silence. That is why the Czech and Slovak emigrants abroad deem it
their duty to inform foreign opinion about the true situation of
Bohemia, to interpret the aspirations of the Czecho-Slovak nation to
the Allied statesmen, politicians and journalists, and to defend the
Czecho-Slovak programme.

"The Czech parties have hitherto striven for the independence of their
nation inside Austria-Hungary. _The course which this fratricidal war
has taken and the ruthless violence of Vienna make it necessary for all
of us to strive for independence without regard to Austria-Hungary. We
are struggling for an absolutely independent Czecho-Slovak State_.

"The Czech nation has come to the conclusion that it must take its
destiny into its own hands. Austria was defeated not only by Russia,
but also by the small and despised Serbia, and became a dependency of
Germany. To-day it has recovered a little under the direction of
Berlin, but that desperate strain of forces does not deceive us: it is
only a proof of the abdication of Austria-Hungary. We have lost all
confidence in the vitality of Austria-Hungary, and we no more recognise
its right to existence. Through its incapability and dependence it has
proved to the whole world that the assumption of the necessity of
Austria has passed, and has through this war been proved to be wrong.
Those who have defended the possibility and necessity of
Austria-Hungary - and at one time it was Palacký himself - demanded a
confederated state of equal nations and lands. But the dualist
Austria-Hungary became the oppressor of non-German and non-Magyar
nationalities. It is the obstacle to peace in Europe and it has
degenerated into a mere tool for Germany's expansion to the East,
without a positive mission of its own, unable to create a state
organisation of equal nations, free and progressive in civilisation.
The dynasty, living in its absolutist traditions, maintains itself a
phantom of its former world empire, assisted in government by its
undemocratic partners, the barren aristocracy, the anti-national
bureaucracy, and the anti-national military staff.

"To-day there is no doubt that Austria-Hungary wrongly used the
assassination at Sarajevo as a pretext against Serbia. Vienna and
Budapest did not hesitate to use forged documents manufactured by their
own embassy against the Yugoslavs, and in this policy of deceit Vienna
and Budapest have persisted during this war. To this deceit they have
now added revengeful spitefulness and cruelty truly barbarian against
the non-Germans and non-Magyars.

"Germany shares the guilt with Austria-Hungary; it was in Germany's
power and it was her duty towards civilisation and humanity to prevent
the war and not to take advantage of the imperialist lust of Vienna and

"Austria-Hungary and Germany are fighting with their Turkish and
Bulgarian Allies for a cause which is unjust and doomed."

Later on, when _Dr. Edward Benes_, lecturer at the Czech University of
Prague and author of several well-known studies in sociology, also escaped
abroad, the Czecho-Slovak National Council was formed, of which Professor
Masaryk became the president, _Dr. Stefanik_, a distinguished airman and
scientist, Hungarian Slovak by birth, the vice-president, and Dr. E. Benes
the general secretary. A French review was started in Paris (_La Nation
Tchèque_) in May, 1915, which became the official organ of the
Czecho-Slovak movement. Up to May, 1917, it was published under the
editorship of Professor Denis, and since then its editor has been Dr.
Benes. A Central Czech organ is also published in Paris called
_Samostatnost_ ("Independence"), edited by Dr. Sychrava, an eminent Czech

The undisputed authority enjoyed by Professor Masaryk among all the
Czecho-Slovaks is undoubtedly the secret of the great strength and unity of
the movement. It is also the reason for the great diplomatic successes
achieved by the Czechs. The chief lieutenants of Professor Masaryk were Dr.
Benes, an untiring worker with rare political instinct and perspicacity,
and Dr. Milan Stefanik, who entered the French army as a private at the
beginning of the war, was gradually promoted, and in May, 1918, rose to the
rank of brigadier-general. He rendered valuable service to France as an
astronomist before the war, and as an airman during the war. He has
rendered still greater service to the Czecho-Slovak cause as a diplomat.
These three men, unanimously recognised by the two million Czecho-Slovaks
in the Allied countries as their leaders, were finally, in the summer of
1918, recognised also by the Allies as the _de facto_ provisional
government of the Czecho-Slovak State, with all rights and powers of a real
government. The central seat of the Czecho-Slovak Government is in Paris,
and official Czecho-Slovak representatives and legations are in all the
Allied capitals.

3. The first political success of the National Council was the Allies' Note
to President Wilson of January 10, 1917. The Czechs are especially grateful
to France for this first recognition of their claims.

In this Note, in which the Allies for the first time stated publicly and
explicitly their war aims, the Allies declared that these include:

"The reorganisation of Europe guaranteed by a stable settlement, based
upon the principle of nationality, upon the right which all peoples,
whether small or great, have to the enjoyment of full security and free
economic development, and also upon territorial agreements and
international arrangements so framed as to guarantee land and sea
frontiers against unjust attacks; the restitution of provinces or
territories formerly torn from the Allies by force or contrary to the
wishes of their inhabitants; _the liberation of Italians, Slavs,
Rumanians and Czecho-Slovaks from foreign domination_; the liberation
of the peoples who now lie beneath the murderous tyranny of the Turks,
and the expulsion from Europe of the Ottoman Empire, which has proved
itself so radically alien to Western civilisation."

The greatest success of the Czecho-Slovak National Council, however, has
been the formal recognition by France of the formation of an autonomous
Czecho-Slovak army in France with the National Council at its head. By this
act France recognised:

(1) That the Czecho-Slovaks have a right to form an army of their own,
which right appertains only to a sovereign and independent nation;

(2) That the Czecho-Slovaks have a right to fight on the side of the
Entente, and therefore are to be considered as one of the Allies;

(3) That the political direction of the army is reserved to the
Czecho-Slovak National Council, which right is usually accorded only to the
government of an independent state.

The full text of this historic document, signed by the President of the
French Republic, M. Poincaré, the French Premier, M. Clémenceau, and the
Foreign Secretary, M. Pichon, and dated December 19, 1917, reads
as follows:

"1. The Czecho-Slovaks organised in an autonomous army and recognising,
from the military point of view, the superior authority of the French
high command, will fight under their own flag against the Central

"2. This national army is placed, from the political point of view,
under the direction of the Czecho-Slovak National Council whose
headquarters are in Paris.

"3. The formation of the Czecho-Slovak army as well as its further work
are assured by the French Government.

"4. The Czecho-Slovak army will be subject to the same dispositions as
regards organisation, hierarchy, administration and military discipline
as those in force in the French army.

"5. The Czecho-Slovak army will be recruited from among:

(_a_) Czecho-Slovaks at present serving with the French army;

(_b_) Czecho-Slovaks from other countries admitted to be transferred
into the Czecho-Slovak army or to contract a voluntary engagement with
this army for the duration of war.

"6. Further ministerial instructions will settle the application of
this decree.

"7. The President of the War Cabinet, the Secretary of War, and the
Foreign Secretary are charged each in his own sphere to bring into
effect the present decree, which will be published in the _Bulletin des
Lois_ and inserted in the _Journal Officiel de la République

In a covering letter, dated December 16, 1917, and addressed to M.
Poincaré, the French Premier and the Foreign Secretary declared:

"France has always supported by all means in her power the national
aspirations of the Czecho-Slovaks. The number of volunteers of this
nationality who at the outbreak of the war enlisted to fight under the
French flag was considerable; the gaps created in their ranks prove
unquestionably the ardour with which they fought against our enemies.

"Certain Allied governments, especially the Russian Provisional
Government, did not hesitate to authorise the formation on our front of
units composed of Czecho-Slovaks who had escaped from the oppression of
their enemy.

"It is only just that this nationality should be given means of
defending, under their own flag and side by side with us, the cause of
right and liberty of peoples, and it will be in accord with French
traditions to assist the organisation of an autonomous Czecho-Slovak

Needless to say, the joy over this recognition was very great in Bohemia,
while the German papers were furious. The _Neue Freie Presse_ of December
28 devoted its leading article to the Czecho-Slovak army on the Western
front, and concluded with the following remarks:

"Although the strength of this new army is estimated at 120,000 men,
the Czecho-Slovak army will not have a decisive influence on the
military operations. Nevertheless, it may do us considerable harm in
case we should transfer troops to the Western front. However, the
greatest harm is in the moral effect which this act of wholesale
treachery of the Czechs will have on the military power of the
monarchy. In any case the co-operation of the Czecho-Slovak army on the
side of the Entente will only strengthen the Allies' belief that right
is on their side."

Soon afterwards Italy also generously allowed an expeditionary corps of the
Czecho-Slovak army to be formed from the Czecho-Slovak prisoners of war who
surrendered to her. On May 23, 1918, the Czecho-Slovak troops welcomed the
Prince of Wales to Rome, and soon afterwards they distinguished themselves
on the Piave and were mentioned in one of General Diaz's dispatches and
also in the official Italian _communiqué_ of September 22, 1918.

From the recognition of the Czecho-Slovak army followed the full
recognition which the National Council obtained from the Allies.

4. While the general secretariat was actively working for these concessions
in the West, Professor Masaryk, after devoting his attention to the
education of public opinion in Great Britain on the importance of Bohemia,
by means of private memoranda and various articles in the _New Europe,
Weekly Dispatch_ and elsewhere, decided in May, 1917, to go to Russia.

In Russia, Professor Masaryk succeeded admirably in uniting and
strengthening all Czecho-Slovak forces, and in organising a regular army of
the many thousands of Czecho-Slovak prisoners there. As we have already
pointed out elsewhere, before the Revolution these efforts of the National
Council and the Czech prisoners, who were always eager to fight for the
Allies, were rendered immensely difficult by the obstacles inherent in the
geographic conditions of Russia and by obstacles placed in their way by the
old Russian régime.

Unfortunately now, when the Czecho-Slovaks had at last succeeded after much
work in realising their plans, the Czecho-Slovak army became powerless
owing to the collapse of Russia. Without ammunition, without support from
anywhere, the Czecho-Slovaks thought they could no more render very
effective service to the Allies in the East. They decided, therefore, to go
over to join their compatriots in France.

The position of our army was as follows: After the offensive of July, 1917,
the Czechs retreated to Kieff where they continued to concentrate fresh
forces. At that time they numbered about 60,000, and this number had
gradually increased to 80,000 by the end of 1917. They always observed
strict neutrality in Russia's internal affairs on the advice of their
venerable leader, Professor Masaryk. It was necessary to counsel this
neutrality for the sake of our army itself, since it contained partisans of
different creeds and parties disagreement among whom might have led to its
dissolution. On the whole, the Czecho-Slovaks, who are an advanced nation,
fully conscious of their national aspirations, remained unaffected by the
misleading Bolshevist theories. The Czechs abstained throughout from
interfering with Russian affairs, yet they did not wish to leave Russia as
long as there was any chance for them to assist her. It was not until the
shameful peace of Brest-Litovsk in February, 1918, that Professor Masaryk
decided that the Czecho-Slovak army should leave Russia _via_ Siberia and
join the Czecho-Slovak army in France. The Bolsheviks granted them free
passage to Vladivostok.

This journey of some 5000 miles was not, however, an easy task for an army
to accomplish. The troops had to move in small échelons or detachments, and
concentration at the stations was prohibited. They had to procure their
trains and their provisions, and they had constant trouble with the
Bolsheviks, because in every district there was a practically independent
Soviet Government with whom the Czechs had to negotiate. The first
detachments with the generalissimo of the army, General Diderichs, at the
head arrived in Vladivostok at the end of April, 1918. But the other
detachments were constantly held up by the Bolsheviks and had great trouble
in passing through.

They moved from Kieff _via_ Kursk, Tambov, Penza and Samara. The two
last-named towns lie on the line between Moscow and Tcheliabinsk at the
foot of the Urals, whence a direct line runs across Siberia to Vladivostok.

As we have already pointed out, the Bolsheviks agreed in principle to allow
our troops to leave Russia. Their commander-in-chief, General Muraviev,
allowed the Czechs free passage to France on February 16. The same
concession had been granted by the Moscow Soviet. On the whole the Czechs
were on tolerably good terms with the Bolsheviks. Professor Masaryk
rejected every plan directed against the Bolsheviks submitted to him even
by such of their political adversaries as could not justly be called
counter-revolutionaries. The Czecho-Slovak troops went still further; they
actually complied with the request of the Bolsheviks and partially
disarmed. The trouble only began in May, 1918, when the Bolsheviks yielded
to German intrigues and resolved to destroy our army.

Already at the beginning of May the Czechs had begun to feel embittered
against the Bolsheviks, because in defiance of the agreement their troops
were constantly being held up by local Soviets. At Tambov, for instance,
they were held up for a whole month. At Tcheliabinsk the Czechs had a
serious scuffle with Magyar ex-prisoners on May 26, and the Bolsheviks
sided entirely with the Magyars, even arresting some Czecho-Slovak
delegates. The Czechs simply occupied the city, liberated their comrades,
and at a congress held by them at Tcheliabinsk on May 28 it was decided to
refuse to surrender any more arms and ammunition and to continue transports
to Vladivostok, if necessary with arms in their hands. This was a reply to
Trotsky's telegram that the Czecho-Slovaks should be completely disarmed,
which the Czecho-Slovaks defied as they knew that another order had been
issued by Trotsky simultaneously, no doubt on the instigation of Count
Mirbach, saying that the Czecho-Slovak troops must be dissolved at all
costs and interned as prisoners of war. The Bolsheviks now arrested
prominent members of the Moscow branch of the Czecho-Slovak National
Council on the ground that they were "anti-revolutionaries." They alleged
also that they had no guarantee that ships would be provided for the Czechs
to be transported to France, and that the Czechs were holding up food
supplies from Siberia. The Bolsheviks deliberately broke their word, and
Trotsky issued an order to "all troops fighting against the
anti-revolutionary Czecho-Slovak brigades" in which he said:

"The concentration of our troops is complete. Our army being aware that
the Czecho-Slovaks are direct allies of the anti-revolution and of the
capitalists, fights them well. The Czecho-Slovaks are retreating along
the railway. Obviously they would like to enter into negotiations with
the Soviets. We issued an order that their delegates should be
received. We demand in the first place that they should be disarmed.
_Those who do not do so voluntarily will be shot on the spot._ Warlike
operations on the railway line hinder food transports. Energetic steps
must be taken to do away with this state of affairs."

The Czecho-Slovaks were greatly handicapped, since they were not only
almost unarmed, but were also dispersed along the trans-Siberian line in
small detachments which had considerable difficulty in keeping in touch
with each other. Nevertheless the fates were favourable to them. They were
victorious almost everywhere, thanks to their wonderful spirit and

The first victories gained by the Czecho-Slovaks over the Bolsheviks were
at Penza and Samara. Penza was captured by them after three days' fighting
at the end of May. Later the Czecho-Slovaks also took Sysran on the Volga,
Kazan with its large arsenal, Simbirsk and Yekaterinburg, connecting
Tcheliabinsk with Petrograd, and occupied practically the whole
Volga region.

In Siberia they defeated a considerable force of German-Magyar ex-prisoners
in Krasnoyarsk and Omsk and established themselves firmly in Udinsk. On
June 29, 15,000 Czecho-Slovaks under General Diderichs, after handing an
ultimatum to the Bolsheviks at Vladivostok, occupied the city without much
resistance. Only at one spot fighting took place and some 160 Bolsheviks
were killed. The Czecho-Slovaks, assisted by Japanese and Allied troops,
then proceeded to the north and north-west, while the Bolsheviks and German
prisoners retreated to Chabarovsk. In September the Czech and Allied troops
from Vladivostok joined hands with the Czecho-Slovaks from Irkutsk and
Western Siberia, and thus gained control over practically the whole
trans-Siberian railway. By this means they have done great service to the
Allies, especially to Great Britain, by defending the East against the
German invaders. Furthermore, it was the Czecho-Slovaks' bold action which
induced Japan and America at last to intervene in Russia and for the sake
of Russia, and it was their control of the Siberian railway which made such
intervention possible. Let us hope that their action will lead to the
regeneration and salvation of the Russian nation.

The service rendered by Czecho-Slovak troops to the Allied cause was, of
course, justly appreciated by the Allies. Mr. Lloyd George sent the
following telegram to Professor Masaryk on September 9:

"On behalf of the British War Cabinet I send you our heartiest
congratulations on the striking successes won by the Czecho-Slovak
forces against the armies of German and Austrian troops in Siberia. The
story of the adventures and triumphs of this small army is, indeed, one
of the greatest epics of history. It has filled us all with admiration
for the courage, persistence and self-control of your countrymen, and
shows what can be done to triumph over time, distance and lack of
material resources by those holding the spirit of freedom in their
hearts. Your nation has rendered inestimable service to Russia and to
the Allies in their struggle to free the world from despotism. We shall
never forget it."

The deeds of our army met with equal admiration and gratitude also in
Bohemia. This is clearly shown by the speech of the Czech deputy Stríbrný,
delivered in the Austrian Reichsrat on July 17, and entirely suppressed in
the Austrian and German press. Despite the vigilance on the part of the
Austrian authorities, however, we have been able to secure the full text of
this remarkable speech which reads as follows:

"GENTLEMEN, - Let me first of all emphasise that my speech is not a
defence of the Czech nation and of the Czech soldiers. There are no
judges in this parliament competent to judge us.

"You call us traitors. We accept your declaration as the view of our
enemy. Nothing more - nothing less.

"You gentlemen on the German benches, you dared, however, to touch the
honour of our soldiers - you called them cowards. And in this respect we
are not going to keep silent. We shall always protest against such
injustice! We shall never permit these heroes to be abused by being
called 'cowards.' If there is a single gentleman among you he ought for
a moment to reflect on the soul of a Czech soldier - a soldier who has
been compelled by force to fight in a war which the German Imperial
Chancellor has openly called 'a war of Germans against the Slavs'; a
soldier who was compelled under the threat of immediate execution to
take up arms against the interests of the Slavs, against the interests
of his brothers, against the interests of his own country - Bohemia.
Well then, was it cowardice on the part of this soldier when he,
exposed to the fire of Austrian and German guns and machine guns from
behind, went over to the other side? Was he a coward when, while free
to remain in his captivity as a prisoner of war safely waiting until
the end of the war, he volunteered to fight again and was ready to risk
his life and health once more? Is that Czech soldier a coward who went
once more into the trenches, although aware that if he were captured he
would not be treated as an ordinary prisoner of war but as a deserter,
and hanged accordingly? Is that man a coward who sacrifices his family
which he has left behind and his soil and property inherited from his
ancestors? Is that man a coward who sacrifices himself, his father and
mother, his wife and children for the sake of his nation and country?

"Is that Czech soldier not a hero who to-day is voluntarily fighting

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