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from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok, on the Piave and in France?

"If there is a single gentleman, a real gentleman among you, let him
stand up and answer these questions.

"And if there is not such a gentleman among you, remember the words of
our bitter enemy the late Minister for Home Defence, Baron Georgi, who
related to this House in a secret sitting all that our regiments have
accomplished. He could not as a soldier suppress a sigh and say, 'We
regret all those treacheries of Czech soldiers, still more because from
their deeds committed on the side of our enemy we can realise what a
splendid military material we have lost.' And if this is not
sufficient, I will remind you of the opinion of those who are in your
eyes the best judges - the Prussian officers. In an Austrian officers'
canteen where Czech soldiers had been abused the whole evening by being
called cowards, the Prussian officers present were asked to give their
opinion on this point. They answered, 'We shall only be able to judge
as to whether the Czechs are cowards or not when they begin to fight
against us.'

"You should at least be gentlemanly enough not to slander your enemies
who have proved themselves to be greater heroes than any other
soldiers, because they are voluntary heroes, whereas the others are
heroes under compulsion!

"This question of cowardice is therefore, I hope, settled forever.

"And now with regard to the title of 'traitors.' _We are traitors to
Austria - every one of us admits it honestly_. Not one of you, however,
has the right to reproach us for this. All of you are patriots by
order, and it cannot be otherwise in a dynastic state like Austria.

"With regard to the patriotism of the Magyars, we have proofs of this
dating from 1866. They have done the same as we are doing to-day. They
surrendered and organised Klapka's legions against Austria. The fact
that they were punished for their treachery by being given their own
independence does not speak against us.

"Yes, gentlemen, we are traitors as much as you Magyars, or as you
Germans were, or would be under similar circumstances. And _we want the
same as you want_, i.e. _to be free citizens of our own state_. Our own
state - that does not mean to have a few officials or one more
university. To have a state of our own - that means to be able to decide
freely if our soldiers shall go to war again, and if they do, to see
that they go only for the interests of their own nation, and not for
the interests of their enemies. An independent state - that means for us
no longer to die by order of foreigners, and no longer to live under
foreign domination.

"Let me remind the gentlemen on the German benches of a lesson in
history. Up till 1866 Germany was nominally under the sceptre of the
Habsburg dynasty - a German dynasty, mind you. Prussia and Northern
Germany felt the indignity of the 'foreign' rule of the Habsburgs - and
they started the fratricidal war in 1866 in order to get rid of this
rule....

"It is for you gentlemen on the German benches to speak! Let him who
regrets the blood then spilt stand up and speak. Let him stand up and
condemn Bismarck and William I. who started the war in order to deliver
Germany from the same yoke from which we are trying to free ourselves
to-day. If there is a single man among the Germans who would be
prepared to say that the war against Austria should never have
happened, let him stand up. That war was carried on to free Germany
from the incapable rule of Vienna and it had the same aim in view which
you reproach us with to-day and call high treason!

"You are silent, gentlemen! We are satisfied with your silence. And now
go and continue to stone and abuse us."

5. In the meantime, Professor Masaryk arrived in the United States _via_
Japan in May, 1918. He was accorded a splendid reception at Chicago where
some 200,000 Czecho-Slovaks, as well as various Allied representatives,
greeted him. His presence in the United States not only stimulated
recruiting among Czecho-Slovaks there, but had also political results,
especially when the Central Powers launched their peace offensive.

At the end of May, Mr. Lansing issued the following statement:

"The Secretary of State desires to announce that the proceedings of the
Congress of Oppressed Nationalities of Austria-Hungary which was held
in Rome in April have been followed with great interest by the
Government of the United States, and that the nationalist aspirations
of the Czecho-Slovaks and Jugoslavs have the earnest sympathy of this
government."

This declaration was endorsed by the representatives of Great Britain,
France and Italy at Versailles on June 3, 1918. On June 29, Mr. Lansing
completed and explained his statement as follows:

"Since the issuance by this government on May 29 of a statement
regarding the nationalist aspirations for freedom of the Czecho-Slovaks
and Jugoslavs, German and Austrian officials have sought to
misinterpret and distort its manifest interpretation. In order,
therefore, that there may be no misunderstanding concerning the meaning
of this statement, the Secretary of State to-day further announces the
position of the United States Government to be that _all branches of
the Slav race should be completely freed from German and Austrian
rule_."

On the following day, that is on June 30, 1918, President Poincaré
presented the Czecho-Slovak army with a flag and delivered an inspiring
speech to them.

On the occasion of the handing of this flag by President Pioncaré to the
Czecho-Slovak army, M. Pichon, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on behalf
of the government of the French Republic, addressed the following letter to
Dr. Edouard Benes, the general secretary of the Czecho-Slovak National
Council in Paris:

"At the moment when the 21st Regiment of Chasseurs, the first unit of
the autonomous Czecho-Slovak army in France, after receiving its flag,
is leaving its quarters to take up its position in a sector amongst its
French brothers-in-arms, the Republican Government, in recognition of
your efforts and your attachment to the Allied cause, considers it just
and necessary to proclaim _the right of your nation to its independence
and to recognise publicly and officially the National Council as the
supreme organ of its general interests and the first step towards a
future Czecho-Slovak Government_.

"During many centuries the Czecho-Slovak nation has enjoyed the
incomparable benefit of independence. It has been deprived of this
independence through the violence of the Habsburgs allied to the German
princes. The historic rights of nations are imperishable. It is for the
defence of these rights that France, attacked, is fighting to-day
together with her Allies. The cause of the Czechs is especially dear to
her.

"France will never forget the Prague manifestation of December 8, 1870.
Neither will she forget the resistance of its population and the
refusal of Czech soldiers to fight for Austria-Hungary, for which
heroism thousands of these patriots paid with their lives. France has
also heard the appeals of the Czech deputies of January 6, April 13,
and May 16, 1918.

"Faithful to the principles of respect for nationalities and the
liberation of oppressed nations, _the Government of the Republic
considers the claims of the Czecho-Slovak nation as just and well
founded, and will, at the right moment, support with all its solicitude
the realisation of your aspirations to independence within the historic
boundaries of your territories_ at present suffering under the
oppressive yoke of Austria and Hungary.

"It is very pleasant for me, Monsieur le Secrétaire Général, to make
this declaration. Your sentiments, reflecting those of your
compatriots, are for me the measure of the high degree of the future
happiness of your country.

"In the name of the Government of the French Republic I tender _my
warmest and most sincere wishes that the Czecho-Slovak State may
speedily become, through the common efforts of all the Allies and in
close union with Poland and the Jugoslav State, an insurmountable
barrier to Teutonic aggression_ and a factor for peace in a
reconstituted Europe in accordance with the principles of justice and
rights of nationalities."

It is unnecessary to add long comments to this clear and explicit state
paper which forms a veritable pledge on the part of France to secure
Czecho-Slovak independence. It is a recognition of Bohemia's right to
independence and of the National Council as the supreme organ of the
Czecho-Slovak nation abroad. At the same time it is also an acceptance of
our programme of the reorganisation of Central Europe, necessitating the
break-up of Austria, and in this respect it is also a success and a pledge
for the Poles and Yugoslavs.

6. If France and Italy showed such deep understanding of the cause of
Bohemia's liberty, exhibited in practice by special military conventions
concluded with our National Council, Great Britain may be proud of no less
generosity. Although having no direct interests in seeing Bohemia
independent, Great Britain, true to her traditions as a champion of the
liberties of small nations, did not hesitate to give us a declaration which
not only fully endorses all pledges of France and Italy, but which goes
still further and practically recognises our full national sovereignty.

On August 9, 1918, His Majesty's Government issued the following
declaration:

"Since the beginning of the war the Czecho-Slovak nation has resisted
the common enemy by every means in its power. The Czecho-Slovaks have
constituted a considerable army, fighting on three different
battlefields and attempting, in Russia and Siberia, to arrest the
Germanic invasion.

"_In consideration of their efforts to achieve independence, Great
Britain regards the Czecho-Slovaks as an Allied nation and recognises
the unity of the three Czecho-Slovak armies as an Allied and
belligerent army waging a regular warfare against Austria-Hungary and
Germany_.

"Great Britain also recognises _the right of the Czecho-Slovak National
Council as the supreme organ of the Czecho-Slovak national interests,
and as the present trustee of the future Czecho-Slovak Government to
exercise supreme authority over this Allied and belligerent army_."

It will be readily seen of what a tremendous significance this declaration
is from an international point of view. Apart from the fact that it
recognises our efforts towards independence, the declaration says
explicitly that the Czecho-Slovaks, abroad and at home, are an Allied
nation, which implies that the Allies will treat them henceforward as such,
and will allow their government to establish consular service and to send
representatives to Allied conferences. The sovereignty both of the
Czecho-Slovak army and of the National Council is fully recognised in this
declaration which proclaims "the unity of the three Czecho-Slovak armies
(in Russia, France and Italy) as an _Allied and belligerent army_ waging
_regular warfare_ against Austria." Only a sovereign army is a belligerent
army waging regular warfare. Thus the Czecho-Slovaks, according to
international law, are no more rebels but regular soldiers whom, when
captured, Austria has no more the right to execute. Similarly also the
recognition of the National Council as the "trustee" of the Czecho-Slovak
Government is clear and explicit; in fact a "trustee" is the word applied
to a provisional government of a state. As a matter of fact, the National
Council, on the ground of this recognition of full sovereignty, was
constituted as a Provisional Government on October 14, 1918, and has the
power to exercise all rights appertaining to a sovereign and independent
government.

Thus implicitly Great Britain considers Czecho-Slovak independence already
a _fait accompli_. It speaks of and considers a Czecho-Slovak State no more
as a probability, but as a certainty. As with the Czecho-Slovaks so with
Great Britain, Austria exists no more.

The recognition is of additional importance because it comes from Great
Britain who has always been considered a traditional friend of Austria, and
who is known for conservatism in foreign politics. The decision to issue a
declaration of such far-reaching importance was surely arrived at only
after due and careful deliberation. The step which Great Britain has taken
thereby once more proves the deep sense of justice and the far-sightedness
of British statesmen. Needless to say that the Czecho-Slovaks will always
remain grateful to Great Britain for this bold and generous act. Its
immediate effect has been consternation in Vienna and encouragement both to
the Czecho-Slovak soldiers fighting on the side of the Entente and to the
Czech leaders courageously defending Bohemia's rights in Vienna. As deputy
Klofác put it at a meeting in Laibach on August 15:

"Henceforward the Czechs will refuse to hold any negotiations with
Vienna, with whom any compromise is now out of the question. The
Czecho-Slovaks will firmly continue the struggle for complete national
independence, strengthened by the support of other Slavs, and by the
knowledge that the British and other Allied governments had formally
acknowledged and were working for the establishment of an independent
Czecho-Slovak State."

This chapter would not be complete if we did not quote the subsequent
declarations of the United States of America and Japan, practically
endorsing the British declaration.

On September 3, Mr. Lansing issued the following statement:

"The Czecho-Slovak peoples having taken up arms against the German and
Austro-Hungarian empires, and having placed in the field organised
armies, which are waging war against those empires under officers of
their own nationality and in accordance with the rules and practices of
civilised nations, and Czecho-Slovaks having in the prosecution of
their independence in the present war confided the supreme political
authority to the Czecho-Slovak National Council, the Government of the
United States recognises that a state of belligerency exists between
the Czecho-Slovaks thus organised and the German and Austro-Hungarian
empires.

"It also recognises _the Czecho-Slovak National Council as a_ de facto
_belligerent government_, clothed with proper authority to direct the
military and political affairs of the Czecho-Slovaks.

"The Government of the United States further declares that it is
prepared to enter formally into relations with the _de facto_
government thus recognised for the purpose of prosecuting the war
against the common enemy, the empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary."

A week later the Japanese Government, through the medium of its ambassador
in London, communicated the following declaration to the Czecho-Slovak
National Council:

"The Japanese Government have noted with deep and sympathetic interest
the just aspirations of the Czecho-Slovak people for a free and
independent national existence. These aspirations have conspicuously
been made manifest in their determined and well-organised efforts to
arrest the progress of the Germanic aggression.

"In these circumstances, the Japanese Government are happy to regard
the Czecho-Slovak army as an Allied and belligerent army waging regular
warfare against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and to recognise the
rights of the Czecho-Slovak National Council to exercise the supreme
control over that army. They are further prepared to enter into
communication with the duly authorised representatives of the
Czecho-Slovak National Council, whenever necessary, on all matters of
mutual interest to the Japanese and the Czecho-Slovak forces in
Siberia."



VII

THE CZECHS AT HOME BEGIN TO SPEAK

The opening of the Reichsrat in May, 1917, was intended to give Austria the
appearance of a "democratic" country in which diverse nationalities live in
peace and happiness. Democratic indeed! A parliament, subject to
censorship, lacking the freedom of speech and all influence on the
government, with 463 members instead of 516, many of whom were still in
prison and in exile! And if there was still any person in the Allied
countries having any doubts concerning the attitude of the Czechs and
Yugoslavs, these doubts were certainly dispelled after the courageous
indictment against Austria made by the Slav deputies, representing
practically all the Czech and Yugoslav political parties. The declaration
of the Poles in favour of a united and independent Poland, the statement of
Messrs. Stanek and Korosec in the name of _all_ Czechs and Yugoslavs in
favour of a Czecho-Slovak and Yugoslav State, the speech of deputy Kalina
denying all responsibility of the Czechs for the war, and expressing Czech
sympathies with the Entente Powers, and the terrible story of persecutions
which the Czechs had to suffer from Austria during the war, told by deputy
Stríbrný, formed a veritable "Mene Tekel," a death sentence pronounced by
the Austrian Slavs on their tyrants in Vienna and Budapest.

The revelation in the Reichsrat of the hopeless state of decay prevailing
in Austria-Hungary was, of course, due to the Russian Revolution. If it was
not for the Russian Revolution, the Austrian Emperor and Clam-Martinic
would perhaps have continued their reign of absolutism by way of imperial
decrees, and they would never have dreamt of convoking the Reichsrat.

However, the desperate economic and political situation forced Austria to
find some way out of her difficulties, and to plead for peace as she began
to realise that otherwise she was doomed. The change of order and the
situation in Russia and the uncertain attitude of some Allied statesmen
seemed favourable for the Austrian calculations respecting a separate
peace. But Austria could not possibly hope to deceive free Russia or the
Allies and lure them into concluding a premature peace if the reign of
terrorism and absolutism still prevailed in the Dual Monarchy. For this
reason Tisza, with his sinister reputation, was forced to go, and the
Reichsrat was convened. Austria based her plans on the ignorance of some
Allied politicians who really believed in the "new orientation" of the
Vienna Government because of the Bohemian _names_ (not sympathies) of
Clam-Martinic and Czernin. In the same way Austria wanted to make outsiders
believe that a change in the name of the Hungarian Premier meant a change
of system, and that the convocation of the Reichsrat meant a new era of
"democracy" in Austria.

Neither of these assumptions was, of course, correct. If the Magyars talk
of introducing universal suffrage, they want to extend it to Magyar
electors, and on one condition only, viz. that all the candidates shall be
of _Magyar_ nationality, or, as the Hungarian Premier, Count Esterhazy, put
it, "democracy in Hungary can only be a Magyar democracy" - that is, a
system utterly at variance with the principles of justice.

But far from averting the doom of Austria and bringing her peace and
consolation, the opening of the Reichsrat only hastened Austria's downfall,
for it enabled the Austrian Slavs, who now felt that the moment had come
for them to speak, to declare before the whole world their aspirations, and
their determination to destroy the monarchy.

_(a) The Czech Declaration of May_ 30, 1917

Before entering the Reichsrat, the Czechs made it clear that they no longer
desired any compromise with Austria. In a manifesto signed by 150 Czech
authors and subsequently endorsed by professors, teachers and various
societies and corporations, the Czech deputies were reminded that the fate
of their nation was at stake:

"The doors of the Austrian Parliament are opening and the political
representatives of the nations have for the first time the opportunity
of speaking and acting freely. Whatever they may say and decide will be
heard not only at home, but also throughout Europe and overseas.... The
programme of our nation is founded on its history and racial unity, on
its modern political life and rights. The present time emphasises the
necessity for carrying out this programme completely.... To-day you are
forced to develop this programme, to defend it to the last breath
before the forum of Europe, and to demand its realisation without
limitations.... Democratic Europe, the Europe of free and independent
nations, is the Europe of the future. The nation asks you to be equal
to this historic occasion, to devote to it all your abilities and to
sacrifice to it all other considerations...."

And to this appeal of their nation the Czech, deputies did not turn a deaf
ear.

On entering the Reichsrat on May 30, 1917, Mr. Stanek, president of the
Union of Czech Deputies, made the following memorable declaration in the
name of all the Czech deputies:

"While taking our stand at this historic moment on the natural right of
peoples to self-determination and free development - a right which in
our case is further strengthened by inalienable historic rights fully
recognised by this state - we shall, at the head of our people, work for
_the union of all branches of the Czecho-Slovak nation in a single
democratic Bohemian State_, comprising also the Slovak branch of our
nation which lives in the lands adjoining our Bohemian Fatherland."

Both the Yugoslav and the Polish press greeted this declaration with
undisguised joy and sympathy.

The _Glos Naroda_ welcomed the Czech declaration, and added: "Those who
to-day are asking for an independent national existence do not claim
anything but the minimum of their rights. Nothing less could satisfy them
(_i.e._ the Czechs and Yugo-slavs), seeing that even smaller and less
historic nations claim the same." The _Nowa Reforma_ also said that the
Czechs were quite right to ask for full independence. "They are entitled to
it by their position in which they can lose nothing more than they have
lost already, but gain a great deal. Among the Entente Powers there is
nobody who would have an open or disguised interest in opposing even the
boldest claims of the Czecho-Slovak nation."

The declaration of deputy Stanek was completed by a statement of deputy
Kalina who made it quite clear that the Czechs refuse responsibility for
the war, and that their sympathies are with the Entente. Kalina, a
prominent leader of the State Right Party, said:

"As deputies elected by the Czech nation, _we absolutely reject every
responsibility for this war_.

"After three years, the government has summoned the _Reichsrat, which
the Czechs never recognised_, and against which, as well as against the
so-called constitution, they again make a formal protest. The great
Russian Revolution forced the government to a plausible restoration of
constitutional life.

"_The Czech nation hails with unbounded joy and enthusiasm the
liberation of Eastern Europe_. The main principles of that memorable
Revolution are closely related to our own traditions, _i.e._ to the
principle of _liberty, equality and fraternity of all nations_. Bohemia
is a free country. Never in her history did she accept laws from
aliens, not even from her powerful neighbours in Europe. Liberty of
individuals, liberty of nations is again our motto which the nation of
Hussites is bringing before the world. In these historic moments, when
from the blood-deluged battlefields a new Europe is arising, and the
idea of the sovereignty of nations and nationalities is triumphantly
marching throughout the Continent, _the Czech nation solemnly declares
before the world its firm will for liberty and independence_ on the
ground of the ancient historic rights of the Bohemian Crown. In
demanding independence, the Czech nation asks, in the sense of the new
democracy, for the extension of the right of self-determination to the
whole Czecho-Slovak nation."

_(b) Courageous Speeches delivered by Czech Deputies in the Reichsrat_


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Online LibraryVladimír NosekIndependent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty → online text (page 8 of 13)