Bohemia's case for independence/Introduction
The publication of this little book is timely. The British public, always prone to look upon "foreign affairs" as mysterious and unintelligible, has been groping its way, during the last two-and-a-half years, towards some dim knowledge of the causes of the war and of the fundamental conditions of a lasting peace. Its cognitions are still rudimentary. The neglect of generations cannot be made good in so brief a period, even under the stimulus of the greatest struggle known to history. Yet, though it be not possible to "cram" for the examination which the British peoples will presently be required to pass if a satisfactory peace is to end the war, it is possible to inculcate upon them the broad lessons of history, geography and ethnology in such a way as to give them a standard by which to judge situations and events. In this little volume, Dr. Beneš, the distinguished collaborator of Professor Masaryk, sets forth with cleaners and cogency "the case for the independence of Bohemia? Alongside of "the case" for the unity and independence of Poland, with which it is intimately connected, and "the case" for the independence and unity of the Southern Slav peoples, which forms its necessary pendant, the case for Bohemia is seen to be one of the cardinal points of the political firmament whenever the eye turns in search of a stable peace. It is true that the independence of Bohemia, that is, the independence and unity of the Czecho-Slovak race, involves tha "dismemberment of Austria" against which British pacifists so strangely protest. A sudden and touching solicitude for the preservation of the Habsburg realms, in some federalised form, has been noticeable of late in quartets formerly proud of their "Liberalism," Gladstone's verdict that "nowhere has Austria ever done good" seems to have been forgetten by these ultra-liberal partisans of Austrian intangibility. They have taken up the position held by the mid-Victorian Tories, against whom the famous parody of "Who is Sylvia?" was directed in Macmillan's Magazine of 1866:—
|Who is Austria? What is she?|
That all our swells commend her?
Dogged, proud and dull is she;
The heavens such gifts did lend her
That she might destroyed be.
But what is Austria? Is it fair
To name among the nations
Some Germans who have clutched the hair
Of divers populations,
And, having clutched, keep tugging there?
From the moment that Austria-Hungary, at the instance of Germany, decided to use the Sarajevo assassinations as a pretext far the long-planned "punitive expedition" against Serbia, I have been confirmed—as Count Albert Mensdorff, the former Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in London will remember—that the Habsburg Monarchy was about to commit suicide. It was evident to those practically acquainted with Austro-Hungarian affairs that, whether Austria-Hungary were left to crush Serbia without interference from the Great Powers, or whether the conflict were to grow into a European conflagration, the real independence of the Habsburgs would be a thing of the past. They could not overrun and annex Serbia without incurring such obligations towards Germany as to render them, more than ever, German vassals. In the event of a European conflagration they could only hope for victory through German support, and victory would render them a mere link in the Pan-German chain of States stretching from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf. In the event of defeat in a European war, they could not hope to resist the aspirations of their peoples for liberation, or, indeed, the demands of the victors for political guarantees against the recurrence of so foul a conspiracy against the tranquillity and equilibrium of Europe.
The course of the war and the political developments by which it has been accompanied in Central Europe have justified this estimate; but they have also shown that there may exist a fourth contingency from which the Habsburgs might hope to profit. It is with this contingency that the Allies are now confronted. Should Austria-Hungary, and her open and occult partisans, succeed in persuading the Allied Governments that the leopard can change his spots, there might still be a chance that the adoption of a formula like "the federalisation of Austria would save Germany from the full consequences of her crime by preserving in a new disguise the old Habsburg State which has been, is, and must remain a principal asset in German political calculations. Prominent German writers, notably Herr Georg Bernhard, in the Vossische Zeitung of April 23, have, it is true, clearly proclaimed the great value to Germany of a federalised Austria. "As long as Austria retained the ambition of being a German State," he wrote, "she was—or she might have become—a rival of Germany. But a strong, new, many-peopled Austria will be our complement." . . . "Changes in the home policy of the Dual Monarchy do not imply any change in its foreign policy, because the Monarchy can maintain the best relations with Germany and yet enjoy the confidence of the Entente." A federated Austria would he "a German bridge between West and East." The soundness of Herr Bernhard's views from the German standpoint cannot be gainsaid. It follows—or it ought to follow—that their unsoundness from the standpoint of the Allies, is equally incontestable.
The considerations that should guide the Allies in dealing with the question of Austria can be brieﬂy stated. Quite apart from the liberal and humanitarian claims advanced in the name of "the rights of nationalities" or "the fight of peoples to determine their own fate," it is evident that the power of Germany to dispose of 50,000,000 Habsburg subjects for the furtherance of her military and political designs has been a main source of German strength, of this source of strength Germany must be deprived. The creation of an independent Bohemia, or rather Czechoslovakia, would remove some 12,000,000 Habsburg Slav subjects from German control, and would set them up as active custodians of European freedom. Upon the economic resources of Bohemia Dr. Beneš rightly insists. Of the devotion of the Czechs to the Allied cause he gives abundant proof. The sturdy vitality of a people that has survived persecution and oppression almost without precedent in European history needs no demonstration. The unification of Poland would deprive Austria and Germany of many more millions of oppressed Slavs who, like the Czechs, would help to safeguard the liberties of Europe. Similarly, the constitution of an ethnically-complete Romania, of a united Southern Slavia, and of a completed Italy, would subtract from 10 to 12 millions more from the Habsburg populations, hitherto at the disposal of the Hohenzollerns. The Magyars retaining independent possession of the Central Hungarian plain, the true Magyar-land, but deprived of the power to oppress non-Magyars might find their place in a Danubian Federation of States such as that of which Louis Kossuth once dreamed; while the Germans of Austria would be free, should they desire it, to join the peoples of the present German Empire. Their adhesion to Germany would not counterbalance the diminution of strength which the Hohenzollern-Habsburg combination would suffer by the liberation of the non-German and non-Magyar peoples whom the present "Central Powers" control.
These are the true lines of a lasting resettlement of Central Europe. In it an independent Bohemia would play a part of which the importance can be gauged only by those who know the history and the potentialities of the Bohemian lands and of the Czecho-Slovak race. As to the Habsburgs, who for so long have "clutched the hair of diverse populations," the words of the famous parody still hold good:—
|They had their chance; for so, in rough|
All nations had beginnings.
But Habsburgs were not wise enough
For any solid winning;
Or else their task was over tough.
It is time that the peoples whom they have persistently misgoverned should be allowed to work out their own salvation; and among these peoples the thrifty, industrious and gifted Bohemian race holds a place second to none.
London, June 25th, 1917