The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Improved Conditions in Bohemia

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4011768The Czechoslovak Review, volume 3, no. 4 — Improved Conditions in Bohemia1919


Jaroslav F. Smetanka, Editor.
Published Monthly by the Bohemian Review Co., 2324 S. Central Park Ave., Chicago, Ill.

Vol. III, No. 4. APRIL, 1919

15 cents a Copy
$1.50 per Year

Improved Conditions in Bohemia

It has been announced that the final report of the commission on Czechoslovak claims has been submitted for the approval of the peace conference. What the report recommends is not known, but the opinion prevails that the claims put forward by the Czechoslovak delegates have been in the main granted. It is a matter of utmost importance for the consolidation of the Czechoslovak Republic that its definite frontiers be established as soon as possible, for until then the government of Prague is unable to settle some of its most urgent problems.

Difficulties with neighbors still continue. Of least importance practically, and yet the source of much irritation, is the dispute between the Czechs and Poles about the district of Teschen. In the middle of February an Allied commission visited the disputed territory and conducted investigations as to the justice of the conflicting claims. Not only the Czech inhabitants of Teschen, but Germans and Jews also asked for the inclusion of this small principality in the Czechoslovak Republic. Members of the commission were surprised, when the mayor of the city of Teschen declared himself in favor of connection with the Czechoslovaks. Still more unexpected was a similar request of Polish Protestants; while practically all the Poles in Galicia, the Congress Poland and Posnania are Catholics, there are strong Polish Protestant settlements in Austrian Silesia and Western Prussia. Polish Protestants of Western Prussia declared their preference for union with Catholic Poland rather than remain subject to Protestant Prussia, but the Polish Protestants of Teschen chose to throw in their lot with the Czechoslovak Republic. Since the occupation of the coal area by Czechoslovak troops the production of coal has been almost doubled. It is stated on apparently good authority that the decision of the peace conference commission provides for the annexation of a small section at the eastern end of the district of Teschen to Poland, but the bulk of the territory is to be included in Czechoslovakia, with all the coal mines, as well as the entire railroad running through the center of the district and connecting the Bohemian part of the Republic with Slovakia.

Far more serious are the difficulties with the Germans. The government of German Austria—or simply Austria, as one ought to call it now, since there is no other Austria any more—still assumes that the biased Austrian census of 1910 should be accepted as valid and that nearly a third of the territory of the Bohemian lands should go to Austria, and that means to Germany. As a matter of fact three and a half million Germans found in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia by the census of 1910 have been reduced to something like two million on the basis of local enumeration of population undertaken by various municipalities. In cities like Brno, the capital of Moravia, and dozens of other cities and villages the German majority has been transformed into a minority of one-third and less. Anticipating that the decision of the peace conference would go against German claims, the socialist rulers of Austria in close understanding with the Ebert government made preparations for an uprising in German districts on the northern and western frontiers of Bohemia. It was planned that upon the out break of disorders soldiers from Germany would enter the Czechoslovak Republic and occupy all the disputed territory. This conspiracy became known to the Czechoslovak authorities who have a very efficient intelligence service. The German consular representative in Prague was arrested, plans for the rebellion were captured and the whole conspiracy nipped in the bud. Germans in Bohemia have no just complaint of their treatment by Czechoslovak authorities. The only exceptional steps taken against the separatists movement consisted in censoring German newspapers which carried on an agitation against the integrity of the republic.

On the other hand the treatment of the strong Czech minority in Vienna proves that Germans have learned nothing from their defeat. During the elections for the Austrian Constituent Assembly the terrorism practiced on the Czechoslovak voters in Vienna exceeded anything known under the old regime. Not only were no Czech election posters allowed on the streets of the city, but Czech election headquarters were broken into and the workers man handled. Czech voters were intimidated and beaten, thousands were deprived of their right to vote on flimsy pretexts, and those that insisted on voting for Czech candidates were dismissed from their employment. In spite of all these tactics 63,000 votes were cast in Vienna for Czech candidates; only one was declared elected, although 8,000 Zionist votes also elected one candidate. Parties obtaining the highest number of votes in Vienna were Social Democrats, Christian Socialists and Czechs.

Relations with Magyars during February and March were extremely unsatisfactory. At the end of January the city of Pressburg on the Danube was made the seat of administration of Slovakia under the Prague government and Dr. Vavro Šrobar, the Slovak leader and member of the Czechoslovak government, proceeded to organize a new administration replacing the old Magyar rule. The name of the city was changed to the old Slav name Bratislava. The government of Count Karolyi employed the most dishonest methods to create chaos in the territory lost to them. They incited a strike of Magyar state employes still remaining at their posts, especially railroad and post office workers, they scattered handbills from airplanes claiming that Czechoslovak occupation was temporary and that vengeance would be taken on all who submitted to the new authorities; they went even so far as to send Bolshevik agitators for the purpose of creating social disorders.

In view of the feeling entertained to some extent in this country that the Magyars were unfairly treated by the Entente, when large sections of Hungary were taken away from them, an account of what they did in the Rusin districts in northeastern Hungary deserves attention. Shortly after the dissolution of the empire the new Magyar republican government decreed full autonomy to the races of Hungary; but when the Rusins began to agitate for union with the neighboring Slovak counties, their leaders were arrested by Magyar soldiers and shot without a trial. Those who displayed flags other than Hungarian flags were compelled to eat them and received in addition 25 lashes. Arms were distributed to the rabble which went around in bands and robbed the peasants, burning all they could not carry away. Whether the Magyar government in Budapest is aristocratic, as it was under the Hapsburgs, whether it calls itself democratic as under Count Karolyi, or whether it is communist, it can not be trusted to rule any other people except the Magyars.

In view of the new threat to the Allies and the peace of the world, involved in the communist revolution at Budapest, it, is of interest to note the military dispositions of the Czechoslovak Republic. There are under arms 30,000 first-class troops that served during the war with the French and Italian troops. There are also mobilized all Czechs and Slovaks up to the age of 36, who at the time of the revolution were incorporated in the Austrian Army. In Italy there are 50,000 men who surrendered during the last days of October to the Italians and who have since then been undergoing training to fit them for soldiers of the Czechoslovak Republic. These men would have been returned home by this time, if the Italians could have found railroad cars to transport them. Then there is the flower of the Czechoslovak Army, 60,000 men in Siberia, who are eager to return home and who know how to fight the Magyar Red Guards. The garrisons in Slovakia are commanded by the Italian General Piccione and the chief of staff of the entire Czechoslovak Army is the French General Pelle, who is also the representative of Marshal Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied forces.

Food situation has been much improved in March, and that fact has a great deal to do with the better morale of the people. The difficulties arising out of the conflicts of the Italians and the Jugo-Slavs north of Trieste have been to some extent at least solved by introducing a united control of the railroad lines leading from the Adriatic to Czechoslovakia, so that today the transportation of American food from Trieste proceeds at a satisfactory rate. Of even greater help has been the opening of the Elbe from Hamburg to Prague; as a resuit the people of Prague and other Bohemian cities get a much larger ration. Passenger traffic also has been improved with the introduction of a through line from Paris to Bucharest; on this train there is one car which is switched in Austria north to the Bohemian railroads. Recently mail communications with the Czechoslovak Republic have been re-established as a result of the recognition of the new state by Switzerland. Coal production is now more satisfactory. In the middle of February, the situation was so bad that street cars in Prague did not run for two days on account of the exhaustion of coal reserves. Suffering was great at that time, because in January very cold weather set in. But in March greater production of the Silesian mines and better feeding of the miners brought about a great improvement. One of the signs of a more normal state of affairs is seen in the announcement of Prague papers that they will accept new subscriptions, as their supply of print paper has been increased. The total volume of export and import business for three months beginning November 20th, is estimated at one billion crowns. That would mean an annual business of four billion; the total Austro-Hungarian foreign trade for 1913, amounted to six and one-half billion crowns.

In this connection one comes to the most serious problem of Czechoslovak business—the depreciated Austrian currency. Before the war the franc was worth less than a crown, today a franc buys four crowns. And while it is nearly half a year since the Dual Empire fell to pieces, the new states are still compelled to use the Austrian currency which the Austro-Hungarian Bank continues to manufacture at the rate of one billion crowns a month. According to the last available reports the Czechoslovak government planned to stamp all currency circulating within its territory so as to create thereby a distinct Czechoslovak currency. By this time probably the plan has been carried out, and it is noteworthy as indicating the credit of the new republic that at the first rumors of this proposed step bills of exchange on Prague were sold in Switzerland at 27 centimes to the crown, while bills on Vienna were sold at 22 centimes. The responsible statesmen in Prague realize that business cannot be put on a sound basis, until there is a sound system of money.

In domestic politics nothing very startling has happened since the proclamation of the republic. The best proof of the stability of the government may be seen in the fact that the first cabinet of 16 ministers established early in November is still in power without a single change of personnel. All the members of the cabinet, six of whom are socialists, so far supported all measures taken by the government; this is also true of all parties in the National Assembly. The principle on which the National Assembly proceeds is that they are only a temporary body and that no fundamental changes are to be enacted by them. All such measures are reserved for the constituent Assembly, and this Assembly by general consent will be elected only when the Czechoslovak soldiers in Siberia return home. In the meantime the Assembly busies itself in reconstructing the old governmental machine, looking after the proper distribution of food, taking emergency steps to ameliorate the living conditions of state employees and voicing the complaints of the people. The only measures that provoked much discussion were the enactment of a new franchise for municipal elections so as to do away immediately with the antiquated Austrian system of giving the big taxpayers a majority of municipal councils, and an act prohibiting political agitation in the pulpits.

Bolshevism has taken no root among the Czechoslovaks. Some half a dozen Czech communists from Russia, led by a man named Alois Muna, penetrated into Bohemia at the end of December and carried on an agitation for their principles in industrial districts, taking care, however, to avoid conflict with the laws. Much controversy was provoked in the newspapers at to the wisdom of the government in permitting them to carry on this agitation. In any case these disciples of Lenine gained few converts, and the Social Democratic party officially repudiated them and called on all Socialists to have nothing to do with them. In a campaign of education under taken in the interest of sound political and economic thinking among the workingmen, very effective service was rendered by a number of Czechoslovak soldiers from Russia and by two representatives of Czechs from the United States. It maybe stated most emphatically that the Czechoslovak people will not in any circumstances succumb to Bolshevik agitation.