Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Czechoslovakia: 90th anniversary
Ninety years ago, on October 28th, 1918, the Czechoslovak National Council in Prague proclaimed the independence of Czechoslovakia.
The old Austrian-Hungarian monarchy was lethally weakened by the World War and it was time for a more modern setup - a democratic republic built upon similar principles as the Western democracies including the U.S.
Prof Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president, had convinced his allies - including Woodrow Wilson - that Czechoslovakia would be a problem-free single-national entity because the Czechoslovak nation was dominant.
And he was almost right - at least for 20 years. The country was an island of happiness, freedom, and prosperity in the middle of a sea of anxiety, totalitarian plans, and crises. Things worked fine until the late 1930s when 90% of the German minority in the Sudetenland - 30% of the population - decided that they had always wanted to be a part of the Third Reich. Most Slovaks suddenly decided that they were a separate nation, too.
Nazism was defeated, Czechoslovakia was restored (except for Ruthenia that was foolish enough to join the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in a referendum) and Stalin enjoyed a lot of credit for this defeat. That allowed him to create friendly regimes across the Central and Eastern Europe: Czechoslovakia unfortunately became an example. But this point is usually heavily misunderstood in America and elsewhere.
It was not the Russian nation who should be blamed for the arrival of full-fledged communism in 1948. We had our own communists who had these plans for decades and they simply won the 1946 elections. Czechoslovakia was always a sovereign country after 1945 and Moscow has arguably never controlled the life in Czechia and Slovakia as directly as Brussels does today.
At any rate, the country built communism and a substantial prosperity gap began to emerge in the 1960s. At that time, the atmosphere became more free, after the decade (1950s) of the executions. This evolution escalated by the Prague Spring in 1968. It was defeated by the tanks of the Warsaw Pact in August 1968 and two more decades of communist stagnation followed.
They were interrupted by the Velvet Revolution in November 1989. The Velvet Divorce valid since January 1st, 1993 and the EU, NATO membership etc. belong to the modern history. See a related posting from 2006.
After 23 years, Prague has seen a military parade: video. As the top boss of the military, President Klaus, explained, the purpose of these thousands of marching soldiers and hundreds of pieces of diverse military equipment was not a demonstration of power. Nevertheless, it is sometimes better to demonstrate it in advance. :-) Because of the terrible rainy weather, people could only hear, but not see, the Gripens.