Czechia celebrates one of the national holidays today. On September 28th, 935 AD (a source still claims it was 929 AD, however), the good king Wenceslaus – the patron saint of Czechia – was assassinated.
A carol that Sheldon has memorized very well. A Czech version by Czech kids.
If you don't know who was the assassin, be ready for a disgusting shock. It was his brother, Boleslaus the Cruel. Well, Boleslaus invited Wenceslaus to the feast of St Cosmas and Damian and three Boleslaus' henchmen stabbed Wenceslaus to death. For Wenceslaus, it was a good career move in the long term. He couldn't have become a saint (and a king, in memorian, instead of just a duke) without that martyrdom, I guess.
Don't forget that the main national holiday of Czechia is October 28th, however. In 1918 – and it will be exactly one century one month from now – Czechoslovakia was founded on the ruins of Austria-Hungary. Exceptionally, Slovakia will celebrate a one-in-a-century national holiday on October 30th. Slovaks officially joined Czechoslovakia two days later.
As I wrote in a previous blog post about 1968, most of the important Czech historical events occur in years that are equal to 8 modulo 10 – such as the current one.
Well, 1938 was one of these historical years. The Munich Betrayal was negotiated – between the representatives of four main Western European powers (DE,UK,FR,IT) – on September 29th, 1938. The signatures were attached shortly after the midnight, on early September 30th.
Our French allies – Czechoslovakia had an explicit defense treaty – betrayed us exactly 80 years ago. They were mainly brainwashed by Chamberlain of the U.K., their formal ally and Czechoslovakia's "expected" ally, who found it an excellent idea to be nice to Nazi Germany and to donate 1/3 of Czechoslovakia's power to that Reich.
The war wasn't avoided. Instead, it was delayed by one year and amplified. Because Hitler breached the Munich Treaty itself in March 1939 and occupied the rest of Czechia, he became vastly stronger and capable of beating everybody up to 1942. I am pretty sure that without the Czech boost – which increased the German military might by some 20% while it reduced the power of his enemies by the same amount – Hitler couldn't have done so well in the first half of the Second World War.
He also attacked France and Britain. Churchill – who has been a vocal critical of the Munich Treaty from the beginning – superseded Chamberlain and Britain became very different. In 1942, in the wake of the retribution for our assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Britain revoked its signature under the Munich Treaty. Many things changed but the superior political credit earned by the Soviet Union was self-evident and it was an important reason why, in February 1948 (another year with the 8), Czechoslovakia left Western Europe and joined Eastern Europe. The 1948 Czechoslovak crisis – which quickly led to the creation of NATO – may be considered an almost unavoidable consequence of the 1938 Munich Betrayal.
Chamberlain just returned from Munich and was welcome as a rock star. His predictions about the foreseeable "peaceful" future of Europe look flabbergastingly clueless with our hindsight, indeed.
Our modern "velvet" pragmatic approach said "don't defend our country, it's suicidal". In this respect, Czechs heavily differ e.g. from the Poles who tried to fight – and millions of Poles paid their lives for the demonstration of the Polish spine. There has been a near-consensus that the defense would have been suicidal. Czechoslovakia could have defended itself for a few weeks but it would have probably remain in isolation. The brute force of Germany must have prevailed after some weeks or months.
Now, in 2018, lots of historians are being quoted in the media who say that we should have defended ourselves, after all. We wanted, we could, and we had the resources. The weaponry of Czechoslovakia (starting with the tanks) was rather impressive, and so was the fortification system (built along the natural mountains that occupy the Czech-German borders) – which was incomplete, however.
We can't be sure what the result would be. I can imagine we would actually defend ourselves without any help. And we could have been helped by a more predictable ally (France, Britain) or a less predictable one (Romania, Yugoslavia, our allies in the alliance against the resurrection of Austria-Hungary, or the Soviet Union, or someone much more exotic). But even in the most optimistic scenario, I think that another thing would have changed about the history: we would have displayed our "teeth" and we would have been viewed as much less "innocent" while Nazi Germany could have been viewed partly as a "victim". That's because even with the outdated airplanes (that just couldn't match our superiority in the tanks), the Czechoslovak Air Force would bomb Nazi German cities such as Salzburg and others. Lots of Germans (which included Austrians) would have been killed, along with many Czechs.
Prague would probably be highly damaged and in 2018 AD of the alternative history world, the number of tourists in the Czech capital would probably be much lower for that reason – which could be considered both good or bad, depending on your point of view.
Instead, we became the peaceful and pragmatic defeatists and cowards – a strategy that was repeated in 1939 and 1968, not to mention some other years. Obviously, this passive attitude suppresses any conceivable army-flavored national pride. But that's what the 20th century has done to our nation. We weren't always like that and the 15th century Hussites were assertive warriors who terrorized and robbed much of Europe while singing wonderful choir music.
Just to be sure, a week before the Munich Treaty, Czechoslovakia announced the general mobilization. A million of men – including the Falcons (Sokol, a gym organization) of all generations was readied to defend their homeland. But despite the mobilization, the order to fight has never come. During the mobilization, it was implicitly assumed that our allies would soon join us. On September 30th, we learned that it probably wouldn't be the case.
In the 1930s, Czechoslovakia was the only country in the world where the modern attitude to Nazism – "Nazi is a slur" – was the absolute mainstream. Everyone knew that Nazism was evil and dangerous – by everyone, I mean the general public, the politicians, and the artists (such as Karel Čapek – the originator of the word "robot" and a close friend of the president-founder Prof Thomas Garrigue Masaryk – who wrote some wonderful plays with metaphors describing Nazism). All other countries had some sort of a sick admiration for the totalitarian regime. Hitler simply needed to destroy the Czechoslovak political regime as the first one and he did.
There exists a subtle synergy between the two anniversaries – the 935 death of Saint Wenceslaus and the 1938 Munich Treaty.
During the Protectorate era, the Czech anthem was often accompanied by the St Wenceslaus Chorale, just like in this church event exactly two years ago. I find the melody of the chorale impossible to remember – those are almost random tones for me. A millennium ago, the composers still sucked. Nazis sort of liked St Wenceslaus because as a Czech king, he obediently paid all the required trans-border taxes to the Holy Roman Empire and could have been spun as a symbol of the Czech subordinate status towards the Germans.
Wenceslaus may have been a good king but he was also one of the first Czech pro-EU collaborationists in our history. ;-)
Exactly 10 years ago today, on September 28th, 2008, then Czech PM Mirek Topolánek ordered some musicians to record and release new versions of the Czech anthem. I created a music video with photographs which is currently the #2 YouTube hit for "Czech anthem" and has 236,000 views as of now (my 3rd most viewed video).