The History of Czechoslovakia: The history behind the self-determined split of the federal state of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia

The First Republic (1918–1938)

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk had been recognized by World War I Allies as the leader of the Provisional Czechoslovak Government, and in 1920 he was elected the country's first president. He was re-elected in 1925 and 1929, serving as President until 14 December 1935 when he resigned due to poor health. He was succeeded by Edvard Beneš.

Several ethnic groups and territories with different historical, political, and economic traditions were obliged be blended into a new state structure. The origin of the First Republic lies in Point 10 of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points: "The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.” The Treaty of St.Germain, signed in September 1919, formally recognised the new republic.

On 13 December 1918, the first stanza of Janko Matúška's lyrics of current Slovak National Anthem became half of the two-part bilingual Czechoslovak anthem, composed of the first stanza from a Czech operetta tune, Kde domov můj (Where Is My Home?), and the first stanza of Nad Tatrou sa blyska song, each sung in its respective language and both played in that sequence with their respective tunes. The songs reflected the two nations' concerns in the 19th century when they were confronted with the already fervent national-ethnic activism of the Hungarians and the Germans, their fellow ethnic groups in the Habsburg Monarchy.

The new state was characterized by problems with its ethnic diversity, the separate histories of the Czech and Slovak peoples and their greatly differing religious, cultural, and social traditions. The Germans and Magyars (Hungarians) of Czechoslovakia openly agitated against the territorial settlements. Nevertheless, the new republic saw the passage of a number of progressive reforms in areas such as housing, social security, and workers’ rights.

The Czechoslovak state was conceived as a parliamentary democracy. The constitution identified the "Czechoslovak nation" as the creator and principal constituent of the Czechoslovak state and established Czech and Slovak as official languages. The concept of the Czechoslovak nation was necessary in order to justify the establishment of Czechoslovakia before the world, otherwise the statistical majority of the Czechs as compared to Germans would be rather weak.

The operation of the new Czechoslovak government was distinguished by its political stability. Largely responsible for this were the well-organized political parties that emerged as the real centers of power. After 1933, Czechoslovakia remained the only functioning democracy in Central Europe. Under pressure from its Sudeten German minority, supported by neighbouring Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede its Sudetenland region to Germany on 1 October 1938 as part of the Munich Agreement. It also ceded southern parts of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia to Hungary and the Zaolzie region in Silesia to Poland. This, in effect, ended the First Czechoslovak Republic. It was replaced by Second Czechoslovak Republic, which lasted less than half a year before Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.


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