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

The Second Republic (1938–1939)

This chapter talks about problems that Czechoslovakia faced with ethnic minorities such as Hungarians, Poles and Germans, about Czechoslovakia becoming the next target of Hitler’s regime and begging of an undeclared war between Germany and Czechoslovaks, as well as the agitation for autonomy in Slovakia that later resulted in creating an independent satellite state under the rule of Nazi Germany

Adolf Hitler's rise in Nazi Germany in 1933, the German annexation - Anschluss of Austria in 1938, the resulting revival of revisionism in Hungary, the agitation for autonomy in Slovakia and the appeasement policy of the Western powers of France and the United Kingdom left Czechoslovakia without effective allies. Exposed to hostile Germany and Hungary on three sides and to unsympathetic Poland on the north.

Following the Anschluss of Nazi Germany and Austria in March 1938, the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's next target for annexation was Czechoslovakia. His pretext was the privations suffered by ethnic German populations living in Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland. Their incorporation into Nazi Germany would leave the rest of Czechoslovakia powerless to resist subsequent occupation.

On 17 September 1938 Hitler ordered the establishment of Sudetendeutsches Freikorps, a paramilitary organization that took over the structure of Ordnersgruppe, an organization of ethnic-Germans in Czechoslovakia that had been dissolved by the Czechoslovak authorities the previous day due to its implication in large number of terrorist activities. The organization was sheltered, trained and equipped by German authorities and conducting cross border terrorist operations into Czechoslovak territory. Relying on the Convention for the Definition of Aggression, Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš and the government-in-exile later regarded 17 September 1938 as the beginning of the undeclared German-Czechoslovak war. This understanding has been assumed also by the contemporary Czech Constitutional court.

Hitler extorted the cession of the Bohemian, Moravian and Czech Silesian borderlands through the Munich Agreement on 29 September 1938 signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain. The Czech population in the annexed lands was to be forcibly expelled.

Finding itself abandoned by the Western powers, the Czechoslovak government agreed to abide by the agreement. Beneš resigned as president of the Czechoslovak Republic on 5 October 1938, fled to London and was succeeded by Emil Hácha. In early November 1938, under the First Vienna Award, a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia) was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) to Hungary.

The Czechs in the greatly weakened Czechoslovak Republic were forced to grant major concessions to the non-Czechs resident in the country. The executive committee of the Slovak People's Party met at Žilina on 5 October 1938, and with the acquiescence of all Slovak parties except the Social Democrats formed an autonomous Slovak government under Jozef Tiso. Similarly, the two major factions in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the Russophiles and Ukrainophiles, agreed on the establishment of an autonomous government that was constituted on 8 October 1938. In late November 1938, the truncated state, renamed Czecho-Slovakia (the so-called Second Republic), was reconstituted in three autonomous units: the Czech lands (i.e. Bohemia and Moravia), Slovakia, and Ruthenia.

On 14 March 1939, the Slovak State declared its independence as a satellite state under Jozef Tiso. Hitler forced Hácha to surrender what remained of Bohemia and Moravia to German control on 15 March 1939, establishing the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

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