"Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

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"Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 23 May 2022 05:31

Jozef Pilsudski was mindful of the need for good neighborly relations, and this is why he wanted to obtain a Polish-Czechoslovak agreement. Therefore, in December 1918, when he was Head of the Polish State (his official title pending the election of a president), he sent a small Polish delegation to Prague with a personal letter to President Tomas G. Masaryk. Pilsudski proposed the establishment of a mixed Polish-Czechoslovak commission to resolve all problems in mutual relations, though clearly Trans-Olza was the key problem.

Masaryk expressed his agreement to the Polish delegation, but handed the matter over to the Czechoslovak government, which had no intention to negotiate. At the same time, Masaryk also sanctioned the seizure of the area by Czechoslovak troops in January 1919.
The Poles deeply resented the Czechoslovak use of force at a time when they were facing armed Soviet expansion into Lithuania and western Belorussia and battling the Ukrainians over Lwów.

Finally, in late July 1920, a Polish delegation that had come to the Franco-British conference at Spa to plead for Western aid against Soviet Russia, agreed to the Czechoslovak proposal to submit the question to the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris. The Poles expected a thorough consideration of the problem, but the conference simply awarded Trans-Olza to Czechoslovakia on 28 July 1920, just as the Red Army was nearing Warsaw.
It was later learned that this award resulted from a secret deal between Edvard Beneš on the one hand and French and British officials on the other, in which Beneš promised to persuade Czech railwaymen to allow the passage of French arms and munitions to Poland in return for the award of Trans-Olza to Czechoslovakia.

It seems that he did not try very hard to fulfill this promise because the munitions did not go through. Furthermore, Czechoslovakia followed Germany's example by declaring its ‘neutrality’ on 10 August 1920, precluding the transit of any war material to Poland. Thus Trans-Olza remained in Czech hands. The outcome might have been different if the Poles had defeated the Red Army in July instead of August 1920.
The Munich Crisis, 1938: Prelude to World War II

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 23 May 2022 05:40

The decision of Spa, far from bringing a détente in Czechoslovak-Polish relations, brought indignation throughout Poland.
Paderewski who signed the agreement of July 28 wrote to the president of the Conference of Ambassadors to protest that the ethnic principle which was so vigorously observed with regard to Polish-Russian problems, as in the Curzon Note, was being simultaneously violated in Teschen.

Polish bitterness voiced by all political parties and groups increased because the decision on Teschen came at a most critical moment in Polish history. The general feeling was that the Czechs had taken advantage of Poland in her most difficult hour — the Bolsheviks were in the heart of the country.
...
Polish anger would possibly have been greater, had the Poles known about the machinations which preceded the decision at Spa.
The Americans knew something about them, and voiced anxiety about "arbitrary boundaries" imposed by the great powers.
...
Even some of the French were not convinced that the solution was equitable. Manneville exclaimed that the most unfavorable plebiscite would have given better borders to Poland, and Bainville, who felt strongly about the Czechs linking the Teschen issue with the problem of arms transit to Poland, wrote that a "good Czechoslovak would burn Europe in order to have Teschen."
France and her Eastern Allies, 1919–1925: French-Czechoslovak-Polish Relations from the Paris Peace Conference to Locarno by Piotr Wandycz

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 23 May 2022 06:22

The Americans knew something about them, and voiced anxiety about "arbitrary boundaries" imposed by the great powers.
From "The Sun and New York Herald" (24 Jul 1920)
Teschen truce is upset by Wilson.jpg
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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 24 May 2022 12:44

Lt. Col. Elbert E. Farman, U.S. Military Attaché in Poland to MID in Washington, DC,
No. 887,
"Poland - Chiefly Political Factor. Summary of Political and Psychological Situation",
July 20, 1920

1. General Feeling of Indecision and Uncertainty.
Resulting from the military fiascos of the past six weeks, more especially of the last two weeks, Poland has been thrown into a state of apprehension and indecision, which affects all elements. The government, recognizing its serious miscalculations, is ineffectually casting about to find a solution; the more intelligent section of the population is doing little more than engaging in violent destructive criticism; while the average man in the street, the workman, is uncertain of the immediate future, to a certain degree apathetic, yet he feels that a calamity is possibly imminent and trusts in something intangible to save the situation.
...
7. Other Nations.
The Czechs have again held up shipments of munitions from Austria, after releasing the embargo for a few days only. Their course has been distinctly hostile to Poland, and an important cause of the present military embarrassment.
American reports on the Polish-Bolshevik war, 1919-1920 by Janusz Cisek
The Czech-German blockade of Poland could have collapsed Polish resistance during the Polish-Soviet War.
The disaster was averted at the last minute by an energetic Allies' intervention in Danzig and effective Hungarian help.

The blockade was the reason Poland in the thirties supported Slovakia's independence and tried to gain a common border with a reliable and friendly nation - Hungary.
And this is why French historian Jacques Bainville wrote that "good Czechoslovak would burn Europe in order to have Teschen."

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 25 May 2022 20:00

In the twenties, after rejecting the Polish offer of a defensive treaty (more about it later) Czech leaders (i.e., the usual suspects - the amateurish Masaryk and the manipulative Beneš) tried to sic Germany on Poland, expecting to be rewarded for that with a pact of friendship and non-aggression.
The Germans were grateful for the support of their revisionism but politely "maybe later" declined to grant the reward.
Recognizing the growing potential for German economic penetration in the Danubian region but both unwilling and unable to fashion a supranational body capable of protecting itself, Bent formulated an alternative line of policy. He sought to divert German attention elsewhere. In so doing he steered Czechoslovak foreign policy headlong into one of the more unsavory episodes in the diplomacy of the first Czechoslovak republic.
Quite simply the goal was to persuade the Germans to concentrate on the Polish problem and to forget about Austria and the Danubian region. Benet had Masaryk's full support and participation.
During the meeting of the Council of the League in March 1927, Masaryk traveled to Geneva, where he had long discussions with Briand and Stresemann.
...
In his talk with Stresemann Masaryk displayed not only more sympathy for the Germans but also greater hostility toward the Poles. In discussing Central European affairs Masaryk emphasized and tied together two problems - Danzig and the Corridor, and Austria and the Anschluss.
About the Polish problem, Masaryk remarked that "anyone who looks at the map of Europe must realize that things cannot remain as they are" and that "Poland also knows quite well that it must give way."

Having implied that he would support a territorial revision of the German-Polish boundary, he cautioned that Poland must be assured access to the sea by means of railway rights and free ports. Stresemann readily agreed but added that he did not consider the situation ripe for a general settlement.
Masaryk continued with sharp criticism of Pihudski's coup d'etat of 1926, which he thought could be explained only in view of the "Polish mentality."
Then, according to Stresemann's paraphrase, he concluded:

He wanted to inform me quite openly that Poland recently had turned to Czechoslovakia in order to bring about a closer relationship between the two states. He did not intend to take up the suggestion, for he did not want to pull Poland's chestnuts out of the fire whenever a conflict with Germany might develop. He trusted however that this conflict could be avoided and that the Danzig question would soon be solved.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this conversation - and from subsequent talks on the same theme - is that the Czechs, with their president leading the way, were actively seeking to direct German revisionism against Poland in order to escape the brunt of it themselves.
...
A week after the meeting between Masaryk and Stresemann, Masaryk's son gave word to the Germans that his father was "very gratified" about the conversation.
Confrontation in Central Europe: Weimar Germany and Czechoslovakia by F. Gregory Campbell

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by Piotr Kapuscinski » 30 May 2022 10:54

Very interesting, thank you wm!
There are words which carry the presage of defeat. Defence is such a word. What is the result of an even victorious defence? The next attempt of imposing it to that weaker, defender. The attacker, despite temporary setback, feels the master of situation.

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by Sheldrake » 30 May 2022 20:34

Does the hostility expressed in this thread explain the readiness of Poland to join the Nazis in taking a slice of Czechoslovakia in 1939? It is one reason why the British and French a struggled to assemble a coalition to the east of Nazi Germany?

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 27 Jun 2022 20:15

Poland didn't join the Nazis, the policy from the beginning (i.e., when nobody even dreamed about Sudenteland returning to Germany and it was all about ending the Czechs' persecution of their minorities) was to demand the same rights for the Polish minority as it was going to be granted to the German minority.
As the Czechs, Britain, and Germany accepted the demand the Poles felt entitled to their lost territory when the Czechs had agreed to hand over Sudetenland to Germany.

In March 1939 it all happened so fast that nobody had a chance to react although the Poles understood (and protested) that the vassalisation of Czecho-Slovakia was a move against them too.
In 1939 the main obstacle was the Soviets' demand to give them a free hand in all of Eastern Europe (initially), in Poland and the Baltic states (eventually.)

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 27 Jun 2022 21:14

Czechoslovakia did not want to guarantee the Peace of Riga, signed by Poland and Soviet Russia, ending the Polish-Soviet war. Furthermore, Beneš did not want to have Poland, which considered itself a great power of Eastern Europe, as a member of the alliance.
When three years later Rumania attempted to bring Poland into the Little Entente, Beneš prevented it from materializing to the great dismay of Rumania and France.
His personal ambition ... made a Polish presence in the Entente undesirable.
Czechoslovakia's Role in Soviet Strategy by Josef Kalvoda
Beneš was determined to stay away from any arrangements binding Warsaw and Prague closely together. He warned his colleagues that military or even strong political ties with Poland could prove dangerous for Czechoslovakia.
The Poles, as far as Beneš was concerned, were free to play the role of a big European power, but they would have to do so on their own, without Prague’s backing.
The most he would do for Czechoslovak-Polish relations was to assure Warsaw in a perfunctory manner that Prague’s future arrangements with Moscow would not be directed against Poland.
The Foreign Ministry in Prague was not going to pretend that Czechoslovakia was a European or even regional power; it would secure the country’s existence through alliances with real players: France and the Soviet Union.
Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler by Igor Lukes
The Trans-Olza question rankled the Poles, but it was not the only problem in their relations with Czechoslovakia. In fact, disagreements on foreign policy were equally important. In 1920, the Czechs had opposed the award of East Galicia to Poland. They wished it to go to Soviet Russia or to come under Czechoslovak administration, thus establishing a common Soviet-Czechoslovak frontier.
...
As for the Polish-German frontier, President T.G. Masaryk did not hide his view ... that Danzig/Gdansk and the Polish Corridor must return to Germany.
Polish-Czechoslovak relations were generally friendly between 1921 and 1933. There were close contacts between the two general staffs, and even talk of a military convention.
However, the Czechoslovak government was not interested in an alliance or close ties with Poland. Thus, T.G. Masaryk told German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann in March 1927 that he did not intend to take up a recent Polish suggestion for closer relations with Czechoslovakia ‘for he did not want to pull Poland's chestnuts out of the fire whenever a conflict with Germany might develop’.
Six years later, on 17 March 1933 in Geneva, a few days after the nazis won the elections in Germany (5 March), and the Polish government had warned the Germans against a putsch in Danzig by strengthening its garrison on the Westerplatte (6 March), Foreign Minister Edvard Benes told his British counterpart, Sir John Simon, ... he did not want Czechoslovakia to be driven into the arms of Poland.
Furthermore, he claimed that he had rejected Beck's proposal of an alliance against Germany.
The Munich Crisis, 1938 by Taylor and Francis

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Re: "Always a useless country" - Czech hostility toward Poland in the interwar period

Post by wm » 28 Jun 2022 09:53

In 1940, Dr. Jaromír Smutný (an ardent Beneš supporter and his friend, in charge of Beneš's office, later the Chancellor of the Office of the President of the Republic) recorded in his diary this characterization of Beneš (from Czechoslovakia's Role in Soviet Strategy):
We are lacking a spiritually great man.
Beneš is an outstanding tactician and strategist, the greatest Machiavelli of the present time, but he cannot inspire the masses, give them joy from work, the sense of unity, togetherness in the struggle, suffering and joy. He does not inspire confidence.
People who approach him feel instinctively that there is always something un-said, that Beneš uses them for some of his plans about which he does not tell them. They feel that he either trusts them or does not trust them, that he blames them in his mind but that he does not say it directly.
People who are going from him are convinced but not won over, they are assured but not in love.
It is the destiny of all egoistic people that they are counted upon in accordance with their own value, but they are not loved. The egoists are feared, they are even obeyed, but when they are in trouble they remain suddenly completely isolated. It is so because at the time when they were prosperous they could not understand others; this is their avenge in the moment of defeat.
This is a great handicap of our resistance. Beneš is our luck, had he not existed, we would eat up one another and go under in the struggle for power among individuals. We recognize Beneš because he is far above us in his intelligence, perseverance and hard work.
Masaryk was a leader, Pilsudski was a leader; they both gave not only direction but they instilled also a soul into the movements they led.
Beneš, unfortunately, gives only the direction.
I worry about how the things will procede further, because internally we experience a decay caused by unsatisfied individuals, struggle against the few who are over-ambitious and who, however, do not have followers behind themselves.
The working together with Beneš forces people to think about how his character lacks everything human. He is a machine for thinking and work, without human feelings but with human weaknesses.
I have not met a single person who would be humanly devoted to Beneš. I have not met anyone who could speak with him in a human fashion about the things which may cause someone pain or joy. In these things Beneš never indicated an interest with regard to anyone.
He himself does not have bodily needs, he eats modestly, and he does not drink or smoke [...]. He does not like company; he likes to have around himself people to whom he can lecture on politics, with whom he can discuss; but he cannot rally around himself people for a social entertainment.
I lack his extraordinary life experience, the above average knowledge of facts, the tremendous memory and methodicalness. ... I would not, therefore, compare myself to him in any way; ...
I have only one capability which exceeds his: the knowledge of human nature. Beneš lacks this capability, or, perhaps, the latter could not develop itself because he had lost human contact with people. Therefore, he judges them often wrongly when they are motivated by something else than by politics.

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