“Unless all indications to now are lying, Czechoslovak domestic policy is on the path towards a gradual transformation of the nation state into a state of nations.” – German Activism in the 1920s in the Reports of the Austrian Minister to Prague Ferdinand Marek


With the end of the First World War in the autumn of 1918, the old European order collapsed. The start of this new era in Europe’s history also radically transformed the political map in Central Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and the so-called successor states were established on its foundations. On 28 October 1918, the Cze choslovak National Committee’s Proclamation of the Independence of the Cze choslovak State was issued, formally declaring the establishment of a new state entity, and the choice of a republic as its form of government was declared later, specifically on 14 November 1918. The new state inherited a complex legacy from its predecessor, the Habsburg Monarchy, with its state-forming Czechoslovak nation comprising only around two-thirds of the population, with the rest comprised of ethnic minorities—Germans, Hungarians, Poles, etc. Naturally, these groups did not want to live in the Czechoslovak Republic, rejecting its existence and arousing a negative response from representatives of the new governing majority. Following a strong initial rejection of any kind of co-operation, seen in the absence of minorities in the Revolutionary National Assembly, the first regular parliamentary election took place in April 1920, confirming not just the cooperation of Czechoslovak parties in government, but also the negative position that representatives of the minorities took regarding Czechoslovakia (Tóth – Novotný – Stehlík 2012: 37-39; Rašková, E. 2016: 27-36).

Although Bohemian, Moravian, and Silesian Germans considered themselves to be a part of the German nation, they were unsure about whether to join Austria or Germany. Once attempts at creating four separatist provinces collapsed at the end of 1918 and following signature of the peace treaties of Versailles and Saint-Germain (in June and September 1919 respectively), representatives of the German minority in Czechoslovakia realized that the international political situation prevented them from joining either Austria or Germany, and so they had to come to terms with the fact that they were to remain part of the Czechoslovak state. Furthermore, German political representatives had decided to avoid complicating relations with Czechoslovakia as much as possible, and Berlin’s policy was limited to supporting non-political acts during the 1920s.[2]

The Austrian Republic found itself in a different situation. As soon as it was established, the country was dependent on imports of coal, sugar, and other commodities from Czechoslovakia, and like it or not, its representatives had to accept a position of junior partner. The signing of the Treaty of Lány in 1921 and the provision of an international loan designed to help overcome the Austrian financial crisis in return for a commitment to reject any future Anschluss with Germany a year later steered Austria into calmer waters in terms of domestic political developments, while also affirming Vienna’s weaker position compared to Prague. (See more on this Konrád 2012 and The objective of this study is to analyze Austrian Minister to Prague Ferdinand Marek’s perception of German activism in the period from the election of November 1925 until two German ministers joined the Czechoslovak Government in October 1926. From his position as a diplomat, the Austrian Minister was only a passive commentator on political events in Czechoslovakia; on the other hand, it should be noted that he had a very good knowledge of the Czechoslovak domestic political scene.

Czechoslovak–Austrian relations were not particularly warm after the end of the First World War, and they did not improve until some time had passed after the signing of the peace treaty in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In 1918, Ferdinand Marek became Austria’s diplomatic representative to the Czechoslovak Republic, initially as head of the Austrian Mission, with the official submission of credentials and his change in diplomatic rank to minister occurring on 11 April 1922 at the Castle Lány.[3] Because of his presence in Prague for many years, Marek became a real expert on the Czechoslovak political situation, and he also established warm relations, for example, with President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (from now on abbreviated as TGM).

A turning point in terms of German political activism was the parliamentary election that took place on 15 November 1925, which transformed the balance of power in Czechoslovak politics. The strongest members of the German party spectrum comprised supporters of the activist concept of cooperation (see more on this in Kracik 1999) represented by the Farmers’ League (Bund der Landwirte; further abbreviated as BdL) and the German Christian Social People’s Party (Deutsche Christlichsoziale Volkspartei; further on abbreviated as DCV). The Farmers’ League achieved its best ever result, winning 571,198 votes, giving it 24 seats,[4] while the Christian Social People’s Party received 314,440 votes and 13 seats. Both of these parties owed their good results to the diminishing popularity of German negativism, which had become politically much weaker by the mid-1920s. The German Social Democrats had to settle for 411,040 votes and 17 seats. (Tóth – Novotný – Stehlík 2016: 662-663) Based on the election results, the so-called all-nation coalition of Prime Minister Antonín Švehla was set up, or rather continued to rule, on 9 December 1925. This was comprised of Czechoslovak political parties, but it was unable to last even to the following spring, and due to the premature departure of the Social Democrats and the National Socialists, it was replaced on 18 March 1926 by Jan Černý’s bureaucratic government. During the rule of this government of officials, a new coalition of civic parties was formed. For the first time since the end of the war, there was an opportunity to form a government without socialist parties in it based on the cooperation of parties not on the political left and including representatives of the German and Hungarian minorities. Cabinets up until this point had only ever been made up of Czechoslovak parties, whose programmes naturally differed and who were not natural coalition parties.[5]

The Austrian Legation and Ferdinand Marek naturally followed the Czechoslovak election of autumn 1925 closely. According to the minister, its outcome did not represent the anticipated resolution to the domestic political situation, rather marking a weakening of the governing coalition’s position. In the opening paragraph of his report to Foreign Minister Heinrich Mataja, Marek wrote that even four days after the election, not all ballots had been counted, and so he could not provide information on the exact number of seats for the different parties. However, he added that according to the unofficial results it was evident that “the rule of the ‘Five’[6] could not continue in its previous form because the five coalition parties were now in a minority in the Chamber of Deputies.”[7] He nevertheless rejected the idea of a bureaucratic government and expected that the current arrangement of parties would continue, not anticipating that German politicians would join the government benches. On the other hand, he acknow ledged that supporters of a moderate approach towards the Castle[8] and government would now have the most say. “The efforts of President Masaryk and Dr Beneš to bring about a situation in which it would finally be possible to invite the Germans into the government and form a cabinet with broader political support could now be successful, especially considering that the greatest opponents to the idea, Dr Kramář and the National Democrats, are weaker in the new parliament, having lost five seats. Dr Beneš is going to have to deal with increasing hostility from the National Democrats,” concluded Marek in his assessment of Czechoslovakia’s November election.9

The Austrian Minister had correctly surmised future developments when he sug[9]gested the possibility of government cooperation with German political parties, naturally activist parties, and more specifically civic parties. The election results indicated that there was an opportunity to create a new government formation (in terms of its ethnic composition) compared to that which had governed the country since the first parliamentary election in 1920.

At the end of November 1925, Marek informed Vienna of the final election results, confirming his previous estimates—a decrease in votes for the Social Democrats (both Czechoslovak and German), consolidation for the Communists, and decline for the National Democrats. He again noted the failure of the parties of the government coalition;[10] the election had resulted in the loss of their parliamentary majority, and Antonín Švehla would have to find a way to restore a majority. The Austrian Minister also wrote that it was mainly Edvard Beneš who was blamed for the collapse in votes for the government parties, having allegedly pursued the “policy of the streets,” and whose reckless approach towards the Vatican had led to an increase in votes for Catholic parties. Marek added that the foreign minister allegedly had to promise Antonín Švehla that he would stop interfering in the internal affairs of political parties and would focus on his own department. The minister noted that the government would have to rely on a small parliamentary majority and then focused on potential ministerial appointments.[11] In his assessment of the result for the German parties, Marek correctly noted the increase in votes for BdL, but in his assessment of German activism and possible government cooperation, he expressed some scepticism. He particularly criticised the inability of the German parties to agree on joint actions and approaches in parliament, something he considered extremely important for future developments.[12]

Ferdinand Marek’s first post-election comments did not suggest the possibility of German activist parties participating in government: the minister does not even mention the option in the above-described report. On the other hand, it was too early for any major steps from the German political parties. While theoretically the election results allowed for the formation of a center-right coalition, on the other hand there were several still unresolved problems (e.g., the Language Act implementing regulation)(see more on this Kučera 1999) that would make German participation in government more difficult. Marek instead focused in detail on conflicts within Czechoslovak domestic politics and claimed that it would be very difficult to set up a viable government based on the current coalition. He even indicated that a bureaucratic government could be set up, anticipating that the new political government would not last for long. The Austrian minister did not seriously suggest the possibility of German ministers joining the government until early January 1926, although even then he only wrote vaguely of talks without mentioning any specific names or political parties. He added, however, that the Czech–Slovak settlement would need to be resolved first.[13]

On 17 March 1926, TGM [i.e. President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk] received Ferdinand Marek. According to the minister, TGM was not in an optimistic frame of mind, which is understandable considering domestic political problems. In his report to Vienna, the Austrian diplomat also stated that the fundamental problems that the current coalition was unable to deal with were agricultural tariffs and congrua. There were also several less important issues, but he said that these could be resolved by the current bureaucratic government. He then unequivocally confirmed the general opinion that the Social Democrats “do not want to vote for either agricultural tariffs or congrua. They can afford the luxury of not being in government and voting against government proposals […].”[14] An important part of the minister’s report dealt with TGM’s regret that he could not count on the participation of the German parties in government. “The President is unhappy that the Germans in Czechoslovakia are lacking a true leader and they do not have anybody who would dare to tell the truth to the voters […],” added Marek,15 further stating that some German deputies had confidentially expressed their support for participation in the government and for managing state affairs, but that none of them had dared to say this out loud.16

Two months after Marek first seriously outlined in January 1926 the possibility of German ministers joining the government, he informed Austrian Chancellor Rudolf Ramek of the mood amongst German politicians in Czechoslovakia. His report implied that some deputies were secretly willing to take part in government, although for the moment there had been no open declarations as such.

The next day (19 March), the Austrian minister was able to write that TGM had appointed a bureaucratic cabinet, adding that although he had anticipated that the previous government formation would collapse, it had happened rather suddenly. Marek stated the well-known fact that he thought that the previous coalition had been unable to govern the country effectively.[15] The Austrian minister informed the chancellor of meetings that Milan Hodža had held together with BdL and DCV representatives (Franz Spina and Robert Mayr-Harting, respectively, with experienced Agrarian politician Franz Křepek also playing an important role), which aimed to find potential figures within these parties, “who under certain circumstances could join the government.” Marek came to the clear conclusion that these represented the embryo of a potential future conservative government comprising Czech and German Agrarians, three clerical parties (the Czechoslovak People’s Party, the German Christian Socials, and Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party), and possibly the National Democrats and Traders. “This system, however, would mean the declaration of open opposition to the President of the Republic, Dr Beneš, and basically to all those who identify themselves with the Castle.

It would also represent a struggle for power between the right and the left,” he added.[16]

The Austrian minister’s March report fairly evidently outlined the possibility of government participation for members of the German minority in Czechoslovakia. A month later, Marek stated that there was a near-permanent crisis within Czechoslovak domestic politics. He said that the main issues of the time—agricultural tariffs, civil servant pay, and tax reform—could not be resolved by the parliament, and he added that a presidential election was to take place in spring 1927 and that at that time it was unclear whether a government majority would be able to secure the head of state another seven-year mandate. According to the minister, the prevailing situation had three different solutions: a return to the all-nation coalition of Czech (Czechoslovak) parties, inviting the Germans to join the government, or a new election. “Government circles, however, have not yet formed a clear picture of whether co-operation with the German parties and Slovaks is possible,” he said of the authorities’ dithering.[17] Regarding German activism, he confirmed that both camps, Czech and German, were unsure and were clarifying their positions, in his opinion.

In June,[18] the Austrian minister wrote of the establishment of a Czech–German– Hungarian majority within the parliament, which passed the Tariffs Act: “Adoption of the Tariffs Act by the Czechoslovak National Assembly represents a historic moment. For the first time since the establishment of the Czechoslovak Parliament, a law has been adopted through the votes of Czech, German and Hungarian parties, and against the will of some ‘state-forming’ groups (the Czech Social Democrats and National Socialists).”21 According to Marek, this was clear proof of a decrease in the effectiveness of the current all-nation coalition. The Austrian minister then looked at the fairly important combination of the fate of the state, which in his opinion had two paths that it could take: either national political success at the cost of peaceful development (or else acknowledging the needs of all those in the state) and peaceful and straightforward development.

“Unless all indications to now are lying, Czechoslovak domestic policy is on the path towards a gradual transformation of the nation state into a state of nations […]. On both sides, the patented state-forming parties (and even the National Democrats) have come together with the ‘disloyal’ parties hostile to the state, thus confirming the elegant propaganda about the ‘disloyalty’ of Germans and Hungarians,” is how the envoy concluded his important observation.22 He also wondered about what he thought was TGM’s longstanding wish to turn Czechoslovakia into a nation state, however not based on agreement between civic parties, but rather under the rule of a red–green coalition headed by Antonín Švehla, as he described it. Marek then described TGM as a well-known Social Democrat who would certainly not be in favor of the parliament’s current legislative actions.23

In many regards, Marek’s June report was a very important one. In it, the Austrian minister did not just inform Vienna of the formation of a coalition of civic parties that cut across the previously strictly ethnic division in both chambers of the National Assembly, all under the parallel existence of a bureaucratic cabinet installed by the president. He also told Vienna of the prospects for the appointment of a new political government, which he openly assumed would be a right-wing cabinet also including German political parties. Even so, the situation appeared rather unclear, and Marek also had to note that the creation of a tariff–congrua coalition was in opposition to the president of the republic’s plans. Furthermore, he did not believe that it was clear at that time what the activist parties would trade their government involvement for. It did not appear there would be any fundamental domestic political transformation of the First Czechoslovak Republic at that point: according to the Austrian minister therenuing in opposition.” Klimek 2000: 549.would more likely be concessions made by a section of the German political spectrum that might become manifest later.

The Austrian minister corrected his words a few days later when he informed Chancellor Rudolf Ramek of confidential reports from Czech and German political camps confirming that at the current time they were not discussing a temporary Czech– German rapprochement due to an ad hoc problem, but rather they were endeavoring to develop a more fundamental debate over an ethnic settlement. “There is already— as these circles have informed me—a clear preliminary agreement between the German Farmers’ League and the Czech Agrarians, and between the German Christian

Socials and the Catholic People’s Party,” added Marek.[19] He then went on to list the German demands that the Czech side was to meet. These involved: expanding school autonomy; the Prague provincial schools council’s retention of the powers it had previously had prior to 1918; the reintroduction of Lex Perek (i.e., implementing an ethnic cadastre so that the parents of German children would have to send their children to German schools, although they were also to be taught in the Czech language); the appointment of Germans to high and lower official posts; and the giving of bail-outs, etc. to German banks and savings banks.[20]

According to Ferdinand Marek, by the end of June 1926 Milan Hodža was no longer hiding the fact that there would be government cooperation between Czechs, Slovaks, and Germans. The Austrian minister termed this type of statement, “one of the most important for domestic political development.” The former agriculture minister had spoken of “constructive politics which is no longer utopian, and which can transform a mere tactical alliance into a political union.” He rejected the previous orientation towards socialism, however, and spoke in favour of cooperation between civic parties.[21] The Slovak politician appealed for understanding with Slovaks, something that Marek thought was mainly because an agreement had already been essentially made with the Germans; the Austrian minister also mentioned Hodža’s opposition to Slovak autonomy.27

He then informed Vienna that negotiations between Czech and German partners were now in the stage of concluding several documents in which the German parties formulated their demands and the Czech parties provided promises of certain concessions or committed to meet the demands where possible. The former repeated what Marek said was their minimal program (see report of 24 June), with not even any discussion of what he called their maximal program, which comprised the issue of war loans, a change in the parliamentary rules of procedure, and a language decree.28

It was evident that the above, more extensive program of German demands was not feasible at that time. It was not just the Castle that disapproved of the proposed cooperation between some parts of the Czech and German political spectrum, but also the other political parties (both the left-wing and the National Democrats), and excessive ethnic concessions might have put any future co-operation in danger, or even put an end to it altogether. Furthermore, the course of negotiations up until then at least had shown that the path that both political camps had set out on was paved with points in their programs that matched (tariffs and congrua) rather than a more broadly conceived concept of ethnic settlement. A declaration by the German Social Democrats also implied this, accusing both activist parties of trafficking their political interests.29

By the end of July 1926, the Austrian minister in Prague was able to state that while he could not declare with 100% certainty any government involvement from the two German activist parties, there remained enough indirect evidence (an agreement on a number of important standards and the lack of any point upon which cooperation could flounder, which was more important at that moment) to believe that this would happen, and that no other form of government had the necessary support it needed at that time. He claimed that even the Czechoslovak president and foreign minister were resigned to the existence of such a government, despite being opponents. Thus, government involvement by the German parties can in some sense be perceived as one of the partial conflicts of opinion within Czechoslovak domestic politics and as one of the points of disharmony between the president and part of the political spectrum.

A month later, Minister Marek sent a more detailed report on the state of domestic politics in the Czechoslovak Republic in which he focused in particular on Antonín Švehla’s return from being treated for an illness, describing him as the only person who would lead the future parliamentary government. The minister wrote that the period of the bureaucratic government was approaching its end and that the Czech Social Democrats had chosen to remain in opposition. Marek stated that this put an end to the president’s last hopes of forming a government different to the one currently taking shape.[22]

In early October 1926, a problem appeared within Czechoslovak domestic politics that threatened to develop into a fundamental dispute between TGM and a section of the political spectrum regarding the position of Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš. It can be said that to some extent whether the foreign minister of many years should remain in his role and whether he would become the potential successor to the first Czechoslovak president received more attention during this period than whether or not ministers of German ethnicity should join the Czechoslovak Government. This demonstrated once again how domestic policy worked in Czechoslovakia. Disputes between the Castle and founders of the Czechoslovak Republic, TGM, and Beneš, and a section of the right-wing political spectrum based on personal antipathy determined the constraints in forming a new government majority, a majority which the president evidently did not want to see, but whose formation he was unable to prevent in terms of the Czechoslovak constitution.

By 8 October 1926, the Austrian minister was finally able to state that TGM had met Prime Minister-Designate Švehla in Topoľčianky and that the new government would be appointed within a few days (Švehla’s third cabinet in a row was appointed on 12 October 1926). According to Marek’s information, it was to be a mixed government comprising representatives of political parties and experts, and TGM had requested that the foreign, interior, finance, defence, and possibly railways posts be given to nonpartisan experts. In this regard, obvious names were Beneš, Karel Engliš (finance), and Jan Černý (interior). The minister added that while the National Democrats were supporting the government, they remained outside of it for the meantime.[23]

The minister informed Vienna that the leaders of both activist parties, Professors Spina and Mayr-Harting, had invited over Czechoslovak and foreign journalists on 6 October 1926 to explain their positions, or specifically the views of the parties regarding the current domestic political situation. After Franz Spina did not turn up for unclear reasons, even though he had been seen buying fruit and heading to his apartment, Robert Mayr-Harting took the stand. He told the journalists that the signing of the Locarno Treaties and the Czechoslovak–German arbitration treaty represented a fundamental milestone for Sudeten German policy in Czechoslovakia. Marek claimed that Mayr-Harting stated that, “until now, German policy in the state was a policy of negation and irredentism,” and continued, “It looked across the border and hoped that it would receive help and support from Berlin. This policy has shown to be erroneous, however, and has not brought about even the slightest benefit, but rather just disappointment: position after position has been abandoned.”[24] The DCV [i.e. Deutsche Christlichsoziale Volkspartei] head then referred to the fundamental fact that Berlin was not prepared to be engaged in any major way in Czech–German relations and that Sudeten Germans were going to have to help themselves. As such, a modus vivendi had to be found with Czechoslovak officials. He described the adoption of agricultural tariffs in spring that year as the first fruits.[25]

Prime Minister-Designate Antonín Švehla found himself in an unenviable situation—the nascent parliamentary majority was not in line with his concept (he instead advocated co-operation with the Social Democrats), yet he had to get on with it. On the other hand, he could not promise BdL [i.e. Bund der Landwirte] and DCV specific concessions, because he would be unable to get these through parliament. Robert MayrHarting and other German activist politicians realized, however, that the prevailing domestic political climate within Czechoslovakia was favorable to German participation in government and perhaps offered an improved position for the Sudeten Germans. The DCV head also believed that direct participation in the Czechoslovak cabinet would allow representatives of the largest ethnic minority in the Czechoslovak Republic to further their interests more easily.

On 26 October 1926, Ferdinand Marek was able to tell of the establishment of Švehla’s third government in a row, including two German ministers. He even wrote of the “dictatorship” of the Agrarian Party, which he said was in control of all the important departments and had influence over several other ministers, such as Jan Černý (interior), Josef V. Najman (railways), and Jozef Kállay (minister for Slovakia).[26] In his evaluation of the cabinet, the minister appreciated the shift to the political center, with the influence of the National Democrats, and to a lesser extent also the German Nationalists on the German part of the electoral spectrum, gone. He stated that Spina and Mayr-Harting had joined the government without any prior concessions from the Czech side. “All their demands […] remain wishful ideas whose immediate fulfilment the current Prime Minister has directly rejected,” added Marek. He perceived the possibility of future concessions from the Czech side similarly.[27] In his opinion, Franz Spina could achieve some successes as minister for public works (e.g., in constructing mino rity schools), which the minister of public works gave approval for. Marek added that BdL and DCV would naturally vote in favor of the national budget and would not threaten the government because of the act extending military service to 18 months; here, the envoy anticipated that a compromise would be reached.36

Agrarian Antonín Švehla’s third government, appointed on 12 October 1926, was a coalition of politically related subjects, and as such it was not in line with the previous practice of cabinets comprised purely of Czechoslovak parties. Instead, a government majority was sought across the ethnic spectrum. The appointment of Franz Spina as minister for public works and Robert Mayr-Harting as minister of justice in the first ethnically mixed cabinet in the history of the First Czechoslovak Republic only affirmed this fact.


Franz Spina (BdL) and Robert Mayr-Harting’s (DCV) joining the Czechoslovak Go v ernment in October 1926 completed one stage in the domestic political development of the First Czechoslovak Republic. The period of single-ethnicity cabinets had come to an end, and an era of ethnically mixed cabinets had begun. Negotiations over the German parties joining the government took place against the background of domestic political developments in which the main subject of dispute between the Czechoslovak parties was agricultural tariffs and congrua. At that time, the priorities of the German Agrarians and Christian Socialists were the same as those of the Czech Agrarians, People’s Party, and to some extent also the Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party.

The Austrian Legation focused extra attention on monitoring these events. Fer dinand Marek, as an experienced diplomat, carefully analyzed domestic political events in Czechoslovakia, and from November 1925 to October 1926 he spent a lot of time looking into the change of position of both activist German parties, expressed in a shift away from rejecting government involvement towards direct cabinet participation. The diplomatic reports he sent to Vienna were sober, impartial, and highly informed, a result of his warm relations with both Czech and German politicians. While immediately after the election he noted the weakened position of the previous coalition of Czecho slovak parties, by January 1926 he was first able to seriously lay out the possibility of even request concessions in this regard.” KRACIK, Die Politik des deutschen Aktivismus, p. 170. See also Burian 1969: 142. an ethnically mixed government. While complicated domestic political developments did not favor a political cabinet being formed quickly (from March, a bureacratic government ruled the country), Marek informed Vienna in June 1926 of the establishment of a Czech–German–Hungarian majority in parliament as a harbinger for a regrouping of political forces, adding that this was not an ad hoc coalition, but rather an attempt at more serious political cooperation. On the other hand, he did express some skepticism—in September 1926, for example, he was still unsure over the establishment of an ethnically mixed cabinet, although this was probably more of a vague sense than a confirmed report. Ferdinand Marek subsequently welcomed the establishment of Agrarian Antonín Švehla’s third government as an important act bringing calm to the political waters in Czechoslovakia.


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