How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

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Steve
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How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Steve » 06 Mar 2019 17:46

During the discussion on “Had Poland received East Prussia, and eastern Pomerania in 1919, how many Poles would’ve moved there?” there was a post by wm that I think merits a new topic.

“Pre-Munich Poland wasn't in dispute with Czechoslovakia, Polish demands were submitted to Britain, France - the self-declared arbiters in the conflict not to Czechoslovakia, and depended entirely on acceptance of the Germans demands”.

Prior to Munich Poland may not on the surface have been in dispute with Czechoslovakia but below the surface was a bubbling cauldron of hinted threats, plotting and demands being made.

On January 12 1938 Beck spoke to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Sejm. He said that any decision made by Czechoslovakia in favour of a minority and not applied to Poles would be regarded as an unfriendly act. In an interview with a British newspaper on March 21 he said that Poles in Czechoslovakia had the same right to local autonomy as the Sudeten Germans. The Union of Poles in Czechoslovakia cooperated with the Sudeten German SPD party. On March 22 the Polish government accused Czechoslovakia of tolerating anti Polish activities by the Polish Communist party and other political exiles in Czechoslovakia. It was demanded that Prague should declare what steps it intended taking against “agencies of the Comintern”. On March 29 a Polish deputy in the Czechoslovakian Parliament demanded autonomy for Poles in Trans-Olza.

On May 4 Czechoslovakia agreed that the Polish minority would receive the same concessions granted to any other minority. Beck told the British Ambassador that Poland would not initiate a crisis and to the French Ambassador that he would not make Czechoslovakia’s position more difficult. Clearly if the German minority received autonomy followed by the Poles than Slovakia and perhaps Ruthenia were next in line. Czechoslovakia would be on the way to breaking up.

As well as putting pressure on the Czechs over the Polish minority Poland was also plotting on how to detach Slovakia. The Slovak Peoples Party led by Father Andrej Hilinka which wanted autonomy for Slovakia received some support. A Slovak Deputy in the Czechoslovakian Parliament named Karel Sidor acted as an intermediary. At the end of May a delegation of American Slovaks who wanted self government for Slovakia stopped off in Poland and was given a Polish government reception. The Polish press supported Hlinka’s demands.

In February 1938 Admiral Horthy of Hungary had visited Poland and told Beck that Hungary wanted Ruthenia and Slovakia. Beck would not be drawn on Polish plans for the break up of Czechoslovakia. On June 17 Count Eszterhazy leader of the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia talked to Count Czembek from the Polish Foreign Ministry about Hungarian plans for an autonomous Slovakia within Hungary. Eszterhazy suggested that Poland along with Germany and Italy be a guarantor for the Hungarian annexation of Slovakia. It seems that while Beck was not against Ruthenia going to Hungary he envisioned Slovakia as being under Polish influence.

There were also talks with Germany in 1938 so Poland never behaved as a neutral country towards Czechoslovakia prior to Munich. Finally on September 30 came the Polish ultimatum to Czechoslovakia that caused Churchill to compare Poland to a Hyena.

I am indebted to "Poland and the Western Powers by Anna Cienciala".

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by henryk » 06 Mar 2019 22:13

Autonomy is not independence: there is no breakup.
The Polish majority parts of Czechoslovakia would have gone to Germany if not taken by Poland.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by wm » 07 Mar 2019 23:13

Well, they say conspire is to plan secretly with other people, to join in a secret agreement. Poland didn't do any of those things. Poland in some sense conspired with Hungary against Czechoslovakia but Hungary was so inept and unresponsive it wasn't really a real conspiracy either.

Even more, Poland didn't conspire to break up Czechoslovakia, it would be a petty, useless political goal.
Poland was trying to create a Central European defensive bloc, a mini-NATO capable to withstand pressure and aggression of two totalitarian countries: Germany and the USSR.
The only obstacle was the ruled by inept and amateurish politicians Czechoslovakia which stubbornly refused to join any defensive alliances with its neighbors.

They preferred to naively believe in German goodwill, French selflessness (although the French included escape clauses in their alliances so they wouldn't have to pointlessly die for the Sudetenland or Danzig - can't be denied that was smart), and Soviet benevolence (although what the Soviets would do to them, and finally did - in 1948, they could have found out in any of the fundamental Lenin or Stalin works.)

That was bad because without Czechoslovakia or at least Slovakia Central European common security was impossible. Czechoslovakia formed an impenetrable wall between Poland and the other countries.

For that reason, Poland supported Slovakia independence movements. But there was another one - Czechoslovakia was a failed country.
The Czechs didn't notice it but they didn't notice lots of things till it was too late. Nothing illustrates it better than the fact that Czechoslovakia survived only three years after it finally regained its freedom in 1989.
In 1938 the Czechoslovak Germans demanded freedom, and Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks (although the Slovaks weren't especially troublesome, yet). It was serious because the Czechs were a minority in their own country, and in Czechia every third person on the street was German.
The Czechs responded with a mass of concessions, exposing and demonstrating their weakness, weakness invoked more demands, and so on and so forth. Hastily conducted reforms in times of weakness usually result in failure, ask Gorbatshov.

Despite all that Poland really didn't do anything destructive, it was mostly talks and very little action.
Czechoslovakia disintegrated itself and ironically became one of the most faithful German collaborators. Slovakia became a Nazi co-belligerent, Czechia collaborated politically and economically although at some point offered its army to fight on the German side.
Later Czechoslovakia embraced communism eagerly and without resistance. The communists didn't even have to falsify the first elections there.

To sum up, Czechoslovakia was hostile towards its neighbors, endangered their security, annexed their territories. When Poland faced annihilation in the war with the Soviets the Czechs blocked the Hungarian Army from coming to rescue.
So really no wonder Czechoslovakia wasn't popular with its neighbors.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by wm » 08 Mar 2019 01:36

Not only the Poles believed Czechoslovakia was a failed state, unworthy of support:
Between March and September 1938, the British government sought, with rising anxiety, to avoid the perceived danger of becoming engulfed in a disastrous war with Germany, precipitated by Czechoslovakia's German minority problem. In order to achieve that aim, it resorted to increasingly radical means of attempting to defuse the situation in Central Europe - culminating in the Munich Agreement.
...
Britain's attitude was founded on the belief that Czechoslovakia was indefensible against a German attack; that due to its heterogeneous ethnic composition it was inherently unstable and unworthy of support; and that it was not necessarily inimical to British interests to allow Germany to extend its influence further into Central Europe.
...
Hitler's stated objective of bringing all Germans into the Reich was accepted in Whitehall at its face value, and it was realized that the Sudeten Germans were included in that aim. The disruption of Czechoslovakia was an inevitable consequence, but that was considered not necessarily detrimental to Britain, particularly if it helped to secure the desired understanding between Britain and Germany, and only caused alarm because it involved the danger of armed conflict.
...
Within the context of the geopolitical realities of Central Europe in 1938, there was no prospect of a successful negotiated outcome of the Sudeten German problem which preserved the integrity of Czechoslovakia.
The Runciman Mission to Czechoslovakia 1938: Prelude to Munich by Paul Vyšný

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Pavel Novak » 08 Mar 2019 15:14

wm wrote:
07 Mar 2019 23:13
... When Poland faced annihilation in the war with the Soviets the Czechs blocked the Hungarian Army from coming to rescue. ...
Czechoslovakia was at war with Hungary officially till 1920. Really I do not understand that Polish wish for Hungarian Soviet Republic to support Soviet attack against Poland from another direction.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by wm » 08 Mar 2019 21:46

As far as I know, Czechoslovakia was in war with the Hungarian Soviet Republic and even that for a few weeks. The Republic existed only three months anyway.

Hungary supported Poland (militarily and diplomatically) from 1918 till the end of the Polish-Soviet War. The quantity of handed over was rifle and artillery ammunition was enormous and included the entire Hungarian strategic reserve.
A Volunteer Army was formed in Hungary to be sent to Poland but that didn't happen because of Czechoslovakia's obstructionism.

Poland and Hungary were traditional although unofficial allies since the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848 when thousands of Polish volunteers fought on the Hungarian side.
Later Hungary supported Poland during the 1939 Nazi Invasion of Poland, and again during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Even today both countries are different from the rest of Europe and still diplomatic allies.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Pavel Novak » 09 Mar 2019 00:09

Prague's government was at war with Hungary from December 1918 to June 1920 no matter who was at some point in power in Budapest. While fighting ended in 1919 there is no way that any Czechoslovak politician could support move of Hungarian army through Slovakia when they were just removed from here.

What can be discussed was that stupid Czech action in Teschen but allowing Hungarian army to enter Slovakia is same craziness as for Poland to allow Soviet army to go through Poland in 1938.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by wm » 09 Mar 2019 11:24

The Polish enemy-at-the-gates moment, when Soviets generals were able to observe spires of Warsaw through their binoculars was in August 1920.
And the fact is a Hungarian train with 20 million rifle rounds was able to reach Poland at that time.

The trains generally were able to get through but were subjected to harassment, bureaucratic delays, sometimes were forced to return to Hungary.
The 800-strong Hungarian Legion had arrived already in Poland and was preparing to attack Czechoslovak railway infrastructure in reprisals for their actions.
So it was doable and actually done.

One thing rarely mentioned is the fact that an alliance of small European countries against great powers was a pretty horrifying affair. It wasn't the 19th century anymore when two armies fought for a day or two as damsels waved from the bastions.
You literally were signing off the very existence of your country in defense of the other guy Danzig or Sudetenland. Diplomats could have signed any agreement they wished but broad political support wasn't given.

This is why something more, like common history, "blood shed in battles that bonds" were needed. Otherwise the easily exploitable by the enemy "nations don't have friends they have interests" was the norm.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Pavel Novak » 09 Mar 2019 21:49

I agree with you regarding small nation’s alliances and unfortunately Czechoslovak politicians were not interested in 1920s for any alliance with Poland. Benes has realized this mistake but only when it was too late and after too many mistakes.

There was however no possibility to solve Czechoslovak - Hungarian (and also Romanian - Hungarian) relations in any meaningful positive way. Hungarians tried to completely eliminate Slovak nation prior ww1 and they could not accept the result of war and only Little Entente was stopping them. Once this was gone Hungary was taking territory from all former Little Entente states.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Steve » 12 Mar 2019 04:17

The following is taken from Lipski’s Diplomat in Berlin during the year 1938. It is not verbatim but anyone wanting to read Diplomat in Berlin can easily find it online.

On May 25 Lipski met Goring who suggested the application of economic pressure on Czechoslovakia by Germany, Poland and Hungary. Lipski said he would present this matter to his Foreign Affairs Minister.

On June 17 Lipski met Goring and the above matter was discussed but no conclusion was reached. The possibility of the Soviet Union coming to Czechoslovakia’s aid was discussed and how Rumania would react if the Soviets wanted to cross Rumania. Lipski said that Poland was trying to stiffen Rumania on the matter and Goring said that if there was a Polish Soviet conflict Germany would give assistance to Poland. Shortly afterwards at a diplomatic reception Lipski was able to assure Goring there was nothing to worry about with regard to Rumania. Goring expressed the opinion that the Czech state would soon cease to exist.

On August 26 Lipski wrote to Lubianski the Chef de Cabinet to Beck that he had been informed “most confidentially” that in the event of a Czech German armed conflict the Hungarians would not move unless they could join Poland’s action.

During Lipski’s conversations at Nurnberg September 7/12 Goring told him that in his opinion France was looking for an honourable way out and England was not willing to go to war. If Russia attacked Poland then Germany would come to Poland’s aid. If Czechoslovakia was attacked by another state Hungary would probably join in very late.

September 11 Lipski met the Hungarian Envoy and called his attention to the necessity of quick action on the part of the Hungarians in view of the rapid course of events.

September 16 from a report to Warsaw on Hitler’s meeting with Chamberlain. Goring suggests that Poland exerts all possible pressure on the Czechs in order to get a plebiscite in the Polish areas. He is giving similar advice to the Hungarians. It is obvious that Goring is trying to separate Slovakia from Czechoslovakia so as to create a Czech state dependent on the Reich. Lipski communicated Poland’s stance on Teschen and Poland’s common demand with Hungary for a plebiscite in other parts of Slovakia. Lipski had informed Goring that the British made some approaches at the last moment but that they were not accepted.

September 19 Beck to Lipski, Poland by its stand has paralyzed the possibility of Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. Pressure on Rumania achieved the desired result. On September 21 we shall have considerable military forces in Southern Silesia. We formally declare this military grouping is not directed against Germany.

September 20 Lipski meets Hitler who thought that Lipski and the Hungarian Prime Minister (also meeting Hitler) should get together to confer on what they should do. Lipski explained the Polish position and brought up of the matter of Carpathian Ruthenia going to Hungary. Hitler said that if a conflict arose between Poland and Czechoslovakia he would side with Poland.

September 27 to October 21. Ribbentrop said that Hitler was very appreciative of Poland’s policy. Goring was clear that in the event of a Polish Russian conflict Poland would receive assistance from Germany while Ribbentrop clearly hinted on aid being given.

As all of the above was done in secret i.e. no one apart from the people who wanted to destry Czechoslovaki knew what was being said so I think it qualifies as a conspiracy though admittedly perhaps not a great conspiracy.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Futurist » 03 Apr 2019 01:24

Steve wrote:
12 Mar 2019 04:17
September 19 Beck to Lipski, Poland by its stand has paralyzed the possibility of Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. Pressure on Rumania achieved the desired result. On September 21 we shall have considerable military forces in Southern Silesia. We formally declare this military grouping is not directed against Germany.
Pressure by Poland on Romania not to allow Soviet troops to pass through its territory?

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by wm » 03 Apr 2019 12:23

It's the usual Soviet propaganda amplified by the later British efforts to unload the guilt for Munich on Poland.

It was an argument in talks with Hitler but it wasn't true.
The Soviets never asked Poland, but Romania agreed to allow the transit on September, 24th.
The Soviets were so embarrassed by Romanian willingness they immediately swept the matter under the carpet as their action wasn't real it was pure propaganda.

Poland wouldn't agree because as result Poland would be cut off from Europe and basically encircled by the USSR.

The Red Army in Czechoslovakia would be a mortal danger to Germany. It was obvious Germany would attack immediately in such a case, they simply had no other choice.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Futurist » 03 Apr 2019 23:23

Why did Romania allow the transit? Was it unafraid of the risk of a Communist takeover of Romania? Or did it simply dismiss this possibility as a result of the Romanian people's hostility towards Communism?

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by Steve » 04 Apr 2019 16:49

The British have never tried to unload guilt over Munich onto Poland. From the British point of view Poland was no more than a bit player in the crisis. A quick scan through a biography of Chamberlin did not come up with any mention of Poland by him during the crisis. Anyway the British had nothing to be guilty of.

It is perfectly clear from reading Diplomat in Berlin that the Poles informed the Germans they need not worry about the Red Army obtaining passage through Poland. The Rumanians informed the Polish diplomat Jan Czembek in Bucharest July 1938 that Russian passage would never be allowed. France naturally sounded out Poland and Rumania about passage for the Red Army and both countries said they would not allow it. It seems that the French did not really want passage for the Red Army.

However, the Rumanian foreign minister told his Czech counterpart that while the Rumanians would object to the Red Army crossing “it would close its eyes to over flights of its territory”. This seems to have happened around the end of August and the Rumanians confirmed it to the French.

The claim that Rumania said yes to allowing passage for the Red Army would appear to rest on shaky foundations. It seems likely that it is an anti Soviet provocation from the cold war era which is why I have provided the link below.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf ... 0341.00048

If the Soviets had advanced into Czechoslovakia through Rumania it would quite likely have brought a violent response both from Germany and Poland. For Britain and France war over Czechoslovakia was not the simple choice thought by some politicians at the time and many people since.

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Re: How Poland Conspired to Breakup Czechoslovakia

Post by wm » 04 Apr 2019 18:34

Steve wrote:
04 Apr 2019 16:49
The British have never tried to unload guilt over Munich onto Poland.
Poland which with hyena appetite had ... joined in the pillage and destruction of the Czechoslovak State.

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