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How foreign resistance helped create Czechoslovakia

Aktualizované 25.11.2022
Publikované 20.10.2022

This year, we celebrate the 104th anniversary of the formation of Czechoslovakia. The 1918 origin story was a culmination of an effort of both Slovaks and Czechs against their rulers. Close contact between these two nations led to the idea of an independent state that emerged during World War I.

Czechoslovak foreign resistance played an important part in the formation of the common state.

After World War I broke out, both Slovak and Czech political leaders emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, forming the basis of the resistance. They were active in France, Italy, and Russia, with important figures such as Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Milan Rastislav Štefánik, and Edvard Beneš at the forefront of the effort.

Masaryk, a Czech leader, promoted the idea of an independent Czechoslovakia in Western Europe. Štefánik, a Slovak politician and astronomer, was based in Paris where he became a general in the French army. He later organised the Czechoslovak Legion formed by Czechs and Slovaks who defected to the Russian front.

In the US, Slovak and Czech nationalist groups formed by immigrants agreed to work together towards a common state. The efforts of the Slovak League and Bohemian National Alliance culminated on October 22, 1915 in the signing of the very first common document: the Cleveland Agreement. The agreement bore importance for Slovaks because it promised their autonomy in the future common republic, allowing them to finally break free from the Kingdom of Hungary. One of its authors was Slovak diplomat Štefan Osuský who, by providing important information to US president Woodrow Wilson, later managed to sway the president's opinion on how Europe should look after the war.

The document was followed by the Pittsburgh Agreement, a memorandum of understanding signed on May 31, 1918 that agreed, among other things, on an independent state, a union between Czechs and Slovaks. The state would be a republic with a democratic constitution, with Slovakia having its own administration, and Slovak as the official language in schools and public life.

Prompted by the imminent dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in October 1918 Masaryk drafted the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence. The document closed with the motto

We believe in democracy, we believe in liberty, and liberty evermore.

When the empire finally capitulated, Czech politicians proclaimed independence on October 28 and declared the formation of Czechoslovakia. Two days later, Slovak politicians approved the Martin Declaration, effectively becoming independent and subscribing to democratic Czechoslovakia and coexistence with Czechs and Moravians.

October 28, 1918 is a date Slovaks commemorate to this day. In early 1920, the Constitution of the Czechoslovak Republic determined the general right to vote, meaning that both women and men had the universal, equal, direct and secret right to vote. Czechoslovakia became one of the first progressive countries in the world regarding women's suffrage.

Becoming part of Czechoslovakia meant that Slovakia had its own borders and territory for the first time. Democracy, a parliamentary system and partisanship meant a valuable political experience that allowed Slovaks to become a modern nation.