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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

The New Europe

Tomáš G. Masaryk

Texte intégral

1Title: The New Europe. The Slav Standpoint

2Originally published: London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1918 (Nová Evropa, longer Czech version, Prague, Gustav Dubský, 1920)

3Language: English – Czech
The excerpts used are from Thomas G. Masaryk, The New Europe. The Slav Standpoint (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1972), pp. 75–80, 128–129,138–141, 152–154.

About the author

4see Tomáš G. Masaryk, The Czech question


5Masaryk, a well-known scholar and public intellectual, but a politician on the margins, was sixty-four when he left Prague in December 1914. In the summer of the next year he launched his campaign for an independent Czechoslovak state by giving a public lecture in Geneva on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of Jan Hus. Up to that point in his life, he had accepted that existence within the Austrian state was the only option for small nations such as the Czechs, though he always stressed the necessity of serious reform in the Empire. At the beginning of the First World War, basi-cally three main options appeared in Czech politics. The most common among these three at that time, attracting social democratic, clerical as well as agrarian political streams, was a stance loyal to the Habsburgs, although critical of the military plans of the Central Powers and the Germanizing ten-dencies within the Monarchy. The second, less common and more daring option, was the neo–Slavism of some ‘Young Czechs’ and national socialists who invested politically in the victory of the Russian Empire. The third op-tion, a pro–Western, pro-independence stance, was formulated by Masaryk, because, shortly after the war broke out, he came to the conclusion that the Empire was not able to reform itself. At the same time, his democratic per-suasion made him an opponent of tsarism, as his major treatise from 1913, Russland und Europa, demonstrates.

6The idea of an independent Czechoslovakia was considered much more radical and less comprehensible in international circles than, for instance, the restoration of the Polish state or the unification of the Southern Slavs. Ma-saryk therefore began a concerted propaganda campaign among the Allies. ‘The new Europe’ was the most important of a number of writings in which Masaryk defended the Allies’ cause and simultaneously argued for the inde-pendence of Czechs and Slovaks. He also intended the book as a kind of ideological manual for the soldiers of the newly formed Czechoslovak le-gions in the West and in Russia. He wrote the book in the winter of 1917–18, when the fate of Austria-Hungary was still unclear. It was not before the spring of 1918 that the situation changed as the Allies broke off their clan-destine negotiations with Austria and the total surrender of both Germany and Austria-Hungary was declared the basic condition for an armistice. In this context, Masaryk found a more receptive audience and gradually gained recognition from the Entente’s governments for his political and military leadership. In the fall of 1918, he delivered the final version of The New Europe and it was published in English and French.

7Whereas Masaryk’s initial interpretations of the war conflict was based on economic and geopolitical concerns, in The New Europe he anchored the conflagration in his historiosophical conception and sought to convince the readers that the Allies represented morality, democracy and liberty. He un-derstood the war as a kind of ‘world revolution,’ a conflict between tradi-tional “medieval theocracies,” with their undemocratic and anti-national manners, on the one hand, and constitutional, democratic powers on the other. The key question for Masaryk was the postwar reorganization of the intermediate zone of small nations in Central Europe that would serve in the future as a barrier against German expansionism. In basic agreement with Herder, Masaryk understood the nation as a natural organ of humanity and supported acceptance of the principle of nationality in the new organization of Europe on the assumption that the multi-national empires had lost their reason for being. In contrast to his previous political stance, however, he supplemented his self-determination argument with historical state right rea-soning that justified the continuity and integrity of the Bohemian Crown lands in the future Czechoslovakia. This led to the inclusion of more than three million German inhabitants in the new state. In this work Masaryk dis-tinguished between Czechs and Slovaks as two separate nations, but at the same time, he applied the construct of the ‘Czecho–Slovak nation’ as the en-visaged state-forming political nation based on mutual understanding and shared political interest. Defending the creation of an independent republic, Masaryk nevertheless strove to remain faithful to František Palacký’s con-ception of Central European federalism, which he sought to develop in oppo-sition to Friedrich Naumann’s Mitteleuropa, a contemporary liberal project based on the German cultural and economic dominance in the region. Ma-saryk considered the new democratic integration in Central Europe to be a part of a worldwide integration of all democratic states. Yet, from a practical point of view, he did not propose any positive program that would unite the independent Central European countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, apart from building a bulwark against Pan-Germanism.

8Masaryk repeated most of his basic convictions in ‘The world revolution’ (1925), a retrospective account of the First World War, although in a more nuanced way. Its main message, justifying the victory of the Allies and the existence of an independent Czechoslovakia as a manifestation of the pro-gress of Humanität and democracy, served as a solid foundation for moderate Czech nationalist democratic ideology during the interwar years. Due to Ma-saryk’s personal authority and influence as the ‘President Liberator,’ the legacy of his political writings formed the intellectual backbone of Czechoslovak democratic republicanism throughout the twentieth century. This legacy did not, however, remain unchallenged in Czechoslovakia either in intellec-tual or in ideological terms; Masaryk’s vision of Central European integration was at the very outset overshadowed by Edvard Beneš’s diplomatic doctrine directing Czechoslovakia to a firm adherence to the system of Versailles with strong French influence in the region.


The new Europe

10The opponents of small states and nations point to Austria as the classic demonstration that small nations must unite themselves into larger federated bodies, and as a proof that they cannot maintain their independence.

11It is true that the Turkish danger brought about in 1526 the union of Aus-tria, Bohemia, and Hungary; but it is equally true that the Austrian Habsburgs very shortly abused the free union and oppressed both Bohemia and Hungary. The Habsburgs became the right arm of the threatened theocracy and broke, with the help of Empire and Europe, Bohemia and her Hussite Revo-lution. With blood and iron and Jesuitism the Habsburgs crushed the Czech Revolution (1618) and culture. The whole history of Austria and her efforts for a uniting, centralizing and Germanizing state is proof and example of dynastic domination, but of no federation of nations. Austria was a federation only as long as it was the union of three free states; Austria-Hungary of today is not a federation of small nations. Such a federation can be found only in the writings of weak-minded courtier-historians and politicians: Austria-Hungary is the organized oppression of the majority by the minority; Austria-Hungary is the continuation of medieval dynastic absolutism.

12The Dual Monarchy is composed of nine nations: Germans, Czechs with the Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbo–Croats, Slovenes, Roumanians, Italians, Magyars. Some count the Slovaks as a separate nation; the Latins in the Tyrol are a separate nation, and a part of the Jews claim again nationality. In all other nationally mixed states, even in Russia, the so-called ruling nation is in the majority; only in Austria and Hungary does the minority rule over the majority. What is Austria? A dynasty with the aristocracy, the army and its higher offi-cers, the higher bureaucracy and the church (hierarchy) furnishing the neces-sary spiritual police. Mickiewicz properly compares this anti-national state to the East India Company, in which 200 families exploit the nations.

13Turkey also was a “federation” of nations—and she fell; with Turkey will also fall the anomaly of Austria, as Mazzini correctly foretold.

14A real federation of nations will be accomplished only when the nations are free to unite of their own accord. The development of Europe points to that end. The program of the Allies answers fully to this development: free and liberated nations will organize themselves, as they find necessary, into greater units, and thus the whole continent will be organized. Should there be federations of smaller states, they will be federations freely entered upon, out of the real needs of the nations, not out of dynastic and imperialistic motives. Federation without freedom is impossible; that must be emphatically stated to those Austrian and other politicians who are promising autonomy and federation. We have now three instances they are free independent states that have become federated: Switzerland, America, and even Germany. Switzerland and America are republics; Germany is a monarchy, but her single states are independent. Do the Habsburgs want a real federation of independent states and nations? Surely not; in any case the Germans threatened that they would not permit a federalization of Austria.

15According to the program of the Allies, the small nations and states shall be treated with the same respect politically and socially as the great nations and states. A small nation, an enlightened and culturally progressing nation, is just as much a full-fledged unit and cultural individual as a great nation. The problem of small nations and states is the same as the problem of the so-called small man; what matters is that the value of the man, the individuality of the man, is recognized without regard to his material means. This is the proper sense and kernel of the great humanitarian movement which characterizes modern times, as manifested in socialism, democracy, and national-ism. The modern humanitism recognizes the right of the weak—that is the meaning of all efforts for progress and for the recognition of human dignity: the strong will always help himself. The protection of the weaker and the weak, the protection of the small, of the individual, of corporations and classes, of nations and states—that is the task of modern times. Everywhere the weak, oppressed, and exploited unite themselves—association is the watchword of our era: federation, the free federation of small nations and states will be the consummation of this principle securing the final organiza-tion of the whole of mankind. [...]

16This historical development is a double process: together with the individualization of all departments the organization of individuals is taking place. Politically expressed, there is going on the development of autonomy and self-government of individuals, classes, nations; and at the same time individuals, classes, and nations are uniting closer, are being organized and centralized. This process goes on within the nations themselves, but also be-tween one nation and another—interstatism and internationalism become more intimate. Europe emphatically tends toward a continental organization.

17The principle of nationality stands alongside the international (interstate) principle. The European nations, while becoming individualized, tend to draw closer together economically and with respect to communication (rail-roads, and so forth) and their entire technical culture; but individualization and centralization are deepened also spiritually by a growing interchange of ideas and of all culture (knowledge of foreign languages, translation, and the like). Europe and humanity are becoming more unified.

18Between nationality and internationality there is no antagonism, on the contrary, agreement; nations are the natural organs of humanity. Humanity is not supernational; it is the organisation of individual nations. If, therefore, individual nations struggle for their independence and attempt to break up states of which they have heretofore been parts, that is not a fight against in-ternationality and humanity, but a fight against aggressors, who misuse states for the purpose of levelling them and enforcing political uniformity. Human-ity does not tend to uniformity, but to unity; it will be the liberation of na-tions which will make possible the organic association, federation of nations, of Europe, and of all mankind. [...]

19The geographical location of Bohemia and Slovakia in the very center of Europe gives to our nation a significant position; Bismarck said that “the master of Bohemia is the master of Europe”—the Pangerman politicians of-ten quote this statement of Bismarck. Bohemia, with Slovakia, interferes with the Berlin-Bagdad plan; the shortest road from Berlin to Constantinople, to Salonika and Trieste leads through Prague or through Bohumín (Oderberg); to Vienna and Budapest, also, the shortest connection from Berlin is by way of Prague and Bohumίn-Bohemia and Slovakia block the direct connection between Prussia and Austria and the Magyars.

20The Czechs constitute the westernmost wedge driven into the German body; they constitute the farthest West in the zone of the small nations; they are the western outpost of the non-German nations in the East. The Czecho-slovaks are not a Slav remnant like the Lusatians, for they have held their own against German aggression toward the East for more than a thousand years; the Czechs have opposed the Germans from the seventh century, from the original foundation of their State, up to the present day. The Slavs of the Elbe and Saal basins and of the Baltic shores have been Germanized or ex-terminated; the Czechs maintained their individuality. To be sure, they are surrounded by the Germans on three sides; toward the South they border on the Magyars, in the East on the Poles and the Ukrainians—a very difficult position in a world of national struggles, resembling the position of the Ger-mans, of which the Pangermans so loudly complain. [...]

21Legally, Bohemia is still an independent State. [...]

22The Czechs have a historical right to the independence of the Czech lands (Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia); they insist on the right to the independence of the State created by them. In addition to that, they have a historical and natural right to the addition of Slovakia, so brutally oppressed by the Mag-yars. (The Magyars have a proverb: Tot nem ember—the Slovak is not a man.) Slovakia, formerly the center of the Great Moravian Empire, was torn away by the Magyars in the tenth century, and was later for a short time con-nected again politically with its kinsman and was for a time independent. Culturally the Slovaks remained constantly in close relation with the Czechs. The Magyars depend culturally on the Slovaks. The union of the Czechs and Slovaks is therefore a legitimate demand. The demand was made not only by the Czechs, but also by the Slovaks. The Slovaks will employ their own dialect in the schools and in the public administration; there can be no language question, because every Slovak, even without an education, understands Czech and every Czech understands Slovak. The Slovaks gave the Czechs in the period of their national renaissance a number of great authors (Kollár, Šafárik), and educated others (Palackỳ, and, in a measure, also Dobrovský). The Magyars, though weaker culturally than the Slovaks, attempt to Magyarize the latter systematically and brutally; this Magyarization was not the natural result of a cultural preponderance, but was merely artificially main-tained by the administration, which resorted to violence and corruption, ex-ploiting economic advantages. [...]

23The Pangermans make the most of the cultural level of the German nation as an argument for its right to world domination; if culture is a necessary condition of political independence, then the Czechs and Slovaks deserve independence fully.

24Independent Bohemia early achieved considerable progress in schools and in education; the Bohemian State was organized firmly at an early date and its administration in the hands of trained officials was excellent. Therefore, Bohemia managed to hold its own against Germany. Agriculture and industry were highly developed. Culturally the Czechs have won renown through their Reformation, they being the first nation to resist the medieval theocracy supported by the German-Roman Empire. From Prague University, the first university in Central Europe, there came forth John Hus, who by his martyr’s death inspired the whole nation to resist the medieval theocracy of Rome. With Hus the entire Czech nation thus opened a new era.

  • 1 Jan Žižka (c. 1360–1424): famous Hussite warlord.
  • 2 Petr Chelčický (c. 1390–c. 1460): Czech religious thinker and political thinker.

25In the Hussite period the Czechs distinguished themselves not only as war-riors (“every Czech a captain”); alongside of John Zizka1, the founder of modern military strategy, we have Hus, Chelcicky2, and Comenius, the teacher and educator of nations. The Czech national church, the Unity of the Brethren, according to the common judgment of history, was an attempt to put into practice the ideals of the purest Christianity. The Czech Taborites (the radical Hussites) made an attempt to practice Christian communism.

26Rome and the Habsburgs, this time backed by all Europe, crushed the Bo-hemian Reformation; Bohemia, weakened by many wars forced upon her, united with Austria and Hungary, but this union, aimed at the Turkish men-ace, was employed by the Habsburgs for the suppression of the Czech Reformation. The anti-Catholic revolution of 1618 ended at the White Mountain in Jesuit darkness; but traditions of former power and independence and the progressive ideas of the eighteenth century, especially of the French Revolution, inspired the Czech nation to a new spiritual and national life; the end of the eighteenth century marks the beginning of the renaissance of the Czechs and Slovaks as an organic part of the renaissance of all the nations of Europe. In spite of the constant struggle against the perjured dynasty, the Czech nation is today culturally and economically one of the most progressive nations. It has thus proved its virility, its energy and ability to hold its own against the pressure of imperialistic Germany and Austria; this high degree of culture, as we have emphasized before, being attained by the Czechs through their own strength, without assistance from the dynasty and from Austria.

27Insofar, therefore, as culture is an argument for political independence (the administration of the State, especially the democratic administration, being facilitated by the enlightenment of the people), the Czechs and Slovaks can employ this argument with full justification, for they are not less cultured than their oppressors, the Germans and Magyars. [...]

28The Czecho–Slovak State will undoubtedly be a republic.

29This very war revealed sufficiently the reactionary and dangerous charac-ter of continental monarchism; the Czecho-Slovak nation is ripe for a repub-lic. In the course of centuries we became accustomed to living without king of our own; the Habsburgs were to us always foreigners; the aristocracy also became estranged from the nation and attached itself closely to the foreign dynasty. The aristocracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina became Turkish and in Bo-hemia Habsburg.

30The independence of the Czecho-Slovak State is a demand of political jus-tice, by its geographical location in the center of Europe and by its century-long struggle against the German “Push toward the East,” the Czech and Slo-vak nation is the anti-German vanguard of all the nations in Eastern Europe. Should the Czecho–Slovak nation remain in the sway of the Germans and Asiatic peoples allied with Germans, Magyars, and Turks, and should it actu-ally fall, Pangerman Central Europe and its further political consequences will be realized. The Czecho-Slovak question is a world question and is the problem of this very war; free Bohemia or reactionary Austria, the free Czecho–Slovak nation or the degenerate Habsburgs—that is the choice for Europe and America, for the thinking Europe and America. [...]

31I do not maintain that the liberation of Bohemia is the most vital question of the war; but I can say without exaggeration that the aims proclaimed by the Allies cannot be attained without the liberation of Bohemia. Her future will be the touchstone of the Allies’ strength, seriousness, and statesmanship. [...]

32The restoration of the Czecho–Slovak State is only a part of the task which Europe, or rather the Allies, will have to undertake in reorganizing eastern Europe; together with the Czecho–Slovak State there must arise an independ-ent united Poland and an independent united Jugoslavia. Of all the acute na-tional questions in the zone of small nations these are most acute and they are questions that are closely connected internally.


1 Jan Žižka (c. 1360–1424): famous Hussite warlord.

2 Petr Chelčický (c. 1390–c. 1460): Czech religious thinker and political thinker.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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