Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s

By Igor Lukes | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Edvard Beneš ( 1884-1948) was a major European politician, foreign policy strategist, and important actor in the Czechoslovak-German drama of the 1930s. This volume studies the first two decades of his diplomacy and analyzes the Prague government's attempts to secure the existence of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in the treacherous space between the millstones of East and West.

The crisis of the 1930s, especially the Four Power Agreement signed at Munich in September 1938, provoked a vast amount of writing. To be sure, some important questions still remain to be answered. But it is safe to say that we now have a high- resolution picture of the British, French, German, Hungarian, and Polish dimensions of the crisis. This cannot be said about the roles played by the Prague government and the Kremlin.

Czechoslovak territory in the Sudetenland was one of the main points of contention in 1938, yet historians have often downplayed the activities of President Beneš and his colleagues in the escalating European conflict. And no wonder: until the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was difficult for researchers unaffiliated with official Czechoslovak institutions to gain complete access to the relevant archival collections in Prague. Under such circumstances, one had to treat as evidence politically slanted memoirs, official pronouncements, and collections of arbitrarily selected documents. Because of this limitation, the Prague government was frequently treated as the passive object of a Franco-British deal with Hitler, an entity without options and incapable of initiatives. The scarcity of Czechoslovak primary sources concerning the crisis of the 1930s closely paralleled the dearth of Soviet documentation. This-- and Stalin's absence at Munich--led many historians to treat the Soviet role in the Czechoslovak-German crisis as marginal at most. Others chose to give an approving account of the Soviet leader's behavior in Central Europe prior to World War II.

This book deals with the European crisis of the 1930s by focusing on the hitherto neglected Czechoslovak and Soviet perspectives. Chapter 1 analyzes Czechoslovak-Soviet relations from the end of World War I to the beginning of the Nazi rule in Germany. Thomas G. Masaryk, Edvard Beneš, and other policy-makers in Prague held the view that Russia--under whatever regime--would not be able to develop without strong ties with Europe and that the European political scene needed active Russian participation to become stable. Therefore, Prague was at first cautiously inclined to respond positively to signals from the Kremlin that the Soviets

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