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

By Igor Lukes | Go to book overview
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Dangerous Relations: Beneš and Stalin in Hitler's Shadow, 1933-1935

Edvard Beneš had no illusion that his country could rely on its own strength alone. He fully shared Masaryk's view that Czechoslovakia needed an ally on which it could always depend. That role was to belong to Paris. In the early 1920s France was the most important, and the mightiest, European power, and policymakers in Prague should have been delighted by clear signals that the French were ready to sign a diplomatic treaty with Czechoslovakia that would contain a firm military component.

Others would have gladly seized the opportunity to tie their fate to that of the French superpower. But Masaryk and Beneš saw that there were problems. They wanted French protection, but they were not at all eager for Czechoslovakia to become a pawn in a French militaristic scheme against Germany; they feared that Paris intended for Prague to play the role of a needle that was to cause discomfort, if not pain, in Berlin. This made no sense to them. After all, Czechoslovakia enjoyed good political relations with Weimar Germany in the early 1920s, and the two countries had strong economic ties as well. 1 Masaryk and Beneš saw no reason to sacrifice this situation in order to diminish French fears of German revenge. Moreover, Prague was worried that an agreement with Paris directed against Germany would only drive Berlin closer to Hungary, the source, from Prague's perspective, of real danger. Although Germany had no claim on Czechoslovak territory, Hungary did.

Finally, a military arrangement with France was likely to end Prague's good relations with Italy because of tensions between Rome and Paris. Thus, when Marshal Ferdinand Foch proposed a Czechoslovak-French agreement on political and military cooperation during his visit to Prague in 1921, Beneš refused. 2 Paris did not give up, however, and it brought up the offer again two years later. Still the problem remained unchanged. The proposed treaty was to bring together two parties with dissimilar objectives and different sources of concern: Prague wanted help

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