Czechoslovakia: Anvil of the Cold War

By John O. Crane; Sylvia E. Crane | Go to book overview
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2 Founding of the Legions: Entrapment in Anti- Bolshevik Intervention

Tomáš Masaryk joined with numerous other close observers of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution to detect in its early stages a break from centuries of czarist tyranny and a modicum of hope for a democratic evolution. A measure of optimism was also generated favoring the Czechoslovak drive for national independence.

Masaryk realized that he, as president of the Czechoslovak National Council, had personally to complete and formalize the negotiations initiated by Col. Milan Rastislav Štefánik to organize a Czechoslovak army out of the Druzinas, as the local groups formed in 1914 were called. Intuitively, he knew that a pillar of his liberation movement would rise from an independent national fighting force, which could be recruited from the tens of thousands of Czech and Slovak prisoners of war now being released from detention in Russia.

Immediately after the March Revolution, Štefánik hastened to Russia to resume his high level talks to gain recognition for the Druzinas as an Allied fighting force. Masaryk's arrival in Petrograd on May 16, 1917, coincided with the concluding plenary meeting of all Druzinas, which voted to accept the authority and program of the National Council. The consolidation of Masaryk's leadership abroad, paralleling the developing liberation movement at home, provided an early building block in the movement for independence from Vienna.

In the formation of the Czechoslovak Legions, Masaryk stumbled upon another subtle justification for his anti-Austrian program. He saw in the nationalist military units the fallout benefits of offering greater personal safety and better treatment for his sick or injured countrymen. Had they gone home, he reasoned, they would have

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