THE LOCAL LEVERS
IN NO OTHER country of twentieth-century Europe have matters of local government played more havoc with domestic peace and external security than in Czechoslovakia. Nor does modern history offer a more frustrating story than the process by which well-meant, though slow and hesitant, endeavor to meet claims for more local selfgovernment was exploited for the opposite purpose, i.e., for crushing liberty and establishing a rigid totalitarian centralism.
The birth of the Republic itself in 1918 was bitterly opposed by most of its German minority, whose desire, however unrealistic, was to join the new Austrian state. The majority of the Sudeten Germans had scarcely begun to show a change of heart, and leaders of their major parties had hardly begun active cooperation with the Czechoslovak government by sending their representatives to sit in the Czechoslovak cabinet in 1926 and 1929, when Hitler came to power in Germany, and the Nazi acid quickly corroded the delicate fabric of Czech-German cooperation.
Having learned, in the holocaust of World War II and under the heel of Nazi occupation, how cleverly petty quarrels over more or less local self-government were subject to exploitation against them, the Czechs, Slovaks, and Ruthenians set out with high hopes to build up a new, almost federal pattern of decentralized government. They established, in 1944 and 1945, a system of elective people's committees vested with broad powers of self-government. Yet once again, as in the case of the Nazis in 1938 and 1939, what were to be institutions of greater freedom were gradually turned into the chief instruments of suppression, culminating in the communist coup of February 1948.
Thus, the story of Czechoslovak local government is not only an account of drastic changes in forms and institutions and in their practical working. It is also a story of the profound mutual mistrust of three major ethnic groups, Czechs, Slovaks, and Germans, a story of irreconcilable clashes fostered and exploited by foreign interests, a story of frustrated hopes, of two national, and millions of