Economic Change and the National Question in Twentieth-Century Europe

By Alice Teichova; Herbert Matis et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Nationality and competition: Czechs and Germans in the
economy of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938)
Christoph Boyer

THE BASIC SITUATION

The nationality issue

The nationality issue was an element of cardinal importance in the political, economic and social life of the First Czechoslovak Republic. The background of this issue was the presence of a strong native German population ('Volksgruppe') in a state that defined its identity not as multinational but as the state of the Czechoslovaks. To some extent, the Germans were conceived of as a menace to this identity and as a threat to the newly gained national independence. These statements are very general; they only characterise mainstream or average attitudes.

The Volkstumskampf ('ethnic struggle'), as it was called by contemporaries, characterised the First Republic from its foundation in the autumn of 1918 until its end following the Treaty of Munich. 1 However, talking about conflict alone would draw a strongly distorted picture. Reality was characterised by a complex mixture of antagonism and cooperation. The result was a modus vivendi — sometimes arduous but viable on the whole. The element of conflict was predominant in the first years after the First World War. It faded into the background in the second half of the 1920s when the 'activist' German parties — that is, those that professed to be loyal to the state — co-operated with the Czech parties and participated in government. Antagonism tended to arise again in the 1930s, when the peaceful coexistence of Czechs and Germans in the Republic was overshadowed by the rise of National Socialism in Germany. The Sudetendeutsche Partei (SdP — Sudeten German party), basically a puppet of the Nazi party, 2 was undoubtedly perceived as a threat to the unity and security of the state, and therefore the Germans within the country were suspected of being the 'fifth column' of the Reich.

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