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

By Igor Lukes | Go to book overview

5
The Fateful Spring of 1938: Austrian Anschluß and the May Crisis

Joseph Stalin's purge of Red Army officers continued for many months after the execution of Marshal Tukhachevsky, and by the late summer of 1937 the terror had spread to envelop large segments of Soviet society. When the Czechoslovak minister Bohdan Pavlů returned to Moscow after a brief vacation he reported that the atmosphere in the country reminded him of the calm after a hailstorm. In Moscow, so many officials had disappeared that foreign diplomats could not find anyone with enough authority to make decisions. Normal diplomatic life had become almost impossible. Only the highest-ranking bureaucrats were trusted to repeat the official clichés. 1

President Beneš had hoped in June 1937 that "unmasking" the so-called Tukhachevsky conspiracy would stabilize the Soviet Union. But by the fall the purge had spread from the armed forces to undermine other pillars of Soviet society. There seemed to be no prospect for consolidation. Beneš for the moment abandoned the hope that the Soviet Union, a country in such a deep crisis, would be in a position to come to Czechoslovakia's assistance against Adolf Hitler, and he said so openly to the U.S. minister in Prague. 2 As 1937 came to a close, many diplomats posted in the Soviet Union thought that the country had ceased to be a military power; some argued that the Red Army could not even mobilize. 3 Moscow's image as a potential partner in an alliance of antifascist states in Europe had been damaged.

The weaker the Soviet system appeared domestically, the louder it demanded that others stand up to Hitler. On 22 December 1937 Izvestia warned Great Britain that the time when one could afford the policy of splendid isolation was over. The paper predicted that the London government's effort to appease the Third Reich by sacrificing small European states to it would fail. Pravda presented Soviet desiderata even more openly on 24 December: it encouraged Western democracies to confront Hitler. The leading article counseled that it was in France's vital interest to conduct a policy of determined resistance against the German aggressor; it had to reject any

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