Lucie Škopková is a 2nd year Student at King’s College London studying European Politics with a special interest in Central and Eastern European Politics.
The day of October 28th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the First Czechoslovak Republic. The Republic emerged amidst the economic hardships and sociopolitical turmoil following World War I. under the presidency of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and its significance powerfully resonates throughout the society to this day. Many people in the Czech Republic today continue to regard the First Republic as a democratic breakthrough for the nation, especially when addressing its Declaration of Independence that was drafted on October 18th, 1918. This included important references to general suffrage, minority rights, greater gender equality, as well as the Republic’s acceptance of economic and political responsibility on the international scene with regard to the post-war environment.1
Perhaps the two elements most profoundly associated with the First Czechoslovak Republic are the complex question of nationality and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The First Republic consisted of several ethnic groups that included Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Germans and others, which put pressure on the Republic’s national identity. This pressure was revealed by the 1921 population census in which Czechs and Slovaks were merged under one national group of ‘Czechoslovaks’ in order to create a national majority group, contributing to the rise of a termed nation-state. Furthermore, the newly merged Czechoslovak national group concealed the fact that Czech and Slovak speakers alone were often outnumbered by German speakers, for example, which would have otherwise undermined the strength of the First Republic’s national character.2 The key figure of the First Czechoslovak Republic was the afore mentioned Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who adamantly lobbied and pressed for Czechoslovak independence on the international scene following World War I. He was the Republic’s first president and was glorified by the people as the nation’s guardian and to this day, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is referred to as ‘Tatínek’ or the founding father of the nation and remains a celebrated, symbolic figure representing national pride and sentiment of the Czechs.
The First Czechoslovak Republic provided the fundamental basis upon which the Czechoslovak nation continued to develop until its formal separation into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1st, 1993. However, the official separation of Czechoslovakia did not mean the influence and sentiment of the First Republic diminished amongst the Czechs and the Slovaks. It rather became one of the most symbolic and inherent parts of the nations’ history to which many contemporary historians continuously return in their academic studies.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Greater coat of arms of the First Czechoslovak Republic (“The Truth Wins”)
(1) Pergler, Charles. “An Experiment in Progressive Government: The Czechoslovak Republic.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 84, no. 1, 1 Jan. 1919, https://doi.org/10.1177/000271621908400107.
(2) Heimann, Mary. “A Troubled Democracy.” Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed, Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 48–87.