Sudeten ghosts (Czech presidential election 2018, #2)

STOP.ashx

 

“STOP immigrants and Drahoš. This land is ours! Vote Zeman.” Election posters all over the Czech Republic, January 2018.

“This is the order of the moment for every one of us, it is the historical task of our generation … Our new republic cannot be built as anything other than a purely national state, a state of only Czechs and Slovaks and of nobody other than Czechs and Slovaks! Although our land is beautiful, fertile, rich, it is small and there is no room in it for anybody other than us … Every one of us must help in the cleansing of the homeland.” Prokop Drtina, Minister of Justice in postwar Czechoslovak National Front Government, 17 May 1945.

The Bohemian Germans of whom Drtina wanted the homeland “cleansed” had lived in the Czech Lands of Bohemia and Moravia since they were invited in by Czech kings in the 13th century.  The chronicle of František Pražský, written in the 1340s, records that as early as 1315 Czech lords complained of “these foreigners who are in the kingdom,” requesting instead that the king favor “us, who were born in the kingdom …”

Six hundred years later Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald echoed the lords’ complaint in Brno on 23 June 1945, denouncing “the mistakes of our Czech kings, the Přemyslids, who invited the German colonists here” and demanding that Czechs expel “once and for ever beyond the borders of our land … an element hostile to us.”

Between 1945 and 1946 over three million Bohemian Germans (and thousands of Hungarians) were forcibly expelled from Czechoslovakia.  At least 15,000 people, and probably many more, perished in one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing in 20th-century Europe.  Czechs made up 70% of the population of the Czech Lands of Bohemia and Moravia—the present-day Czech Republic—in 1939.  In 1950 they made up 94%.

The Sudetenland was resettled by Czechs and Slovaks, who showed their gratitude by voting in huge numbers for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the elections of 1946.  To this day, the region remains one of the most desolate and depressed parts of the country.  Needless to say the former Sudetenland voted heavily for Zeman in the election of 2013 (in which, astonishingly, the events of 1945-6 became a major issue between Zeman and his liberal opponent Karel Schwarzenberg) and again in 2018.

As I said in my previous post, history is never past.


 

PS.  Before the war Prokop Drtina was a prominent member of the National Socialist Party who became Edvard Beneš’s personal secretary and confidant.   He was a member of the London-based Czechoslovak government-in-exile, familiar to Czechs from his BBC radio wartime broadcasts as Pavel Svatý.  He went on to become one of the “bourgeois ministers” in Klement Gottwald’s communist-led coalition government, whose collective resignation in February 1948 precipitated the coup d’état that led to 42 years of communism in Czechoslovakia.  Drtina unsuccessfully attempted suicide three days later and was imprisoned until 1960.  Later he became a signatory of the dissidents’ Charter 77.  He died in 1980, with no end of communist rule in sight.  His autobiography, published by the émigré publishing house 68 Publishers in Toronto in 1982 and in Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1991, is called Czechoslovakia My Fate.

 

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