Czechoslovak declaration of independence

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The Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence or the Washington Declaration (Czech: Washingtonská deklarace; (Slovak)) was drafted in Washington, D.C. and published by Czecho-Slovakia's Paris-based Provisional Government on 18 October 1918.[1] The creation of the document, officially the Declaration on Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation by Its Provisional Government (Czech: Prohlášení nezávislosti československého národa zatímní vládou československou), was prompted by the imminent collapse of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which the Czech and Slovak lands had been part for almost 400 years, following the First World War.

Background[edit]

In the autumn of 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was in a state of collapse. As one of his Fourteen Points, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson demanded that the nationalities of the Empire have the "freest opportunity to autonomous development". On 14 October 1918, Foreign Minister Baron István Burián von Rajecz[2] asked for an armistice based on the Fourteen Points. In an apparent attempt to demonstrate good faith, Emperor Charles I issued a proclamation two days later which would have significantly altered the structure of the Austrian half of the monarchy. The Austrian part of the Empire was to be transformed into a federal union composed of four parts—German, Czech, South Slav and Ukrainian (Galicia was allowed to secede). Each of these was to be governed by a national council that would negotiate the future of the empire with Vienna, and Trieste was to receive a special status.

However, on that same day, a Czecho-Slovak provisional government joined the Allies. This provisional government had begun drafting a Declaration of Independence on 13 October and completed its task on 16 October. The document was drafted by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and American sculptor Gutzon Borglum[3] (Borglum hosted future soldiers of a Czecho-Slovak army on his farm in Stamford, Connecticut.[4]) On 17 October, Masaryk presented it to the U.S. government and the president. It was published in Paris 18 October 1918 with authorship attributed to Masaryk.

On the same day, United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing replied that the Allies were now committed to the causes of the Czechs, Slovaks, and South Slavs. Therefore, Lansing said, autonomy for the nationalities – the tenth of the Fourteen Points – was no longer enough and Washington could not deal on the basis of the Fourteen Points any more. The Lansing note was, in effect, the death certificate of Austria-Hungary. The national councils had already begun acting more or less as provisional governments of independent countries. With defeat in the war imminent after the Italian offensive in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on 24 October, Czech politicians peacefully took over command in Prague on 28 October (later declared the birthday of Czecho-Slovakia) and followed up in other major cities in the next few days. On 30 October, the Slovaks followed in Turčiansky Svätý Martin and the Austro-Hungarian state was officially dissolved the next day.

The declaration[edit]

Much of the declaration catalogues a litany of grievances against the Habsburgs. In the latter portion of the document declares a Czecho-Slovak Republic with freedom of religion, speech, the press and the right of assembly and petition, separation of church from the state, universal suffrage, and equal rights for women. The declaration calls for a parliamentary political system with respect for rights of national minorities shall use equal rights. Social, economic, and land reform is announced along with the cancellation of aristocratic privileges. The declaration uses the term "Czechoslovak nation" (národ československý), which deviates from formulations Cleveland and Pittsburgh Agreements, which defined two separate Czech and Slovak nations. The declaration is signed Masaryk (as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance), Milan Rastislav Štefánik (as Minister of National Defense) and Edvard Beneš (as Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Interior).

Further reading[edit]

  • R.W. Seton-Watson – A History of the Czechs and Slovaks Archon Books, 1965
  • C.A. Watson – Hungary: A Short History Edinburgh University Press, 1966
  • Leo Valiani – The End of Austria-Hungary Secker & Warburg, 1973

References[edit]

  1. ^ Declaration of Independence of the Czechslovak Nation By Its Provisional Government. New York. October Eighteenth MDCCCCXVIII. 
  2. ^ "Hungarian foreign ministers from 1848 to our days". Mfa.gov.hu. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Kovtun, G.J. (1985). The Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence: A History of the Document. Washington, D.C. pp. 46–8. 
  4. ^ Herbert Francis Sherwood. "A New Declaration of Independence". The Outlook. 120 (September–December 1918). p. 406.