October 28, 1918 : The Day The Republic Was Founded
Shortly before October 28, 1918, the Austro-Hungarian army was disbanded, suffered defeat on the Italian front, and the Habsburg monarchy itself faced collapse. Its leaders have made every effort to save the crumbling state. It was late, the establishment of Czechoslovakia became more and more a reality. The Czechoslovak National Council in Paris was recognized abroad by the Czechoslovak government, and the National Committee sought to concentrate power in the Czech lands.
The inaugural meeting of the Czechoslovak National Committee was held on July 13, 1918. The “Czechoslovak” was named despite the fact that at that time it was still without Slovak representatives. However, the name demonstrated that Slovakia is an integral part of thinking about the future organization of the state.
Even in the call to the nation, which this committee issued on the same day, there was talk of a “Czechoslovak state”. The thirty-eight-member National Committee was composed of delegates of political parties according to the results of the elections to the Reich Council in 1911, headed by Karel Kramář.
This position fell to him not only because of his universally recognized authority, but also as a living symbol that embodied opposition to Austria. He was sentenced to death for his resistance activities during the war, and it was not until the arrival of the new Emperor Charles I that he was released from prison as part of a broad amnesty. (Another of the future “men on October 28”, Alois Rašín, was also sentenced to death).
It will not work without Slovaks
By September 1918, the Austrian government was already very concerned about the fate of the Habsburg Empire, and therefore decided to take a fundamental step, which was to be a new constitutional order of the monarchy. It contained the autonomous position of the nations in the Austrian part of the state. For this reason, the offer of autonomy was also addressed to Czech politicians on 26 September.
It may have been attractive a few years ago, but not at a time when Austria-Hungary was facing a military defeat. Therefore, three days later, the Czech representatives answered in the negative and not in the most polite way. There have been increasing contempt for the Austrian government and statements that the Austrian government is no longer a partner in the discussion and that Czech politicians are no longer interested in its statements and proposals.
As the offer of autonomy did not bring the expected result, the Austrian government and Emperor Charles I decided to take a step that, in their opinion, should have satisfied at least US President Woodrow Wilson. The emperor tried to incline the representatives of the states of the Agreement and therefore acted as a man who is capable of compromise, does not want a war, which he did not unleash personally, and is therefore willing to hand over extensive rights to the nations of the monarchy. In the Czech environment, therefore, there was a real fear that the Agreement would not, in the end, consider the break-up of Austria-Hungary as one of its main war objectives.
The perspective of autonomy did not find support among Czech representatives for two main reasons. They did not want to be satisfied with life in federalized Austria. After all, there was already a very real chance that a new and completely independent state would emerge. The second reason and the reason did not have to be if Czech politicians did not consider it essential and did not intend to withdraw from it; Slovakia was to be part of the new independent Czech state, so it was to be the Czechoslovak state.
And since the project of federalization of the monarchy concerned only the Austrian part and the Hungarian government did not want to hear about something similar, nor was the idea of an independent Czech state without Slovakia acceptable to the Czech representatives.
Therefore, the National Committee responded to Emperor Karol’s offer on October 18 the next day with a strong rejection and even a protest: ” There is no negotiation for the Czech nation in Vienna about its future … The National Committee therefore strongly protests in front of the whole world public against the Hungarians being told that our Slovak brothers do not want to form one with the nation of which they are an inseparable branch. national and state entity. ” At the time, that was a key position.
In fact, the Czech political representatives stated that without Slovakia and Slovaks they did not accept any ideas about a new state order.
Austria-Hungary will be decided by its peoples
At the same time, the foreign resistance carried out an important tactical move, namely the formation of a temporary Czechoslovak government headed by TG Masaryk and Ministers Edvard Beneš and MR Štefánik. This government was immediately recognized by France and immediately by other Allied governments. Its first important step was the adoption of the Washington Declaration.
Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian government has been eagerly awaiting President Wilson’s response to the ceasefire on offer. From her point of view, however, an unfavorable answer came. Wilson stated that no action by the Austrian government would be enough without the consent of the nations of the monarchy; thus, the fate of the empire is decided by its nations, not the government. The response of the Austro-Hungarian government of October 27, signed by Foreign Minister Gyula Andrássy and is therefore known as Andrássy’s note, stated that it agreed with the American president’s views on the rights of nations, especially the rights of Czechoslovaks and Yugoslavs.
Based on these events, the National Committee decided to act. He quickly tried to gain power and sovereignty over Czech territory and take advantage of the confusion in the Austrian authorities, which at key days and hours did not have clear instructions on how to proceed. In taking over power and competencies from the National Committee, the representatives of the Austrian state authorities could believe and also believed that its individual steps were in line with the planned federalization of the empire and the transformation of the Czech lands into a federal state within Austria.
Prague on its feet
On October 28, the day after Andrássy’s note, the streets of Prague began to fill with demonstrators. They demanded the Czechoslovak state. People tore down and destroyed the state symbols of Austria-Hungary and called for the glory of the new state. The primary effort of the leaders of the National Committee was to prevent violence and looting.
Any incidents of this kind would make a bad impression on the representatives of the victorious treaty states, for the future organization of post-war Europe was in their hands. They therefore tried to avoid bloody clashes with the Austrian state power as well.
One of the most important measures in these moments was the takeover of the War Grain Institute by the new Czechoslovak state. After all, he also had to be responsible for supplying the army and the population. Officials in the service of the Austrian government again accepted this and understood it as the realization of the imperial manifesto on the federalization of the monarchy. Furthermore, it was necessary to gain control of the new Czechoslovak territory and, first of all, its future capital.
As the Prague governor traveled to Vienna on the morning of October 28, at noon four leaders of the National Committee, Antonín Švehla, Alois Rašín, František Soukup and Jiří Stříbrný, visited his deputy. These men later, together with Vavr Šrobár, who joined them on the same day, became known as “men on October 28” (the chairman of the Kramář National Committee was not in Prague, as he was in negotiations with a foreign country in Switzerland at the time). resistance).
After the negotiations, the local government capitulated and declared that it would not hinder the political speeches of the public and its aim is only to ensure the safety of persons and property. The provincial administrative commission proceeded in a similar way, declaring that it was being placed in the service of the new state.
However, the men still did not win on October 28. Huge crowds of people in the streets could not just overlook Prague’s security forces and military garrisons in the city. Fortunately, military commanders were ordered to prevent incidents and at all costs tried to prevent bloodshed. Another important factor entered into the course of events.
The soldiers who were in Prague at the time had, of course, their teeth full of war. Regardless of their nationality, they wanted to get home, so they showed more sympathy for the National Committee, which supported their hope, than for their own commanders. On the contrary, they wanted to keep them in the crews. In addition, many Czech soldiers began to openly join the crowds and began to tear down Austrian state symbols.
Other events followed in quick succession. Immediately after Vavro Šrobár arrived in Prague, he also joined the activities of the National Committee. “The fifth man on October 28”. Even his name, together with the signatures of four Czech politicians, was under all the laws issued by the National Committee in the first hours and days.
It was extremely important that the Slovak representative was also present at the declaration of Czechoslovakia; this demonstrated national and state unity. In the evening at six o’clock, the National Committee met in the Prague Municipal House and issued the first law that went down in history as “the law of October 28, 1918 on the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak state.”
In the following days and months, much more had to be done to give the Czechoslovak government de facto power over the entire territory of the republic (and especially Slovakia). However, October 28, 1918 was the culmination of a joint effort, it became the day of the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic.