A History Lesson: Who Was to Blame For WWII Following the Munich Accords?
Probably, as time inevitably passes by, the memories of WWII fall into oblivion. Thus, as scary as it may seem, the youth are understandably confused over who was fighting there and for what. But it isn't the case only in Brazil, sometimes even our young men say that it was the USSR and the USA that fought, not as allies, but as enemies. This is obviously terrible. It's even worse that the same slogans that led to the war are circulating in Europe now, and nobody cares.
This week, President Poroshenko addressed the parliament, stressing that it was so good that Kiev has managed to make Ukrainian citizens not read Russian books. On Monday, the Lvov Regional Council in western Ukraine voted to prohibit the public use of works written in Russian. Is this the «European choice» to forbid citizens to speak their native language? Do the Ukrainian authorities understand that they're repeating what steadily pushed Europe into world war 80 years ago? The country that ended up at the crossroads where the crash occurred was pre-war Czechoslovakia. 80 years ago it was split up by its neighbors, after which they unleashed war against each other.
To clarify, let's take a look at the map of an obliterate state. Here it is. The obliterate state is Austria-Hungary. In fact, the name of this empire is extremely deceptive as beside Austrians and Hungarians it embraced lands inhabited by Slavs, including the Slovenes, Croats, and Bosniaks, who, together with the Serbs, created Yugoslavia and, of course, the Czechs and Slovaks, who built independent Czechoslovakia.
Now let's take a look at Czechia. The division of Austria-Hungary left 3.5 million ethnic Germans to live in the Sudetenland, the area near the border we've darkened on the map. But Germany and Austria are just nearby. There was also Teschen, which we've colored even darker because it had a quite sad history. Slavs were attacked by Slavs. Warsaw claimed this region inhabited by ethnic Poles. So, these minorities were caught in the middle of a dispute that Prague failed to solve on its own.
Finally, in September of 1938, Munich hosted the meeting of two dictators, German Führer Hitler and Italian Duce Mussolini, and the leaders of European democracies, French Prime Minister Daladier and British Prime Minister Chamberlain, who agreed to Czechoslovakia giving the Sudetenland to Germany.
Back to London, the British Prime Minister would say that he had brought «peace for their time.» But WWII broke out little more than a year later. Its scale was so huge that everyone forgets what it all started with. And it all started with Czechoslovakia, the events which are so anxiously similar to the current situation of infringing on the rights of compatriots speaking a different language in «New Europe.» Of course, Czechoslovakia was a complicated state in the then New Europe.
Less than a few months after Germany occupied the lands of ethnic Germans The Reich occupied the rest of Czechia, calling it the «Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia». The Poles took Teschen, as we've already said, the then nationalist Slavs were allowed to create their own puppet state, which, naively recognized by Stalin, also declared war on us in June 1941.
Moreover, as we know, Carpathian Ruthenia was part of Czechoslovakia, which is now the Zakarpattia Oblast of Ukraine. And what happened to it? Hungary claimed it and eventually occupied it. But there was also another option.
The Exhibition Hall of the State Archives of the Russian Federation in Moscow has opened an exhibition on documents that tell what actually happened in 1938. Much to our delight, the exhibition was attended not only by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov but also by the German ambassador. He's a very knowledgeable man, and thus much of the career was devoted not only to the Foreign Ministry but also to West Germany's intelligence. Today we will quote Soviet intelligence materials. Of course, everything must be treated critically. But the story about the consequences of the Munich Agreement regarding Ukraine didn't appear out of thin air. Pre-war Czechoslovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia felt submissive to Prague but after the Munich Agreements…
Let's see the story.
«To comrades Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, September 26th, 1938. The Ukrainian National Revival organization has been reported to have sent Hitler a telegram requesting self-determination of Ukrainian Transcarpathia in Czechoslovakia The main points of the plan are to divert Germany's attention from the British colonies to creating an independent Ukrainian state with the subsequent division of Romania and the annexation of Bukovina and Bessarabia to Transcarpathia. Beria, Deputy People's Commissar of Interior of the USSR».
You see, a sort of an «alternative Ukraine» was created. Is it surprising then that Stalin rushed to occupy these territories, including Bukovina and Bessarabia after his Pact was signed next year?
That is, is not the hypocritical Munich Agreements the base for the disreputation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Hitler and Stalin's Pact? Of course, it is.
Making public the encrypted message we've cited isn't opportunistic as it was made public back in 2011, long before the current Ukrainian crisis. This book called «Aggression» took it from the declassified materials of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia. But, of course, this message may be dismissed as one addressed to the tyrant Stalin and signed by the murderer Beria. Moreover, Soviet intelligence could have written anything to please them.
But today we'll show you more declassified documents from Soviet intelligence at that time. Shortly after the Munich Agreement, it was Ukraine that found itself in the focus of the Nazis. It's well illustrated that it all started with the Sudetenland, then inhabited by ethnic Germans.
Today the city-resort of Karlovy Vary is associated exclusively with the Czechia, the Czechs. And if only you carefully look into the local entourage, you may recall that the Sudetenland was once inhabited by ethnic Germans, while the city was called Carlsbad. Where are those Germans now? They were deported after the war. It was the revenge for 1938, which largely predetermined both the Second World War and something that Europe should also remember today.
And now people drink mineral water from these cups in Karlovy Vary. We'll try it today. Now that the Czechia has turned from a border state to the «rear» of the European Union and NATO, everything seems to be okay. Only the descendants of the deported Germans come to Karlovy Vary periodically threatening to make claims for lost property, not recognizing today's borders.
Experts argue that the water in Karlovy Vary should be drunk in small sips, but quickly before the healing properties go out with the bubbles. We are also to address several sources of information before history erases all the memories of the events which took place here, in the Sudetenland, in 1938.
The first source is the photos showing swastikas on the clothes of Germans, deported from here in 1945. The Czechs had reason to take vengeance on those who even hadn't taken to the streets in 1938 to welcome the Reich in the Sudetenland. But the pre-war Czechoslovak government also did a lot to deter their «different» compatriots.
— What is the original sin of the Munich agreements?
Vit Smetana, Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences:
— It depends on which side you look at the roles of the main participants in the 1938 drama. Of course, there were certain problems between the German minority in the Sudetenland and the leadership and the other citizens of Czechoslovakia. There is no doubt that the German minority of Czechoslovakia constantly felt that its role in the life of Czechoslovakia was not what it wanted.
— In particular, their language rights.
— Yes, their right to speak their own language.
We're talking with Czech historian Vit Smetana. The Czechs were not even invited to the Munich talks, but just informed about their results.
Vit Smetana: «Of course, this was arrogant of the leading powers».
We're at MGIMO in Moscow meeting the long-term chairman of the MGIMO History Examining Committee Mikhail Narinsky.
Mikhail Narinsky: «It was bad practice born during the interwar period when the fate of small states was decided by the great powers behind the backs of the people of those states. Czechoslovakia was basically doomed by Munich.»
To complete the picture, let's go to the recent London conference on the matter. Curiously enough, only Churchill's former archivist Pierce Brandon mentioned that Czechoslovakia, I quote, «was sacrificed.» The others were speaking about the interests of the superpowers. For example, John Charmley from the University of East Anglia was categorical: Britain didn't want war, and the only feasible policy was the policy of appeasement.
— What was that quote..? «A quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing».
Vit Smetana: Right, that's what Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said on September 27th a day before all of whole Europe expected Germany to start a war. The information was false. On that fateful evening, Chamberlain said in the BBC broadcast: «How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is, that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.» Today, those words are considered a proof of his foolishness political shortsightedness and so on. But that's how the majority of the British felt.
By agreeing to discuss the fate of Czechoslovakia with the Nazis but without the Czechoslovaks Chamberlain was obviously trying to divert the attention of Germany and Italy to Eastern Europe to make them forget about their claims to the British colonies. What were his guarantees?
From the Soviet intelligence report: Top secret. To Comrade Voroshilov from the People's Commissariat of Defense. The Reichswehr permits them to implement the Ukrainian project.
But the most important part wasn't the report of the Soviet agent deployed abroad but the intercepted message of the Finnish Embassy in London:
«Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Beck openly said that the goal of Polish foreign policy is to resist the ambitions of Germany and prevent the creation of an independent Ukrainian state».
On the other hand, Poland's plans for Czechoslovakia were quite certain. A year later, in September of 1939, the German attack on Poland started the WWII. However, in late 1938, Poland was an aggressor rather than a victim. Germany occupied Sudeten and Warsaw gladly swiped the whole Tĕšin region.
Mikhail Narinsky: «Czechoslovakia was the victim of not only German pressure but also the pressure of its Eastern European neighbors».
Vit Smetana: «Poland stabbed it in the back, no doubt».
Let's go to today's Czechia. There's another spring in Karlovy Vary. Here's another spring, by the way. Ah, it's steaming. Looks like it's pretty hot. It's really hot.
The Soviet agents in France referenced the statement of the member of the French Parliament Monsieur Rétro: Those playing the Ukrainian card lose the Russian friendship. I'm not talking about the friendship with the USSR I'm talking about all Russians.
For pre-war France, Moscow was the capital that signed a mutual assistance agreement with Paris. Prague also signed such agreements with Paris and Moscow. At the recent London conference, another British historian, Glyn Stone claimed that the Soviet Union wasn't ready to save Czechoslovakia.
— What about the Russian and Czech historians?
Vit Smetana: The USSR was an unacceptable partner primarily for Hitler but also for Mussolini and Chamberlain. The British attitude towards the USSR began to change only in the spring of 1939. Yes, now, we can condemn the British shortsightedness but let's not forget the horrible repressions in the USSR in the same years. Stalin is responsible for that.
Mikhail Narinsky: «The West was closely following everything that was happening in the Soviet Union and believed that the Red Army was weak and incapable of serious resistance and couldn't have a decisive influence on the course of the events in Europe».
Professor Narinsky shared another reason why the USSR wasn't invited to Munich.
Mikhail Narinsky: «The idea was pretty clear. The idea to exclude the Soviet Union and the Soviet leaders from European and global matters».
After Munich, Litvinov, who supported the alliance with Britain, France, and America which was later formed anyway as the anti-Hitler coalition was succeeded by Molotov as the People's Commissar for Foreign Relations. Under Stalin's guidance, he built relations with Germany instead of Britain and France. We all know the rest. But why did they choose Germany back then?
The Moscow agents made it clear that London and Paris decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. Ah, Europe's always been a complicated region. It ended on the Vltava river at Prague Castle in Czechoslovakia.
Here's Prague Castle. It used to be the residence of the Holy Roman Emperors. After that, it belonged to Czechoslovak (and now Czech) Presidents who had a hard time indeed. 1938 — the German invasion. 1968 — the Soviet invasion. East German soldiers also used to march along these streets. Imagine what the locals used to think about Germans.
However, as paradoxical as it might sound, everything began with the ambassadors of the democratic nations coming to Prague Castle.
— What else can we see through the ocular of history?
Vit Smetana: At 3:00 AM on September 21st French Ambassador Delacroix and British Ambassador Newton brought President Beneš a plan to exchange his lands for peace. On the same day, Czechoslovakia officially accepted the proposal. It's a fact. It happened eight days before the Munich conference.
— So it was Britain and its allies who pushed that, not Germany?
— Yes, yes.
Could Moscow save Czechoslovakia with Poland and Romania in the way between them? They weren't so eager about letting Soviet troops march through their territories. And how serious were Moscow's intentions that saw how Europe hypocritically ignored the Austrian Anschluss?
Vit Smetana: “I would quote Winston Churchill describing the role of the USSR in that crisis: «It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.» What we know for sure is that Moscow was receiving accurate information from all key European institutions, including the British Foreign Office. Soviet spies were everywhere.
An extract from operation report #718. December 17th, 1938.
«The source claims that the Reichswehr decided to pick the lesser of two evils. They believe that implementing the Ukrainian project is currently less dangerous than attacking France, causing Britain to intervene».
The following events revealed that the sides captive to numerous stereotypes of each other and only the big war dotted all the i's, although temporarily. Today's Sudeten and the city of Karlovy Vary are peaceful and calm.
But Europe keeps clinging to the old. Or in contrast, perhaps their historic memory is too short.
Vesti on Saturday, Sudeten.