The Sudeten in Macedonia
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author
Bernard Kouchner, the former administrator of Kosovo, has warned against producing a a second Cyprus in Macedonia. He probably meant a territory divided along ethnic lines by a foreign army. But here the comparison ends. The ethnically cleansing invading Turkish army was not invited by both parties to the conflict in Cyprus to make peace. The Turks were reacting to a military coup by members of the majority Greek-Cypriot community in cahoots with a vicious junta in Athens and to a series of deadly inter-communal clashes. If MFOR ever makes it, it will be by the will and invitation of both Macedonians and Albanians.
Other have called the smuggling routes used by Albanian fighters to haul weapons and supplies the Ho Chi Minh trail and the reconciliation agreement, imposed by the West, Macedonia's Treaty of Versailles.
But what could fast become the dominant metaphor is Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten Germans. Ostensibly, the resemblance is striking. A small country with a belligerent and violent minority concentrated in its north western parts - sacrificed by an appeasing and war weary West to mollify a brutal neighbouring regime run by the minority's ethnic group.
No metaphor is perfect. Czechoslovakia was an artificial multi-ethnic creation (as its disintegration after 1992 has proven). Macedonia is much more homogeneous ethnically. Czechoslovakia was an industrial and military powerhouse (the 7th largest industrial producer in the world). Even the Germans were deterred by its well equipped and well trained army. Macedonia is low on military hardware and militarily inexperienced. The Sudeten Germans were pawns in Hitler's nefarious plan to conquer Eastern Europe as a much needed lebensraum for the Nordic race. The NLA is financed and controlled by Albanians in the West - but Albania, Macedonia's neighbour, is a relatively democratic and EU-orientated country. While it allows the guerrillas to train in its territory, to offload weapons in its ports, and to cross its borders with impunity - it is by far NOT a Balkanian version of Nazi Germany.
Allowing for these caveats, the similarities are startling.
Czechoslovakia was the reification of Wilson's naively detrimental principle of self-determination. It incorporated the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, including more than 3 million Germans in what used to be Austrian Silesia. These Germans were transformed overnight from members of the ruling majority in the Austrian Empire to a feared minority subjected to subtle forms of discrimination in their new country. The German region - the Sudeten - in western Czechoslovakia, bordered on Germany and Austria, where Germans ruled and German was spoken. Czechoslovakia refused to grant this restless and hostile minority an autonomy, lest it secedes, joins Hitler's "Great Reich", and deprives Czechoslovakia of important industrial and mineral assets and its rail links to northern Europe. Losing the Sudeten also meant losing Czechoslovakia's ability to defend itself against an ever more imminent German invasion.
The worsening economic situation in the Depression prone 1930's - unemployment, closure of loss makers, inflation - radicalized the Sudeten Germans. Support for Hitler and his pan-Germanic policies increased with every bloodless and bold victory: the militarization of the Rhineland and the Anschluss (unification with Austria). The extremist Sudeten German party, led by the puppet Konrad Henlein, blossomed after 1938.
Henlein collaborated with Germany to cause the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, "this French air carrier in Europe's midst", in Hitler's words. They demanded civil and human rights and, above all, the ability to exercise the right to self-determination enshrined in numerous international treaties. The status of the German language was a major issue as was the local participation of Germans in the police forces and army. Henlein's instructions were - and I am quoting Hitler: "You must always demand so much that you cannot be satisfied". Hitler's worst fear was that Czechoslovakia will accept ALL the demands of its bellicose minority (as, indeed, it did a few times during this artificially provoked crisis).
"Spontaneous" demonstrations, protests, and riots erupted all over the Sudetenland. The Czechoslovaks were described by Hitler - and many in the West - as intransigent racists, bigots, and bullies. The French and Brits - their armies and economies unprepared for war, their leadership traumatized by the Great (first world) War, their politicians unabashed appeasers - pressured Czechoslovakia to make one unpalatable concession after another. Finally, they weighed on Czechoslovakia to make concessions which endangered its very existence, territorial integrity, unitary character, and sovereignty. In this campaign of brutish intimidation of the Czechoslovaks, the West - Germany, Britain, France, and Italy - collaborated fully and willingly, regardless of other differences. Britain and France effectively annulled their mutual defence pacts with helpless and hapless Czechoslovakia. Bonnet, France's Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time warned the Czechoslovaks not to be "unreasonable". Otherwise, he warned, France will "consider herself released from her bonds". Halifax, the British Foreign Minister, instructed his Ambassador in Paris about the "importance of putting the greatest possible pressure on Dr. Benes (Czechoslovakia's president - SV) without delay".
The Sudeten Germans, without waiting for the results of the world-class diplomatic efforts on their behalf, have established militias and commenced military urban guerrilla actions. Lethal clashes followed between Czechs and Germans in mixed towns. An "independent" British mediator - Lord Runciman - was dispatched to arm twist the Czechoslovaks. His instructions were to prevent war at any cost - especially to Czechoslovakia. "We will use the big stick on Benes" - warned Cadogan, permanent under-secretary in the British Foreign Office.
Henlein had his instructions from Berlin to sabotage the negotiations with the Czechoslovak government, which he did faithfully by constantly raising new demands or old, discredited ones. On September 4, 1938, an exasperated President Benes accepted all the German conditions without exception. This was rejected by both Henlein and Hitler as "too late". An idea of referendum in the Sudetenland (guaranteed to yield unification with Germany) was rebuffed by Hitler.
Finally, the French and the British presented this ultimatum to democratic, multiethnic Czechoslovakia, on September 22, 1938:
"One - That which has been proposed by England and France
is the only hope of averting war and the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Two - Should the Czechoslovak Republic reply in the negative, she will bear the responsibility for war.
Three - This would destroy Franco-English solidarity, since England would not march.
Four - If under these circumstances the war starts, France will not take part; i.e., she will not fulfil her treaty obligations."
(Quoted from: Donald Kagan - On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace - Doubleday, New York, 1995 - p. 399).
Benes accepted this ultimatum as well but Hitler again demurred. Now he demanded that German troops occupy parts of Czechoslovakia to protect rioting Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovak retribution. In the Munich Conference of the leaders of the West these demands were essentially accepted and Czechoslovakia was no more. Hitler conquered it, in stages, and assimilated it in the German Reich.
Why did the West behave so duplicitously and treacherously?
The infamous British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain made this radio address to the British people in the heat of the crisis:
"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing ... However much we sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbours, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues that that."
(September 27, 1938 - ibid., p. 402)