File No. 861.00/2346

The Ambassador in France ( Sharp ) to the Secretary of State

No. 6417

Sir: Referring to my telegram No. 4264 of June 21 [22], 1918, I have now the honor to transmit in substance more fully than would be warranted in a telegram, the statements of Prof. Edward Beneš, [Page 819] General Secretary of the Czecho-Slovak National Council having its headquarters in Paris.

In addition, I enclose three very interesting maps showing the location of the different peoples of Europe, the relative size of their territory, location of principal railways, etc.1 Inasmuch as Department’s telegram No. 4612 of June 18, 1918,2 referred to the previous recognition of the Czecho-Slovak National Council by the British and French Governments, I am pleased to enclose also copies of the correspondence bearing upon this subject between Professor Beneš and Mr. Balfour.3 The statements, especially those embraced in the memorandum to Mr. Balfour under date of May 10, 1918, may possess particular interest to those who are giving special study to the problems growing out of the Balkan situation.

After having sent my telegram No. 4264, I desired a further talk with Professor Beneš in order that I might confirm my recollection of some of his statements. For this purpose he came in a few days ago.

Informing me that he had been a professor of sociology and philosophy in the University of Prague, remaining there during the first fifteen months of the war, he gave me an outline of the purposes of the organization and a brief description of his native country, which he and his associates earnestly hope to see a republic, as one of the evolutions of the war.

Professor Beneš impressed me as being not only a scholarly man but one very familiar with the political history of Austria-Hungary. However, like the leaders of a number of other similar councils existing here in Paris and having for their object the attainment of certain aims for the country which they unofficially represent, I found him very uncompromising and unyielding as to the acceptance of any kind of a concession short of absolute independence of the authority of Austria-Hungary. Complete separation by geographical lines, as well as that of Government itself involving autonomy in all its political affairs, was demanded by him for the entire territory occupied by his people. He expressed the belief that, as a matter of fact, the power of Austria-Hungary would be less able to successfully oppose such a separation than would that of Germany, which, on account of her machinations, his people most feared.

While extolling the principles enunciated by President Wilson, particularly as they advocated justice and equality to the smaller powers, he yet voiced disappointment that the President, according [Page 820] to quotations which he had seen, had assured Austria that he did not aim at the dismemberment of that Empire. He expressed the opinion that complete autonomy for the Czecho-Slovak people could not come in any other way, except by dismemberment of what at present constitutes Austria-Hungary. The deep and evidently sincere conviction with which he made this assertion only served to the more greatly impress me with the difficulty of satisfactorily adjusting the Balkan problems which must be met at the close of the war.

The hopes engendered by the display of their undoubted patriotism and devotion to their own particular cause, and, withal, their sacrifices, would be raised very high by an Allied victory; with equal certainty it may be said that the manifestation of selfishness on their part which it will be hard to keep out of the consideration of their claims will but add to the embarrassment in harmoniously adjusting them.

While these people have a common interest in the aspirations of the Poles, and, in a way, have somewhat the same problems, yet this is probably more than can be said of the other contending smaller powers. Confidentially, I may say that at various times I have had brought to me through the accredited representatives of such peoples as the Montenegrins, the Serbians, the Yugo-Slavs, the Poles, the Czecho-Slovaks, and even from certain factors in Greece, complaints that disclose such a discord and such a fear of the aggressions of the larger Allied Powers as to give unmistakable signs of the gravity of the task of meeting these “after-the-war” problems.

It is perhaps not unnatural that the events growing out of each new conference of the larger Allied Powers held in Paris bring out a new crop of such fears. I would say again in confidence that probably the most disturbing question with which my Serbian colleague is just now concerned is the fear of the influence which Italy may exert at such conferences.

But if in turn—and the situation would be humorous if it were not so freighted with serious portent—Serbia fears the aggressions of Italy, the little mountain power of Montenegro fears the designs of Serbia; while at the conference of last November Greece was greatly concerned over the claims of Italy to the exercise of certain rights of control in her territory.

Within the past fortnight Mr. Vesnitch, the Serbian Minister, complained with much bitterness of the seeming willingness of Mr. Sonnino at the recent conference at Versailles to disregard the claims of his country and the Slav people to their “after-the-war” protection in dealing with Austria.

I have spoken only of the smaller Allied Powers. I need only add that one may not expect to find human nature very different when applied to those directing the destinies of the greater Powers.

[Page 821]

Explaining that there were at the present time about ten million of his people located in Bohemia, Moravia and northern Hungary—all of contiguous territory—he said that in many respects that country represented the wealth in natural resources and agricultural development of Austria-Hungary. In addition to the territory which they occupied being compact and embracing nearly 100,000 square miles—about twice the size of the State of New York, I believe—he stated that the people were united in civilization, language and culture. There are no Jews among them.

Austria-Hungary comes fourth in importance in regard to the coal mines of the whole world; 83 per cent of these mines are in Bohemia and Moravia. Ninety-three per cent of the sugar exported from Austria-Hungary (beet sugar) is also produced in these two provinces. The same remark applies to the manufacture of glass, metallurgical works and textiles, more than half the whole production emanating from these same regions—unwitting reasons, indeed, for Hungarian domination.

Professor Beneš stated also that at present his people are represented in the Reichstag in Vienna by 108 members who are distinctively Czechs. The headquarters of their political organization are at Prague, having a population there of 600,000 Czechs. He said that they already had a considerable army which was under the direction of his committee. From reports now coming in almost daily of the achievements of the Czech forces, consisting of former prisoners in Siberia, in waging war against the Bolshevik authorities, there would seem to be proof of his statements. He estimates that this army now in Russia, ranging along the Siberian railway, numbers from 80,000 to 90,000. It is intended that many of them will ultimately find their way to France, to become a part of the Czecho-Slovak forces on the western front.

I have [etc.]

Wm. G. Sharp
  1. Not reproduced.
  2. Ante, p. 814.
  3. Not printed; the substance of Mr. Balfour’s letter of June 3 to Professor Beneš is contained in the British Embassy’s memorandum of June 7, ante, p. 810.