Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/30


Secretary’s Notes of a Conversation Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Wednesday, 5 February, 1919, at 3 p.m.

  • Present
    • America, United States of
      • President Wilson
      • Mr. R. Lansing
      • Mr. A. H. Frazier
      • Mr. L. Harrison
      • Lieut. Burden
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
      • The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, M. P.
      • Lt. Col. Sir M. P. A. Hankey
      • Captain E. Abraham
      • Mr. E. Phipps
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau
      • M. Pichon
      • M. Dutasta
      • M. Berthelot
      • M. de Bearn
      • Capt. Portier
    • Italy
      • M. Orlando
      • Baron Sonnino
      • Count Aldrovandi
      • Major Jones
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino
      • H. E. M. Matsui
      • M. Saburi

Present During Discussion of Czecho-Slovak Question

  • America, United States of
    • Major Bonsal
    • Mr. Dulles
    • Mr. Seymour
  • British Empire
    • Mr. H. Nicolson
    • Mr. A. Leeper
  • Czecho-Slovakia
    • M. Benes
    • M. Kramartz
  • Italy
    • Count Vannutelli

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1. Nominees for Greek Committee M. Clemenceau, in opening the meeting, asked for the names of the delegates appointed by the various Powers to serve on the Greek Committee.

The following names were given:—

United States of America Mr Westermann.
Mr. Day.
British Empire Sir Robert Borden.
Sir Eyre Crowe.
France M. Jules Cambon.
M. Gout.
Italy M. de Martino.
Colonel Castoldi.

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(At this stage Dr. Kramartz and M. Benes and the technical advisers entered the room).

2. Czecho-Slovak Territorial Claims M. Benes said that, before beginning to expound the Czechoslovak problem, he would like to declare what were the principles guiding Czecho-Slovak policy. The movement culminating in the formation of an independent Czechoslovak State had begun 3½ years ago. The agitation had been carried on by scattered exiles in the various Allied countries. There was, at that time, no Government and no organised political body. In 3 years these exiles had succeeded, with the help of the population remaining at home, in putting up a Central Government and a political organisation which was vital, and, with the help of the Allies, three armies in the field.

Before dealing with the question of the future frontiers of this new State, he would like to recall that the Czecho-Slovak people had shown a practical sense of politics which had won for them the recognition of the Allies. He would also like to recall that, in all these years, the Nation had been entirely united. It had never hesitated to side with the Allies in the interests of democracy. It had not fought for territory, but for the same principles as the Allied Nations. It had risen against a mediaeval Dynasty backed by bureaucracy, militarism, the Roman Catholic Church, and, to some extent, by high finance. The Nation had plunged into this struggle without asking for any guarantees or weighing the probabilities of success. All the Nation wanted was to control its own destinies. The Nation felt itself to be a European Nation and a member of the Society of the Western States.

In seeking now to shape the Czecho-Slovak State, the very same principles would be their guide. They would adopt the European and human point of view, and base their claims on the very principles the Conference was assembled to establish.

The Nation, after 300 years of servitude and vicissitudes which had almost led to its extermination, felt that it must be prudent, reasonable and just to its neighbours; and that it must avoid provoking jealousy and renewed struggles which might again plunge it into similar danger. It was in this spirit that he wished to explain the territorial problem.

(i) The Four Provinces of Czechoslovakia M. Benes, continuing, said that the first territorial question was that of the four provinces, Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian Silesia and Slovakia. These territories were claimed for ethno-graphical reasons. They contained 10 millions of the Nation.

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(ii) Historical Considerations The first three had been one State from the sixth Century. The Czech Dynasty had lasted until 1747, when a unitary form of government had prevailed against federalist and national tendencies. In 1526, the Hapsburgs had been elected Kings of Bohemia, and, though, up to the present time they had de jure recognized Czech Institutions, they had begun from that date to centralize power. Czech independence might be said to have lasted until 1747. Since then, though the Juridical existence of the State continued to be acknowledged, it had no practical significance. Hence the Czech Insurrection in 1848 and that which had coincided with the beginning of this war.

Historical considerations, though not the predominant factor at the present time, must be accorded some weight, in as much as they; very deeply affected public opinion. It was these old historical causes that armed the Czech people against the Germanic masses around them. Three times the Czech people had rebelled, not merely against Germanism but against a system of aristocratic and Roman Catholic privilege; three times the nation had been overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the German peoples. At the end of the 17th Century, after the great battle of the White Mountain, the Czech people had practically ceased to exist. It was reanimated only at the end of the 18th Century by the French Revolutibh. Since then the Nation had worked so hard that, at the beginning of the 20th century, it was industrially, intellectually and politically, the most developed community in Central Europe. Throughout the 19th Century whenever the Czech people had attempted to free themselves it was always the appeal to history that had inspired them.

(iii) Exposed Situation of Czecho-Slovakia M. Benes said that he must draw attention to the exposed situation of the Czecho-Slovak nation. It was the advanced guard of the Slav world in the West, and therefore constantly situation of threatened by German expansion. The Germanic mass, now numbering some 80 millions, could not push westwards as its road was blocked on that side by highly developed nations. It was, therefore, always seeking outlets to the south and to the east. In this movement it found the Poles and the Czechs in its path. Hence the special importance of the Czecho-Slovak frontiers in Central Europe. It might be hoped that the Germans would not again attempt forcible invasions, but they had done so in the past so often that the Czechs had always felt they had a special mission to resist the Teutonic flood. Hence the fanatical devotion of the Czechs which had been noticed by all in this war. It was due to the constant feeling of the Czechs that they were the protectors of democracy against Germanism, and that it was their duty at all times to fight the Germans.

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(iv) German Element in Bohemia The first territorial claim of the Czechs was to Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia, which formed a geographical and ethnographical whole. However, there were some 2,400,000 Germans in Bohemia according to Austrian official statistics. The presence of these Germans was the result of centuries of infiltration and colonisation. The statistics, however, were official statistics drawn up with a deliberate political purpose. It was easy to prove their mendacity. The Czech figures showed that the Austrian census exaggerated the number of Germans in Bohemia by 800,000 or a million. The Czech statistics had been very carefully made. When the Austrian census in 1910 was under preparation, State and Municipal authorities sent to each village in the mixed districts warnings that the census would be established on the lines of spoken language not of mother tongue. If, therefore, a workman conversed in German with his employer, he was set down as a German, under pain of losing his employment and of being evicted from his home. The same method had been employed in the territories of other mixed populations in the Austro-Hungarian Kingdom. According to Czech calculations there were about 1,500,000 Germans in Bohemia.

Mr. Lloyd George asked when the previous census had taken place.

M. Benes replied that it had been in 1900, and that the same methods had been employed and the same results obtained.

President Wilson asked how many Czechs there were in Bohemia.

M. Benes replied that in Bohemia itself there were 4,500,000.

He wished to add that in the Bohemian territory represented as German there was also an autochthonous Czech population representing about one-third of the whole. To this must be added the fluctuations of the industrial population. He explained by the help of a map the progress of the German encroachments on Bohemia. Four distinct spheres could be distinguished, and it was noticeable that the greatest German advance had always taken place after the defeat of the Czech nation. The most notable encroachment had occurred at the end of the 17th and during the 18th Centuries. The progress had been checked in the 19th Century and in the 20th a beginning of the reversal of the process had been noticeable. It was on these considerations that the Czechs founded their claim to the restoration of the land taken from them.

(v) Economic Arguments The best argument, however, on which to establish the rights of the Czechs was of an economic order. The Czecho-German parts of Bohemia contained nearly the whole of the industries Arguments of the country. Bohemia as a whole was the strongest industrial portion of Austria-Hungary. It possessed 93% of the [Page 880] sugar industry (it was the fourth sugar producing country in the world). The whole of the glass works of Austria-Hungary were on Czecho-Slovak territory. It possessed 70% of the textile industry, 70% of the metal industry, 55% of the brewing, and 60% of the alcohol production. Nearly all these industries were on the confines of Bohemia in the mixed territory. Without the peripheral areas Bohemia could not live. The centre of the country was agricultural, and the two parts were so interdependent that neither could exist without the other. If the Germans were to be given the outer rim of Bohemia they would also possess the hinterland. Most of the workmen on which these industries depended were of Czech nationality. In particular, the mining regions attracted large numbers of Czechs. The whole country was really homogeneous, and must remain united.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired what the reasons might be which led to the concentration of industries on the edges of the country.

M. Benes replied, that the presence of water-power, coal and minerals explained it.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired whether the population engaged in these industries was German or Czech.

M. Benes replied that the majority was Czech, but that the employers were chiefly German. However, since the educational movement in Bohemia, the professional and middle classes among the Czechs were rising in importance and had begun to compete with the Germans as employers of labour.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired at what date the educational movement among the Czechs had begun.

M. Benes replied that it began in 1880.

Mr. Balfour enquired whether the majority of the employers was still German.

M. Benes replied that this was so, but that the majority was diminishing. It was the economic aspect of the Czech national movement which had most alarmed the Germans and Magyars. They saw that this movement would be irresistible, and this consideration had precipitated the war.

He would add one more point. The Bohemian Germans fully understood their position. Whether they were bourgeois, workmen or peasants, they all realised that they must remain in Bohemia. They said freely in their Chambers of Commerce that they would be ruined if they were enclosed in Germany. The competition of the great German industries was such that they could not possibly survive. They were prevented from making open declaration of this feeling because they were terrorised by a small number of Pan-German agitators from Vienna. It was not the Germans of Germany proper [Page 881] that exercised any pressure on them, but only the Germans of Austria, for it had always been a deliberate policy of the Austrians to set German and Czech against one another.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether the area in question had been represented in the Reichsrat by German deputies.

M. Benes replied in the affirmative, and explained that the voting areas were so contrived as to give the Germans a majority. Nevertheless, in two such districts, the Czechs had put up candidates of their own who obtained substantial minorities in their favour.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired whether the inhabitants of these districts, if offered the choice, would vote for exclusion from the Czechoslovak State or for inclusion.

M. Benes replied that they would vote for exclusion, chiefly through the influence of the Social Democratic Party, which thought that the Germans would henceforth have a Social Democratic regime. The Czech Government was a coalition Government, and was regarded by them as bourgeois. It would be for reasons of this kind and for nationalist reasons, rather than for economic reasons, that the German Bohemians would be likely to adhere to their fellow-countrymen outside Bohemia.

Mr. Balfour asked whether the German manufacturers in Bohemia were protected by tariffs against the competition of German manufacturers in Germany.

Dr. Kramartz replied that this was so, and that without such protection they could not have resisted the competition at all. He added that the Germans would be very pleased to have this territory added to theirs, as it would afford them an outlet for their products, which in many parts of the world would for a long time be denied them.

M. Benes said that to close the question of the German Bohemians, he wished to lay down that the Czecho-Slovak Government had no intention to oppress them. It was intended to grant them full minority rights, and it was fully realised that it would be political folly not to do so. All necessary guarantees would be accorded to this minority.

(vi) Teschen M. Benes said that on the subject of Teschen he would be brief, as the problem had been previously dealt with. He had then stated the problem from its economic side. He would like the problem to add that the Czech argument was strong on ethnographical grounds, also. Austrian official statistics were false, and for political reasons favoured both Poles and Germans at the expense of Czechs. The reason for this was that since 1848, and especially since 1867, the whole Czecho-Slovak population had always been in opposition to the Government. The Germans and the Poles, who [Page 882] in Austria had been far better treated than in Germany or Russia, had been supporters of the Government. In consequence, the census exaggerated the numbers of Poles to the detriment of the Czechs. 50 years ago official life in Teschen had been Czech. When the industrial exploitation of the country began, cheap labour, mostly Polish, had been introduced. Of the 230,000 Poles set down in the Census as living in the country, at least 50,000 were really domiciled in Galicia. If these were deducted, the Poles were a minority as opposed to 115,000 Czechs and 80,000 Germans. The territory was not Polish. Teschen itself was a German town, and the industrial and mining parts of the country were really occupied by a Czech population. The inhabitants of the mountains in the South spoke a half Czech and half Polish patois. North of them the people were German. Still further North they declared themselves to be Silesians. The people as a whole, if given the choice, would elect to join the Czecho-Slovaks rather than the Polish state, as being the richer of the two, and the one which offered the greater likelihood of order and freedom. This certainly applied to all the Germans and Jews in the country.

Mr. Lansing asked whether this was the locality concerning which President Masaryk had said that the population was not ready for a plebiscite.

M. Benes said that he had no information about any such statement. He thought it unlikely, as in his opinion a plebiscite would certainly result in favour of the Czechs. He also wished to point out that the coal in Teschen was absolutely essential to the development of Czecho-Slovak industry. Bohemia before the war had bought 470 million Kroners worth of coal from German Silesia. Teschen supplied the coal most suitable for Czech industries. By losing this region the Czecho-Slovak State would lose one of the essential things on which its life depended. The whole Teschen area was one geological whole. The coal-field had not been entirely explored. It extended across the Vistula, and the Czecho-Slovak State claimed the whole basin. Nothing less could ensure its industrial revival, and this claim could not be given up.

Moreover, the only important railway linking up Bohemia, Moravia and Northern Slovakia passed through Teschen. Slovakia was economically backward, and could only be developed by means of this railway. This territory also contained the only pass through the mountains affording connection between Silesia, Moravia and Slovakia.

(vii) Rectification of Present Frontiers of Bohemia, Moravia & Silesia M. Benes said that certain alterations in the existing frontiers [Page 883] were required, mostly for economic reasons, but also with the object of including outlying Czech towns within the State, and in particular he wished to mention the Moravia & district of Ratibor, in Prussian Silesia. Ethnographically the Czechs spread beyond the frontier of Austria into Prussian Silesia. The people called themselves Moravians, but it was for economic reasons that this district was claimed. It was a continuation of the Teschen coal-fields. The town of Ratibor was populated in the proportion of 60 per cent by Germans, and the regulation of their status would be a subject for the Committee. Ratibor Districts

Country of Glatz The next subject was that of the County of Glatz, which intruded into the corner of the Czecho-Slovak territory. Some wished to annex the whole of this territory, and some only a part of it. Historically, it was Czech, and had been yielded by Austria to Germany in 1867. He did not wish to be uncompromising about this area, but for national and economic reasons some portion of it should be included in the Czecho-Slovak State.

(viii) Slovakia M. Benes said that Slovakia had at one time formed part of the Czecho-Slovak State. It had been over-run by the Magyars at the beginning of the 10th Century. The conquerors had attempted without success to magyarise the country. The population still felt Czech, and wished to belong to the new state. There was never any suggestion of separatism in Slovakia. The same language, the same ideas and the same religion prevailed. Slovak national enthusiasm had been bred by antagonism to the Magyars.

The Northern frontier of the Slovaks was formed by the Carpathians; their Southern frontier by the Danube. From the southward bend of the Danube to the River Theiss the frontier was partly natural and partly artificial. It was bound to include many Magyars, and this constituted a problem which must be solved by the Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George expressed the opinion that no doubt existed about the claim to Slovakia proper. If this were so, he would suggest that Dr. Benes should confine his remarks to the doubtful points.

(It was generally agreed that the claim to Slovakia presented no difficulties, and that the only points requiring elucidation referred to the frontiers with Hungary.)

(ix) Danube Frontier M. Benes, resuming, said that the Danube frontier was claimed as a matter of principle. Slovakia was a Danubian country. At the time of the Magyar invasion the Slovaks had Frontier occupied the whole of Pannonia. The Magyars had [Page 884] thrust the Slovak populations into the mountains, and after clearing them from the right bank of the Danube had come into contact with the Germans. On the left bank the Slav population had not been exterminated. They had remained on the land, though they had become more or less magyarised. The deepest strata of the population in the villages on the Northern side were Slovak. Only the upper strata artificially superposed were Hungarian.

There was also a very cogent economic reason for the Danube frontier. The Czecho-Slovak State would have no direct access to the sea. It was surrounded on three sides by Germans and on the fourth by Magyars. It was an industrial country, and absolutely required some access to the sea. The Danube internationalised would afford them this access. It would become the base of the economic life of the State. This was a geographical necessity, and the new State could not survive without it.

Mr. Lloyd George asked what percentage of Slovaks inhabited the Danubian regions.

M. Benes replied that in taking over this region the Czechoslovak State would be including some 350,000 Magyars. He again pointed out that the country had been forcibly magyarised. These figures applied to the area between Pressburg and Vaitzen. He would add that on the other side of the river there were many scattered communities of Slovaks. For instance in the region of Budapest there were as many as 150,000. These would be abandoned in compensation for the Hungarians absorbed.

M. Sonnino asked what proportion the Slovaks represented as opposed to the Hungarians.

M. Benes replied that this varied according to the district. The districts on which statistics were based had been traced from North to South and thus made to comprise strong Magyar majorities. He estimated that in the districts to which he referred the Slovak population represented 60 per cent but it was difficult to make a trustworthy estimate, as these areas had never been used as districts for census purposes.

President Wilson asked whether communal statistics could be obtained and whether it was a fact that the Slovak population only touched the Danube at Pressburg.

M. Benes replied that it reached the Danube also North of Budapest, but he admitted that the greater part of the riverain population was Magyar.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether the rivers passing through Slovakia were navigable.

M. Benes replied that only the Vah was navigable, but only half way up its course.

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M. Kramartz said that an attempt was being made to render the Morava navigable and a great development of canal communication was in project, which would connect the North Sea through the Elbe with the Black Sea through the Danube. These communications would pass through Czecho-Slovak territory.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether, if the territories claimed declared themselves Magyar, free access to the internationalised route of the Danube through the rivers of Slovakia would satisfy M. Benes.

M. Benes replied that these rivers were not at present navigable, with the exception of the Vah. The whole of Slovakia would be cut off from the Danube.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether, if Czecho-Slovakia obtained access by railway to fixed points on the Danube, this would satisfy them.

M. Benes replied that the valley and the uplands were so interdependent that great disorganisation would ensue on their separation. These territories lived by the exchange of industrial and agricultural necessaries. The uplands of Slovakia were industrial and the valley was agricultural.

(x) Frontier Between Danube and Ung M. Benes said that the claim for this frontier was dictated by railway communications. The mountains ran from North to South and there was little communication from East to West.

It was therefore necessary to include the only railway offering lateral communication. He admitted that a considerable Hungarian population would thus be brought in to the Czechoslovak State, but he would point out that the Hungarian census was even worse than the Austrian. As a whole, 250,000 Magyars would be included, while 350,000 Slovaks would be left out. In all, 650,000 Hungarians would become subjects of the new State, while 450,000 Czecho-Slovaks would remain within Hungary. Racial confusion in Hungary owing to the savage persecutions of the past, was very great.

The Slovaks had been particularly oppressed, and even Kossuth had said that the Slovaks could not be granted the franchise. Magyars freely said that the Slovaks were not men. Out of 2,300 officials in Slovakia only 17 had been Slovaks. Out of 1,700 judges only one had been Slovak, and out of 2,500 Collectors of Taxes only 10 had been Slovaks. In consequence nearly one third of the Slovak population had emigrated to the United States of America. Others had left their homes and settled in places in Hungary where it was easier to make a living, which accounted for the 90,000 Slovaks found near Budapest, and the 80,000 round Debreczin.

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(xi) Ruthenes in Hungary M. Benes said that it remained for him to draw attention of the conference to certain suggestions which were not to be considered claims made on behalf of Czecho-Slovakia.

The first of these suggestions related to the Ruthenes in Hungary. Next to the Slovaks and to the East of them, was a territory inhabited by Ruthenes.

These Ruthenes were the same stock as the Ruthenes of Eastern Galicia, from whom they were divided by the Carpathians. They were close neighbours to the Slovaks, socially and economically similar to them, and there were even transitional dialects between their language and that of Slovakia. They did not wish to remain under Hungarian control and proposed to form an autonomous state in close federation with Czecho-Slovakia. They numbered about 450,000. It would be unjust to leave them to the tender mercies of the Magyars, and though Czecho-Slovakia made no claim on their behalf, he had undertaken to put their case before the Conference. If Eastern Galicia became Russian it would be dangerous to bring Russia South of the Carpathians. If Eastern Galicia became Polish, the Poles themselves would not wish to include this population. It followed therefore that this people must either be Hungarian or autonomous. If the latter, they wished to be federated to the Czecho-Slovak State. This would impose a burden on Czecho-Slovakia, but would afford them the advantage of a common frontier with the Roumanians.

(xii) Serbs of Lusatia A similar problem was that of the Serbs of Lusatia numbering from 150,000 to 160,000. These people were the remnant of the Slav population which at one time extended as far as Lübeck. With the exception of this group, that population had been germanised. These Serbs lived independently in the Spreewald. They were nearest to the Czechs, and had begged him to present their problem to the Conference. These Serbs desired to be autonomous under Czech protection, but the Czechs made no claim on this subject, and even thought it might be dangerous for them to undertake this mission. He thought, however, that the Conference should examine the problem. It was a moral rather than a political matter. The country had once belonged to Bohemia, and had become German territory in 1867. It was situated only 6 kilometres from the Bohemian frontier.

(xiii) Communication With the Adriatic M. Benes said that in order to free itself from the grip of the Germans and Magyars the Czecho-Slovak State wished to establish close relations with the Yugo-Slavs and with Italy. The nearest sea to the Czecho-Slovak territory was the Adriatic. He thought that by means of a small territory either under the Czech or Yugo-Slav Government, or under the [Page 887] League of Nations, means of communication would be best established. A railway line alone, with territory on either side of it would, he thought, be insufficient. He would suggest that this territory should be marked out on the confines of the Germans and the Magyars. It would thus furnish a corridor between Czecho-Slovakia and Yugoslavia.

This was merely a suggestion put forward for consideration with reference to the general principle adopted by the Conference.

The Czecho-Slovak Government had no wish to hamper the purposes of the Conference. They wished to do all in their power to assist a just and durable peace.

(The following resolution was then adopted:—

That the questions raised in the statement by M. Benes on the Czechoslovak territorial interests in the Peace Settlement shall be referred for examination in the first instance to an expert Committee composed of two representatives each of the United States of America, the British Empire, France and Italy.

It shall be the duty of this Committee to reduce the questions for decision within the narrowest possible limits and make recommendations for a just settlement.

The Committee is authorised to consult representatives of the peoples concerned.)

(The Meeting then adjourned.)