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The First Czechoslovak Republic

On 29 February 1920, the National Assembly adopted the Czechoslovak constitution. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected president. His election in the next three presidential elections was acknowledgement of his merits in establishing the state. The protection of minorities was already stipulated in the peace treaties of Versailles. In view of the multinational makeup of the population, this was confirmed in the constitution of Czechoslovakia and in a language law, which was adopted along with the constitution.

Czechoslovakia based its foreign policy on its ally France, the strongest European state after the First World War. Three neighbouring states – Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania – responded to the last Austrian Emperor Charles I’s effort to assume power in Hungary by creating the so-called Little Entente defence alliance. Just like its main ally France, Czechoslovakia also concluded a treaty of alliance with the Soviet Union.

This happened in 1935, when Adolf Hitler had already been ruling in neighbouring Germany for two years. A hostile Germany represented a deadly threat to Czechoslovakia.  Consequently it began preparing for its defence in the second half of the 1930s. It built border fortifications according to France’s example. But an effective defence was made more difficult not only by the length of the common borders with Germany and the geographical shape of the state, but also by the large German minority, an overwhelming proportion of whom inclined towards Nazism.  They were represented by the Nazi and totalitarian Sudeten German Party led by Konrad Heinlein.

In negotiations with the Czechoslovak government on regulating the status of the German minority in Czechoslovakia, this party proceeded according to Adolf Hitler’s instructions with the principal aim of not coming to an agreement and thereby increasing international tensions in regard to the status of Germans in the republic.

Great Britain and France, paralysed by the experiences of the First World War and conscious of their own lack of preparedness for war, decided on a policy of making concessions to Germany. Great Britain, bound by a treaty of alliance with France, sent Lord Runciman on a mission to Prague.  In his final report, he inclined towards the Sudeten German side.