| Governmental Decree on Federalization of the Czechoslovak Republic|
Vládni nařízení o federalizaci Československé republiky
Vládni nariadenia o federalizáciu Československej republiky
|Drafted||27 September 1938|
| 27 September 1938|
|Effective||28 September 1938|
|Languages||Czech, Slovak, German|
- The Czechoslovak Government confirms its compliance with the Anglo-French proposals agreed to on 21 September 1938, in which the Czechoslovak State will agree transfers of territory with over 50 per cent of German inhabitants to the German Reich through plebiscite or direct transfer, pending similar approval of the Government of the German Reich. The following determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission including Czech representatives.
- The Czechoslovak Republic will henceforth be arranged as a federal state based on the relationship of two equal constituent nations, Czechs and Slovaks.
- The state will be controlled by a unified government and one president. Constitutional power will be practically applied to a bicameral parliament. The state will have responsibility for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Defence, finance, management of public debt and raising loans for the common needs of the state.
- In other matters the Czechs and Slovakia managed by their own governments and their own parliaments, with representation of all national minorities.
- In addition to this arrangement the following autonomous regions will be established:
- On the territory of Bohemia and Moravia: The German Autonomous Region (in areas with between 25% and 50% German inhabitants) and the Polish Autonomous Region (comprising the territory of Těšín and Silesia)
- On the territory of Slovakia: Ruthenian Autonomous Region (comprising the territory of the Carpathian Rus) and the Hungarian Autonomous Region (comprising the territories of southern Slovakia).
This constitutional decree has been adopted by the National Assembly of the Czechoslovak Republic, will be followed without delay to begin talks with political and cultural representatives of the aforementioned national minorities on concrete and practical arrangement of the newly established autonomous regions.
The government and the president of the Czechoslovak Republic demonstrates their willingness to care for the interests of the various ethnic groups in the country and also accept as an obligation to care about the unity and cohesion of the state. Given the current tense political situation, and given the apparent threat to the Republic, the Government, the President and the Armed Forces of the Republic declares its firm will to defend our nation against any kind of aggression, including military attack by foreign states.
In that their efforts are turning also to the members of these national minorities in the country and relies on their full support in their efforts, which is now also focused on protecting the existent and future rights and freedoms, to protect them from the absorption of other nation states.
- Msgre. Augustin Vološin
(Czechoslovak People's Party)
Reaction and aftermath
At 4 in the morning of 28 September, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet was by a telegram from Prague. In light of the surprising news from Prague, Prime Minister Édouard Daladier called a emergency session of his Council of Ministers in Elysée Palace at 7:00 AM. Both Daladier and Bonnet agreed that the Czechs, by agreeing to the Anglo-French proposals and the agreement reached in Prague the evening before, had gone far to settle their minority issues. While the Czechs had shown to, the Germans had not shown any interest in reaching a fair arrangement, but instead wanted to destroy Czechoslovakia. France had to fulfill their treaty obligations (as deciding against this would be political suicide) and urge Germany to return to the Anglo-French proposal and to the negotiation table. Reynaud and Mandel both spoke for French mobilization. Daladier decided on holding off a general mobilization until after a meeting with the Standing Committee on National Defence, to be held as soon as they learned how the Germans reacted after the 2 P.M. deadline. After conferring with chief of staff General Gamelin, they agreed to initiate preparations for a general mobilization.
The news also came as a shock to the British. Winston Churchill, MP told the press that it now was time for a joint Anglo-French-Soviet warning to Germany that an invasion of Czechoslovakia would mean war. Meanwhile, an exhausted Chamberlain called for an emergency Cabinet session at 09:30 AM to address the agreement reached in Prague. While arguing against war and for continued negotiations with the Germans, there was now agreement among many Cabinet ministers that the Prague Agreement had changed the situation. Czechoslovakia had not only agreed to ceding territory to Germany in the Anglo-French Proposal, but now also given concessions to their national minorities. First Lord of the Admiralty Duff Cooper argued that Hitler couldn't be trusted while the Czechs had gone far to and were willing to fight, concluding that "we would be guilty of one of the basest betrayals in history". Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax agreed, stating that public opinion now definitively would be against any more concessions to Hitler, and that it would not be right to put further pressure on Czechoslovakia in light of all of their concessions except for Hitler's Godesberg demands. Cooper urged the Cabinet to immediately order general mobilization, while Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha and Minister of Health Walter Elliot supported Cooper but recommended partial mobilization.
Hitler, meanwhile, was furious. Germany immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Czechoslovakia. He gave the order for the German army to take up positions at 6:30 AM on 29 September. Hitler also issued the Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War, ordered hostilities against Czechoslovakia to start at 6:00 AM on 1 October (X-Tag) and silently ordered the full mobilization of the Wehrmacht (Allgemeine Mobilmachung mit öffentlicher Verkündigung). At 9 P.M. on 29 September, Berlin Radio announced that the Czechs had by the deadline at 2:00 P.M. the day before refused to accept the demands at Godesberg, and that the Czechs had intensified the persecution of the Sudeten Germans despite the Prague Agreement, calling it a vicious ploy to buy more time.
On 29 September, the Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, warned that unless something new came up there would be war in a few hours, called Halifax and suggested that Mussolini would approach Hitler with the offer of a four-nation conference on October 5. Chamberlain's first reaction was to insist that both sides would have to demobilize before any such conference could take place. In Paris, however, Bonnet favoured accepting the idea of a conference. When The French Council of Ministers met later that evening Bonnet pressed the ministers to accept the Italian offer of mediation but Daladier, turning his back on his foreign minister throughout the meeting, warned that the proposal was a "ploy". "Are we to cut up Czechoslovakia and dishonour ourselves?" A press communiqué implied that the Italian offer had been rejected and proclaimed France's commitment to fulfil its obligations to Czechoslovakia, but behind the scenes, Bonnet was engaged in increasingly desperate attempt to secure Italian mediation. In Berlin, meanwhile, Hitler saw the Italian ambassador Bernardo Attolico in the evening of 29 September, where he rejected the possibility of Italian mediation and said that "everything was now at an end."
At 6:15 AM on 30 September 1938, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Half an hour later, Hitler's proclamation to the Wehrmacht is read out over the radio:
|“|| The Czechoslovak State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. The Sudeten Germans are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. This is intolerable to a great Power which has sworn to protect them. Mr. Beneš must not only pay for his lies and atrocities against the Sudeten German people, but also the German people.|
In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!
The same day, Mussolini, with great effort, was able to extract a note from Hitler absolving Italy from its responsibilities under the Pact of Steel. Mussolini noted that while they stood with Germany, Italy was not ready for war at this time. At the afternoon meeting of the Grand Council, the Italians opted for "non-belligerency", a word that Mussolini felt had stronger ring than neutrality.
In Paris, the French Council of Ministers meet at the Elysée Palace, where they decided that general mobilization, which would take 16 days, should begin the next day and that the National Assembly should be convened to vote 75 billion Francs in supplementary military credits. Despite last efforts by Bonnet to agree to Italian mediation, the cabinet refused to debate the issue further. Bonnet then met with Czechoslovak ambassador Štefan Osuský and told him that "France will fulfill all her obligations."
The British were deliberating about what should be done. Officials rejected a mediation proposal by Henderson that only the immediate suspension of hostilities and the withdrawal of German troops from Czechoslovak territory would prevent the outbreak of war. Halifax sent a message to Rome thanking Mussolini for his offer of mediation but regretting that German action made it impossible to move along those lines. At the morning cabinet meeting, Halifax, expecting that Britain, in contrast to Germany, wouldfollow the normal procedures of issuing an ultimatum and a declaration of war before embarking on hostilities, was still reluctant to take the final step. Other ministers wavered as well, fearing taking the final step to war and the nightmares about its consequences. However, full mobilization was declared and, as had been decided on the previous day, the evacuation of children and women from London and other cities was initiated.
When the deadline for the French ultimatum to Germany expired at 11:00 AM on 2 October France declared war on Germany. This was followed by a British declaration of war against Germany two hours later. At 1:15 PM, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced the British deadline for the withdrawal of German troops from Czechoslovakia had expired. He said the British ambassador to Berlin had handed a final note to the German government this morning saying unless it announced plans to withdraw from Czechoslovakia by 1300, a state of war would exist between the two countries. Chamberlain continued: "I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany."
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