Sixty years ago, on March 15, 1939, the beleaguered Czechoslovak President Emil Hacha, who had just returned from a humiliating encounter with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, addressed stunned citizens on the radio to break the tragic news: the Czech Lands, already separated from Slovakia and robbed of sizeable chunks if its borderland as the result of the Munich Agreements, were being occupied by Germany...
"In the eleventh hour, with the consent of my government, I decided to seek an audience with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. After a lengthy conversation and a thorough assessment of the situation, I decided to entrust the future of the Czech nation and state with full confidence into the hands of the German Fuehrer. The confidence I have for him makes it imperative for me to use all means, and even take most draconian measures if necessary, to ensure protection of the interests of this nation. I will not tolerate any separatist tendencies or indeed any factions and splinter groups which, being oblivious of the supreme interests of their nation, would perhaps try selfishly to pursue partisan or personal goals. I call on you to stay calm, and work together in your honest, creative effort..."

Even as President Hacha spoke, Nazi troops began to take Czech territory step by step. Later in the day, in drizzling rain, Hitler personally visited Prague to see the swastika flag raised above the Castle - the historical seat of Czech kings and presidents, and one of the symbols of Czech statehood.

For this episode, history will judge Hacha and the political environment of the Europe of the late 1930s for giving this country away to the Nazis.

Sixty years after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Czech Republic has become a fully fledged member of NATO - which has often been described as the most successful international alliance for peace and democracy that the world has ever known. Today, we have become the allies of a democratic new Germany. Political scientist Jiri Pehe, an adviser to President Vaclav Havel, sees it as a very symbolical act:

"The significance of the Czech Republic's membership of NATO in light of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi troops in 1939 is even greater than it would have been otherwise. It simply means that we are finally becoming a member of a transnational alliance which has a proven track record. And as President Truman said when NATO was founded, had anything like NATO existed before World War One or Two, these two wars would not have happened. I think this is probably true..."


 


© Copyright 1999 Radio Prague All Rights Reserved