For an independent state

Masaryk at Volyne

Professor T.G. Masaryk overlooks the Czechoslovak shooting brigade in Berezno upon Volyň.

On the edge of the First World War the Czech nation had enjoyed a long century of an unusual intellectual and social rise accompanied by a swift economic bloom. It demonstrated an advanced culture, art and education, a strong industry base as well as developed agriculture, in other words all attributes of a modern nation except one – their own state.

The Habsburg Empire was beginning to lose its historical role (known for centuries) of a natural defender of small nations against the pressures from the East and the West. It found itself in the wake of Germany, led by the idea that a shared victory in the war will enable the empire to resolve, dramatically, the internal national problems gathering on strength.

Thus the World War placed both the Czech and the Slovak politicians and both of the nations as a whole into a historically new situation. With the intention of founding an independent state, Professor T.G. Masaryk left the country to live in exile and to become the Head of the Czech resistance abroad. In the process he was able to take support from the circle of his nearest associates, above all from E. Beneš and M. R. Štefánik. Moral and financial support was offered to him also by numerous compatriotic societies operating in the USA, Russia and France.

One of the foremost tasks was to build up an autonomous national army, whose soldiers – Czech and Slovak volunteers – would enter the fights side by side with the Allies. Already in February 1915 T. G. Masaryk declared: “Providing we create an army, we’ll gain a new legal relationship to Austria and to the Allies… At any rate, neither the Allies nor Vienna will be able to pass us in silence if we have soldiers.” He made a point of this fact repeatedly also in the following years: “The biggest possible number of Czechoslovak soldiers, the most extensive Czechoslovak army! So that the world can see that our nation really and truly stands up against Austria… then the whole world will know who are the Czechs and the Slovaks and we shall never be forgotten.”