Pětka

Last updated

The Pětka, or Committee of Five, was an unofficial informal extraparliamentary semi-constitutional political forum that was designed to cope with political difficulties of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia. Founded in September 1920, it was a council of leaders of the coalition parties that made up the Czechoslovak government. Its name came from the Czech word for "five" and is pronounced pyetka. It played a crucial role in the country's politics.

Contents

Rudolf Bechyne.jpg Alois Rasin.jpg Jan Sramek.jpg Svehla antonin.jpg Jiri Stribrny.jpg
Rudolf Bechyně (ČSSD) Alois Rašín (ČsND) Jan Šrámek (ČSL) Antonín Švehla (RSZML) Jiří Stříbrný (ČSNS)

Establishment

The Pětka was founded in 1920 to provide guidance to the weak cabinet of Jan Černý, which is said to have "resembled a ventriloquist’s dummy: it had no political will or voice of its own". [1] When the Petka was formed, Czechoslovakia was recovering from the First World War and dealing with the problems it faced as a new state in postwar Europe. The first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk, saw the new Europe as "a laboratory built over the graveyard of the world war, a laboratory that needs the work of all". [2] In this post-war Europe, Masaryk "recognised that his people still lacked the necessary experience and forbearance necessary for parliamentary government" [3] and knew that a nontraditional political institution would be needed to maintain control. To govern Czechoslovakia it would have been easier for Masaryk to rule as a dictator, but thaf was against his democratic ideals. Instead, he acted boldly, if not constitutionally, and formed a government of experts, the Petka, in September 1920. In his autobiography, Masaryk stated how anxious he was "to ensure the expert elements of the administration and Government". [4]

The five representative experts and their political parties were Antonín Švehla (Agrarian Party), Alois Rašín (National Democratic Party), Rudolf Bechyně (Social Democratic Party), Jiří Stříbrný (Socialist Party) and Jan Šrámek (People's Party). The main force behind the Petka was Antonín Švehla, served as Czechoslovakia’s prime minister from 1922 to 1926 and from 1926 to 1929 and wielded much influence over the government.

Created in 1920, by the leader of the Agrarian Party, Švehla, it was originally designed as a means to stave off a potential crisis that seemed to be brewing on account of the inability of the leading parties in parliament to form a governing coalition. Invited to participate in the Pětka were the leaders of the four other leading political parties in the newly-formed Republic of Czechoslovakia. It was Švehla’s hope that by holding political discussions in a private setting, the five leaders would be able to forge a compromise that had been eluding the parliamentary factions.[ citation needed ]

Aims

The Pětka was designed to make up for the lack of "political voice" of the Černý cabinet. The leaders of the five main political parties met at regular intervals to provide direction to the cabinet and advise the prime minister. [5] Each of the five members worked on the principle of "We have agreed that we will agree". [5] The Petka ensured all major disputes took place out of the public eye, and the government maintained a united front for public consumption. [6] The rigid party discipline that characterised the Czechoslovak political system enabled the Petka representatives to control each of their party's members in the Assembly and so they were in a position to control the cabinet. [7] In fact, the Petka has been described as "the real government of the country". [5]

Conceived on an ad hoc basis, the behind-the-scenes forum proved so effective that the leaders of the five parties (the Agrarians, the National Socialists, the National Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Catholic Party) reconvened the Pětka on several occasions for the following two decades. Some historians go so far as to argue that the Pětka was the de facto government of Czechoslovakia in that it had the power to overthrow any cabinet.[ citation needed ]

However, whatever the true dimensions of its power, it is certain that the non-elected rather-shadowy Pětka wielded a great deal of power during the interwar period. In September 1921, it seems to have been the Pětka that was responsible for deciding to install Edvard Beneš as the prime minister. A year later, after Beneš resigned, the Pětka chose Svehla to serve as his successor. As the 1920s progressed, and Czechoslovakia remained relatively stable, the importance of the early Pětka began to wane or rather was incorporated into the cabinet. Švehla, who was prime minister for much of that period, effectively incorporated the Pětka into his cabinet during his tenure by taking members from each of the five major parties to serve as experts or luminaries in his cabinet.[ citation needed ]

Achievements

The Pětka helped keep under control the economic crisis that sparked hyperinflation across Europe between 1922 and 1923. In 1924, it directed the National Assembly to pass a National Insurance Law, which created a social welfare system that was described as being one of the most progressive in the world at the time. [8] The stability of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia regime was maintained, which must be attributed, at least in part, to the Pětka since it followed a moderate course that was acceptable to a majority of the Chamber of Deputies, which prevented a cabinet crisis at times of social unrest. The Pětka provided discipline to the National Assembly and enabled it to reach compromises and to ensure the stability of Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia stood out among other Central and Eastern European countries during the interwar period by its stability. Many other countries in the region fell under dictatorships, experienced prolonged instability or fell under the control of parties on the extreme left or the extreme right.

During the interwar period in Czechoslovakia, the left never dominated a cabinet, the communists never participated in a government and the coalition was never faced with an organised opposition bloc of opponent parties that was capable of assuming office itself. The Pětka's existence enabled Czechoslovakia to be described as being "internally stable and externally respected". [9]

The establishment and effectiveness of the Pětka reflects two significant aspects of political life in the country after the First World War. Firstlu, it demonstrates the impulse towards consensus among the leaders of the newly formed-Czechoslovakia, which had come into being as an independent state only by the collapse of Austria-Hungary at the end of the war. That sentiment was captured in the slogan of the coalitions forged by Švehla: "We have agreed that we will agree". Whatever their differences and personal leaders, the Czechoslovak leaders felt obliged to search out common ground to prevent the country from falling into chaos. Secondly, the presence and the power of the Pětka demonstrates the fragility and the immaturity of Czechoslovakian democracy. The unelected body, which answered to nobody, could yield so much power because Czechoslovakia was not yet a fully-fledged democracy.[ citation needed ]

The legacy of the Pětka is rather mixed. On one hand, it seems to have played an important role in some of the most significant accomplishments of the short-lived First Republic. It can be given credit, among other things, for the vast majority of social reforms enacted between 1918 and 1923. The eight-hour workday, sickness and unemployment relief and restrictions on female and child labour were some of the reforms that the Pětka supposedly engineered. In comparison with the other countries carved out of the remnants of Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia was a prosperous and asecure haven. Some credit must go to the Pětka.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the reliance on the Pětka and on backroom negotiations left the country ill-prepared when the difficulties it encountered defied compromise. Specifically, the leaders found it impossible to contend with the threat posed by the rise of Nazism in Germany and the various repercussions that it had on life in Czechoslovakia, with its large and increasingly-hostile German minority.[ citation needed ]

Criticisms

The Pětka faced criticism for being unconstitutional and undemocratic. Even Masaryk himself acknowledged the Pětka was not entirely democratic and said in a 1925 speech:

"I am a convinced democrat and I accept the inherent difficulties of democracy. Our difficulties arise from the high demands of democracy, which requires a body of citizens who are truly educated in the political sense, and an intelligent electorate, both men and women. Hence I am not in favour of government by experts or officials. Of course we have already had two Cabinets of Officials (the Petka). What does that signify? It means that for us the transition from monarchism to democracy is a difficult one. Problems, however, are solved by people who think and possess knowledge, and are not merely elected". [3]

End

When it was founded, it was thought the Petka would last only briefly. However, "the provisional often proves lasting", [1] and it lasted in some form or another until the end of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia. With the dissolution of the Pětka came the end of discipline in the coalition. Czech and Slovak politicians began to argue, and long-suppressed conflicts were soon exposed.

See also

Related Research Articles

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe, created in October 1918, when it declared its independence from Austria-Hungary.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk First Czechoslovak president

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, sometimes anglicised Thomas Masaryk, was a Czechoslovak politician, statesman, sociologist and philosopher. Until 1914, he advocated restructuring the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a federal state. With the help of the Allied Powers, Masaryk gained independence for a Czechoslovak Republic as World War I ended in 1918. He co-founded Czechoslovakia together with Milan Rastislav Štefánik and Edvard Beneš and served as its first president, and so is called by some Czechs the "President Liberator" (Czech: Prezident Osvoboditel).

The First Czechoslovak Republic emerged from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in October 1918. The new state consisted mostly of territories inhabited by Czechs and Slovaks, but also included areas containing majority populations of other nationalities, particularly Germans (22.95 %), who accounted for more citizens than the state's second state nation of the Slovaks, Hungarians (5.47 %) and Ruthenians (3.39 %). The new state comprised the total of Bohemia whose borders did not coincide with the language border between German and Czech. Despite initially developing effective representative institutions alongside a successful economy, the deteriorating international economic situation in the 1930s gave rise to growing ethnic tensions. The dispute between the Czech and German populations, fanned by the rise of National Socialism in neighbouring Germany, resulted in the loss of territory under the terms of the Munich Agreement and subsequent events in the autumn of 1938, bringing about the end of the First Republic.

With the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy at the end of World War I, the independent country of Czechoslovakia was formed as a result of the critical intervention of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, among others.

Vlastimil Tusar

Vlastimil Tusar was a Czech journalist and political figure. He served as prime minister of Czechoslovakia from 1919 to 1920, in a two periods.

Karel Kramář

Karel Kramář was a Czech politician. He was a representative of the major Czech political party, the Young Czechs, in the Austrian Imperial Council from 1891 to 1915, becoming the party leader in 1897.

Czechoslovak Socialist Republic Republic in Central Europe between 1960 and 1990

The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was the name of Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 23 April 1990, when the country was under Communist rule. It was a satellite state of the Soviet Union.Following the coup d'état of February 1948, when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seized power with the support of the Soviet Union, the country was declared a socialist republic after the Ninth-of-May Constitution became effective. The traditional name Československá republika was changed on 11 July 1960 following the implementation of the 1960 Constitution of Czechoslovakia as a symbol of the "final victory of socialism" in the country, and remained so until the Velvet Revolution in November 1989. Several other state symbols were changed in 1960. Shortly after the Velvet Revolution, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was renamed to the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic.

Antonín Švehla

Antonín Švehla was a Czechoslovak politician. He served three terms as the prime minister of Czechoslovakia. He is regarded as one of the most important political figures of the First Czechoslovak Republic; he was the leader of the Agrarian Party, which was dominant within the Pětka, which was largely his own invention. Švehla is also credited with the slogan of the Pětka: "We have agreed that we will agree."

Alois Rašín

Alois Rašín was a Czech and Czechoslovakian politician, economist, one of the founders of Czechoslovakia and first Ministry for Finance. He was the author of the first law of Czechoslovakia and creator of the country's currency, the Czechoslovakian koruna. Rašín was a representant of conservative liberalism and was mortally wounded in assassination for being viewed as a head of the nation's capitalism.

First Czechoslovak Republic Republic in Central Europe

The First Czechoslovak Republic, often colloquially referred to as the First Republic, was the first Czechoslovak state that existed from 1918 to 1938. Dominated by ethnic Czechs and Slovaks, the country was commonly called Czechoslovakia, a compound of Czech and Slovak; which gradually became the most widely used name for its successor states. It was composed of former territories of Austria-Hungary, inheriting different systems of administration from the formerly Austrian and Hungarian territories.

Franz Spina

Franz Spina was German-Czechoslovakian right-wing and activist politician of the First Republic Era. Franz Spina was chairman of Bund der Landwirte, or Union of Farmers and Rural Enterprises, right-wing party of German-speaking countryside of Czechoslovakia. His party was the first to actively cooperate with Czechoslovak government and entered the Cabinet of Lord's Coalition together with Czechoslovak agrarians, clericals, entrepreneurs and national democrats. Franz Spina became the very first ethnic German government minister in Czechoslovakia. Since the establishment of Sudeten German Party, popularity of Union of Farmers had been declining. However, Spina believed in successful Czechoslovak-German cooperation until his death in 1938, fortnight before the Munich Agreement.

After World War I, Czechoslovakia established itself and as a republic and democracy with the establishment of the Constitution of 1920. The constitution was adopted by the National Assembly on 29 February 1920 and replaced the provisional constitution adopted on 13 November 1918.

Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants

The Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants was a centre-right agrarian party of Czechoslovakia, seen as representing big business and agriculture. In the period up to 1935 it was the biggest and most influential political party in the country. Led by Antonín Švehla and Milan Hodža, the party influenced Czechoslovak politics between World War I and World War II. It participated in the Pětka coalition governments, and it was a member of the International Agrarian Bureau.

International Agrarian Bureau

The International Agrarian Bureau, commonly known as the Green International, was founded in 1921 by the agrarian parties of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. The creation of a continental association of peasants was championed by Aleksandar Stamboliyski of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, but originated with earlier attempts by Georg Heim. Following Stamboliyski's downfall in 1923, the IAB came to be dominated by the Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants in Czechoslovakia, whose member Karel Mečíř served as its first leader. Mečíř was able to extend the IAB beyond its core in Slavic Europe, obtaining support from the National Peasants' Party in Greater Romania; as an ideologue, Milan Hodža introduced the Green International to European federalism.

Farmers League Czechoslovak extinct party

Farmers' League was an ethnic German agrarian political party in Czechoslovakia. Ideologically the party was moderately conservative, having its base in the Sudetenland countryside. The party was led by Franz Spina. Landjugend was the youth wing of the party. In the 1920 election, the party won 11 seats.

1929 Czechoslovak parliamentary election Election in Czechoslovakia

Parliamentary elections were held in Czechoslovakia on 27 October 1929. The Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, emerged as the largest party, winning 46 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 24 seats in the Senate. Voter turnout was 90.2% in the Chamber election and 78.8% for the Senate. The rightward shift of the 1925 elections was reversed, with moderate centre-left groups increasing their vote shares whilst the Communist Party suffered a set-back.

Edvard Beneš 20th-century Czechoslovak politician

Edvard Beneš was a Czech politician and statesman who served as the president of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938 and again from 1945 to 1948. He also led the Czechoslovak government-in-exile 1939 to 1945, during World War II. As President, Beneš faced two major crises which both resulted in his resignation.

Vavro Šrobár Slovak politician and doctor

Vavro Šrobár was a Slovak doctor and politician who was a major figure in Slovak politics in the interwar period. He played an important role in the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and served in a variety of ministerial roles between the wars. He also served for many years as a representative in the Czechoslovak parliament and was a tenured professor in the history of medicine. He retired from public life before the outbreak of the Second World War, but following the war he resumed a ministerial career in the re-established Czechoslovak government in the five years before his death.

Czechoslovak myth Scholarly term describing Czechoslovakias image between 1918 and 1938

The Czechoslovak myth is a term used by some scholars, such as Andrea Orzoff, to refer to the narrative that Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1938 was a tolerant and liberal democratic country, oriented towards Western Europe, and free of antisemitism compared to other countries in central and eastern Europe. For example, the country was described as "a welcoming and tolerant place for Jews," and an "island of democracy in Eastern Europe".

References

  1. 1 2 Mamatey (1973) , p. 108
  2. Masaryk (1935) , p. 299
  3. 1 2 Cohen (1941) , p. 237
  4. Masaryk (1935) , p. 292
  5. 1 2 3 Crampton (1997) , p. 63
  6. "Czechoslovakia". GeoWorld History: Europe to Eurasia. Archived from the original on 29 June 2007.
  7. Diamond (1947) , p. 24
  8. Mamatey (1973) , p. 127
  9. Mamatey (1973) , p. 240

Sources