By Guillaume Malaurie
Comparison is not right, of course. But in the end, for the generation that experienced the rise of perils in 1938 and for those who withheld their history lessons from high school on the “causes and consequences” of the Second World War, the current crisis in Ukraine does not bode well nothing good.
The two states, Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Ukraine in 2022, are, it should be remembered, created from the rubble of the two World Wars. The first, Czechoslovakia, was born from the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye signed after 14-18. The second, present-day Ukraine, from Lviv to Mariupol, was born from the belly of the Second World War.
For both, the populations are heterogeneous. ethnically or culturally. For Czechoslovakia, it is clear: Czechs and Slovaks numbered 6.7 million in 1938. But the German minority located in the West had 3 million inhabitants. In Ukraine, the contrast between the West, the Ukrainian Piedmont which was long Austro-Hungarian, then Polish until the German-Soviet pact of 1939, and the border regions of Russia, Donbass, and Donetsk, is also profound.
The Russian-speaking eastern regions are marked by heavy industry and mining. The richest Ukrainian territories as were the German-speaking Sudetenland since the majority of Czechoslovak businesses were then held by Sudeten Germans.
In the name of the reunification of the German peoples, Hitler then undertook a work of undermining Czechoslovakia by relying on the pro-Nazi leader of the Sudetenland Konrad Einlein. Initially, Einlein was in the minority, but with the help of the 1929 crisis, he created the Sudeten German Party and his secessionist discourse continued to progress and became the majority.
It is an analogous dynamic with the Ukrainians of the East. Following the collapse of the USSR, the “Russified” Ukrainians and the Russians of the East vote first like the Ukrainians of the rest of Ukraine: for independence. It is with the economic crisis of coal that the resentment of the “Russified” Ukrainians of the East and the Russians of Ukraine claim their autonomy and little by little the reunification with Russia. Since 2014, the date of the pure and simple annexation of Crimea to Russia, the war on the eastern flank of Ukraine has generated more than 10,000 deaths in the separatist territories.
Putin quietly pleads for the reunification of the Russian peoples of Greater Russia, of which Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital was, it is true, the cradle. In the 9th century… In 1938, Berlin, on ethnic grounds, also claimed the justice of the reunification of all the scattered German peoples by the Treaty of Versailles.
The arguments put forward in 2022 in Berlin as in 1938 in Moscow are both victimizing and warmongering. Central issue for Moscow: neutralize Ukraine and at the very least prevent it from rejoining the European orbit following the association agreement with the European Union which entered into force on September 1, 2017. Europe and not l ‘NATO as we too often pretend to believe.
We know the tragic outcome of the Sudetenland crisis. It was the Munich agreement when Daladier, President of the French Council, and Chamberlain, his British counterpart, abandoned Prague to its fate, that is to say, its dislocation gave in to all of Hitler’s demands thinking saved the peace and suffer humiliation, war, and tears. With the active sympathy of pacifists in good and bad faith whose disbanded league, we see reconstituted today. In all political parties, left and right, and at both extremes.
In a way that is ultimately quite similar, the great European nations of 2022 are fragmenting in the face of pressure from the Russian army on the borders of Ukraine. Admittedly, Boris Johnson’s England do not fold like Chamberlain’s but brag and trumpet their commitment to Kyiv too loudly to be taken seriously. Germany plays a low profile because it needs Russian gas via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Yves Le Drian in his bad days.
The comparison stops there with 1938: The United States today remains present on the old continent. They raise their voices and threaten reprisals. What if isolationism once again prevails on Capitol Hill like it did in 1938? Like in 1939. Like in 1940. Like in 1941…