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The early years
The creation of Czechoslovakia was the culmination of the long struggle of the Czechs against their Austrian rulers and partly also of the Slovaks against magyarisation and their Hungarian rulers.
It was largely accomplished by the nation's first and second presidents, Tomas Masaryk and Edvard Beneš.
The union of the Czech lands and Slovakia was officially proclaimed in Prague on October 28, 1918. The Slovaks officially joined the state 2 days later in the town of Martin. A temporary constitution was adopted and Masaryk declared president on November 14.
The Treaty of St. Germain, signed in September 1919 formally recognized the new republic.
Ruthenia was later added by the Treaty of Trianon (June, 1920).
Due to its ethnic diversity, the separate histories and greatly differing religious, cultural, and social traditions of the Czechs and Slovaks, the new state was far from being a stable political entity. The Germans and Magyars (Hungarians) of Czechoslovakia openly agitated against the territorial settlements. Although the constitution of 1920 provided for autonomy for Ruthenia, in practice autonomy was constantly postponed.
Hitler's rise in Germany, the German annexation (Anschluss) of Austria, the resulting revival of revisionism in Hungary and of agitation for autonomy in Slovakia, and the appeasement policy of the Western powers (France and the United Kingdom) left Czechoslovakia without allies, exposed to hostile Germany and Hungary on three sides and to unsympathetic Poland on the north.
World War II
Ethnic problems led to a European crisis when the German nationalist minority, led by Konrad Henlein and vehemently backed by Hitler, demanded the union of the predominantly German districts with Germany.
Beneš resigned the presidency in October of 1938, fled to London and was succeeded by Emil Hacha.
In early November 1938, under the Vienna Arbitration, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia) was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (1/3 of Slovak territory) to Hungary, and Poland obtained small territorial cessions shortly thereafter.
On March 14, 1939, Slovakia gained nominal independence as a satellite state under Jozef Tiso. One day later, Hitler forced Hacha to surrender remaining Czechia to German control and made it into the German protectorate "Bohemia and Moravia". On the same day (March 15), the Carpatho-Ukraine (Ruthenia) declared its independence and was immediately invaded and annexed by Hungary. Finally, on March 23 Hungary invaded and occupied from the Carpatho-Ukraine some further parts of Slovakia (eastern Slovakia).
After the outbreak of the war, Beneš set up a provisional government in London, and Czechoslovak military units fought alongside the Allied forces.
Except for the brutalities of the German occupation in Bohemia and Moravia (after the August 1944 Slovak National Uprising also in Slovakia), Czechoslovakia suffered relatively little from the war. Bratislava was taken over on April 4, 1945, and Prague in May 1945 by Soviet troops. Southwestern Bohemia was liberated by Allied troops, the remainder of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops. Both Soviet and Allied troops were withdrawn in the same year. The Soviet troops, however, came back in 1968 (see Prague Spring) and were withdrawn only in the early 1990s.