“Cooperating with the Czechs, Driving the State: German Activist Policies Through Biographical Trajectories and Administrative Records (1918-1938)”, Paul Lenormand and Jan Rovny (Sciences Po, France)

Czechoslovakia, a newborn state in 1918, immediately faced interethnic conflict, threatening its survival. In other multinational places of interwar Central Europe, democracy rapidly collapsed, and most ethnic minorities became entrenched into a systemic opposition to the dominant nationality of their state. How could the Czechoslovak leaders of all nationalities overcome this state of tension and mistrust? How would leaders shape their preferences and strategies be shaped? Would cooperation prove to be a better option than systematic rejection of a common polity? To what extent did the imperial experience of interethnic cooperation survive the war and remain a useful frame for at least some part of the political leadership? This paper studies how and why interethnic cooperation was successful. It pursues two directions. First, it considers how biographies and individual trajectories of leaders inform us about the strategies adopted vis-à-vis the minority issue. Then, it assesses how documents from the relevant ministries controlled by German-speaking ministers help decipher public policy choices and reassess the importance of the “national question” in the everyday routine of these institutions.

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