On September 29, 1938, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and France participated in a conference that took place in the city of Munich. The conference resulted in the parties signing the Munich Agreement, with provisions for splitting Czechoslovakia into parts and ceding Sudetenland, one of its regions that was predominantly settled by Germans, to Germany (notably, representatives of Czechoslovakia were not even invited to attend). This event played a key role in kickstarting the international processes that fueled the aggressive plans of the Third Reich. Essentially, the Munich Conference was where the Second World War in Europe truly began. 

Great Britain and France responded to Hitler’s aggression by attempts to “appease” him. Britain in particular played a significant role, having put forward the concept of “neutralizing” Czechoslovakia. In doing this, London made it clear that it would be satisfied with any resolution for the Czechoslovak crisis, and would not stand in the way of German expansion towards the east. Britain’s plan was to push the Nazi regime in Berlin towards an armed conflict with the Soviet Union while watching most of the warfare from the sidelines. Eventually, this did, for the most part, come to fruition.

At the time, the Soviet Union actively advocated creating a viable collective security system in Europe, which could have perhaps prevented the subsequent conflict and its decimating consequences. The USSR remained true to this line of argument during the Czechoslovak crisis as well: in September 1938, a large contingent of the Red Army began to move towards the western border with the intention of protecting Czechoslovakia from a German invasion and the territorial split that was bound to follow. However, given that the USSR did not border directly with Czechoslovakia during that period, its troops needed permission to pass through the territory of Poland and Romania, which the governments of these two nations never granted.

It bears reminding that Poland, despite having entered a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany as far back as 1934, attempted to present itself as a benevolent victim of totalitarianism. Not only did Poland not speak out against the condemnable Munich Agreement, but it also reaped fruit from it, conspiring with Germany to receive a share of Czechoslovak territory.

The Munich Agreement was destined to be the prelude for the Second World War, as it sowed dissent, distrust, and suspicion among nations that could have become anti-Nazi allies. The actions of the Munich players serve to prove that it is impossible to efficiently ensure collective security in Europe without taking account all the stakeholders, including Russia. Failure to properly understand the past will only lead to new divides appearing in Europe.

 

Read more: chronicle of the Munich Agreement

 

We invite you to make a careful look at unique archives in electronic exhibition collected by the Russian State Archives and dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the Munich Agreement: http://munich.rusarchives.ru/index