The Frontiers of Loyalty: Do They Really Change?

In December 1914, Tomas Masaryk, the future first president of Czechoslovakia, departed Austria-Hungary for Switzerland, convinced that Czech self-determination under the Habsburgs’ rule was impossible. First from England and then from the United States, Masaryk agitated for Czechoslovakia’s independence while forming ties with Czech and Slovak communities in the United States that forcefully lobbied the White House and Congress for national liberation. Masaryk seized upon the American entry into the First World War to persuade his friend Woodrow Wilson to award his people an independent, democratic state. Czechoslovakia, in many ways, was the creation of exiles and diaspora members who signed the famous Pittsburgh Agreement of May 1918 as the founding document of their country. Historian Aviel Roshwald wrote that Masaryk is ‘‘the most striking example of how war-time exiles in the Allied countries could propel a hitherto respected but relatively powerless figure into the seat of power’’ in his homeland.

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