On May 8, 1945 American military forces under the command of General George Patton freed southern Czechoslovakia from Nazi control during the latter part of WWII. The experiences of the Czech Republic over the past hundred years instruct today’s producers and consumers of agricultural goods about how democracy influences people and if they will produce enough food and materials for clothing and shelter.
Following WWI Czechoslovakia flourished as many cultures (Czechs, Slovaks and Germanic people to name just a few) combined to form a democracy when monarchial rule ended. Given the opportunity to own land after centuries of serfdom, the farmers prospered.
Yet, despite democracy and modern industrial advances, this small country had little capacity to oppose Adolf Hitler’s insistence that it should join Germany in 1938 because many German-speaking residents inhabited its western region called Sudetenland and smaller enclaves elsewhere. Seeking to avoid another major war and pressured by other European leaders, the Czechoslovakian government acquiesced.
Most of the Germanic residents joined in the Nazi nationalistic fervor but almost all other Czechoslovakians opposed the Nazi regime and were appalled by the extermination of Jewish and Roma citizens. Hitler’s government appropriated much of the farmland owned by persons who didn’t support the Nazi cause and awarded it to people of Germanic heritage, who had already owned much of the best agricultural land.
In retribution as WWII ended in 1945 and democracy was restored, Czechoslovakia expelled its ethnic German citizens, about 2.5 million altogether. Nevertheless, the remaining countrymen were glad the Germans had not destroyed their historic architectural structures, especially its centuries-old churches and educational institutions. Hitler did not bomb Prague, because he had intended it would be the eastern capital of his German union.
With the departure of many able farmers, there was barely enough to eat for a while as the few Czechoslovakian farmers and insufficiently skilled new farm operators acquired the necessary agricultural equipment and livestock that previously had been commandeered by the Germans.
Aid from America, which they loved for helping liberate them, assisted in the recovery and agricultural production gradually rose.
In 1948 Czechoslovakia again fell under foreign domination, this time capitulating to Soviet intimidation and political machinations. Czech communists who were puppets of Russia’s leaders ran the country, backed by a half million Russian troops.
The Russians, unlike the preceding German occupiers, sought to change the culture of the country. Private farmland was relegated into collective farms, ironically called cooperatives, and the former owners were required to work on these state-owned farms that were supposed to produce ample food for their country and some to export to other Soviet states.
Many of the antiquities were painted in Soviet red and gray colors; open religious and cultural celebrations were forbidden; everything was supposed to be shared by all residents for the common good. Private ownership of land, businesses and companies was not possible. Attempts to gain greater self-determination were brutally shut down by the Soviets in 1968.
When the collective farms failed to produce sufficient food, communist officials allowed the Czechoslovakian people to cultivate private garden plots. Despite their limited size, usually less than a half-acre, the local people raised all the vegetables and fruit they needed on their plots, along with a few chickens, pigs, sheep and maybe a cow or horse.
Democracy returned in 1989 when Czechoslovakia and other former Soviet-bloc countries were allowed to form their own governments. Communism had failed; farmland in the former cooperatives was put up for sale by the government.
Few Czechoslovakians had enough money to purchase land from the newly formed banks that were given charge of dispersing land to private buyers. Many who managed to make a down payment couldn’t afford additional investments in modern farm equipment, seed and livestock and had to renege on their loans.
Successful land owners were mostly those who were officials in the former communist government and who had accumulated wealth by taking bribes and positioning themselves favorably to achieve power. They are still today’s major land owners but they mostly lease their land to local renters.
In 1993 the country peacefully split into the present-day Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Republic is modernizing its agricultural practices as enterprising citizens are gradually acquiring their own land and agricultural machinery. Once again an agricultural exporting nation, the experiences of the Czech Republic over the past century demonstrate that the freedom that comes with democracy and the agrarian urges that are empowered by capitalism, enhance morale and economic gain.
Though still trying to catch up with other European Union nations, their agriculture and economic well-being are gradually improving and the people are happy. Most Czechs say the Communists stole their land and culture and they hate them more than they hate the Nazis.
But none of the previous forms of government could squelch their love for freedom and opportunities for self-pursuit of success, happiness and agriculture.
The author spent 12 days in the Czech Republic and Austria in May 2015. Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.