The Censorship Praxis and the Press Law in the First Czechoslovak Republic and the German and Hungarian Minorities

15 June 2019

Lukáš Novotný, Andrej Tóth

This study will examine the question of censorship and press law in the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938) and their relationship with the German and Hungarian minorities. Through research of published and unpublished sources, the authors will demonstrate that the new state adopted its basic standards regarding press law and censorship from its predecessor – the Habsburg Monarchy. It will also demonstrate that the press law of Czechoslovakia in the 1920s and 1930s lacked some basic elements, in particular a specific press law which would deal with all aspects of this problem. Several acts enabling significant state interference in certain situations into the freedom of the press were adopted which, just as in the history of Austria-Hungary, enabled the Czechoslovak government to put censorship provisions into effect, and to intervene against the press of the Communist Party and that of certain national minorities. The study will also demonstrate that, as a result of the rise of Nazism, many of the laws relating to the press were revised in the 1930s. This was caused by the rise of aggressive policy and the need for a reaction on the part of Czechoslovakia.

First Czechoslovak Republic, press law, national minorities, confiscation, newspaper.
  1. An unelected Revolutionary National Assembly, established on the basis of the results of elections to the Imperial Council in 1911 and in which representatives of the national minorities did not sit, had existed previously.
  2. On the basis of data from the 1921 census, the most numerous national minority in the demographic map of the First Czechoslovak Republic was the Germans, who numbered 3,123,568 people and constituted 23.4% of the entire population of the republic. The second biggest national minority was the Hungarians, who made up 5.6% of the population. A total of 745,431 citizens of the republic claimed Hungarian nationality. The third significant national group was the Ruthenians, with 461,849 citizens of the Czechoslovak state claiming this nationality, followed by Poles, who were reported as numbering 75,853 by statistics at the beginning of the existence of the Czechoslovak Republic. We can also add that the total population of Czechoslovakia at the time was 13,374,364. For more details, see Andrej Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny v Československu 1918–1938. Od státu národního ke státu národnostnímu? [National Minorities in Czechoslovakia 1918–1938: From a National State to State of Nationalities?] (Prague: Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague – Togga Publishing House, 2012), 624–625.
  3. Declaration of the existence of a unified Czechoslovakian nation was necessary due to the fact that it would have been very difficult at the Paris Peace Conference to promote the establishment of a state in which Czechs, as the nation with the greatest interest in an independent Czechoslovakia, made up just 51% of the total population as the state-forming nation. This situation meant that the Germans would have been the second most numerous national group in the state because the proportion of Slovaks of the total population according to nationality was half that of the Germans and was only approximately 14% (!). It was possible to use this to base the existence of the state on at least a 65% share of the Czechoslovak nation, which did not actually exist, just like the Czechoslovak language did not exist, but was identified as the state and official language of the republic.
  4. Reichs-Gesetz-Blatt für das Kaiserthum Oesterreich, vol. 1863 (Wien: Kaiserich-königliche Staatsdruckerei, 1863), 145–156. No government managed to enforce acceptance of completely new and modern legislation during the period between 1918 and 1938, whether due to foreign- or intra-political reasons. Martin Kohout, “Recepce rakousko-uherského tiskového práva a snahy o jeho novelizaci v období tzv. první republiky [Reception of the Austro-Hungarian Press Law and Efforts to Its Amendment during the First Republic],” Právo II, no. 3 (2009): 109–118.
  5. Sbírka zákonů a nařízení státu československého [Collection of Laws and Decree of the Czechoslovak State] (Prague: State Printer, 1920), vol. 1920, 265.
  6. Freedoms were restricted by the Act on Extraordinary Measures from April 1920, by which the state reserved the right to potentially interfere in the freedom of the press, including the suspension of Section 113 of the Constitution. Section 10 of this act was devoted to restricting, and in marginal cases preventing, the publication of printed material and allowed a requirement for periodical printed matter to be submitted for approval at least two hours before it was published. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1920, 690–691. The act was passed before the first parliamentary elections by a legislative committee that did not include representatives of the minorities. On the other hand, we must state that the government and the president had to agree during application of this act.
  7. Deutsche Gesandtschaftsberichte aus Prag. Innenpolitik und Minderheitenprobleme in der Ersten Tschechoslowakischen Republik. Vom Kabinett Beneš bis zur ersten überregionalen Regierung unter Švehla 1921–1926, vol. II, ed. Alexander Manfred (München: Oldenbourg, 2004), Demokratie und Zensur, Deutsche Gesandtschaft an das Auswärtige Amt, Prag, den 3. November 1921, no. 5, 9.
  8. Antonín Klimek, Velké dějiny zemí Koruny české [Big History of the Czech Lands], vol. XIII, 1918–1929 (Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2000), 383–384.
  9. Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny, 291. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1923, 207–217. Although the standard did not mention restriction of the press, some of its provisions, such as dissemination of false news (Section 18) or illegal journalism (Section 23), allowed fairly heavy, potentially massive intervention by the government.
  10. For more details, see Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny, 292–293.
  11. Compare footnote 8.
  12. The German Minister Koch informed Berlin that the Czechoslovak government had considered a similar standard the previous year due to the rising wave of autonomism in Slovakia. He considered the Act on Protection of the Republic the statement of a permanently extraordinary situation. Furthermore, he believed that the reason for its ratification was the fear of communism, the feeling of the latent intra-political impossibility to consolidate the state and the unwillingness of the government ‘to reach a settlement with its national enemies, which included Germans and Hungarians and also clerical Slovaks’. Deutsche Gesandtschaftsberichte, vol. II. Das Gesetz zum Schutz der Republik und das Gesetz über den tschechoslowakischen Staatsgerichthof; Stellungnahmen, Deutsche Gesandtschaft An das Auswärtige Amt, Prag, den 10. März 1923, no. 50, 129–134 (quotation 129). The German press in particular was very much opposed to the new act, particularly the central press body of the German Social Democrats, the paper titled Sozialdemokrat. Ibid., 131–133.
  13. Milena Beránková et al., Dějiny žurnalistiky [History of Journalism], vol. III, Český a slovenský tisk v letech 1918–1944 [Czech and Slovak Press in 1918–1944] (Prague: Novinář, 1988), 77–78.
  14. Tisky poslanecké sněmovny Národního shromáždění Republiky československé [Prints of the Chamber of Deputies of the National Assembly of the Czechoslovak Republic] (hereafter cited as TPSNS), accessed 22 April 2019,
  15. Ibid.
  16. Kohout, “Recepce rakousko-uherského,” 117.
  17. TPSNS, accessed 22 April 2019, /283schuz/ s28300 1.htm.
  18. Ibid. He then declared that freedom of the press of itself is not enough, and added, ‘Freedom of the press must not mean abandonment of the press.’
  19. Act dated 10 July 1933, which amends and supplements the press acts. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1933, 709–714.
  20. Kohout, “Recepce rakousko-uherského,” 117.
  21. Zdeněk Kárník, České země v éře první republiky 1918–1938 [The Czech Lands in the Period of the First Republic 1918–1938], vol. II, Československo a české země v krizi a v ohrožení (1930–1935) [Czechoslovakia and the Czech Lands in a Crisis and in a Danger (1930–1935] (Prague: Libri, 2002), 138.
  22. Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny, 299.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Only representatives of the Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party and the Hungarian opposition parties criticised the bill of the act. MPs for the German parties either sat partially in the government camp or were afraid of penalisation by government powers. This concerned the representatives of two small negativistic parties – Deutsche Nationalpartei (DNP) and Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei (DNSAP). For more details, see ibid., 300–302, 305.
  25. See the 27 March 1933 interpellation complaint by the chairman of the joint Hungarian parliamentary club, Géza Szüllő, addressed to the entire government ‘regarding the crooked practice of censorship, the frequent confiscation of the Prágai Magyar Hirlap paper and government plans to establish a Hungarian paper.’ Cf. TPSNS, accessed 27 April 2019, 1929ns/ps/tisky/t2211_01.htm. The Hungarian MP asked how it could be possible that censorship in Czechoslovakia would proceed in this manner and remembered Austria-Hungary: ‘While the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy existed Czech bureaucracy remained exemplary.’ Ibid. In its response, the government denied a utilitarian procedure by government bodies and stated that all confiscations of Prágai Magyar Hírlap were confirmed by a court of law. TPSNS, accessed 27 April 2019; eknih/1929ns/ps/tisky/t2357_02.htm [2019–04–27].
  26. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1933, 921–925.
  27. Ibid., 641–652.
  28. Kohout, “Recepce rakousko-uherského,” 118.
  29. For more details, see Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny, 305–307; Gyula Popély, Felvidék 1929–1939. A második évtized csehszlovák uralom alatt [Upper Hungary in 1929–1939: The Second Decade under Czechoslovak Rule] (Budapest: Magyar Napló Kiadó, 2017), 187, 191, 212–213, 224.
  30. Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny, 310.
  31. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1934, 513–516.
  32. Ibid., 514.
  33. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1936, 631.
  34. Tóth et al., Národnostní menšiny, 318.
  35. Sbírka zákonů, vol. 1936, 477–479.
  36. Ibid., 479–541.
  37. Lukáš Novotný, The British Legation in Prague: Perception of Czech-German Relations in Czechoslovakia between 1933 and 1938 (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2019), 142.
  38. The period of 1927–1938 covers the period from which confiscations have survived in the relevant archive of the Ministry of Justice. However, regarding the probe into press censorship practices, this period can also be considered representative because the First Czechoslovak Republic entered the second half of the 1920s in a fully consolidated form from the intra-political point of view. It is interesting that, in the most critical year of the First Czechoslovak Republic, i.e. 1938, no confiscated issues of the aforementioned periodicals can be found in the relevant archive of the Ministry of Justice.
  39. The Czechoslovak Communist Party’s central daily published from 1920 until 1990, The National Archive, Prague, fund Ministerstvo spravedlnosti 1926–1938, the material Soupis konfiskátů [The List of Confiscated Periodicals]. Executed by collective of the department I in the years 1954–1955, ed. V. Janíková in 1964 (hereafter cited as NAMS–K), vol. 6, 906–1006.
  40. A communist magazine in German, NAMS–K, vol. 2, 446.
  41. Volkstime. Tagblatt für die Slowakei, formerly a social-democratic periodical, serving since 1821 as the press body of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in German, subsequently published as the newspaper version of the Der Kampf magazine, NAMS–K, vol. 4, 1240.
  42. One of the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s central dailies in German, which was published under the title of Vorwärts until 1930, NAMS–K, vol. 3, 874–885.
  43. One of the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s central dailies in German, which was published under the title of Vorwärts until 1930, then as Roter Vorwärts until 1931 and finally until 1934 as Die rote Fahne, NAMS–K, vol. 3, 855–863.
  44. A national opposition Hungarian-language communist periodical (initially daily, then from 1930 weekly), published between 1920 and 1937, NAMS–K, vol. 4, 625–646.
  45. In the register of confiscated press of the Ministry of Justice, no number of confiscations of the predecessor of Vorwärts is registered.
  46. Press body of the Deutsche sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei in der Tschechoslowakischen Republik published between 1920 and 1938, NAMS–K, vol. 7, 1105–1106.
  47. Die Zeit. Sudetendeutsche Tagblatt, the political daily of Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront, or Sudetendeustche Partei, which was published between 1935 and 1938, NAMS–K, vol. 8, 1268–1269.
  48. A prestigious liberal democratic German daily published in Czechoslovakia between 1877 and 1939, NAMS–K, vol. 5, 785.
  49. Nordböhmisches Tagblatt, an opposition and negativist political daily of the German minority published between 1856 and 1939, NAMS–K, vol. 3, 717–719.
  50. Volksruf, an opposition and negativist political daily of the German minority published between 1935 and 1936, NAMS–K, vol. 4, 1242.
  51. Brüxer Volkszeitung, an opposition and negativist political daily of the German minority which was published between 1888 and 1938, NAMS–K, vol. 1, 77–80.
  52. A programmatic pro-Czechoslovak non-political German-language daily. More precisely, this was a Czech newspaper published in German with the goal of increasing awareness of the German minority as part of Czechoslovakia, which was published between 1921 and 1938, NAMS–K, vol. 5, 785.
  53. Prágai Magyar Hírlap, the common political daily of the opposition parliamentary Hungarian minority political parties published between 1922 and 1938, NAMS–K, vol. 5, 781–783.
  54. The opposition political daily of the parliamentary Hungarian National Party, from 1936 the Unified Hungarian Party, published between 1920 and 1940, NAMS–K, vol. 1, 58.
  55. An opposition political weekly of the parliamentary Provincial Christian-Socialist Party published between 1927 and 1936, NAMS–K, vol. 2, 569–571.
  56. An opposition political weekly of the parliamentary Provincial Christian-Socialist Party published between 1920 and 1937, NAMS–K, vol. 1, 8–10.
  57. Magyar Ujság, an activist Hungarian-language political daily which was published between 1933­ and 1938, NAMS–K, vol. 4, 572.
  58. The political daily of the Hungarian minority agrarians was published during the First Republic under four names: initially under the name of Népujság, then as Földműves, subsequently as Köztársasági Magyar Földműves and finally as Magyarság.
  59. NAMS–K, vol. 1, 92.
  60. Ibid., vol. 3, 824–825.
  61. Ibid., vol. 4, 1222.