From the perspective of the post-Cold War generation that saw Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia break up over ethnic squabbles (peacefully in the case of the former, acrimoniously in the case of the latter), it seems weird that such countries existed to begin with.

When the Allies were carving up the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire after WW1, what was the motivating in creating Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia rather than separate Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Croatian, and Bosnian states?

  • This is a complex political question which is a matter of opinion, not a question of historical fact. The fact is that they were put into two collective states. Why they were is known only to the men who arranged it (who are all dead now). These sorts of decisions are based on the secret thoughts of many different men, so there is no factual answer that answers the question. Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 15:25
  • 2
    Yugoslavia broke up so violently precisely because it wasn't easy to carve out nation states from the old Ottoman Empire, then or now.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 15:59
  • 2
    I think that it is possible (someone more schooled than I) to discuss Tito's role in the creation of Yugoslavia, and potentially to discuss the forces that argued for and against Czechoslovakia. One hint might be that I think many of the decisions were made by people who were employed by strong central governments and preferred to deal with strong central governments. There really isn't a strong constituency for ethnic tribalism in international relations (or anywhere else).
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 23:44
  • 4
    @MarkC.Wallace. Yugoslavia emerged in 1918, and was known under this name by 1929 at the latest. Tito played no "role in the creation of Yugoslavia".
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 13:46
  • 4
    Let us be frank: at turn of the century even these Slavic minority groups were not sure how much are they separated, and what constitute one nation. For example, there was a long argument whether Slovak is a separate language from Czech or not (not independently from the question if these two are separate nations). Off course, part of the problem is politics and power. E.g by declaring Czechoslovakia and adding the Czecks and Slovaks together, they were able to keep both German and Hungarian minorities remain small minorities.
    – Greg
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 14:23

4 Answers 4


Retrospectively, the only answer to your question is: "because of poor grasp of the local political and cultural context".

In the 1920s, dominant countries were organized on the notion of nation state. This was a relatively recent development; for instance, Germany had formally existed only for 50 years or so at that time. Other countries had turned into nations somewhat earlier; e.g. France converted from loose feudalism to nation over about five centuries (from the first attempts at bureaucratic centralisation under Philippe le Bel to Napoleon's nation-building epic). Crucially, some peoples had not, at that time, completed or even began their nation-creation process. This is in particular true of areas which had long been part of empires, in this case Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian.

To a large extent, a nation can be created only through events which define it in the psyche of its individuals; such events must impact all or most of the future nation's population, but exclusive of others; that exclusivity is what makes the nation. In the context of empires (which were the norm throughout history, before modern times, for large scale political constructions -- read John Darwin on that subject), nations thus rise through resistance to a conquering empire, or emergence of a local leader amid the chaos of a disintegrating empire. There is no sure-fire method for creating a nation, but it seems reasonable to state that nations could not develop and flourish while within the boundaries of functioning empires. The decline of the Ottoman empire had allowed proto-nations to begin to form but (as yet) this process was not complete.

Yugoslavia was the result of the unification of several provinces taken from both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, a concept which was based on the (flawed) ideas that:

  • Nations are large and must cover a "decent" area and population. No micro-state !
  • Nations correspond to the then-popular notions of "races" which can be approached through linguistics.

In that sense, the WWI victors pushed for the creation of a single state of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro... could not be nations on their own (too little), and there was no problem in putting all of them in a single country since they were all "South Slavs". This kind of myopia, when it comes to defining post-WWI borders, is famously illustrated by the 14 points of Woodrow Wilson, who, from Washington, could idealistically rant about the necessity of adjusting frontiers "along clearly recognizable lines of nationality."

As for Czechoslovakia, a similar process implied grouping areas based on language, but other forces were at work too. The Czechoslovak Legion fought along with the Allies so as to secure independence after the end of the War, with as big a territory as possible; e.g. inn 1919, Czechoslovakia and Poland fought a small war over some disputed areas.

  • 4
    Why are those ideas flawed? is there a body of evidence that tiny, tribally oriented states are more successful than large, central states?
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 11:16
  • 1
    What is "success" ? Here, I am talking about whether a given group of people constitutes a "nation" or not, regardless of whether that group will or will not achieve success on any specific measuring scale. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 18:39
  • You referred to the ideas as flawed; I was merely wondering on what basis they were flawed. I'm also confused about the underlying assumptions, but those are more properly directed to OP.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 10:25
  • "Could not be nations on their own (too little)" seems particularly silly when you consider that both Serbia and Montenegro had already existed as independent states prior to WWI, and had, until the First Balkan War just two years before the start of WWI, controlled territories much smaller (especially in Montenegro's case) even than they have today!
    – Vikki
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 3:12

The apparent reason for the creation of these Slavic "multinational" states was to create states that were strong enough to act as "buffer states" against Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria (Germany's allies in World War I).

Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania would, in fact go on to form the "Little Entente", with which France later formed an alliance.

So these states were probably created for reasons of Realpolitik, not to benefit the "nationalities."

  • 1
    The fact which supports this answer is the case of Transylvania. If the main purpose was to make just and fair borders, the borders would have looked similar to what happened in the Vienna Awards. The fact that large territories with absolute Hungarian majority were given to surrounding countries points that the borders were not created for the benefit of the nationalities, but for reasons of Realpolitik.
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 8:25
  • 1
    I would add "and against the Soviet Union", probably
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 16:38
  • 1
    @vsz: Um, the parts of Transylvania with actual Hungarian majorities (apart from some thin strips along the borders) were entirely surrounded on all sides by Romanian-majority territory.
    – Vikki
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 3:13
  • 1
    @Sean : after some population movements, yes. But even in the Vienna Awards they could find a continuous part of Hungarian majority. Although it wasn't perfect and there were Romanians living in the Hungarian part, but so did almost half a million Hungarians remain in the Romanian part. And another example is Slovakia, where the divide between Hungarian-majority and Slovakian-majority areas was more clear, but Slovakia still got lands of over-90% Hungarian majority connected to the Hungarian border. The borders were created to respect railways, industrial centers and resources, not the people.
    – vsz
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 6:35

Effective political lobbying and influence by political activists by the Czechs and the Yugoslav committee.


Both Yugoslav Committee and the Czech already had the ear of important people moving into the Paris conference.


I wonder if it sheds any light on this decision if we compare the examples cited above with the one instance where the opposite happened- Galicia?

Poles and Ukrainians were intermixed to a degree that would induce a headache in anyone trying to draw a "fair" borderEthnic Map of Poland (for the purposes of this discussion please consider "galicia" to be roughly the southern 3rd of the 2nd polish republic this map is of course a simplification, Ukrainians lived in small villages as far west as Biesczady and scattered Polish settlements existed in the countryside throughout Galicia even prior to 1920 - ie: before the Polish government gave farmland to settlers.

but broadly there was a pattern of Polish majority urban centers surrounded by 97% ukrainian countryside- making absolutely impossible to draw a viable state border based on ethnic criteria.

in this case Poland & Ukraine fought a war over East Galicia, Poland won but Many Ukrainians were never reconciled to living in a Polish state. Ukrainian insurgents mounted operations in South East Poland in the interwar period. the Polish government responded with, alternately - short lived experiments in autonomy/toleration & heavy handed "pacification". the spectre of the Holodomor lead to a rapprochement between constitutional Ukrainian parties and the Polish Government but this came far too late and was soon rendered moot by ww2 and the destruction of the Polish state by Nazi & Soviet occupiers.

the new occupiers were easily able to play on ethnic hatreds between Poles & Ukrainians and the legacy of ethnic conflict finally burst into the open when unimaginable blood shed was unleashed in Wolyn & Galica in 1943-44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.