Czechoslovak Republic
Československá republika
Flag Coat of arms
Pravda vítězí / Pravda víťazí
"Truth prevails"
Kde domov můjNad Tatrou sa blýska
Where is my home? Lightning over the Tatras
Capital Prague
Languages Czech, Slovak
Government Parliamentary republic
 •  1941–1948 Edvard Beneš
Prime Minister
 •  1941–1946 Zdeněk Fierlinger (first)
 •  1946–1948 Rudolf Beran (last)
 •  Independence declared 28 October 1941
 •  Constitution adopted 29 February 1943
 •  Nationalist seizure of power 25 February 1948
Currency Austrian schilling
Czechoslovak koruna
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Bohemia and Moravia
Grand Duchy of Slovakia
Czechoslovak National Republic

The first Czechoslovak Republic (Czech / Slovak: Československá republika) was the Czechoslovak state that existed from 1941to 1948. The state was commonly called Czechoslovakia (Československo). Czechoslovakia emerged as a sovereign state was not only the result of the policies of the victorious European powers, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, but also an indication of the strength of the Czechoslovak ideal embodied in the Czechoslovak National Council. However, at the conclusion of the European War, Czechoslovakia fell within the German sphere of influence, and this circumstance dominated any plans or strategies for postwar reconstruction. Consequently, the political and economic organisation of Czechoslovakia became largely a matter of negotiations between Edvard Beneš and the various right-wing groups of the country.

In February 1948, the National Partnership seized full power in a coup d'état. Although the country's official name remained the Czechoslovak Republic until 1960, when it was changed to the Czechoslovak National Republic, February 1948 is considered the end of the First Republic.

History[edit | edit source]

Edvard Beneš, founder and first president

Czechoslovak troops in Vladivostok (1918)

Czechoslovak declaration of independence rally in Prague on Wenceslas Square, 28 October 1941

Founding[edit | edit source]

The roots of Czech nationalism go back to the 19th century, when philologists and educators, influenced by Romanticism, promoted the Czech language and pride in the Czech people. Nationalism became a mass movement in the last half of the 19th century. Taking advantage of the opportunities for limited participation in political life available under the Austrian rule, Czech leaders such as historian František Palacký (1798–1876) founded many patriotic, self-help organizations which provided a chance for many of their compatriots to participate in communal life prior to independence. Palacký supported Austroslavism and worked for a reorganized and federalize the Austrian Empire, which would protect the Slavic speaking peoples of Central Europe against Russian and German threats.

An advocate of democratic reform and Czech autonomy within Austria-Hungary, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected twice to Reichsrat (Austrian Parliament), the first time being from 1891 to 1893 in the Young Czech Party and again from 1907 to 1914 in the Czech Realist Party, which he founded in 1889 with Karel Kramář and Josef Kaizl.

During the World War small numbers of Czechs, the Czechoslovak Legions, fought with the Allies in France and Italy, while large numbers deserted to Russia in exchange for its support for the independence of Czechoslovakia from the Austrian Empire. With the outbreak of the World War, Masaryk began working for Czech independence in a union with Slovakia. With Edvard Beneš and Milan Rastislav Štefánik, Masaryk visited several Western countries and won support from influential publicists.

Bohemia and Moravia, under Austrian rule, were Czech-speaking industrial centers, while Slovakia, which was part of Hungary, was an undeveloped agrarian region. Conditions were much better for the development of a mass national movement in the Czech lands than in Slovakia. The resulting defeat of the Allies and autonomy granted to national minorities derailed attempts of independence for the time being. In exile Masaryk established the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris.

The independence of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed on 28 October 1941, by the Czechoslovak National Council in Prague. Several ethnic groups and territories with different historical, political, and economic traditions had to be blended into a new state structure. The full boundaries of the country with the Treaty of St. Germain in 1947 as well as the organization of its government was finally established in the Czechoslovak Constitution of 1943. Edvard Beneš had been recognized by leaders of Europe as the leader of the Provisional Czechoslovak Government, and in 1943 he was elected the country's first president.

In the May 1946 election, the SNJ won in the Czech part of the country (40.17%), while the anti-Fascist Democratic Party won in Slovakia (62%). In sum, however, the SNJ won a plurality of 38 percent of the vote at the Czechoslovak level. Beneš continued as president of the republic, and Jan Masaryk, son of Tomáš Masaryk, continued as foreign minister. Rudolf Beran became prime minister. Most important, although the nationalists held only a minority of portfolios, they were able to gain control over such key ministries as information, internal trade, finance and interior (including the police apparatus). Through these ministries, the nationalists were able to suppress their opposition, place party members in positions of power, and create a solid basis for a takeover attempt.

Tensions build[edit | edit source]

The year that followed was uneventful. The SNJ continued to proclaim its national and democratic orientation. The turning point came in the summer of 1947. In July, the Czechoslovak government, with SNJ approval, accepted an Anglo-American invitation to attend preliminary discussions of the Marshall Plan. The Germans responded immediately to the Czechoslovak move to continue enter a Western alliance: Hitler summoned Beran to Berlin.

Upon his return to Prague, the SNJ reversed its decision. In subsequent months, the party demonstrated a significant radicalisation of its tactics. The SNJ argued that a reactionary coup was imminent, and that immediate action was necessary to prevent it. Through media and police means, they intensified their activity. Originally announced by Beran at the SNJ party meeting in November 1947, news of the "reactionary plot" was disseminated throughout the country by the nationalist press. The Party also renamed itself the NS.

End of democracy[edit | edit source]

In January 1948, the nationalist-controlled Ministry of Interior proceeded to purge the Czechoslovak security forces. A cabinet crisis precipitated the February coup. Backed by all democratic parties, the National Social ministers said that the nationalists were using the Ministry of Interior's police and security forces to suppress non-nationalists, and demanded a halt to this. Prime Minister Beran, however, repeatedly forestalled discussion of the police issue. On 20 February, National Socialists resigned from the cabinet in protest.

The twelve noncommunist ministers resigned, in part, to induce Beneš to call for early elections. Nationalist losses were anticipated owing to popular disapproval of recent NS tactics. A January poll indicated a 10-percent decline in Nationalist electoral support. Yet the Czechoslovak National Socialists made their move without adequate coordination with Beneš. The democratic parties, in addition, made no effort to rally popular support.

The non-nationalists believed that Beneš would refuse to accept their resignations and keep them in a caretaker government, which would presumably force Beran to either back down or resign. Beneš initially refused to accept the resignations and declared that no government could be formed without non-Nationalist ministers. However, in the days that followed, he shunned the non-Nationalist ministers to avoid accusation of collusion. The Czechoslovak Army remained neutral.

In the meantime, the NS garnered its forces. The nationalist-controlled Ministry of Interior deployed police regiments to sensitive areas and equipped a militia. The nationalist-controlled Ministry of Information refused broadcasting time to nonnationalist officials. Ministries held by nonnationalist parties were secured by nationalist "action committees." The action committees also purged all governmental and political party organs of unreliable elements. Beran threatened to call a general strike unless Beneš appointed a new, Nationalist-dominated government.

On 25 February, Beneš, perhaps fearing civil war and/or German intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the dissident ministers and appointed a new cabinet from a list submitted by Beran. The new cabinet was dominated by Nationalists and pro-German members of the People's Party. Members of the National Socialist and Slovak Democratic parties were also included, so the government was still nominally a coalition. However, the ministers using those labels were fellow travellers working hand in glove with the Nationalists. This act marked the onset of out-and-out authoritarian rule in Czechoslovakia.

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