Communists take power in Czechoslovakia
My account of
the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia is based on displays in the Museum
of Communism, Prague.
Prague was NOT liberated by the Russian army. On
5 May 1945 an uprising of the people, helped by the anti-Stalinist army of
General Vlasov, drove out the Nazis - 1,691 Czechs were killed in the
However, at Yalta, it had been agreed that Russian armies
should occupy Prague, and Stalin insisted that this happened.
The Russian army arrived on 9 May. Stalin reprimanded Czech
communists for not waiting for the Red Army.
internet encyclopaedia gives a
detailed, traditional account.
for a different interpretation of the takeover.
The Kosice Programme
During the war, Edvard Beneš (Czechoslovakia President) had
fled to London and set up a government-in-exile there. In the
meantime, Czechoslovakian Communists, led by Klement Gottwald, had set up a
rival government-in-exile in Moscow; Stalin also created a Czechoslovakian
Independent Army Corps as part of the Russian Army - by 1945 it had 60,000
men (who were, of course, communists).
In January 1945, Stalin invited Beneš to Moscow for
discussions. In April 1945 (as soon as any land in
Czechoslovakia was liberated) Beneš and Gottwald travelled to Kosice in
Slovakia and announced that they were setting up a new government (the
so-called 'Kosice Programme').
In a similar way to Poland, the new government was a mixture
of Communists and non-Communists. Only six political parties
were allowed - the parties which had actively resisted the Nazis.
They were the Czech Communist Party (KSC), the Czech Social Democratic
Party, the Czech Popular Party (Catholic democrats), the Czech National
Socialist Party, the Slovak Communist Party and the Slovak Democratic party
It was by no means a Communist government. Edvard
Beneš was the President. Zdenek Ferlinger,
leader of the Czech Social Democratic party, was the Prime Minister.
However, the Communists made sure that they obtained places
of power within the system. They made sure they had control of
the Ministry of Interior Affairs - the ministry which controlled the
'National Safety Corps' (the police). The Communists also made
sure that they had control of the radio. Gottwald insisted that
a new army was set up, formed out of the Czechoslovakian Independent Army
Corps. In addition Ludvik Svoboda, who became head of the
Ministry of Defence - and thus controlled the army - was secretly a
Communist. The majority of government ministers were Communists.
The Kosice Programme
The Communists take over
The Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia is a classic example
of 'salami tactics' - taking power step-by-step.
At first, President Beneš ruled by decree. He
was pressurised by Gottwald to order the arrest of a number of 'traitors
and collaborators' - all of whom were anti-Communists.
The Communist used their position in the Ministries of
Interior Affairs and Defence to place Communist loyalists into key
positions in the police and army.
A law was passed forbidding newspapers to be owned by
private individuals - only trade unions, political parties or the
government could publish a newspaper. In this way, most
newspapers came to be controlled by the Communists.
In the elections of May 1946, the KSC gained 38% of the
votes, more than any other party. Beneš asked Gottwald to
become Prime Minister and to form a government. The new
government, however, still included a number of non-Communists.
Opposition politicians were arrested on fake accusations of
collaboration with the Nazis or spying for the West.
During 1947, a secret police force was set up, under the
control of the (Communist-controlled) Ministry of Interior Affairs.
In June 1947, Czechoslovakia was invited to the Paris
Meeting to discuss the Marshall Plan. At first, Gottwald said
he would attend - but then he was called to Moscow by Stalin, and forced
to change his decision. Instead, in September 1947,
Czechoslovakia joined Cominform.
Towards the end of 1947, Gottwald was reprimanded by Stalin
for taking so long to take over. Czechoslovakia, he was told,
was the last country where the Communist victory was not yet explicit.
There was a fierce anti-American propaganda campaign in the
press, especially against the Marshall Plan.
On 20 February 1948, a dozen non-Communist ministers -
alarmed by the steadily growing power of the Communists - handed in their
resignation. They hoped that, by doing so, they would force
Beneš to dismiss Gottwald and create a new, more moderate government.
They miscalculated. The KSC organised marches of thousands of
people through Prague. Groups of militia from the factories
were formed and set up an armed guard round Wenceslas Square - when a
group of students tried to organise a pro-opposition march, they were
dispersed by gunshots. Svoboda announced that he supported
Gottwald. The police announced that they would not obey Beneš,
but would 'stand behind the Czechoslovak people'. On 24
February, the Communists called a general strike - 2.5 million workers
went on strike. Beneš was old and ill, and Gottwald and a
group of leading Communists physically bullied him. On 25
February 1948 Gottwald announced to a huge crowd that President Beneš had
accepted the ministers' resignations.
On 10 March 1948, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister
Jan Masaryk (the country's only
remaining non-communist minister) was found dead under the bathroom window
of the Foreign Ministry building in Prague.
After the Communist takeover
The Communists established a repressive, eastern-bloc regime:
Non-communist parties were taken over by Communists and
'decided' to join the KSC.
This building housed the interrogation
centre of the secret police. The brass plaque on the wall just
to the right of the gate commemorates all the victims of police torture
during the Communist regime.
The National Safety Corps was formally given the job of
'protection of the popular democratic regime' - they began phone-tapping,
arresting suspects etc. By the late 1980s, more than 200,000
people were working as spies for the police.
There were show trials of prominent anti-Communists.
The country's famous gold-medal winning hockey team was arrested, accused
of anti-Communist activities, and sentenced to long prison terms.
By 1990 there had been 257,864 arrests. Although only 232
people were imprisoned for political reasons, and only 178 executed, there
was a climate of fear and suspicion.
Stalin's head appeared on Czechoslovakian posters and
stamps. In 1955, a huge statue - 30 metres high - was erected
in Prague. (It took 5 years to build - with the result that it
had barely been unveiled when Khrushchev denounced Stalin, and it had to
be blown up.)
Industry was organised along Stalinist lines, with 'Shock Worker'
movements set up in factories to concentrate on increasing production, and
not to worry about wages. Agriculture was collectivised, as in
There was a continuous campaign of anti-American hate
propaganda. When there was a potato bug in 1950, the
Czechoslovak government blamed it on 'American saboteurs' and called it
'the American bug'.
It was made illegal even to think about emigration.