Communism in Czechoslovakia-Part I|Nina Wei

In this post, I plan to share part one of my research on the emergence of Communism in Czechoslovakia, covering the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918 to the rise of communist ideals and policies in the 1960s.


“Political union” of Czechs and Slovaks after WWI was feasible because the two ethnic groups were very much related in their language, religion, and general culture.

  • The independent state of Czechoslovak was declared on Oct.28, 1918. By Tomáš Masaryk, Edvard Beneš, and some other leaders (“Czechoslovakia”).
      • The nation’s first leaders were in still in exile when the country of Czechoslovakia was first proclaimed on Oct.28.
    • Masaryk was chosen as the First president when he was in the United States, Benes was the country’s Foreign Minister and was in Paris for the upcoming peace conference (“Czech”).

Establishing the Republic

bgcz_0001_0001_0_img0073

Map of Czechoslovakia

    • Bohemia and Moravia were majorly populated by Czechs as the state’s western portion and Slovakia occupied the eastern portion.
    • Czechs and Slovaks formed ⅔ of the nation’s population, and the rest were minorities including Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians, and Poles (“Czechoslovakia”).
        • The two groups are linguistically close, and therefore established a healthy majority of the nation’s population.
      • But they shared different experiences that contributed to their clashing opinions regarding the process of state building.
    • Czechs were first a principality and then a kingdom. They were better educated, comparatively more urbanized, industrialized, and secularized.
      • Slovakia had never existed as a separate geopolitical unit. Lack of Slovak-language schooling above the elementary level (“Czech”).
    • Masaryk served as the president of the newly-formed nation from 1918 to 1935, and Czechoslovakia became a “stable parliamentary democracy” and the most industrially advanced country in eastern Europe (“Czechoslovakia”).
        • The leaders of Czechs and Slovaks first agreed to the formation of a constituent assembly that excluded minorities including Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians, and Poles.
      • This evolved to a bicameral National Assembly with the Chamber of Deputies and the Senateàtogether they had the joint right to elect the president of the republic for 1 term of 7 years.
    • The constitution broadly defined the fundamental rights of Czechoslovakia’s people regardless of their ethnic origin, religion, and social status.
  • With the passage of the constitution, opposition rose from the German nationalist parties with their major advocates from Czech and the Communist party with loyal supporters from Slovakia. Members of the German nationalist parties yearned for increased autonomy or the right to be incorporated into Germany, while those of the newly formed Communist party called for the destruction of the bourgeois republic and formation of a dictatorship (“Czech”).

The Crisis of German Nationalism

  • As Hitler rose to power in 1933, a significant population of the German-speaking minority in western Czechoslovakia(Czech) started to lean toward Hitler’s Nationalism (“Czechoslovakia”).
konrad-henlein-5ec39ed8-2b09-4399-940f-6c922f99dcc-resize-750

Hitler and Konrad Henlein

  • Expedited by Konrad Henlein’s formation of the Sudeten German Home Front that displayed loyalty towards the democratic system and advocated for the autonomy to the German minority in 1933.
    • The group then changed the name to the Sudeten German Party (SdP) in 1935 and became a political party that played a key role in the parliamentary election in May of that year because of attracting about 2/3 of the votes of German minorities.

Hitler began his grand scheme of land expansion in 1937, and fixed his eyes on  Czechoslovakia. Konrad Henlein, the secretive supporter of Hitler, offered his SdP party as an instrument to break up the nation internally (“Czech”).

    • Under an agreement with Britain and France, Hitler annexed the German-speaking Sudeten areas of Czechoslovakia in 1938.
    • Then by 1939, German forces occupied both Bohemia and Moravia→ turned both regions into a “German protectorate.”
    • In the meantime, Slovakia had nominal autonomy, despite it was still under German ruling (“Czechoslovakia”).
  • Around 70,000 of Slovakia’s Jews were still deported to Nazi extermination camps from 1942-1944.

President Benes visited Moscow in 1943 and signed a 20-year treaty of alliance with the Soviets that recognized Czechoslovakia’s pre-Munich agreement borders. An uprising in 1944 of Slovak communists called for the incorporation of Slovakia into the Soviet Union. But the Nazis quickly crushed the uprising in October.

In 1945, Benes made a final accord with Stalin and Gottwald on a reconstruction plan of the nation after the war that was devised under strong communist influence. As Zdenek Fierlinger, a communist ally and former diplomat was elected the prime minister of a “new provisional government,” Kosice in Slovakia was established and exercised jurisdiction in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia. This eventually resulted in the defeat of German forces, thereby leading to the liberation of Czechoslovakia from Hitler’s occupation (“Czech”).

    • As Soviet troops’ decisive role in liberating Czechoslovakia during the war, the Communist Party gained popularity and therefore hindered the emergence of other political parties (“Czechoslovakia”).
    • The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won the general election in 1946, and dominated the position of key ministers. To reconcile various parties, the coalition called the National Front was created. But conflicts between communists and noncommunist was difficult to mediate. For instance, the noncommunist was strongly against * This tension was worsened by the disagreement regarding authority over the national police force. As the communist police minister openly voiced opposition against appointing noncommunist police officials, many noncommunist ministers began to resign in February of 1948, hoping to trigger the resignation of communist ministers because of the large-scale government stagnation. However, the communist officials captured the headquarters of parties in opposition to their authority.
  • Mass demonstrations in Prague pushed President Benes to agree on the establishment of a new government that allowed a share of power between communists and Social Democrats (“Czech”).

Consistent support from the Soviet Union and political maneuvering allowed communists to eventually stage a virtual coup in 1948, directly leading to the formation of a people’s republic.

    • Under Soviet’s supervision, internal dissent was crushed, and the country’s industry was nationalized, agricultural land was collectivized into state farms (“Czechoslovakia”).
  • Soviet advisers were sent to Czechoslovakia to initiate the purging among armed forces and to eliminate any pro-Western ideals. Besides, churches became key targets of the purge as well.
    • Together, 180 politicians were executed in those purges, and thousands were held in prisons or labor camps (“Czech”).

This article is an interview with an American scholar examining life under communist Czechoslovakia, which provides us with more details in understanding the working conditions, consumerism, and general trends in the era. I think it is interesting that the article also addresses the condescending mindset of Americans/Westerners when learning about life under communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.


Although envisioned to be a possible political union, the nation of Czechoslovakia was fueled with potential threats of peace since the beginning of its existence. I think the more industrialized Czechs, with their dreams of autonomy, developed their economy at a faster rate compared to the rate of economic growth in Slovakia. This disparity gradually intensified both sides’ relations. It was not until the aid from the Soviet Union that liberated Czechoslovakia from the German forces that Communists began to emerge as a prominent group. Under the supervision of Soviets, Czechoslovakia immediately experienced radical collectivization of properties leading to a transformation of the national economy. It was interesting to learn the divisive role of Germany and the Soviet Union played in propelling Czechoslovakia into a people’s republic under communism, and I am looking forward to writing part II of the Czechoslovakian communism research that will discuss the wave of democratic reforms and some causes of an eventual separation of Czechoslovakia.

Sources

“Czech and Slovak History.” Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, edited by Lorraine Murray, Chicago, Britannica Educational Publishing with Rosen Educational Services, 2014, pp. [283]-347. The Britannica Guide to Countries of the European Union. Gale Virtual Reference Library, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3807400030/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=1f5c7f55. Accessed 7 Apr. 2019.

“Czechoslovakia.” Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 26 Sep. 2018. school.eb.com/levels/high/article/Czechoslovakia/28462. Accessed 7 Apr. 2019.

Hitler and Konrad Henlein. Alchetron.com, Alchetron © 2019, alchetron.com/Konrad-Henlein. Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.

Map of Czechoslovakia. Gale Virtual Reference Library, 2018 Gale, A Cengage Company, go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=T003&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&searchType=BasicSearchForm&currentPosition=1&docId=GALE%7CCX3807400030&docType=Topic+overview&sort=RELEVANCE&contentSegment=&prodId=GVRL&contentSet=GALE%7CCX3807400030&searchId=R1&userGroupName=west66701&inPS=true#. Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.

1 thought on “Communism in Czechoslovakia-Part I|Nina Wei

  1. Yuchen Cao

    Great details in explaning the complex historical background of communism in Czechoslovakia! The article embedded in the link on the interview with Thomas K. Murphy provides very interesting insight into the reality of communism and the distinct forms that it takes in different countries. The article is a great expansion on the material in your blog post! I really look forward to reading your future works.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.