|13 – 25 February 1948
Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia
|If there was any place in postwar Europe where it might have been possible for a communist party to come to power by democratic means, it was Czechoslovakia. The betrayal of that country by the British and French at Munich in 1938 had created a sense of skepticism toward the West in that country. This, coupled with the fact that it was the Red Army that had liberated Czechoslovakia in 1945, meant that the country’s Communists considerable prestige. As a result, when national elections were held in 1946, they emerged as the largest single party; however, since they lacked a majority, they had to form a coalition with several other parties in order to govern.
Problems began between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in July 1947, when Czech Foreign Minister Thomas Masaryk—a noncommunist who was also son of Czechoslovakia’s first president—accepted the invitation of Britain and France to attend the upcoming Conference of European Economic Cooperation in Paris. The Soviets had by this point decided that this conference—called to formulate requests for Marshall Plan aid—was a tool for American economic domination of Europe, so Stalin quickly sent word to the Czech government that their attendance at Paris would be viewed as “an unfriendly act.” As Czechoslovakia was virtually surrounded by Soviet troops, Masaryk withdrew his acceptance.
Determined to prevent a repeat of such an incident, the Soviet Union authorized the Czech Communist Party to begin a campaign of intimidation against non-communists in the government. They hoped that this would deter such people from running in the next elections, scheduled for May 1948. The strategy seemed to have backfired, however, as polls taken early that year indicated that the Communist Party had lost considerable support among the public, and was likely headed for defeat.
On February 13 the Communists decided to force the issue, and on that day the Interior Minister—a Communist—announced that all non-communist police commanders in the capital city of Prague were dismissed. When he refused to rescind the order, all twelve of the non-communist members of the Czech cabinet resigned. Under the Czech constitution this should have resulted in new elections; instead the prime minister—also a Communist—simply appointed loyal Communists to fill the vacant cabinet posts. Czechoslovakia was now officially a communist country, and would remain so until the end of the Cold War.
On March 10 Thomas Masaryk’s body was found on the pavement below the window of his apartment. The authorities labeled it a suicide.