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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Czechoslovakia Under Communism

Author:  Otto Ulc author bio not available

From its establishment in 1918 until its dismemberment following the Munich agreement of 1938, Czechoslovakia enjoyed a reputation as the most politically mature of the new states of Eastern Europe. It was the only state created by the Versailles Treaty whose democratic form of government was not destroyed from within. The interwar socialist movement was strong and the Communist Party (Komunistická strana Československa) was a legitimate political participant.

The country was economically developed, with her non-Slovak part having achieved a high level of industralization and a relatively high standard of living and was only slightly scarred by the ravages of World War II. Despite the wartime pro-Nazi puppet regime in Slovakia, the victorious powers chose to consider the entire country an ally, with no burden of reparations or the permanent presence of occupation troops.

The nation was free of anti-Russian sentiment. On the contrary, the nineteenth-century Pan-Slavic movement had left an imprint of rather romantic solidarity.

In 1945, the exile government of President Edvard Beneš was the only one in the Communist-bound part of Europe which was allowed to return, at least as a symbol of statehood and preservation of its continuity.

During the war, some of the leaders of the Communist Party languished in Nazi concentration camps, whereas others were in exile. Most numerous and powerful was the Moscow-based contingent, led by Klement Gottwald as the chairman of the Party. He returned to Prague and his first role was that of the cabinet’s vicepremier.

In May 1946 the first, and for the next four decades the last contested election took place, the Communists won a plurality though not a majority – 35 percent of the total vote, the highest (42 percent) being in Bohemia. By contrast, the Communists in Slovakia lost to the Democratic Party by two to one. In the post-election period the victorious Communists launched a campaign to gain a 51 percent majority support of the public.

Yet, this goal turned out to be increasingly beyond reach which led to a decision to achieve it by other means: a coup d’etat in February 1948. There followed a swift establishment of a virtual one party rule while preserving a façade of so-called National Front as an arm of the Party. The front included organizations such as trade unions, youth, women’s societies, and various friendship societies. Subsequent elections invariably rendered an unerring 99 percent victory for the ruling party.

The Party – the alleged vanguard of the proletariat substantially enlarged its ranks, forfeiting its desired elitist quality. Almost 50 percent – one half of all Czech intelligentsia - became card carrying members. Before the end of 1948, the Party’s total membership was second only to the Soviet Union, and was unsurpassed in its recruitment record of one out of every three adults.
Such a bloated organism required radical surgery. Subsequent purge reduced the membership from 2.5 million in 1948 to 1.6 million by 1951 and this number remained constant for almost two decades. However, the goal of improving the social composition of the membership by recruiting more proletarians was frustrated by the lack of responsiveness on their part.

The Stalinist transformation was characterized by liquidation of private economic activites, expropriation of private property, collectivization of agriculture and "class struggle" with its manifold oppressive features. In the early 1950s there were 422 jails and concentration camps, no mean figures for a country with a population then of 13 million. A new generation of political prisoners had been born (estimated at over 100,000), as well as a first generation of indigenous torturers and murderers. From army officers to alleged kulaks, from tradesmen to intellectuals, in groups or individually, citizens from all walks of life felt the arbitrary punitive hand of Stalinism. For example, a tally of the known facts shows 6,174 monks and nuns spent a total of 32,016 years in prison, yet these figures are far from complete.

The notorious show trials – which began in Czechoslovakia only after similar spectacles in other “People’s Democracies” had largely ended – rendered a toll of corpses probably exceeding the combined total in all neighboring countries. Czechoslovakia was the first country in the postwar period known to have executed a woman, a former Member of Parliament Milada Horáková and a survivor of Nazi incarceration, for a (nonexistent) political offense.

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Location:  Central Europe
Capital:  Prague
Communist Rule:  1948-1989
Status:  31.12.92 - Dissolution
Victims of Communism:
65 000