World War II and Beyond

Accumulating tension between the Slovak and Czech majority and the country’s sizeable German minority reached a peak when, during 1938, Hitler ordered self-determination for the German-speaking people of Czechoslovakia. To appease Hitler, France and Britain relinquished the borderlands of the country. In March of 1939, after convincing Slovak nationalists to withdraw and form a near-fascist, ostensibly independent `Slovak State’, Hitler transformed the rest of the country into the `Protectorate of Bohemia Moravia’, or Greater Germany. Six long years of the violent rule followed before Russian troops freed the city in May of 1945.

At the 1946 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party won almost 40% of the vote. Edvard Beneš, the pre-war non-communist president, was elected again and asked the veteran leader of the communists, Klement Gottwald, to make up a coalition government. In 1948, numerous non-communist politicians resigned to protest against his policies. At this point, Gottwald filled the government with his supporters. After Jan Masaryk (son of Tomáš), the well-liked non-communist Foreign Minister, was discovered dead beneath the window of his office in the foreign ministry, rumours were rife that he had been the victim of defenestration.

As the new ruler, Gottwald outlined a 5-year economic program, suppressed the clergy and eliminated his opponents both inside and outside of his party; many were killed, and 1000’s were arrested. Show trials were carried out under Antonín Novotný, whilst farmers were pushed into collectives.

The 1968 `Prague Spring’ was short-lived. It was an effort by reforming communists, led by Alexander Dubček (a Slovak), to change the system and produce a socialist state ‘with a human face’. This did not succeed and was thwarted by Soviet tanks that ran-riot over the country throughout August. Over the following 2 decades, re-instated hard-line Communists were in power, bribing the population by packing shop shelves with consumer items, albeit of low quality. The few remaining dissidents, amongst them the playwright Václav Havel, underwent routine persecution and harassment.

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