Edvard Beneš

(1884—1948) Czechoslovak statesman

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(b. 28 May 1884, d. 3 Sept. 1948).

President of Czechoslovakia 1935–8, 1945–8. Born in Kozlány (Bohemia), he was educated in Prague and at the Sorbonne (Paris), and became a lecturer in economics at Prague University before World War I. In 1914 he fled from Prague to Paris, where he helped Masaryk to form the Czechoslovak National Council. He became the leader of the Czech National Socialist Party, and was Czech delegate at the Paris Peace Conference. As Foreign Minister (1918–35) he sought to stabilize the young state through international treaties. The Little Entente was created in 1921 to prevent the restoration of the Habsburg King Charles in Hungary. The Czechoslovak–French treaty of 1924 was designed to guarantee the country's independence. As one‐time Prime Minister (1921–2), and one of Masaryk's closest allies, he was the natural successor to the presidency following Masaryk's resignation. A pragmatist as well as a nationalist, he grudgingly accepted Slovak demands for recognition of their distinctiveness, and was even prepared to surrender the Sudetenland in return for peace with Germany. Ultimately, however, he resigned in solidarity with the entire Cabinet over the Munich Agreement.

Beneš went into exile and taught in the USA until the outbreak of war, when he became head of the Czechoslovak government‐in‐exile in 1939, first in Paris, and then in London. He had no ideological prejudices against Stalin, and believed that after the war there would be a ‘convergence’, whereby the USSR would become more capitalist, and Western Europe more socialist. This explains his willingness to accept the growing power of the Czechoslovak Communist Party under Gottwald in his postwar government, and his failure to mobilize opposition against the Communist takeover of the state in February 1948. Indeed, he agreed to stay on as President, resigning only on 6 May 1948.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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