Klement Gottwald

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Klement Gottwald
K Gottwald.jpg
President of Czechoslovakia
In office
14 June 1948 – 14 March 1953
Preceded by Edvard Beneš
Succeeded by Antonín Zápotocký
Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
In office
2 July 1946 – 15 June 1948
Preceded by Zdenek Fierlinger
Succeeded by Antonín Zápotocký
Personal details
Born (1896-11-23)23 November 1896
Dědice, Vyškov, Moravia
Died 14 March 1953(1953-03-14) (aged 56)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Political party Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
Spouse(s) Marta Gottwaldová
Profession Cabinetmaker
Newspaper editor
Religion None (Atheist)

Klement Gottwald (23 November 1896 – 14 March 1953) was a Czechoslovak communist politician and longtime leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ or CPCz or CPC). He was Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1946 to 1948 and President from 1948 to 1953.

Early life[edit]

Gottwald was born on 23 November 1896, in Deditz, Wischau (Vyškov), Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now in the Czech Republic).

Career[edit]

A cabinet maker by training, he joined the Social Democratic Party in 1912. He was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, but defected to the Russians late in the war.

A charter member of the KSČ in 1921, he edited the party's newspaper in Bratislava from 1921 to 1926. From 1925 onward he was a member of the KSČ Central Committee. In 1927, he became secretary-general of the KSČ, and two years later he was elected to the National Assembly. He became a secretary of the Comintern in 1935, a post he held until its dissolution in 1943.

After the Munich Agreement of 1938, Gottwald spent the next seven years in exile in Moscow. From 1939 onward he was one of the leaders of the Czech resistance.

In March 1945, Edvard Beneš, who had been elected President of Czechoslovakia 1935–38 and who had been head of the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London since 1941, agreed to form a National Front government with Gottwald. As part of the deal, Gottwald became deputy premier under Zdeněk Fierlinger.

In 1946, Gottwald gave up the secretary-general's post to Rudolf Slánský and was elected to the new position of party chairman. That March, he led the party to an astonishing 38% of the votes. This was easily the KSČ's best performance in an election.[1] As it turned out, it would be the best showing by a European Communist party in a free election.

Coup[edit]

By the summer of 1947, however, the KSČ's popularity had significantly dwindled, and most observers believed Gottwald would be turned out of office at the elections due for May 1948. The Communists' dwindling popularity, combined with France and Italy dropping the Communists from their coalition governments, prompted Joseph Stalin to order Gottwald to begin efforts to set up an undisguised Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Outwardly, though, Gottwald kept up the appearance of working within the system, announcing that he intended to lead the Communists to an absolute majority in the upcoming election—something no Czechoslovak party had ever done. The endgame began in February 1948, when a majority of the Cabinet directed the Communist interior minister, Václav Nosek, to stop packing the police force with Communists. Nosek ignored this directive, with Gottwald's support. In response, 12 non-Communist ministers resigned. They believed that without their support, Gottwald would be unable to govern and be forced to either give way or resign himself. Beneš initially supported their position, and refused to accept their resignations. Gottwald not only refused to resign, but demanded the appointment of a Communist-dominated government under threat of a general strike. His Communist colleagues occupied the offices of the non-Communist ministers.[2]

On 25 February, Beneš, fearing Soviet intervention, gave in. He accepted the resignations of the non-Communist ministers and appointed a new government in accordance with Gottwald's specifications. Although ostensibly still a coalition, it was dominated by Communists and pro-Moscow Social Democrats. The other parties were still nominally represented, but with the exception of Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk they were fellow travellers handpicked by the Communists. From this date forward, Gottwald was effectively the most powerful man in Czechoslovakia.

Celebration of International Children's Day 1949, in Budapest, Hungary. The photograph shows the Czechoslovak delegation; left is a portrait of Gottwald, on the right, Stalin.

On 9 May, the National Assembly approved the so-called Ninth-of-May Constitution. While it was not a completely Communist document, its Communist imprint was strong enough that Beneš refused to sign it. He resigned on 2 June. In accordance with the 1920 Constitution, Gottwald took over most presidential functions until 14 June, when he was formally elected as President.

Presidency[edit]

Gottwald initially tried to take a semi-independent line. However, that changed shortly after a meeting with Stalin. Under his direction, Gottwald imposed the Soviet model of government on the country.[2] He nationalized the country's industry and collectivised its farms. There was considerable resistance within the government to Soviet influence on Czechoslovak politics. In response, Gottwald instigated a series of purges, first to remove non-communists, later to remove some communists as well. Prominent Communists who became victims of these purges and were defendants in the Prague Trials included Rudolf Slánský, the party's general secretary, Vlado Clementis (the Foreign Minister) and Gustáv Husák (the leader of an administrative body responsible for Slovakia), who was dismissed from office for "bourgeois nationalism". Slánský and Clementis were executed in December 1952, and hundreds of other government officials were sent to prison. Husák was rehabilitated in 1960s and became the leader of Czechoslovakia in 1969.

In a famous photograph from 21 February 1948, described also in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Clementis stands next to Gottwald. When Vladimír Clementis was charged in 1950, he was erased from the photograph (along with the photographer Karel Hájek) by the state propaganda department.[3][4]

Death[edit]

Gottwald had suffered from heart disease for several years. Shortly after attending Stalin's funeral on 9 March 1953, one of his arteries burst. He died five days later on 14 March 1953, aged 56.

His body was initially displayed in a mausoleum at the site of the Jan Žižka monument in the district of Žižkov, Prague. In 1962 the personality cult ended and it was no longer possible to show Gottwald's body. There are accounts that in 1962 Gottwald's body had blackened and was decomposing due to a botched embalming, although other witnesses have disputed this.[5] His body was cremated, the ashes returned to the Žižka Monument and placed in a sarcophagus.

After the end of the communist period, Gottwald's ashes were removed from the Žižka Monument and placed in a common grave at Prague's Olšany Cemetery, together with the ashes of about 20 other communist leaders which had also originally been placed in the Žižka Monument. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia now maintains that common grave.

After Gottwald[edit]

He was succeeded by Antonín Zápotocký, the Premier of Czechoslovakia from 1948–1953.

In tribute, Zlín, a city in Moravia, now the Czech Republic, was renamed Gottwaldov after him from 1949 to 1990. Zmiiv, a city in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukrainian SSR, was named Gotvald after him from 1976 to 1990.

Námestie Slobody (Freedom square) in Bratislava was named Gottwaldovo námestie after him. A bridge in Prague that is now called Nuselský Most was once called Gottwaldův Most, and the abutting metro station now called Vyšehrad was called Gottwaldova.

A Czechoslovakian 100 Koruna banknote issued on 1 October 1989 as part of the 1985–89 banknote series included a portrait of Gottwald. This note was so poorly received by Czechoslovakians that it was removed from official circulation on 31 December 1990 and was promptly replaced with the previous banknote issue of the same denomination. All Czechoslovakian banknotes were removed from circulation in 1993 and replaced by separate Czech and Slovakian notes.

In 2005 he was voted the Worst Czech in a ČT poll (a programme under the BBC licence 100 Greatest Britons). He received 26% of the votes.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jean-Baptiste Duroselle: Histoire Diplomatique de 1919 à nos jours, pt.3, ch.2, par.5, pag 256. Dalloz 1993, Paris.
  2. ^ a b Czechoslovak history at Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Photograph of Gottwald and Clementis from 21 February 1948, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Czech News Agency, ctk.cz.
  4. ^ Retouched photograph of Gottwald and Clementis from 21 February 1948, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Czech News Agency, ctk.cz.
  5. ^ Radio Prague: Exhibition at Vitkov Memorial highlights the Klement Gottwald personality cult, 08-03-2012, accessed 19-09-2012
  6. ^ 10 Worst Czechs, in Czech

Further reading[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Zdeněk Fierlinger
Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
1946 – 1948
Succeeded by
Antonín Zápotocký
Preceded by
Edvard Beneš
President of Czechoslovakia
1948 – 1953
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bohumil Jílek
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
1927 – 1945
Succeeded by
Rudolf Slánský
Preceded by
None
Chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
1945 – 1953
Succeeded by
Antonín Novotny
as First Secretary