Prague Minos Guide

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19. - 20. století

Edvard Benes

Second president of Czechoslovakia
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Benes was the second president of the independent Czechoslovakia and is known particularly in relation to the Munich Agreement, which he was forced to confront. He was an intelligent man living in a very difficult time. He came from a simple family, but even in his early childhood, there was no doubt he was gifted. He studied philosophy at the Charles University and later law school at the Sorbonne. During the First World War, he became one of the primary partisans for an independent Czechoslovakia and was a close associate of Masaryk’s. After the creation of the Czechoslovak state he became Minister of Foreign Affairs and in the 20’s and 30’s he was the front representative of the Czech diplomacy (in fact, in the years 1927-1928 he was the president of the League of Nations). In 1935 he replaced Masaryk in the role of president and was forced to confront a great crisis emerging due to the growing power of the Nazi Germany. In 1938, despite his best efforts, he was maneuvered into a hopeless situation by the Munich Agreement (the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by western

powers), leading him to make a crucial decision and subject himself to the agreement. Fearing for his life he was forced to flee to England, where he founded a government-in-exile, while in Czechoslovakia a German protectorate was established. After the eruption of the Second World War, Benes actively worked with the Czech resistance and was greatly involved in operations such as Anthropoid (assassination of the Reich Protector Heydrich in 1942). After the war Benes regained his office, but the Communist Party’s power was growing in the country and the weary Benes was no obstacle. In 1948 he resigned from his post and was replaced by Klement Gottwald, whose proclamations only confirmed the 1948 coup d’état. Benes finished his life in his villa. His name is often mentioned in relation to the “Benes Decrees,” which decreed the post-war, often forced, expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia, particularly from the Sudetenland. It should be mentioned that he had little to do with the final wording of these decrees and that his name was thus somewhat exploited.


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