The History of Czechoslovakia: The history behind the self-determined split of the federal state of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia

1948 Czechoslovak Coup d’état

The coup’s significance extended well beyond the country’s boundaries as it was a clear marker along the already well-advanced road to full-fledged Cold War. The event alarmed Western countries and helped spur quick adoption of the Marshall Plan, the creation of a state in West Germany, vigorous measures to keep communists out of power in France, Greece and especially Italy, and steps toward mutual security that would, in little over a year, result in the establishment of NATO and the definitive drawing of the Iron Curtain until the Revolutions of 1989.

During the winter of 1947–48, both in the cabinet and in parliament tension between the Communists and their opponents led to increasingly bitter conflict. Matters came to a head in February 1948, when Nosek illegally extended his powers by attempting to purge remaining non-Communist elements in the National Police Force. The security apparatus and police were being transformed into instruments of the KSČ, and consequently, according to John Grenville, endangering basic civic freedoms.

On 12 February, the non-Communists in the cabinet demanded punishment for the offending Communists in the government and an end to their supposed subversion. Nosek, backed by Gottwald, refused to yield. He and his fellow Communists threatened to use force and, in order to avoid defeat in parliament, mobilised groups of their supporters in the country. On 21 February, twelve non-Communist ministers resigned in protest after Nosek refused to reinstate eight non-Communist senior police officers despite a majority vote of the cabinet in favour of doing so. Most of the ministers remained at their posts, with Social Democratic leader Zdeněk Fierlinger making no secret of his support for the Communists.

On 25 February 1948, Beneš, fearful of civil war and Soviet intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the non-Communist ministers and appointed a new government in accordance with KSČ demands.

Following the coup, the Communists moved quickly to consolidate their power. Thousands were fired and hundreds were arrested. Thousands fled the country to avoid living under Communism.[13] The National Assembly, freely elected two years earlier, quickly fell into line and gave Gottwald's revamped government a vote of confidence in March. The 230-0 result was unanimous, although nine MPs had resigned following the coup.

Czechoslovakia remained as a Communist regime until the Velvet Revolution of 1989. More immediately, the coup became synonymous with the Cold War. The loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe came as a profound shock to millions. For the second time in a decade, Western eyes saw Czechoslovak independence and democracy snuffed out by a totalitarian dictatorship intent on dominating a small country.

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