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

The Third Republic (1945–1948) and the Communist takeover (1948)

The popular enthusiasm evoked by the Soviet armies of liberation (which was decided by compromise of Allies and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta conference in 1944) benefited the KSČ.

Czechoslovaks, bitterly disappointed by the West at the Munich Agreement (1938), responded favourably to both the KSČ and the Soviet alliance. Reunited into one state after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks set national elections for the spring of 1946.

The democratic elements, led by President Edvard Beneš, hoped the Soviet Union would allow Czechoslovakia the freedom to choose its own form of government and aspired to a Czechoslovakia that would act as a bridge between East and West. Communists secured strong representation in the popularly elected National Committees, the new organs of local administration. In the May 1946 election, the KSČ won most of the popular vote in the Czech part of the bi-ethnic country (40.17%), and the more or less anti-Communist Democratic Party won in Slovakia (62%).

In sum, however, the KSČ only won a plurality of 38 percent of the vote at countrywide level. Edvard Beneš continued as president of the republic, whereas the Communist leader Klement Gottwald became prime minister. Most importantly, although the communists held only a minority of portfolios, they were able to gain control over most of the key ministries (Ministry of the Interior, etc.)

Although the communist-led government initially intended to participate in the Marshall Plan, it was forced by the Kremlin to back out. In 1947, Stalin summoned Gottwald to Moscow; upon his return to Prague, the KSČ demonstrated a significant radicalization of its tactics. On 20 February 1948, the twelve non-communist ministers resigned, in part to induce Beneš to call for early elections; however Beneš refused to accept the cabinet resignations and did not call elections. In the meantime, the KSČ marshalled its forces for the Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948. The communist-controlled Ministry of the Interior deployed police regiments to sensitive areas and equipped a workers' militia. On 25 February Beneš, perhaps fearing Soviet intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the dissident ministers and received a new cabinet list from Gottwald, thus completing the communist takeover under the cover of superficial legality.

On 10 March 1948, the moderate foreign minister of the government, Jan Masaryk, was found dead in suspicious circumstances that have still not been definitively proved to constitute either suicide or political assassination.

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