A Most Tragic Figure — The Life & Death of Edvard Beneš

Prague Castle became the official seat of Czechoslovakia when the state was established following World War I, with the indomitable Tomáš G. Masaryk the first to take up the reigns, and one of Masaryk’s closest allies is commemorated in one of the many squares of Prague Castle. Edvard Beneš was one of the most important Czechs of the 20th century, but he is arguably better remembered as one of the most tragic figures of humanity’s most tragic century. Beneš had the misfortune of being the President of Czechoslovakia when the Nazi war machine rolled into town in 1938, before reprising that role just in time for the communist juggernaut to steamroller democracy a decade later. It was all a far cry from those halcyon days studying in Paris and Dijon, years that gave him the rounded education needed to steer a newborn state through the murky waters of initial independence.

Edvard Beneš was actually a student of Masaryk’s, and he quickly became infected with the vivacious nationalism of his teacher. Beneš went on to lecture at Charles University before turning his focus to the establishment and development of an independent Czechoslovak state. Make no mistake about it, Edvard Beneš was a staunch Czechoslovakist — he saw the Czechs and Slovaks as two parts of one major whole. He served as Foreign Minister of the new state until Masaryk’s resignation as President in 1935, replacing his great mentor as the number one man in town. Beneš held that position for three years only, resigning once the West decided to abandon Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.

He soon became the head of Czechoslovak government-in-exile during World War II, and his pre-war experience of the West (you know, the whole abandonment thing) led him to believe that a good relationship with Stalin and the USSR was going to be more beneficial than buddying up to the US and the UK. A 20-year treaty of friendship was thus signed with Stalin, and Beneš was inked in as President once again. He returned to Prague five days after it was liberated at the end of World War II, and he quickly embarked upon rebuilding a state he had helped construct in the first place. The years of fighting had taken its toll on the man, and the ever-growing spectre of communism made his post-war existence far harder than it had been before. Two strokes further ailed him in 1947, and his deteriorating health made it nigh on impossible for him to fight for democracy in the face of political intimidation. The communists took over from him in 1948, and Beneš died just 57 days after his resignation in June 1948.

In Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s, John Bills takes the reader on a tour of Prague using the underground network as his guide, from the birth of the city at Vyšehrad through to the Velvet Revolution at Národní Třída and everywhere in between, including blokes who loved orchids and no small amount of executions. This is everything you ever wanted to know about Prague, and then some. The eBook available in our splendid little shop here.


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