Three thousand years ago the Slavic people, today occupying Eastern Europe and Russia, wandered the plains of Central Asia. They were driven to the lands were they live today by barbaric tribes. They developed a civilized community, which during the reign of Charles IV became amongst the most advanced in Europe. They built bridges, universities and cathedrals that even today are utilised in Prague.
After this period, the kingdom fell into a period of darkness and was captured and laid under the Habsburgs who controlled the area until 1918. After World War I the U.S President Woodrow Wilson advocated the principle of national self determination. Each people or nation should also form their own state. This was an important principle in the Treaty of Versailles and other treaties dealing with the new map of Europe, after World War I. Since there was a large mass of Slavic people in the area of the former Czechoslovakia, the Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918/19.
Former Czechoslovakia and today's Czech Republic is located in a very important strategic location in Central Europe. Furthermore, it was one of the pivotal countries in the Eastern Bloc. Bordering West Germany, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Austria, it was the Soviet Unions last outpost against the Western Alliance.
Czechoslovakia arose when the Czechs and Slovaks formed Czechoslovakia after the Austrian-Hungarian empire had been dissolved. It quickly became one of the most advanced countries in Europe. Czechoslovakia could build on a strong political and industrial base. Due to the 3 million Germans who lived in the Sudetenland, problems arose. When Hitler became the Führer he demanded that the Sudetenland should be merged with Germany. The Western countries pursuing their appeasement policy, thought that if they surrendered a small country in Central Europe, no one would care. Give the dictators what they want and peace would be preserved.
When the Munich Agreement was signed on September 29 1938, and parts of Czechoslovakia was handed over to Nazi Germany, the Czech President Edvard Benes was not invited. That day would become on of the most important days in the Czechoslovak history. It would become known as a betrayal. It was said to be Hitler's last territorial claim in Europe. Czechoslovakia had to hand over the Sudetenland only to be occupied in March 1939.
When Hitler invaded, the Czechoslovak government fled to France where the exile government was established. In the year of 1943 Benes signed a treaty with the Soviet Union which was used as the legal basis for Soviet presence in the country in the immidiate postwar period. In this treaty Benes also tried to make sure that he would be a leader in an Eastern Europe country, to rule his country without inteference from the Soviet Union. There were free elections held in 1946 in which the communist party KSC got 40% of the votes - a figure that was attributed to the electrate's gratitude toward the Soviet Union for liberating their country from the German occupationand, which perhaps was more important, than the fact that the Soviet Union had not been a part of the Munich Agreement.
There were 25 mebers in the new, post-war, government. Seven positions were held by the communists. In the government following the 1946 election, the key-government positions were taken by members of the Communist Party, including the premiership, held by Klement Gottwald. Benes kept the western-style multi-party system. Shortly after the election the popularity of the communists seriously declined because of events elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and the party moved to grab power by replacing non-communist police officers with party-members. This was the beginning to the Prague Coup which took place 1948.
In protest against this policy, the non-communist cabinet members tendered their resignations in February 1948 in the hope of forcing an early general election. But the Social Democratic Party refused to join the rest of the non-communistic bloc, and in the confusion that took place the communist-controlled police took their chance and arrested all its opponents. They suppressed all non-party newspapers, placed party-members in key-positions, and surrounded Prague with armed activists supported by the Red Army. Finally the Communist Party instituted a Soviet-like constitution. Benes, who at this time was seriously ill, chose to resign in June 1948 and he died shortly afterwards. He was immediately succeeded by Klement Gottwald. The new President continued with his Stalinist-type purges of all non-communists and party deviationists. Thousands of people were arrested, subjected to show trials and imprisoned or executed. The most famous show trial was the one of the former Party General Secretary Rudolf Slansky.
One could easily say that Gottwald was one of Stalin's most slavish disciples. He completely nationalized the industry and collectivised the farms. In 1948 Gottwald met Stalin and he was told exactly how to run the country. Since the situation in the Soviet Union was not the same as in Czechoslovakia, Gottwald had a hard time pursuing his policy. As a result Stalin sent advisors who were placed in key-positions and their main mission was to ensure that the orthodox policies were followed. It was very important, from Stalin's point of view, to control the satellites firmly.
Gottwald was in the end of the 1940s, faced with more and more party officials who were discontent with the Soviet stronghold on Czechoslovak politics. Gottwald´s answer was that he together with Soviet-controlled police, began to purge party-members. Among other Vladimir Clementis, the Foreign Minister and Gustav Husak, the Prime Minister were both dismissed from office. They were accused of bourgeois nationalism. In February 1951 Husak was arrested and imprisoned, and Clementis was executed in December 1952. The previously arrested Slansky was together with 10 other party officials executed charged with leading an anti-state conspiracy. During Gottwald's purges, 200 leading communists were executed, thousands were sent to concentration- or labour-camps or to mines in the Western part of Czechoslovakia.
Gottwald died in March 1953 only nine days after Stalin. He was succeeded from 1953-1957 by Antonin Zapotocky and then in 1957 by Antonín Novotný. The latter maintained the Stalinist style and policies of Gottwald despite the de-Stalinazation campaign elsewhere in the socialistic bloc.
By the year of 1963 almost everyone realised that the economic system of the country had to be reformed. The reforms proposed involved decentralized decision-making and improved incentives in what became known as "market socialism". As the economic reforms started to make changes, voices demanding similar political reforms were raised. In Czechoslovakia the demands took on greater meaning because of the rivalry between the two populations, the Czechs and the Slovaks.