Klement Gottwald

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By the summer of 1947, however, the KSČ's popularity had significantly dwindled, particularly after the Soviets pressured Czechoslovakia to turn down Marshall Plan aid after initially accepting it. Most observers believed Gottwald would be turned out of office at the elections due in May 1948. The Communists' dwindling popularity, combined with France and Italy dropping the Communists from their coalition governments, prompted Joseph Stalin to order Gottwald to begin efforts to eliminate parliamentary opposition to Communism in Czechoslovakia.

Outwardly, though, Gottwald kept up the appearance of working within the system, announcing that he intended to lead the Communists to an absolute majority in the upcoming election—something no Czechoslovak party had ever done. The endgame began in February 1948, when a majority of the Cabinet directed the Communist interior minister, Václav Nosek, to stop packing the police force with Communists. Nosek ignored this directive, with Gottwald's support. In response, 12 non-Communist ministers resigned. They believed that without their support, Gottwald would be unable to govern and be forced to either give way or resign. Beneš initially supported their position, and refused to accept their resignations. Gottwald not only refused to resign, but demanded the appointment of a Communist-dominated government under threat of a general strike. His Communist colleagues occupied the offices of the non-Communist ministers. [7]

On 25 February, Beneš, fearing Soviet intervention, gave in. He accepted the resignations of the non-Communist ministers and appointed a new government in accordance with Gottwald's specifications. Although ostensibly still a coalition, it was dominated by Communists and pro-Moscow Social Democrats. The other parties were still nominally represented, but with the exception of Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk they were fellow travellers handpicked by the Communists. From this date forward, Gottwald was effectively the most powerful man in Czechoslovakia.

Celebration of the International Student Festival in August 1949, Budapest, Hungary. The photograph shows the Czechoslovak delegation; left is a portrait of Gottwald, on the right, Stalin. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R90009, Budapest, II. Weltfestspiele, Festumzug, tschechische Delegation (cropped).jpg
Celebration of the International Student Festival in August 1949, Budapest, Hungary. The photograph shows the Czechoslovak delegation; left is a portrait of Gottwald, on the right, Stalin.

On 9 May, the National Assembly, now a docile tool of the Communists, approved the so-called Ninth-of-May Constitution. While it was not a completely Communist document, its Communist imprint was strong enough that Beneš refused to sign it. Later that month, elections were held in which voters were presented with a single list from the National Front, now a Communist-controlled patriotic organization.

Beneš resigned on 2 June. In accordance with the 1920 Constitution, Gottwald took over most presidential functions until 14 June, when he was formally elected as President.

Leadership of Czechoslovakia

Gottwald initially tried to take a semi-independent line. However, that changed shortly after a meeting with Stalin. Under his direction, Gottwald imposed the Soviet model of government on the country. [7] He nationalized the country's industry and collectivized its farms. There was considerable resistance within the government to Soviet influence on Czechoslovak politics. In response, Gottwald instigated a series of purges, first to remove non-communists, later to remove some communists as well. Some were executed. Prominent Communists who became victims of these purges and were defendants in the Prague Trials included Rudolf Slánský, the party's general secretary, Vlado Clementis (the Foreign Minister) and Gustáv Husák (the leader of an administrative body responsible for Slovakia), who was dismissed from office for "bourgeois nationalism". Slánský and Clementis were executed in December 1952, and hundreds of other government officials were sent to prison. Husák was rehabilitated in the 1960s and became the leader of Czechoslovakia in 1969.

In a famous photograph from 21 February 1948, described also in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Clementis stands next to Gottwald. When Vladimír Clementis was charged in 1950, he was erased from the photograph (along with the photographer Karel Hájek) by the state propaganda department. [8] [9]


Gottwald was a long-time alcoholic [10] and suffered from heart disease caused by syphilis that had gone untreated for several years. [11] Shortly after attending Stalin's funeral on 9 March 1953, one of his arteries burst. He died five days later on 14 March 1953, aged 56. He was the first Czechoslovak president to die in office.

Gottwald's embalmed body was initially displayed in a mausoleum at the site of the Jan Žižka national monument in the district of Žižkov, Prague. In 1962 the personality cult ended and it was no longer deemed appropriate to show Gottwald's body. There are accounts that in 1962 Gottwald's body had blackened and was decomposing due to a botched embalming, although other witnesses have disputed this. [12] His body was cremated, the ashes returned to the Žižka Monument and placed in a sarcophagus.

After the end of the communist period, Gottwald's ashes were removed from the Žižka Monument (in 1990) and placed in a common grave at Prague's Olšany Cemetery, [13] together with the ashes of about 20 other communist leaders which had also originally been placed in the Žižka Monument. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia now maintains that common grave.

After Gottwald

He was succeeded as de facto leader of Czechoslovakia by Antonín Novotný, who became First Secretary of the KSČ. Antonín Zápotocký, who had been prime minister since 1948, succeeded Gottwald as president.

In tribute, Zlín, a city in Moravia, now the Czech Republic, was renamed Gottwaldov after him from 1949 to 1990. Zmiiv, a city in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukrainian SSR, was named Gotvald after him from 1976 to 1990.

A major square and park in Bratislava was named Gottwaldovo námestie after him, later becoming Námestie Slobody (Freedom square) immediately following the Velvet Revolution. The original eponym persists today, the square being referred to by locals as Gottko. A bridge in Prague that is now called Nuselský Most was once called Gottwaldův Most, and the abutting metro station now called Vyšehrad was called Gottwaldova.

A Czechoslovak 100 Koruna banknote issued on 1 October 1989 as part of the 1985–89 banknote series included a portrait of Gottwald. This note was so poorly received by Czechoslovaks that it was removed from official circulation on 31 December 1990 and was promptly replaced with the previous banknote issue of the same denomination.[ citation needed ]

In 2005 he was voted the "Worst Czech" in a Czech television poll (a program under the BBC licence 100 Greatest Britons). He received 26% of the votes. [14]

Wiesenau in Brandenburg, (former East) Germany keeps a street named after Gottwald. [15]

See also

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  1. Gottwald se narodil před 120 lety svobodné děvečce, místo nejasné by Milada Prokopová, iDNES.cz, 23 November 2016.
  2. "Ministr obrany odhalil na Ukrajině památník padlým u Zborova". iDNES.cz. 2 July 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  3. Baroch, Pavel (9 August 2014). "Lži o českých legionářích: Gottwald bojoval u Zborova" [Lies about Czech Legionnaires: Gottwald fought at Zborov] (in Czech). Echo24.cz. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  4. H. Gordon Skilling, "Gottwald and the Bolshevization of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (1929-1939)." American Slavic and East European Review 20.4 (1961): 641-655.
  5. Jean-Baptiste Duroselle: Histoire Diplomatique de 1919 à nos jours, pt.3, ch.2, par.5, pag 256. Dalloz 1993, Paris.
  6. Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944–56. London: Penguin, 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Czechoslovak history". Encyclopædia Britannica .
  8. Photograph of Gottwald and Clementis from 21 February 1948, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Czech News Agency, ctk.cz.
  9. Retouched photograph of Gottwald and Clementis from 21 February 1948, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Czech News Agency, ctk.cz.
  10. iDNES: Za lahev vodky podepsal prezident Gottwald cokoliv, zjistil historik, 25-02-2009, Retrieved 12 October 2019
  11. Radio Prague: Nemoc a smrt Klementa Gottwalda, 30-03-2003, Retrieved 12 October 2019
  12. Radio Prague: Exhibition at Vitkov Memorial highlights the Klement Gottwald personality cult, 08-03-2012, Retrieved 19 September 2012
  13. Hovet, Jason; Muller, Robert (1 March 2013). "Facing tough times, more Czechs long for Communist return". Reuters .
  14. "Největší Čech" [Greatest Czechs]. www.ceskatelevize.cz.
  15. "Streetscapes Mozart, Marx and a Dictator". Zeit Onlline. 13 February 2018.

Further reading

Klement Gottwald
Klement GOTTWALD, predseda ceskoslovenske vlady, oficialni portret (CTK, ID FO00075657).jpg
Klement Gottwald in June 1948
Chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
In office
1929 14 March 1953
(titled as General Secretary 1929-1945)
Political offices
Preceded by
Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
2 July 1946 – 15 June 1948
Succeeded by
Preceded by
President of Czechoslovakia
14 June 1948 – 14 March 1953
Party political offices
Preceded by
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
1945 – 14 March 1953
Succeeded by
Antonín Novotný
as First Secretary