Ludvík Svoboda

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Ludvík Svoboda
Ludvik Svoboda (Author - Stanislav Tereba).JPG
8th President of Czechoslovakia
In office
30 March 1968 28 May 1975
Preceded by Antonín Novotný
Succeeded by Gustáv Husák
Personal details
Born(1895-11-25)25 November 1895
Hroznatín, Moravia, Austria Hungary
Died20 September 1979(1979-09-20) (aged 83)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
(now Czech Republic)
Political party Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
Spouse(s)Irena Svobodová (19011980)
Signature Ludvik Svoboda signature.svg
Military service
AllegianceFlag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg  Austria-Hungary
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czechoslovakia
Service/branchWar flag of Austria-Hungary (1918).svg Austro-Hungarian Army
Flag of Bohemia.svg Czechoslovak Legions
Logo Czechoslovak Army (pre1961).svg Czechoslovak Army
Years of service1915 (Austria-Hungary)
1916 1950 (Czechoslovakia)
Rank CsArmy1960armadni general Shoulder.png General of the Army
Commands 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in the USSR
Battles/wars World War I
Russian Civil War

World War II

AwardsTCH CS Vojensky Rad Bileho Lva 1st (1945) BAR.svg Military Order of the White Lion
RUS Georgievsky Krest 1st BAR.svg Cross of St. George
Order suvorov1 rib.png Order of Suvorov
Legion Honneur GO ribbon.svg Legion of Honour
US Legion of Merit Commander ribbon.png Legion of Merit
Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg Order of the Bath
Svoboda and I Czechoslovak Army Corps Legie - slavnostni nastup.jpg
Svoboda and I Czechoslovak Army Corps

Ludvík Svoboda (25 November 1895 20 September 1979) was a Czechoslovak general and politician. He fought in both World Wars, for which he was regarded as a national hero, [1] [2] [3] and he later served as President of Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1975.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.


Early life

Svoboda was born in Hroznatín, Moravia to family of Jan Svoboda. His father died when he was one year old and he was raised by his mother Františka who remarried to František Nejedlý. Ludvík Svoboda attended Agricultural school at Velké Meziříčí and worked at Vineyard. In 1915, he had to join the Austro-Hungarian Army. [4] [5]

Hroznatín Village in Czech Republic

Hroznatín is a village in the Vysočina Region, Czech Republic. It is the birthplace of General Ludvík Svoboda.

Moravia Historical land in Czech Republic

Moravia is a historical region in the Czech Republic and one of the historical Czech lands, together with Bohemia and Czech Silesia. The medieval and early modern Margraviate of Moravia was a crown land of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, an imperial state of the Holy Roman Empire, later a crown land of the Austrian Empire and briefly also one of 17 former crown lands of the Cisleithanian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918. During the early 20th century, Moravia was one of the five lands of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1928; it was then merged with Czech Silesia, and eventually dissolved by abolition of the land system in 1949.

Velké Meziříčí Town in Czech Republic

Velké Meziříčí is a town in the Vysočina Region, Czech Republic. It is situated under the original Gothic castle in a valley framed by the hills of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands.

World War I

Ludvík was sent to Eastern Front was captured on 18 September 1915 at Tarnopol. He joined Czechoslovak Legion and took part in battles of Zborov and Bakhmach. He returned home through "Siberian anabasis".

Eastern Front (World War I) part of World War I

The Eastern Front or Eastern Theater of World War I was a theatre of operations that encompassed at its greatest extent the entire frontier between the Russian Empire and Romania on one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire on the other. It stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, involved most of Eastern Europe and stretched deep into Central Europe as well. The term contrasts with "Western Front", which was being fought in Belgium and France.

Czechoslovak Legion

The Czechoslovak Legion were volunteer armed forces composed predominantly of Czechs with a small number of Slovaks fighting on the side of the Entente powers during World War I. Their goal was to win the support of the Allied Powers for the independence of Bohemia and Moravia from the Austrian Empire and of Slovak territories from the Kingdom of Hungary, which were then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With the help of émigré intellectuals and politicians such as the Czech Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and the Slovak Milan Rastislav Štefánik, they grew into a force of over 100,000 strong.

Battle of Zborov (1917) WW1 battle

The Battle of Zborov was a part of the Kerensky Offensive,. The battle was the first significant action of the Czechoslovak Legions on the Eastern Front and the only successful engagement of the failed Russian offensive.

Interwar period

He worked at his father's estate before launching his military career in the Czechoslovak Army in 1921. He married Irena Stratilová, afterwards named Irena Svobodová. In 1923 and in the early 1930s Svoboda taught at a military academy.

Czechoslovak Army 1918-1992 combined military forces of Czechoslovakia

The Czechoslovak Army was the name of the armed forces of Czechoslovakia. It was established in 1918 following Czechoslovakia's independence from Austria-Hungary.

Military academy higher education institution operated by or for the military

A military academy or service academy is an educational institution which prepares candidates for service in the officer corps. It normally provides education in a military environment, the exact definition depending on the country concerned.

World War II

After the German occupation in spring 1939 he became a member of a secret underground organization Obrana národa meaning "National Defense". It is supposed that at the same time he established connection with Soviet intelligence. In June 1939 he fled to Poland, forming a Czechoslovak military unit in Kraków, before falling into Soviet captivity during the Soviet invasion of Poland. As he related it after the war, he escaped certain death after asking his captors to call a phone number in Moscow where they could obtain personal information about him; this worked.[ citation needed ] After the outbreak of the German offensive against the Soviet Union, Svoboda became head of the Czechoslovak military units on the Eastern Front.[ citation needed ] The Czechoslovak units fought the Germans for the first time in March 1943 at the Battle of Sokolovo in Ukraine. As a commander he also led troops of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in the Battle of the Dukla Pass in the fall of 1944 when, after a very heavy fighting, this unit managed to cross the Czechoslovak state border for the first time. Svoboda's charismatic leadership and personal bravery was highly valued by his commanding officer at the time, Soviet marshal Ivan Konev.[ citation needed ] Trusted by Klement Gottwald's exile leadership[ citation needed ] and Soviet functionaries,[ citation needed ] he quickly climbed the military ranks, becoming army general in August 1945.

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia former country

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was a protectorate of Nazi Germany established on 16 March 1939 following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939. Earlier, following the Munich Agreement of September 1938, Nazi Germany had incorporated the Czech Sudetenland territory as a Reichsgau.

Obrana národa (ON) was a Czech resistance organization that fought against the German occupation from 1939 to 1945. It opposed Nazi rule in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The group was founded by General Josef Bílý in April 1939.

Czechoslovak Legion of 1939 was the military unit formed in the Second Polish Republic after Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. The unit took symbolic part in the defence of Poland during the German invasion to Poland in September 1939.

Post-war political career

In World War II a substantial part of Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Red Army and the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps under the leadership of Svoboda. Svoboda was appointed Minister of Defense while being welcomed as a hero of the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union enjoyed a great popularity among the population and in the elections of 1946 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won 38% of the vote nationwide.

On 22 February 1948, nearly all of the non-Communist cabinet ministers resigned in protest of the practices of Gottwald and the other Communists. Svoboda was one of the few who remained in office. The Communist-dominated Revolutionary Trade Union Movement voted unanimously to replace the 12 departed ministers with pro-Communist ministers. As armed workers and the People's Militias took to the streets, Svoboda refused to quell the insurrection with military force, saying "the army will not march against the people". Two days later (and one day after a general strike in which 2.5 million citizens participated), President Edvard Beneš gave in to growing pressure from Gottwald and appointed a government dominated by Communists and pro-Soviet Social Democrats--in effect, giving legal sanction to a Communist coup. The takeover was completely bloodless. Svoboda, whose label had been that of an "apolitical" minister since the first days of his term, then joined the Communist Party whose de facto Trojan horse he had been all the time and was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly at the 1948 election.

Svoboda was forced out of the army (in which he had reached the rank of Army General in November 1945) in 1950 under pressure from the Soviets.[ citation needed ] He was Deputy Prime Minister from 1950 to 1951. In the purges which followed Svoboda was imprisoned and "recommended" to save his image by committing suicide, but eventually released and stripped of all offices. His return to public life took place upon a personal wish of Khrushchev, whom Svoboda had met during the war, and he subsequently headed the Klement Gottwald Military Academy.

In 1946 he was awarded the title People's Hero of Yugoslavia. Svoboda was also awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union (on 24 November 1965 [6] ), and Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (being awarded the latter title again in 1970 and 1975). He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (1970).


Josef Smrkovsky & Ludvik Svoboda 83053 9416 Smrkovsky a Svoboda 68.jpg
Josef Smrkovský & Ludvík Svoboda

After the ending of the Antonín Novotný regime, in the period known as the Prague Spring, Svoboda was elected President of Czechoslovakia on 30 March 1968, on the recommendation of Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary. He was an acceptable candidate both for Czechs and Slovaks, and as a war hero and a victim of the purges of the early 1950s, he enjoyed a very high esteem among the population.

Svoboda then gave a mild consent to the reform process of the new Party leadership until the Warsaw Pact intervention in August 1968. Horrified at his experiences in two world wars, he signed an order preventing the Czechoslovak Army from getting involved with the invading Warsaw Pact troops. He traveled to Moscow in order to secure the release of Dubček and the other reform leaders, who had been kidnapped by the invading forces. However, when Svoboda arrived, Leonid Brezhnev demanded that he appoint a "peasant-workers' government" in order to give credence to the planned official line—that hardliners in the KSČ had themselves requested the invasion. Svoboda not only refused, but threatened to put a bullet into his head in the presence of Brezhnev unless Dubček and the other reformists were released.

Nevertheless, Svoboda could do nothing to prevent Brezhnev from forcing the Czechoslovak representatives to sign the notorious Moscow protocols, [7] which meant a factual capitulation as they were kept secret and provided the Warsaw Pact armies with a factual licence to a "temporary stay" (as it was called later at an October parliamentary session) in Czechoslovakia. The protocols also obliged the Party leadership to promote political, cultural and other changes to stop the reform process. Svoboda also supported Minister of Defence Martin Dzúr, who ordered the Czechoslovak army to not show any resistance. Given the public outrage and resistance, Svoboda's arbitrary action was in fact in accord with Brezhnev's intent.

Normalisation period

Svoboda survived the removal of reformist Communists in Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the Prague Spring, while passively witnessing the purges and the suffocation of the civil liberties that had briefly been restored. He even helped muzzle the press and also contributed to Dubček's replacement with Gustáv Husák in April 1969. To the day he died, he believed and maintained that his submissive conduct before Brezhnev helped save thousands of lives from "immense consequences"; and he defended this policy by invoking his own memories of the horrors of war.

Svoboda resisted Husák's attempts to oust him from the presidency until 1975, when he was forced to retire through a constitutional act (paragraph 64 Nr.143/1968 Sb.). This act stated that if the incumbent president was unable to carry out his office's duties for a year or more, the Federal Assembly had the right to elect a permanent successor. In Svoboda's case, he had been in ill health for some time, making the act relevant.

Despite being misused by politicians for their goals several times, Svoboda still enjoys a limited credit among Czechs and Slovaks, probably due to his brave stance and fortitude on several occasions during crucial moments of Czechoslovak history. Squares and streets in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia continue to bear his name, while those of most other Communist-era leaders were removed after the Velvet Revolution. His attitude can be perhaps explained by his own words: "All I have ever done must be measured by my intention to serve best my people and my country."

Honours and awards

Czechoslovakia (19201939)
Russian Empire
Soviet Union

See also

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  1. 1 2 (in Czech) Biography in Czech at his web page Archived 17 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. czech
  3. czech Archived 1 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Svoboda, Ludvík (1996). Cestami života. [Říčany u Prahy]: Orego. pp. 113–122, 209–216. ISBN   80-902107-5-9.
  5. Klusáková-Svobodová, Zoe (2005). Ludvík Svoboda : životopis. Kroměříž: Město Kroměříž. p. 47. ISBN   80-239-4706-0.
  6. (in Russian) Biography at the website on Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia
  7. Libor Budinský: Trinásť prezidentov, Ikar 2004, ISBN   80-551-0751-3
  8. Badraie Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
Government offices
Preceded by
Jan Syrový
(before World War II)
Minister of Defence of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Alexej Čepička
Preceded by
Antonín Novotný
President of Czechoslovakia
30 March 1968–28 May 1975
Succeeded by
Gustáv Husák