BEFORE the Second World War, Czechoslovakia was the most prosperous and most democratic country in Eastern Europe. The government was based on a Western-style constitution, adopted in 1920. Two successive presidents, Tomas Masaryk and Eduard Benes, guarded and nurtured the democratic principles laid down in the constitution. Although much of the world appeared not apprehensive regarding Nazi Germany, the absorption of Austria by the Reich in early 1938 and mounting claims by Germany to border territory within Czechoslovakia gave the government in Prague considerable reason for alarm. In September came the betrayal at Munich which countenanced the transfer of the border territory to Nazi rule and was the beginning of the end for free Czechoslovakia. The peace which the British prime minister thought he had purchased at Munich lasted only six months, and the remainder of Czechoslovakia fell under Nazi domination, to remain so until near the end of the Second World War.
From the moment that the Red Army entered Czechoslovakia, in October 1944, the indigenous communists began to move into key positions from which to take control over the country. The Italian and French comrades were also making rapid gains, however, and Stalin probably did not wish to alert the West by an open seizure of power in Czechoslovakia. As a result, the communists used political means to fulfill one of their long-standing ambitions: the taking control of a country through a coalition government.1 This process took time and provided a brief respite for Czechoslovak freedom which lasted____________________