The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe, 1944-1949

By Norman Naimark; Leonid Gibianskii | Go to book overview

12
The Czech Road to Communism

Igor Lukes

The history of Czechoslovakia spans only three quarters of a century. Its intermittent crises have captured the world's attention, while its decades of humiliation and melancholy have slipped by unnoticed. Thus far, historians specializing in Czechoslovak affairs have tended focus primarily on events that invite attention: President Masaryk's triumphant return to Prague from exile in 1918; the Munich capitulation on September 30, 1938; the Heydrich era in 1941-1942; the Communist terror of the 1950s; and the "Velvet revolution" of 1989. Each of these can be described in rather clear-cut terms. The period from May 1945 to February 1948 is different. It defies any simplistic categorization, for it embodies joy and hope, as well as frustration and failure. 1

Between May 1945 and February 1948, Czechoslovakia plummeted from the heights of postwar euphoria to the pit of a Kafkaesque totalitarian regime. Some writers have characterized the postwar Czechoslovak crisis as the victorious march of progressive forces to Communism. For them, the Communist coup of 1948 was a domestic affair -- the triumph of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC) over its bourgeois rivals. Others have viewed the crisis of 1948 and the Communist take-over in February as the rape of Czechoslovak democracy by the Kremlin. Documents obtained from newly opened archives in Prague show that neither approach adequately explains the developments between 1945 and 1948.

I propose to argue the following three points. First, Czechoslovak Communists did much of the dirty work that they typically ascribed to the Kremlin. From April 1945, they controlled the Ministry of Interior,

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