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History - Edvard Beneš
Born into a peasant family in a small village 60 km west of Prague on 26th May 1884, Edvard Beneš spent much of his youth in Prague, attending a grammar school from 1896 to 1904. After his studies at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Charles University, he left for Paris and continued his studies at the Sorbonne and at the Independent School of Political and Social Studies. He completed his first degree in Dijon, where he received his Doctorate of Laws in 1908. Then he taught for three years at the Prague Academy of Commerce, and after his habilitation in the field of philosophy in 1912, he became a lecturer in sociology at Charles University.

First exile, 1915 – 1918
During World War I, Beneš was one of the leading organizers of an independent Czechoslovakia abroad. He organized "Maffia", a Czech pro-independence anti-Austrian secret resistance movement. In September 1915, he was exiled and in Paris he made strong diplomatic efforts to gain recognition from France and the United Kingdom for the Czechoslovak independence movement. From 1916–1918 he was a Secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris and Minister of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs within the Provisional Czechoslovak government.

Czechoslovakia, 1918 - 1938
In 1918, Beneš represented Czechoslovakia in talks of the Treaty of Versailles. From 1918–1935, he was the first and the longest serving Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia and from 1920–1925 and 1929–1935 also a member of the Parliament. In 1921 he became a professor and in 1921–1922 Prime Minister. In years 1923–1927 he was a member of the League of Nations Council, serving as president of its committee from 1927–1928. He was a renowned and influential figure at international conferences, such as Genoa 1922, and a member of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party, until 1925 known as Czechoslovak Socialist Party. Being a strong Czechoslovakist, he did not consider Slovaks and Czechs as separate ethnicities.  

In 1935, Beneš became President, succeeding Masaryk. He tried to oppose Germany's claim to the Sudetenland in 1938, but in October the crisis brought Europe on the brink of war. Although the Munich Agreement signed by Britain and France prevented war, it allowed for the immediate annexation and military occupation of the territory by Germany. On 5 October 1938, after the Munich Agreement, Beneš was forced to resign under German pressure and Emil Hácha became the new President. In March 1939, Hácha's government was forced to authorize the German occupation of the remaining Czech Republic. By then, Slovakia had declare

Second exile, 1938 - 1945
For the second time, Beneš was exiled on 22nd October 1938, and went to Putney, London. In 1940 he organized the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London, making Jan Šrámek a Prime Minister and himself the President. In 1941 alongside with František Moravec he planned Operation Anthropoid, with the intent of assassinating Reinhard Heydrich. This was realized in 1942, and resulted into brutal German atrocities, such as the execution of thousands of Czechs and the villages of Lidice and Ležáky being wiped out. Although Beneš was not a Communist, he also kept friendly relations with Stalin. In 1943 he signed the entente between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in order to secure Czechoslovakia's political position, as well as his own.

Second presidency, 1945 - 1948
After World War II, Beneš returned home and returned to his former position as President. He was not elected President in 1945 but unanimously confirmed as the former president of the republic by the National Assembly on 28 October 1945. On 19th June 1946 he was formally elected to his second term as President. The Beneš decrees, officially referred to as Decrees of the President of the Republic, among other things, dispossessed citizens of German and Hungarian ethnicity, and created the base for the eventual deportation of the majority of Germans to Germany and Austria. The decrees remain valid to this day and are considered controversial, with the expellees demanding their repeal. The Czech government has repeatedly proposed that the decrees are no longer applied, and this view has been accepted by the European Commission and the European Parliament. Beneš presided over a coalition government involving Democrats as well as Communists, having the Communist leader Klement Gottwald as a prime minister. On 25th February 1948, the Communists assumed complete power in a coup d'état. Beneš resigned as President on 7th June 1948 and was succeeded by Gottwald.

Death, 1948
Edvard Beneš died peacefully of natural causes at his villa in Sezimovo Ústí, Czechoslovakia on 3rd September, 1948. He is interred along with his wife in the garden of his villa and his bust is part of the gravestone.

 

Marek Rapant
British International School of Bratislava

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Bratislava History Project
British International School of Bratislava
Peknikova 6, 841 02 Bratislava
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Contact : Richard Jones-Nerzic