Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Beneš, Edvard (1884–1948)

Title: Edvard Beneš
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Czechoslovak politician, foreign minister (1918–1935), and president (1935–1938 and 1948). Born on 28 May 1884 in Kozlany, Bohemia, Edvard Beneš studied at Charles University in Prague, the Sorbonne in Paris, and then the University of Dijon, where he earned a doctorate in law in 1908. He was appointed a professor of sociology at the University of Prague in 1912 and there became a protégé of Czech nationalist leader Tomáš G. Masaryk.

Beneš was appointed secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council in 1916. This council became the Czech Provisional Government in 1918. Beneš was named foreign minister of the new state of Czechoslovakia, a post he held until 1935. As foreign minister, he worked to strengthen ties with Romania and Yugoslavia, which with Czechoslovakia formed the so-called Little Entente. Beneš was also a tireless advocate of the League of Nations and served as the National Council's chairman five times. When Masaryk resigned as president of Czechoslovakia in December 1935, Beneš replaced him.

The one intractable problem that Beneš and his ministers could not resolve was that of the minorities, especially the Germans. The Nazi government of Germany pushed grievances into calls for annexation. Germany's absorption of the Sudetenland as a result of the September 1938 Munich Conference prompted Beneš to resign in October. He then went into exile in France.

In July 1940 Beneš became president of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London. During the war he worked to preserve an independent Czechoslovakian state. Toward that end he worked to forge close ties with the Soviet Union, hoping that Czechoslovakia might be a bridge between East and West. In December 1943 Beneš concluded a twenty-year treaty of mutual friendship with the Soviets. In April 1945, a new Czechoslovak provisional government was established at Košice, in Czechoslovakia, with Beneš as temporary president.

Beneš was reelected president of Czechoslovakia in 1946. Following Communist Party gains in the December elections that year, he named communist leader Klement Gottwald to head a new coalition government. The Soviets were not content with an independent Czechoslovakia and in February 1948 staged a coup d'état. Embittered by the coup that he had been unable to prevent, heartbroken over the death under suspicious circumstances of his close friend Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk a month after the coup, and in declining health, Beneš resigned as president on 7 June 1948. He died in Sezimovo Ústi on 3 September 1948.

Michael D. Richards


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Lukes, Igor. Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Beneš in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.; Taborsky, Edward. President Edvard Beneš: Between East and West, 1938–1948. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1981.; Zeman, Zbynek, and Antonin Klimek. The Life of Edvard Beneš, 1884–1948: Czechoslovakia in Peace and War. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1997.
 

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