Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Husák, Gustáv (1913–1991)

Slovak Communist Party official and president of Czechoslovakia (1975–1989). Born on 10 January 1913 in Dúbravka, now part of Bratislava, Slovakia, Gustáv Husák studied law at Comenius University and joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) in 1933. During World War II the Slovak fascist government jailed him several times for communist activities. Upon his release in 1943, he supported the resistance movement and became a member of the Central Committee of the Slovak Communist Party (SCP). In 1944 he became a leader of the Slovak national uprising, fleeing to the Soviet Union when it failed.

After the war, Husák returned to Czechoslovakia and joined the Central Committees of the CPCz and the SCP while heading the Slovak regional government. He was also instrumental in the communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia. In 1951, Stalinist purges removed him from his positions. In 1954 Husák was arrested on charges of treason and bourgeois nationalism and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The government pardoned him in 1960, and his SCP and CPCz memberships were fully restored in 1963.

During the 1968 Prague Spring, Husák became deputy prime minister and head of the SCP, supporting the reforms of Alexander Dubček. Husák worked to federalize the country and urged caution with the reforms in regard to the Soviet Union. He suddenly turned against the reforms when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, and he then participated in negotiations with Soviet leaders. Duly impressed, the Soviets installed Husák as first secretary of the CPCz in April 1969, replacing Dubček. Husák then pursued a policy of so-called normalization by sweeping away most of the Dubček reforms, purging the CPCz and SCP, and increasing political and social repression throughout Czechoslovakia. He became general secretary of the CPCz in 1971 and president of Czechoslovakia in 1975.

After Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, criticism of Husák's regime increased. In part because of a declining economy, Husák resigned as general secretary in December 1987 but remained president. The Velvet Revolution in November 1989 witnessed the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and when a new Czechoslovak government, the majority of which was noncommunist, was sworn in, Husák resigned the presidency on 10 December 1989. He was replaced by Václav Havel. Husák retired from politics and returned to his hometown. In February 1990 the CPCz expelled him. Husák died in Dúbravka on 18 November 1991.

Gregory C. Ference


Further Reading
Rothschild, Joseph, and Nancy Merriweather Wingfield. Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe since World War II. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
 

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