Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Masaryk, Jan (1886–1948)

Czechoslovakian diplomat and foreign minister (1940–1948). Born in Prague on 14 September 1886, the son of Professor Tomáš G. Masaryk, founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, Jan Masaryk graduated from Charles University in Prague in 1907. He then studied at Boston University and worked in various jobs before returning to Prague in 1913. During World War I, he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army at the same time his father was working abroad to bring about the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Following the war and the creation of the new state of Czechoslovakia, Masaryk entered its diplomatic service, becoming chargé d'affaires in Washington, D.C., in 1919. Two years later he was appointed secretary to Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš. In 1925 Masaryk became ambassador to Great Britain, serving there until the 1938 Munich Agreement, after which he resigned in protest.

In July 1940, President Beneš appointed Masaryk foreign minister of the London-based Czechoslovak government-in-exile. During the war, Masaryk delivered regular radio messages beamed to occupied Czechoslovakia to bolster civilian morale. He also carefully pursued Beneš's policy of cooperation with both the Soviet Union and the Western powers.

In May 1945 Masaryk accompanied Beneš on the latter's visit to Moscow to meet with Soviet leaders and assure them that Czechoslovakia intended to be a bridge between East and West. Masaryk continued as foreign minister even after the communists won a plurality of votes in the May 1946 elections and pursued his effort to retain strong ties with both the communist bloc and the West.

In July 1947 the Czechoslovak government, then led by communist Prime Minister Klement Gottwald, announced its intention to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan. Several days later, when Gottwald, Masaryk, and other Czechoslovak leaders visited Moscow, Josef Stalin forced them to rescind their decision, marking Czechoslovakia's official entrance into the Eastern bloc. Although disappointed and opposed to the communist-dominated government, Masaryk remained the foreign minister, respecting the wishes of President Beneš, even after the communist coup in February 1948.

Two weeks after the communist takeover, on 10 March 1948 Masaryk's body was found in the courtyard of the foreign ministry building in Prague. Communist authorities ruled the death a suicide, but many believed that he was murdered. During the 1968 Prague Spring, the case was reopened. Following the subsequent Warsaw Pact invasion, the case was again closed, but after the 1989 Velvet Revolution another investigation was launched, which in January 2004 concluded that Masaryk had indeed been murdered.

Gregory C. Ference


Further Reading
Zeman, Zbynek A. B. The Masaryks: The Making of Czechoslovakia. London: Tauris, 1990.
 

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