Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Zápotocký, Antonín (1884–1957)

Czech communist politician, prime minister (1948–1953), and president of Czechoslovakia (1953). Born on 19 December 1884 in Zákolany, Bohemia, to a politically active working-class family, Antonín Zápotocký trained as a mason and joined the workers' movement and the Social Democratic Party in Kladno. He became known for his union-organizing abilities and was elected to the Kladno town council in 1911. Arrested several times for his political activities, he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army, serving on various fronts during World War I.

After the war, Zápotocký returned to Kladno, resumed his activity with the Social Democrats, and wrote poetry and several novels about his involvement with the workers' movement. He received a two-year prison sentence for leading the 1920 general strike of Kladno ironworkers and miners. Released early, he became a founding member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) in 1921. He also assisted in the formation of its press and trade union movement.

In 1925 Zápotocký was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly, later serving as a senator. In 1929 he became head of the communist trade union in Czechoslovakia. After the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he was arrested and interned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp until the end of World War II.

In 1945, Zápotocký joined the CPCz Politburo and became head of the Revolutionary Trade Union Organization (RTUO), the blanket union organization in Czechoslovakia. He was again elected to the National Assembly in 1946. He was instrumental in the CPCz's February 1948 coup by rallying his workers in the People's Militia to support the communist takeover. Consequently, he became a deputy prime minister and, after CPCz leader and Premier Klement Gottwald became president in June 1948, succeeded him as premier.

Under Zápotocký's leadership, Czechoslovakia became a hard-line Stalinist state that attacked organized religion, private enterprise, and civil rights while unconditionally supporting Soviet policies at home and abroad. He also played an important role in events leading up to the 1950s purges and show trials in Czechoslovakia.

In 1950 Zápotocký helped reorganize the CPCz and resigned from the RTUO after being elected to the CPCz secretariat and presidium. Upon Gottwald's death in March 1953, Zápotocký became president, holding the position until his death in Prague on 13 November 1953.

Gregory C. Ference


Further Reading
Shoemaker, M. Wesley. Russia, Eurasian States, and Eastern Europe. Harpers Ferry, WV: Stryker-Post, 1994.
 

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