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Edvard Beneš with his wife 1934
Statue of Edvard Beneš in front of headquarters of Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague
Edvard Beneš ( ) (28 May 1884 – 3 September 1948) was a leader of the Czechoslovakmarker independence movement, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the second President of Czechoslovakia. He was known to be a skilled diplomat.


Edvard Beneš was born into a peasant family in a small village of Kožlanymarker near Rakovníkmarker, ca. 60 km west of Praguemarker. He spent much of his youth in Vinohradymarker district of Prague, where he attended a grammar school from 1896 to 1904.During this time he played football for Slavia Prague. After studies at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Charles University in Prague, he left for Parismarker and continued his studies at the Sorbonnemarker and at the Independent School of Political and Social Studies (École Libre des Sciences Politiques). He completed his first degree in Dijonmarker, 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. He was involved in Scouting.

First exile

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


From 1918–1935, Beneš was first and the longest serving Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakiamarker, and from 1920–1925 and 1929–1935 a member of the Parliament. He represented Czechoslovakia in talks of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1921 he was a professor and also from 1921–1922 Prime Minister. Between 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, Locarno 1925, The Hague 1930, and Lausanne in 1932.

Beneš was a member of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (until 1925 called Czechoslovak Socialist Party) and a strong Czechoslovakist - he did not consider Slovaks and Czechs to be separate ethnicities.

In 1935, Beneš succeeded Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk as President. He opposed Germany's claim to the German-speaking Sudetenland in 1938. In October, the Sudeten Crisis brought Europe on the brink of war, which was averted only as Francemarker and Great Britainmarker signed the Munich Agreement, which allowed for the immediate annexation and military occupation of the Sudetenland by Germany.

After this event, which proceeded without Czechoslovakian participation, Beneš was forced to resign on 5 October 1938 under German pressure and Emil Hácha was chosen as President. In March 1939, Hàcha's government was bullied into authorising the German occupation of the remaining territory of Czechia. (Slovakia had declared its independence by then.)

Second exile

On 22 October 1938 Beneš went into exile in Putneymarker, Londonmarker. In November 1940 in the wake of London Blitz, Beneš, his wife, their nieces, and his household staff moved to The Abbeymarker at Aston Abbottsmarker near Aylesburymarker in Buckinghamshire. The staff of his private office, including his Secretary Edvard Táborský and his chief of staff Jaromír Smutný, moved to The Old Manor House in the neighbouring village of Wingravemarker, while his military intelligence staff headed by František Moravec was stationed in the nearby village of Addingtonmarker.

In 1940 he organized the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London with Jan Šrámek as Prime Minister and himself as President. In 1941 Beneš and František Moravec planned Operation Anthropoidmarker, with the intention of assassinating Reinhard Heydrich. This was implemented in 1942, and, predictably, resulted in brutal German reprisals such as the execution of thousands of Czechs and the eradication of two villages of Lidicemarker and Ležákymarker.

Although not a Communist, Beneš was also on friendly terms with Stalin. In 1943 he signed the entente between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Unionmarker. According to British writer Nigel West's book on the Venona project, Edvard Beneš was Soviet spy codename "19".

Second presidency

After the Prague uprising at the end of World War II, Beneš returned home and reassumed 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. Under article 58.5 of the Constitution, "The former president shall stay in his or her function till the new president shall be elected." On 19 June 1946 Beneš was formally elected to his second term as President.

The Beneš decrees (officially called "Decrees of the President of the Republic"), among other things, expropriated citizens of German and Hungarian ethnicity, and paved the way for the eventual expulsion of the majority of Germans to West and East Germany and Austria. The decrees are still in force to this day and remain controversial, with the expellees demanding their repeal. The Czech government's repeated assurances that the decrees are no longer applied have been accepted by the European Commissionmarker and the European Parliamentmarker.

Beneš presided over a coalition government involving Democrats and Communists, with the Communist leader Klement Gottwald as prime minister. On 25 February 1948, the Communists assumed complete power in a coup d'état. Beneš resigned as President on 7 June 1948 and Gottwald succeeded him as President.


Beneš died of natural causes at his villa in Sezimovo Ústímarker, Czechoslovakiamarker on 3 September 1948. He is interred along with his wife in the garden of his villa and his bust is part of the gravestone.

See also


  1. Stalo se před 100 lety: Robinson a Beneš - Radio Praha
  2. HISTORIE: Špion, kterému nelze věřit - Neviditelný pes
  3. Nigel West, Venona, the Greatest Secret of the Cold War, London: HarperCollins, 1999.
  4. Prozatimní NS RČS 1945-1946, 2. schůze, část 1/4


  • Milan Hauner *(ed.): Edvard Beneš’ MEMOIRS: THE DAYS OF MUNICH (vol.1), WAR AND RESISTANCE (vol.2), DOCUMENTS (vol.3). First critical edition of reconstructed War Memoirs 1938-45 of President Beneš of Czechoslovakia (published by Academia Prague 2007. ISBN 978-80-200-1529-7)

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