Important personalities

21. 9. 2009

The Beneš's Government

In the course of September we will commemorate two anniversaries related to Edvard Beneš. On 3 September it will be 61-year anniversary of the death of the second Czechoslovak President. A less known anniversary will be on 22 September: 88-years anniversary of the Edvard Beneš's appointment as the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. Many people will be certainly surprised at this fact. Beneš's activities in the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President are widely known but his performance at the head of the government is less known stage of his life.


Edvard BenešIn the course of 1921 were continuing negotiations on the establishment of the parliamentary government. It was nearly one year after the resignation of Vlastimil Tusar caused by a split in the Social Democratic Party. Since then a caretaker government of Jan Černý governed. First it seemed that negotiation would lead to an agreement on a new political cabinet, at the head of which would be the chairman of the most powerful political party, i.e. the Agrarian Party of Antonín Švehla. After his illness, which was perhaps only a fitting excuse hiding his reluctance to become a Prime Minister in such an uncertain situation, it was Edvard Beneš who finally became a new Prime Minister. Historian Antonín Klimeš states that a possible objective of the Beneš's appointment was to highlight his lack of abilities to exercise authority over home policy and thus to put an end to speculations concerning his succession in the position of the President, as there were leaders of the individual political parties who had their eyes for that post.

Edvard Benes with wifeThe intention was that the new government would have a status of a so called semi-caretaker cabinet. It should not have been very strong as it should have been a submissive tool of "The Five", which was a non-constitutional organ that consisted of representatives of five most powerful political parties; this organ through its internal agreements enabled function of caretaker cabinets. To a great surprise, members of this organ did not directly participate in the cabinet. Only the People's Party nominated its strong personalities, while other parties nominated experienced party members but not the elite ones. After one year also members of the Social Democratic Party jointed the cabinet as the party recovered after turbulences accompanied its disintegration.

As it was indicated above, "The Five" had strong tendencies to infringe upon the government policy. However Beneš, unlike Černý, proved to be less submissive Prime Minister and he resisted to hectoring. He demanded the Ministerial Council, as the government was called then, to decide on the state policy and he wanted the directives of "The Five" not be binding for his cabinet. In everyday policy the government fluently continued the activities of the previous government and it is possible to state, in certain respect, that it finished the consolidation period of the state. Despite certain excesses the political situation gradually calmed down during his term of office. The activities of the government were strongly influenced by international events. During the attempt of Karl Habsburg to rule again over Hungary, the Czechoslovak government had to adopt strict measures in the form of partial mobilisation. The military measures strongly influenced the state economy and hampered efforts to improve the economic situation. The world economy was facing number of problems connected with the change in orientation to peace markets. It brought about lots of problems especially in Czechoslovakia, the economy of which only slowly responded to the break-up of the former monarchy market. The government was trying to respond to problems by changing customs tariffs to support economy and it motivated employers to maintain the price level. Decline in production and subsequent unemployment misused by left-wing radicals instigated people affected to manifestations. Workers stricken with wage decline started to strike. The government tried to influence the situation and acted as a mediator during negotiations between employers and employees. Its efforts were not always successful and many things even turned against it. For example in May 1922 a compromise agreed between employers and employees was rejected by representatives of workers, the government was branded as the author of the proposal and it brought about a mass strike movement that was aimed against it.

Edvard Benes with wifeIn the course of 1922 it began to be clear that Beneš could not concurrently hold the positions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister. Owing to his diplomatic activities he had often to go abroad while the cabinet needed the presence of the Prime Minister at its sessions. At first, President Masaryk was considering appointment Přemysl Šámal as the Prime Minister. But this idea of his met with strong opposition of socialist ministers. They often criticized the Head of the Office of the Government and therefore the Šámal's candidature was rejected. Nevertheless, finally a compromise was reached after all. It was agreed that the semi-caretaker government would be replaced by parliamentary government and all the representatives of "The Five" would be its members. In the end Antonín Švehla was appointed as the Prime Minister following the agreement of political parties; it was not an unexpected choice after all.

  email  facebook   twitter