Eighty years since assassination of Alois Rasin, leading First Republic politician

18-02-2003

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Alois Rasin, a key figure in the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and also the country's first finance minister. He died three weeks after being shot by a young assassin in the centre of Prague - the first political assassination in the fledgling Czechoslovak state. Rob Cameron looks back at the life and premature death of Alois Rasin.

Alois RasinAlois Rasin On the morning of January 5th, 1923, the Czechoslovak Finance Minister Alois Rasin left his apartment in Prague's Zitna street to make the short journey to his office. He never made it. Waiting for the minister was a 19-year-old insurance clerk called Josef Soupal, armed with a gun. Soupal - a member of Czechoslovakia's obscure anarcho-communist movement - fired two shots at the minister, gravely injuring him. He died six weeks later in hospital.

The assassination sent shockwaves throughout the country. Rasin was a highly respected figure, one of the founding fathers of the First Republic. Born in 1867, he studied as a lawyer, but soon became involved in radical politics, opposing the Austro-Hungarian Empire and lobbying for an independent Czechoslovak state. In 1916, he and Karel Kramar - who later became the country's first prime minister - were sentenced to death by Emperor Franz Josef. The sentences were commuted.

It was Rasin who drafted the country's first constitution in 1918 - he is reported to have drawn up the document in just two nights, finishing it on October 28th, the day Czechs and Slovaks celebrated the birth of their new state. President Masaryk appointed Rasin as Czechoslovakia's first finance minister, a post he held in two successive governments.

Alois Rasin was a strong and uncompromising figure, with enemies on both the far-right and the far-left. "After war there is poverty, so people want socialism. But socialism simply produces more poverty," he once said. Quotations like that earned him the undying enmity of the Communist Party, who erased his name from the history books when they came to power in 1948. It was four decades until Alois Rasin was remembered again; and an embankment near where he met his assassin now bears his name.

18-02-2003