First abdication of Edvard Beneš recalled on 80th anniversary

October 5 is the 80th anniversary of the abdication of Edvard Beneš as president of Czechoslovakia. The move came just days after the Munich Agreement, under which the country was abandoned by its nominal allies and lost a third of its territory. However, it was not Beneš’s final abdication.

Edvard Beneš, photo: archive of Czech RadioEdvard Beneš, photo: archive of Czech Radio Under the Munich Agreement the Allied powers allowed Hitler’s Germany to annex the Sudetenland, border areas of Czechoslovakia mainly inhabited by German speakers.

With this move the Czechoslovaks, who had not been invited to the Munich conference, lost around a third of their territory and were abandoned to their fate by supposed allies the UK and France.

Five days after the treaty was inked, the president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, took to the country’s airwaves to announce his resignation.

Beneš, who the Germans had made clear was a man with whom they would not do business, told the listeners of Czechoslovak Radio that he had immediately decided to step down following the Munich Agreement.

However, he had held off for a few days in order to help the government through the crisis.

He went on:

“Don’t expect a single word of recrimination from me on any side. One day all of this will be judged by history, without question justly. I will say what all of us feel painfully. The sacrifices that have been so forcefully demanded of us are disproportionate. They are unjust. The nation will never forget this, though it bears it with a dignity, calmness and confidence that are admired by all.”

Toward the end of his near 12-minute address, the sombre sounding Beneš made this appeal to his country’s citizens.

“The land of the Czechs and the Slovaks is in genuine danger. That danger would be even greater if we did not remain side by side, in unity and full of the moral force of people who are mutually devoted to one another... I call on all sections of the population, on farmers, workers, the middle class and the intelligentsia: Maintain calm, unity, dedication and love for one another.”

Munich Agreement, photo: Bundesarchiv 183-R69173 / CC-BY-SAMunich Agreement, photo: Bundesarchiv 183-R69173 / CC-BY-SA Beneš, who was replaced by Emil Hácha, left Czechoslovakia for England on a regular flight on October 22, 1938. He later travelled to the US to lecture at a university.

In March 1939 he returned to London, where he headed the Czech government in exile. He succeeded in having the Munich Agreement declared void by the British government in 1942.

A decade after his initial abdication, Beneš – now back in Czechoslovakia – stepped down for a second time in June 1948 in the wake of the Communist takeover of the country. He died three months later.