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Benes, Edvard

Benes, Edvard (b. May 28, 1884, Kozlany [Austrian Bohemia], Czech Republic; d. September 3, 1948; Sezimove Usti [Czechoslovakia], Czech Republic) — Czech political activist and statesman. Benes was renowned as a European diplomat who served the country he helped to create, Czechoslovakia, as its minister of foreign affairs (1918-1935) and president (1935-1938 and 1945-1948), including its president-in-exile (1940-1945). He also played a decisive role in the history of *Subcarpathian Rus’. At the Paris Peace Conference Benes succeeded in having incorporated into the *Treaty of St. Germain (September 1919) the decision to unite Subcarpathian Rus’ as an autonomous territory of Czechoslovakia. The following year he succeeded through diplomatic means in getting Romanian troops evacuated from the eastern part of the province.

The year 1933 marked the beginning of a change in the policy of the Czechoslovak government toward Subcarpathian Rus’, as outlined in an extensive speech by Benes. Subcarpathian Rus’ was now declared to be an indivisible part of the Czechoslovak republic and its “bridge to the Little Entente,” i.e., to Romania and from there to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia’s two allies against Hungary and its demands for border revision. To emphasize the importance of Czechoslovakia’s new foreign policy, Benes traveled to Subcarpathian Rus’ and delivered a policy statement that was widely distributed in the Czech original, Rec o problemu Podkarpatskem a jeho vztahu k Ceskoslovenske republice (1934; repr. as Podkarpatsko a jeho vztah k Ceskoslovensku, 1996), as well as in French, Russian, and Ukrainian translations.

During his first term as president (1935-1938) Benes supported Rusyn-oriented Subcarpathian politicians. While in exile during World War II, from the very beginning of his talks with Soviet diplomats (1939-1940) he suggested that Subcarpathian Rus’ could be transferred to the Soviet Union. He subsequently changed his views slightly, suggesting that the province might belong in the future either to Czechoslovakia or to the Soviet Union. Then, in the fall of 1944, he spoke out against the immediate annexation of Subcarpathian Rus’ to the Soviet Union and denied any legality to the call for union with Soviet Ukraine expressed in the *Manifesto that was issued by the First Congress of People’s Committees of Transcarpathian Ukraine at its meeting in Mukachevo on November 26, 1944. Under pressure from Stalin during the winter of early 1945 Benes gradually accommodated to the loss of Subcarpathian Rus’. As a statesman he was greatly influenced by the Munich Pact of 1938; consequently, he sought to achieve a close alliance with the Soviet Union during World War II and to reach a wide-ranging compromise with Czechoslovak Communists. Nevertheless, during the February 1948 political crisis in Czechoslovakia Benes initially supported non-Communist politicians in their efforts to block a Communist take-over of the government; in the end, however, he capitulated and ultimately agreed to the Communist accession to power. Following the Communist putch, Benes refused to emigrate from his homeland a third time. He submitted his resignation and soon after died in isolation at his residence.

Bibliography: Kamil Krofta, Podkarpatska Rus a Ceskoslovensko (Prague, 1934; repr. 1995); Eduard Taborsky, Prezident Benes mezi Zapadem a Vychodem (Prague, 1993); M. Rossovs’ka, “I. Stalin, E. Benesh i Zakarpattia voseny 1944 roku,” in Carpatica/Karpatyka, Vol. II (Uzhhorod, 1993), pp. 210-222; A. Ort, Edvard Benes diplomat a politik (Prague, 1994); Ivan Pop, “Problem Podkarpatske Rusi v Benesove zahranicne politicke koncepci za druhe svetove valky,” in Frank Boldt, ed., Velke dejiny maly narod (Prague, 1995), pp. 191-202.

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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