Prague, Dec 15 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman and his predecessor, President Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013), yesterday jointly commemorated the memory of Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes (1884-1948) by laying wreathes at his memorial in Prague and bowing to it.
The Czech national anthem was played, but no speeches were delivered at the ceremony.
Born in 1884, Benes was a Czechoslovak long-serving foreign minister in the interwar period. He was elected to the post of president in December 1935 after the abdication of first Czechoslovak President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1918-1935).
In September 1938, Benes yielded to the diplomatic pressure by Britain and France and signed the Munich agreement in which Czechoslovakia was forced to cede its borderland to Nazi Germany. He then resigned and left abroad.
After World War Two started, he headed the Czechoslovak resistance movement in exile and become the president-in-exile in 1940.
After the end of World War Two, Benes returned to Czechoslovakia. In 1948, Communists forced him to appoint their leader Klement Gottwald as prime minister. This paved the way to the Communist era that lasted until 1989.
Due to his role in the crisis in 1938, in which he refused to put up armed resistance to Germany’s claims, and during the Communist take-over, Benes is one of the most controversial Czech heads of state of the 20th century.
Benes also has some opponents in Germany and Hungary. In the aftermath of the war, he signed the legislation called the Benes decrees.
The decrees provided for the confiscation of the property of collaborators, traitors, ethnic Germans and Hungarians, except for those who themselves suffered under the Nazis. They also formed a basis for the transfer of the former groups from Czechoslovakia.
Roughly three million ethnic Germans and 30,000 Hungarians were then transferred to Germany and Hungary.
Last week, the legislation was denounced by Hungarian parliament head Laszlo Koever.
Koever told the Czech paper Pravo that the Czech Republic and Slovakia should not have been admitted to the EU if a law based on collective guilt principles was still part of their legal order.
The Hungarian government has distanced itself from Koever’s statements, Hungarian ambassador Tibor Petoe told Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek (Social Democrats, CSSD) on Tuesday.