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Ludvík Svoboda

Ludvík Svoboda
Ludvík Svoboda (Author - Stanislav Tereba).JPG
Ludvík Svoboda in 1968
8th President of Czechoslovakia
In office
30 March 1968 – 29 May 1975
Preceded byAntonín Novotný
Succeeded byGustáv Husák
Personal details
Born(1895-11-25)25 November 1895
Hroznatín, Moravia, Austria Hungary
Died20 September 1979(1979-09-20) (aged 83)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
(now Czech Republic)
Political partyCommunist Party of Czechoslovakia
Spouse(s)Irena Svobodová (1901–1980)
Military service
Allegiance Austria-Hungary
Branch/service Austro-Hungarian Army
Czechoslovak Legions
Logo Czechoslovak Army (pre1961).svg Czechoslovak Army
Years of service1915 (Austria-Hungary)
1916 – 1950 (Czechoslovakia)
RankCsArmy1960armadni general Shoulder.png General of the Army
Commands1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in the USSR
Battles/warsWorld War I
Russian Civil War

World War II

Awards Military Order of the White Lion
Cross of St. George
Order of Suvorov
Legion of Honour
Legion of Merit
Order of the Bath

Ludvík Svoboda (25 November 1895 – 20 September 1979) was a Czechoslovak general and politician. He fought in both World Wars, for which he was regarded as a national hero,[1][2][3] and he later served as President of Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1975.

Early life

Svoboda was born in Hroznatín, Moravia to the family of Jan Svoboda. His father died when he was one year old and he was raised by his mother Františka who remarried to František Nejedlý. Ludvík Svoboda attended the Agricultural school at Velké Meziříčí and worked at a Vineyard. In 1915, he had to join the Austro-Hungarian Army.[4][5]

World War I

Svoboda was sent to the Eastern Front, and fell into Russian captivity on 18 September 1915 at Tarnopol. He joined the Czechoslovak Legion and took part in the battles of Zborov and Bakhmach. He returned home through a "Siberian anabasis".[6]

Interwar period

He worked at his father's estate before launching his military career in the Czechoslovak Army as a member of the 3rd (Jan Žižka) infantry regiment in Kroměříž in 1921. He married Irena Stratilová in 1923. In the same year, Svoboda was transferred to the 36rd infantry regiment in Uzhhorod, Subcarpathia, then part of Czechoslovakia, until 1931. He passed several courses and also learned the Hungarian language, which he taught between 1931-1934 at the Military Academy. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1934 and transferred back to the 3rd infantry regiment. He served in several positions, and became battalion commander until the German occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939.

World War II

After the German occupation and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia he became a member of a secret underground organization Obrana národa ("National Defense"). It is supposed that at the same time he established connection with Soviet intelligence. In June 1939 he fled to Poland, and as the oldest and most senior officer formed Czechoslovak military unit in Kraków. This unit, under the name Legion of Czechs and Slovaks, took a limited part in the war after the German invasion of Poland. After the Polish defeat he diverted[clarification needed] a group of about 700 officers and men to the Soviet Union. They were interned gradually[clarification needed] at several places for almost two years, until the German attack on the Soviet Union. Meantime Svoboda successfully negotiated with the Soviet government the transfer of Czechoslovak soldiers to France, and after its fall to Great Britain (twelve transports: 662 men, 12 women, 6 children). At that time the Czechoslovak government in exile was not officially recognized either by France or by Great Britain. After the outbreak of the German offensive against the Soviet Union, Svoboda became head of the Czechoslovak military units on the Eastern Front. The Czechoslovak units fought the Germans for the first time in March 1943 at the Battle of Sokolovo in Ukraine.[citation needed]

The initial personnel of the Czechoslovak army was heavily composed of Jewish refugees, but after the liberation of Ukraine many Volhynian Czechs were drafted into the army, leading to an increase in antisemitism. Svoboda attempted to counter this with an antisemitic show trial of Maxmilian Holzer, who was blamed for the defeat at Sokolovo, at which Svoboda served as the main witness. Holzer was sentenced to death but "volunteered" to a penal unit, to which he was reportedly sent with a note that he not return alive. At a 1963 press conference, Svoboda claimed that this incident occurred because of a misunderstanding.[7]

As a commander he also led troops of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in the Battle of the Dukla Pass in the fall of 1944 when, after very heavy fighting, this unit succeeded in crossing the Czechoslovak state border for the first time. Svoboda's charismatic leadership and personal bravery was highly valued by his commanding officer at the time, Soviet marshal Ivan Konev. Trusted by Klement Gottwald's exile leadership and Soviet functionaries,[citation needed] he quickly climbed the military ranks, becoming army general in August 1945.

Post-war political career

In World War II a substantial part of Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Red Army and the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps under the leadership of Svoboda. Svoboda was appointed Minister of Defense while being welcomed as a hero of the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union enjoyed a great popularity among the population and in the elections of 1946 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won 38% of the vote nationwide.

On 22 February 1948, nearly all of the non-Communist cabinet ministers resigned in protest against the practices of Gottwald and the other Communists. Svoboda was one of the few who remained in office. The Communist-dominated Revolutionary Trade Union Movement voted unanimously to replace the 12 departed ministers with pro-Communist ministers. As armed workers and the People's Militias took to the streets, Svoboda refused to quell the insurrection with military force, saying "the army will not march against the people". Two days later (and one day after a general strike in which 2.5 million citizens participated), President Edvard Beneš gave in to growing pressure from Gottwald and appointed a government dominated by Communists and pro-Soviet Social Democrats—in effect, giving legal sanction to a Communist coup. The takeover was completely bloodless. Svoboda, whose label had been that of an "apolitical" minister since the first days of his term, then joined the Communist Party and was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly at the 1948 election.

Svoboda was forced out of the army (in which he had reached the rank of Army General in November 1945) in 1950 under pressure from the Soviets.[citation needed] He was Deputy Prime Minister from 1950 to 1951. In the purges which followed, Svoboda was imprisoned and "recommended" to save his image by committing suicide, but eventually released and stripped of all offices. His return to public life took place upon a personal wish of Khrushchev, whom Svoboda had met during the war, and he subsequently headed the Klement Gottwald Military Academy.

In 1946 he was awarded the title People's Hero of Yugoslavia. Svoboda was also awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union on 24 November 1965,[8] and Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (he was awarded the latter title again in 1970 and 1975). He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (1970).


Josef Smrkovský & Ludvík Svoboda

After the ending of the Antonín Novotný regime, in the period known as the Prague Spring, Svoboda was elected President of Czechoslovakia on 30 March 1968, on the recommendation of Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary. He was an acceptable candidate for both Czechs and Slovaks, and as a war hero and a victim of the purges of the early 1950s, he enjoyed a very high esteem among the population.

Svoboda then gave a mild consent[clarification needed] to the reform process of the new Party leadership until the Warsaw Pact intervention in August 1968. Horrified at his experiences in two world wars, he signed an order preventing the Czechoslovak Army from getting involved with the invading Warsaw Pact troops. He traveled to Moscow in order to secure the release of Dubček and the other reform leaders, who had been kidnapped by the invading forces. However, when Svoboda arrived, Leonid Brezhnev demanded that he appoint a "peasant-workers' government" in order to give credence to the planned official line—that hardliners in the KSČ (Czechoslovak Communist Party) had themselves requested the invasion. Svoboda not only refused, but threatened to put a bullet into his head in the presence of Brezhnev unless Dubček and the other reformists were released.

Nevertheless, Svoboda could do nothing to prevent Brezhnev from forcing the Czechoslovak representatives to sign the notorious Moscow protocols,[9] which meant a factual capitulation as they were kept secret and provided the Warsaw Pact armies with a factual licence to a "temporary stay" (as it was called later at an October parliamentary session) in Czechoslovakia. The protocols also obliged the Party leadership to promote political, cultural and other changes to stop the reform process. Svoboda also supported Minister of Defence Martin Dzúr, who ordered the Czechoslovak army to not show any resistance. Given the public outrage and resistance, Svoboda's arbitrary action was in fact in accord with Brezhnev's intent.

Normalisation period

Svoboda survived the removal of reformist Communists in Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the Prague Spring, while passively witnessing the purges and the suffocation of the civil liberties that had briefly been restored. He even helped muzzle the press and also contributed to Dubček's replacement with Gustáv Husák in April 1969. To the day he died, he believed and maintained that his submissive conduct before Brezhnev helped save thousands of lives from "immense consequences"; and he defended this policy by invoking his own memories of the horrors of war.

Svoboda resisted Husák's attempts to oust him from the presidency until 1975, when he was forced to retire through a constitutional act (paragraph 64 Nr.143/1968 Sb.). This act stated that if the incumbent president was unable to carry out his office's duties for a year or more, the Federal Assembly had the right to elect a permanent successor. In Svoboda's case, he had been in ill health for some time, making the act relevant.

Despite being misused by politicians for their goals several times, Svoboda still enjoys a limited credit among Czechs and Slovaks, probably due to his brave stance and fortitude on several occasions during crucial moments of Czechoslovak history. Squares and streets in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia continue to bear his name, while those of most other Communist-era leaders were removed after the Velvet Revolution. His attitude can be perhaps explained by his own words: "All I have ever done must be measured by my intention to serve best my people and my country."

Honours and awards

Czechoslovakia (1920–1939)
  • Gold Star Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, three times (24 November 1965, 30 April 1970, 30 May 1975)
  • Order of Klement Gottwald, three times (1959, 1970, 1975)
  • Military Order of the White Lion "For Victory", 1st class (1945)
  • Order of the Slovak National Uprising, 1st class
  • Czechoslovak War Cross 1939–1945, three times
  • Czechoslovak Medal "for bravery before the enemy" (1945)
  • Czechoslovak Medal "For Merit" a degree of
  • Commemorative medal of the second national resistance
  • Allied victory Medal
  • Zborovskaya commemorative medal
  • Bahmachskaya commemorative medal
  • Commemorative medals en. community for 1918–1919 dobrovolecke (badge)
  • Medal cs.dobrovolnika 1918–1919 (crisis)
  • Commemorative medals: 3rd Infantry Regiment Jan Žižka; 4th Rifle Regiment Prokop the Great; 5th Rifle Regiment T. G. M.; 6th Rifle Regiment Hanácké; 9th Rifle Regiment K.H. Borovsky; 10th Rifle Regiment P. J. Kozina; 21st Rifle Regiment terronskeho; 30th Infantry Regiment A. Jirasek; 1st Motorised Regiment John Sparks of Brandys; Artillery troops in Russia; machine building company separate traffic workshop of train troops in Russia[citation needed]; dobrovoleckeho[clarification needed] Corps in Italy 1918–1948
  • Memorial Cross, Russian Legion 2nd Regiment
  • Štefánikův commemorative badge
  • Military commemorative medals with the label of the USSR (1945)
  • Dukelskaya commemorative medal
  • Sokolovskaya commemorative medal
  • Honour Field Squadron pilot cs. Army
  • Honour Czechoslovak military pilot
  • Badge cs. guerrilla
  • Commemorative Medal of the second national resistance
  • Honorary Medal for Fighter against fascism, 1st class
  • Commander of the Order of the Czechoslovak Sokol TCH CS Vojensky Rad Bileho Lva 1st (1945)
  • Czechoslovak War Cross 1918
  • Order of 25 February, 1st class
  • Order Wins the February
  • Czechoslovak Cross of Valour 1914-1918
Russian Empire
Soviet Union

Cultural references

Ludvík Svoboda has been portrayed, as himself or a character based on him, in a number of films and television series:

  • Sokolovo is a 1974 film about Battle of Sokolovo. Ladislav Chudík portrays Svoboda.[11]
  • The Liberation of Prague is a 1977 film about Prague uprising. Svoboda is once again portrayed by Ladislav Chudík.[12]
  • Dubček is a 2018 Slovak film that shows events in 1968. Svoboda is portrayed by Vladimír Hrabal.
  • Czech Century is a 2013 historical television series chronicling Czech history from 1989. Emil Horváth portrays Svoboda in the series.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b (in Czech)Biography in Czech at his web page Archived 17 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ czech
  3. ^ czech Archived 1 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Svoboda, Ludvík (1996). Cestami života. [Říčany u Prahy]: Orego. pp. 113–122, 209–216. ISBN 80-902107-5-9.
  5. ^ Klusáková-Svobodová, Zoe (2005). Ludvík Svoboda : životopis. Kroměříž: Město Kroměříž. p. 47. ISBN 80-239-4706-0.
  6. ^ PRECLÍK Vratislav. Masaryk a legie (Masaryk and legions, Масарик и Легии), Ваз. Книга, váz. kniha, 219 str., vydalo nakladatelství Paris Karviná, Žižkova 2379 (734 01 Karviná, CZ) ve spolupráci s Masarykovým demokratickým hnutím (изданная издательством «Пари Карвина», «Зишкова 2379» 734 01 Карвин, в сотрудничестве с демократическим движением Масаpика, Прага) , 2019, ISBN 978-80-87173-47-3, str. 150-153
  7. ^ Wein, Martin (2015). History of the Jews in the Bohemian Lands. BRILL. pp. 221–222. ISBN 978-90-04-30127-6.
  8. ^ (in Russian)Biography at the website on Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia
  9. ^ Libor Budinský: Trinásť prezidentov, Ikar 2004, ISBN 80-551-0751-3
  10. ^ Badraie Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Sokolovo (1974)". Filmový přehled (in Czech). Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  12. ^ "Osvobození Prahy (1976)". Filmový přehled (in Czech). Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  13. ^ "RECENZE: Rok 1968 aneb Dubček v Moskvě a České století v trenkách". 16 November 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2020.

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Jan Syrový
(before World War II)
Minister of Defence of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Alexej Čepička
Preceded by
Antonín Novotný
President of Czechoslovakia
30 March 1968 – 28 May 1975
Succeeded by
Gustáv Husák

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