Antonin Novotny

Antonin Novotny

Antonin Novotny, the son of a bricklayer, was born in Letnany, near Prague, in 1904. After the First World War he joined the Czech Communist Party.

The German Army marched into Czechoslovakia in October, 1938. Novotny was arrested in 1941 and spent the rest of the Second World War in a Nazi concentration camp.

Novotny was released in 1945 and the following year he was elected as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Eduard Benes became president of Czechoslovakia but in the 1946 general election the Communist Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats with 38 per cent of the votes. Klement Gottwald set up a National Front government but caused great controversy when under the orders of Joseph Stalin, he rejected Marshall Aid.

When Klement Gottwald died in 1953 Novotny replaced him as first secretary of the party. Over the next few years he introduced central planning and concentrated on the needs of heavy industry. In 1958 Novotny became president of Czechoslovakia.

In the early 1960s the country suffered an economic recession. Novotny was forced to make liberal concessions and in 1965 he introduced a programme of decentralization. The main feature of the new system was that individual companies would have more freedom to decide on prices and wages.

These reforms were slow to make an impact on the Czech economy and in September 1967, Alexander Dubcek, secretary of the Slovak Communist Party, presented a long list of grievances against the government. The following month there were large demonstrations against Novotny.

In January 1968 the Czechoslovak Party Central Committee passed a vote of no confidence in Novotny and he was replaced by Alexander Dubcek as party secretary. Soon afterwards Dubcek made a speech where he stated: "We shall have to remove everything that strangles artistic and scientific creativeness."

During what became known as the Prague Spring, Dubcek announced a series of reforms. This included the abolition of censorship and the right of citizens to criticize the government. Newspapers began publishing revelations about corruption in high places. This included stories about Novotny and his son. On 22nd March 1968, Novotny resigned as president of Czechoslovakia. He was now replaced by a Dubcek supporter, Ludvik Svoboda.

Antonin Novotny died in 1975.