“Business as usual” after the 1948 coup

In the immediate aftermath of the political coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, the communists were keen to give the world the impression that it was business as usual and that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. In this respect Radio Prague as the international service of Czechoslovak Radio was expected to play its part, and so the communists asked the handful of British nationals working for one of Czechoslovakia’s biggest companies to make a statement in English for the radio. As a result one of the British staff of the shoe-making giant Baťa, which had already been nationalized more than two years earlier, addressed Radio Prague’s listeners on March 1 1948, exactly a week after the communist coup:

Baťa shoe factory, photo: www.czech-tv.czBaťa shoe factory, photo: www.czech-tv.cz “As English employees of Baťa National Corporation we wish to pay tribute to the fine spirit shown by our fellow workers and their representatives in the trade union, work council and action committees during these historic days when the republic was in danger. The promptness of their action at the beginning of the crisis, their untiring work and vigilance to protect their factory and ensure production and their fine achievement have demonstrated to us their great sense of responsibility for their people’s democracy and the political and economic integrity of their country. Throughout this period we have been working and living here without any restrictions on our liberty or movement and have not witnessed any disturbance, violence or undemocratic behaviour.”

This was one of the strangest things about the coup of 1948. A fragile democracy was turned into a Stalinist totalitarian regime quietly and step by step, without widespread violence or civil conflict. It was to take several years and numerous show-trials and executions before the full impact of the change was to sink in. In March 1948, when this recording was made, it is very likely that the optimism of these British workers in Czechoslovakia was sincerely felt.

“In conclusion we would like to place on record our admiration of the restraint and discipline shown by members of all parties, remarkable when the gravity and magnitude of the crisis is realized, and our confidence in their ability to work together with enthusiasm to surpass all their previous achievements. They have demonstrated to the world all that solidarity can achieve. Signed: Mr and Mrs Lewis, and P. Young, Baťa National Corporation.”