It is the year 1923. The fifth year of the existence of the young Czechoslovak Republic, a year in which regular radio broadcasts started in Czechoslovakia and the first passenger planes began flying between Prague and Bratislava on a regular basis. In the previous autumn, Alois Rasin had become Czechoslovak Minister of Finance for the second time since the founding of the state in 1918.
I'm standing in Prague's Zitna Street, now a busy thoroughfare but in the early 1920s, cars were still rare. It would have been hard to miss the automobile that each morning came to No. 10, Zitna Street to collect Minister Alois Rasin to take him to his office in the baroque Clam-Gallas Palace in Husova Street. On that fateful morning, on January 5, 1923 Alois Rasin never made it to his office in the historic centre of Prague. As he was getting into his car in front of his house, he was shot in the back by an assassin.
Alois Rasin was born in Nechanice near Hradec Kralove, on October 18, 1867, the year when the Austrian Empire became the dual Austro-Hungarian empire. During his days as a law student at Charles University in Prague, Alois Rasin joined a number of youth movements. As a trainee solicitor, he was one of the main representatives of the radical youth movement. Following a public speech against the government and the emperor, Rasin was arrested in 1893. Following a lengthy trial, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment. In November 1895, he was pardoned. Rasin refused to accept the pardon and almost had to be dragged out of the prison by force.
At the start of the century Alois Rasin opened a successful law practice, but he was also a journalist, contributing to the "Narodni listy" newspaper. Rasin remained involved in politics and in June 1911, he was elected as a deputy in the Austrian Parliament. During World War I, Rasin became one of the leaders of the anti-Habsburg resistance. Domestic resistance maintained contact with the resistance in exile led by the future president of Czechoslovakia Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. Together with future Prime Minister Karel Kramar, Rasin was arrested on January 12, 1915. Following a huge trial lasting six months, he was sentenced to death by hanging in 1916, together with three other activists. After the death of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Josef, the death sentence was commuted to 10 years' imprisonment in January 1917. Amnesty followed six months later in the summer of 1917.
After the birth of Czechoslovakia in October 1918, following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Alois Rasin became the country's first Finance Minister. A politician and economist of note, Rasin's reforms guided the new state out of post-war financial and economic chaos. To this day Alois Rasin is remembered and respected for the monetary reform he carried out in 1919. Historian Jana Cechurova teaches at Prague's Charles University and she specialises in the life and work of Alois Rasin.
"The monetary reform had two parts. It took place in the first week of March 1919. The first task was to separate, in fact create a Czechoslovak currency, by means of stamping Austrian banknotes, as the Austrian currency was being eaten up by inflation. The second part of the reform was to keep a certain part of the currency out of circulation - Rasin intended to retain 80 percent, but in fact it was about one third - in order to prevent inflation."
That is how the Czechoslovak crown was born. In fact, ten years ago, after the split of Czechoslovakia, the authors of the monetary separation looked for inspiration in Rasin's reform. In February 1993, all large banknotes were withdrawn from circulation at once and stamped, something Alois Rasin did in 1919.
In October 1922 Alois Rasin became Finance Minister in the government, led by Prime Minister Antonin Svehla. Rasin continued in his policy of strengthening the crown, as a symbol of the stability of the new state. Although the crown became a valued currency, its strength had a lot of negatives for the economy, such as a decrease in prices but also salaries. The country found itself in a deflation crisis. Owing to his policies, Rasin made many enemies, especially on the far left. He was known to be thrifty and hardworking and he demanded the same qualities from others. He angered many people by his statement "what is done for the country, is done for free." A vicious anti-Rasin campaign developed, especially on the political left, eventually leading to Rasin's assassination. Historian Jana Cechurova.
"Rasin was shot in the spine by 19-year-old bank clerk Josef Soupal, an anarcho-communist by political creed. It was not his first attempt at killing Rasin but he had never been able to get close enough to him before. Soupal waited for Rasin in front of his house on that morning before Rasin was to leave for work. He shot him believing he was removing a symbol of the capitalist system he despised and wanted to see destroyed. There was nothing personal in his act."
The shots injured Rasin in the spine. He was immediately taken to hospital in Podoli - never to recover from the injury. For six weeks he struggled for his life but eventually succumbed to his fatal injuries, on February 18, 1923, at the age of 55. Who exactly was Rasin's assassin Josef Soupal and what was his fate after he was arrested?
"If someone is capable of killing another person for such a dubious idea, he is certainly a fanatic. To a certain degree, we can also attribute Soupal's act to youthful foolishness. Other young men had tried to attack Prime Minister Karel Kramar and other people as well. The post-revolutionary radicalism among the young generation was quite strong in those days. Soupal at the time of the crime had not yet reached the age of 21, and was still a minor in the eyes of the law, and therefore he was not sentenced to death. He was given 20 years in prison and under the German protectorate, he was given an early release. After the Second World War he changed his name and became publicly active in the east-Bohemian town of Havlickuv Brod. He stayed faithful to his pre-war ideas. He remained a staunch communist."
The embankment along which Alois Rasin was driven from his house to the hospital bears his name today. Before the fall of communism in 1989 the embankment was named after Friedrich Engels, the 19-century German theorist of modern socialism and communism. Names like his replaced those of Alois Rasin and other pre-war Czechoslovak politicians from history books after the communist takeover in 1948. However, now, eighty years after Alois Rasin's death, his memory and his political and economic ideas still remain alive and inspiring for modern Czech political thinking.