1 - The introductory message
The Presidential Moments exhibition is the sixth installment of photographic glimpses into the past of the Czech News Agency’s (ČTK) Photobank and showcases its treasures.
In 2023, our nation finds itself at a unique intersection of events that made the presidential theme an irresistible choice. The election of a new head of state after a decade has coincided with the 105th anniversary of the Czechoslavak Republic's founding in October, an event that saw the mantle of leadership shift from hereditary monarchs to elected presidents at the Prague Castle.
Intriguingly, this momentous anniversary is shared by the very institution which has curated this exhibition, the Czech News Agency. A century ago, on October 28, 1918, the Czechoslovak Republic and the ČTK were founded on the same day, a remarkable synchrony that underscores their intertwined destinies.
The first exhibition titled "moments", a nod to the agency's 100th anniversary, was launched in 2018. The inaugural showcase, Moments of the Century, intended as a one-off, toured all regional capitals and sparked an unexpected wave of public interest. This led to a compelling idea - the creation of a series of 'moments' each year, inspired either by an anniversary or any other significant event.
The journey of 'moments' is set to continue into 2024, as the Czechoslovak News Agency commemorates a century since it began cultivating its own photo newsroom. The agency's photojournalists, who started from modest beginnings, have steadily ascended to the pinnacle of their craft. Their work has consistently been recognized as among the country's best in photojournalism, a reputation they retain to this day. Several of the captivating images showcased in this exhibition have garnered accolades in various photography competitions.
Every single one of these prized photographs can be traced back to the ČTK Photobank, the most comprehensive repository of news photography in the Czech Republic. In 2021, the agency acquired Profimedia, forming a joint 'superphotobank'. This monumental collection now boasts over 300 million images from around the globe, a treasure trove of visual narratives that we believe will serve as a wellspring of inspiration for future 'moments' exhibitions for years to come.
Jaroslav Kábele, CEO of the Czech News AgencyIn the annals of our contemporary history, the position of the Presidents occupies an exceptional role. While the Constitution may not have granted them extensive powers, these individuals have nonetheless exerted significant influence, primarily due to the force of their distinct personalities. Historians and political scientists suggest that the grandeur of Prague Castle, the official presidential residence, which is steeped in history, may also contribute to this phenomenon.
The primary role of the President in our constitutional arrangement is, and has always been, largely ceremonial. This role brings with it the allure of the setting, meetings with significant personalities, and a sense of ceremony - the perfect elements for the creation of compelling photographs that quickly become valuable historical documents.
The photo archive of the Czech News Agency (ČTK) has much to boast about in this regard. It has systematically documented the activities of presidents since the establishment of the republic in 1918. In some cases, due to organizational or security reasons, ČTK, as a national news agency, was the sole media entity present at certain events.
In order to avoid a monotonous and overly academic chronology of presidential successions over time, we have chosen to present photographs in thematic blocks. This enables a comparison of the approaches taken by various heads of state towards similar events or situations. We also offer glimpses into their private lives, to the extent they themselves have allowed, adding depth to their personas and providing a break from the potential monotony of diplomatic stereotypes.
Our exhibition does not aspire to enter the realm of scholarly historical discourse. Instead, our primary goal was to serve as visual documentarians. We aimed to present a curated selection of the finest available photographs, including potentially unpublished ones, sourced from the depths of the agency's archive. These images portray the individuals who have shaped, and continue to shape, not only our lives but also the lives of previous generations through their work as statesmen.
Dušan Veselý, co-author of the exhibition
2 - Prezidenti v datech / Presidents in data
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) – A politician, philosopher, and sociologist, Masaryk was actively engaged in politics during the Austro-Hungarian era. Following the outbreak of World War I, he fervently began advocating for the creation of an independent state. He was elected President for the first time in November 1918, a position he was confirmed in three times (1920, 1927, and 1934). His resignation on December 14, 1935, came as a result of his declining health.
Edvard Beneš (1884-1948) – Masaryk's closest collaborator and long-serving foreign minister, Beneš was elected head of state in December 1935 and again in June 1946. He also served as the president of the Czechoslovak exile representation. His first abdication in October 1938 was declared void during the war. He left office on June 7, 1948, after the February communist coup.
Emil Hácha (1872-1945) – A respected lawyer and former president of the Supreme Administrative Court, Hácha was elected president following Beneš's abdication and exile. He remained in Prague Castle throughout the Protectorate. Initially, he attempted to aid the resistance, but due to illness from 1943 onwards, he lived out his days in Lány. He passed away in a prison hospital shortly after the end of the war.
Klement Gottwald (1896-1953) – The first communist president, Gottwald made his mark in politics after 1929. In 1946, his Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won the election, and Gottwald became prime minister. In February 1948, he led the communist coup and became president after Beneš's abdication. During his rule, Czechoslovakia experienced the harshest communist terror. He died a few days after returning from Stalin's funeral.
Antonín Zápotocký (1884-1957) – Originally a social democrat, Zápotocký was among the founders of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and spent most of the WWII in a concentration camp. He led the unions and participated in the Communist Party's takeover. Zápotocký replaced Gottwald as both prime minister and president, and like Gottwald, he died in office. During Zápotocký's term, the population was affected by monetary reform, and political trials continued.
Antonín Novotný (1904 - 1975), one of the founders of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, was held in a concentration camp during WWII. He was significantly involved in the political trials of the 1950s and became President at the behest of Nikita Khrushchev. Novotný’s tenure as president saw Czechoslovakia adopt the descriptor 'socialist' and marked the onset of a certain political relaxation. He was re-elected in 1964, but under immense public pressure, he abdicated in March 1968.
Ludvík Svoboda (1895 - 1979), a Russian Legionnaire, commanded a Czechoslovak unit in the USSR during World War II, and later became Minister of Defense. The purges of the 1950s affected him, but he was rescued by the intervention of Khrushchev. He became President during the Prague Spring of 1968, but later he was largely a bystander to the onset of normalization. Due to health issues, he was removed from office by the Parliament in May 1975 following a constitutional amendment.
Gustáv Husák (1913 - 1991) was a committed communist who ruled in Slovakia after the war. However, in the 1950s, he wound up in prison as a "bourgeois nationalist". Even nine years behind bars did not shake his political beliefs. After August 1968, he took over the party leadership, and in May 1975, he became the head of the state. He was an architect of normalisation and, according to Milan Kundera, the "president of forgetting". He abdicated three weeks after November 17, 1989.
Václav Havel (1936 - 2011) first achieved success as a playwright in the 1960s. During the period of normalisation, he was one of the leading faces of dissent, a founding member of Charter 77, and spent nearly five years in prison. The Velvet Revolution brought him to the Castle, and in the summer of 1992, he abdicated after an unsuccessful attempt at a third term as Czechoslovak president. Later, he was twice elected head of state by the Czech Parliament.
Václav Klaus (born 1941), an economist and former employee of the state bank and the Prognostic Institute, entered politics after November 1989, when he became the Czechoslovak Minister of Finance. He founded and led the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and was the Czech Prime Minister between 1992 and 1997, and later the head of the Chamber of Deputies for four years. He was elected President on his third attempt in early 2003, and successfully defended his mandate five years later.
Miloš Zeman (born 1944) initially engaged in politics as part of the Civic Forum. In 1992, he joined the Czech Social Democratic Party and led it to power six years later. He was Prime Minister for four years, then he retired. After an unsuccessful bid in 2003, he became head of state ten years later as the first directly elected Czech president. He was re-elected for a second term in January 2018.
Petr Pavel (born 1961), a soldier who gained attention in the 1990s on a mission in Croatia, eventually became the Chief of the General Staff. He led the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to 2018, and remained publicly active after retiring, particularly during the coronavirus crisis. In June 2022, he decided to run for president, and a record number of citizens elected him in January 2023.
3 - Cesta na Hrad / The Road to the Castle
In the annals of the Czech Republic's leadership, Ludvík Svoboda holds an age-defying record, being the oldest president to take office at the age of 72 years and four months. In stark contrast, the youngest to assume this monumental responsibility were Beneš and Klement Gottwald, both only 51 years old when they took their presidential oaths.
Dating back to 1918, the Czechoslovak and Czech presidential offices have been graced by the presences of 12 men, a diverse group hailing from a wide range of educational backgrounds, socio-economic conditions, and life experiences. The fascinating tapestry of leadership in this nation begins with the story of its first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
Masaryk, a towering intellectual figure, ascended to the pinnacle of Czech politics, driven by his pivotal role in the anti-Austrian resistance. Fast-forwarding seven decades, an uncannily similar narrative unfolded when the writer and dissident Václav Havel arrived at the Castle, absorbing and continuing Masaryk's enduring legacy. Both men were initially welcomed into office with unanimous support, Masaryk through acclamation and Havel through an unlikely endorsement by the communist parliament in December 1989. Another shared feather in their distinguished caps was that they were both elected to the presidency four times.
The legacy of Masaryk, who was 85 years and nine months old at the time of his abdication in December 1935, remains unique. He was the oldest man to hold fort in Prague Castle and a reflection of the modest backgrounds from which many of the presidents originated. Havel's background stood in contrast to this common narrative, as he was a descendant of a prominent Prague business dynasty that fell on hard times under communist rule.
However, the experiences of resistance and national struggle were not exclusive to TGM and Havel. Edvard Beneš, Masaryk's key ally during World War I, would himself take the helm of the country's exiled leadership during World War II. Similarly, Ludvík Svoboda, a veteran of the legions in Russia, commanded Czechoslovaks on the frontlines in the USSR during the Second World War.
Štrbské Pleso (Slovakia), June 1930.
Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš (right) and head of Romanian diplomacy Gheorghe Mironescu before the start of the Little Entente conference. The Little Entente was a military-political alliance from 1921 to 1939 composed of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania, significantly supported by France.
Playwright and dissident Václav Havel during the time he was employed at the Trutnov Brewery. The communist regime sought to isolate him by assigning him work in the brewery's basement. Havel's career as a laborer inspired him to write the play, 'Audience'.
Photo: Karel Hádek.
Prague, December 21, 1918
The first Czechoslovakian President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, upon his return from American exile, standing in front of what is now the Main Train Station, which was named after American President Woodrow Wilson during the First Republic. From the station, Masaryk embarked on a triumphant journey through Prague, culminating in his presidential oath.
Prague, December 10, 1989.
The leader of the Civic Forum (OF), Václav Havel, greets participants of the Human Rights Day demonstration in Wenceslas Square, Prague. On the same day, President Gustáv Husák dismissed most members of the modified federal government and appointed a new government, which included representatives of the Civic Forum. Shortly after, Husák announced his resignation from the presidency.
Photo: Petr Josek.
4 - Bývalí premiéři a první soudruzi / Former Prime Ministers and "First" Comrades
Most of the presidents came to Prague Castle with experience in top-level politics. Edvard Beneš, Klement Gottwald, Antonín Zápotocký, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman had previously held the post of prime minister. Antonín Novotný and Gustáv Husák became head of state as a result of leading the ruling Communist Party, the most powerful political position in the country after February 1948. Husák was the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, the de facto Slovak government after World War II. However, he was imprisoned for nine years in the 1950s as a "bourgeois nationalist".
Beneš was arguably the president with the most political experience prior to his election at Prague Castle. He was Masaryk’s closest associate in exile, had served in all First Republic governments as Foreign Minister and headed a quasi-caretaker government that functioned from September 1921 to October 1922.
Two of the four presidents of the independent Czech Republic, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman, had also been in politics for a long time before being elected president.
On the other hand, Václav Havel, the first post-communist president, was elected without prior involvement in high-level politics. However, the writer and playwright had previously been one of the most prominent figures of dissent, for example, among the co/authors of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto.
Emil Hácha came to the presidency in 1938 having previously headed the Supreme Administrative Court. General Ludvík Svoboda had been Czechoslovak Minister of Defence from 1945 to 1950 and also had only limited political experience. The current president, Petr Pavel - the second general at Prague Castle – had served as The Czechoslovak Army Chief of the General Staff and had headed the NATO Military Committee.
Prague, March 27, 2002
President Václav Havel at a briefing after the State Security Council meeting, along with Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (left) and Speaker of the House Václav Klaus.
Photo: ČTK/Jan Třeštík
Antonín Zápotocký in the editorial office of the Kladno-based social democratic newspaper Svoboda. Son of a working-class journalist, who trained as a stonemason, he worked as a party journalist from 1911 - 1913, and in 1921, he was one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
Prague, February 21, 1948
Chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and Prime Minister Klement Gottwald delivering a speech to the assembly attendees at Old Town Square. This photo has become one of the symbols of the communist coup, known in the terminology of the time as "Victorious February".
Šamorín, Summer 1947
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Gustáv Husák receives a harvest wreath at a celebration marking the end of the harvest in southwestern Slovakia.
Czechoslovakia, July 9, 1957
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (left), First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Antonín Novotný, and Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine Olga Ivashchenkova are examining a gift from the citizens at one of the stops during their journey from Čierna nad Tisou to Prague.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
5 - Generálové / Generals
Two presidents came to Prague Castle after successful military careers. Ludvík Svoboda was brought into office by the political changes of the Prague Spring of 1968. The current president, Petr Pavel, who led the Czech army and was later a senior NATO official, defeated former prime minister Andrej Babiš in the 2023 run-off election.
Ludvík Svoboda was brought into uniform by the First World War, when he fought in the legions. After the occupation in 1939, he joined the resistance and later went to Poland, eventually ending up in Soviet captivity. During the war he commanded a Czechoslovak unit in the USSR, and after the liberation he was Minister of Defence. However, he was purged in the early 1950s, yet was helped back into uniform with the influence of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
A war hero, he headed from retirement to the Castle. While he opposed the formation of a collaborationist government and campaigned for the return of politicians interned in Moscow, he also pushed for the adoption of the Moscow Protocol of "surrender" and in the following years merely watched the imposition of the normalisation regime. The end of Svoboda's presidency was marked by illness. He left the castle only after the Communist-dominated parliament removed him from office following an amendment to the constitution.
The current president Pavel was born into a military family and graduated from high school and university in uniform. He joined the paratroopers and began serving in international peacekeeping missions in the 1990s. While deployed in the former Yugoslavia, he saved 53 French soldiers, earning him the French War Cross and the Czech Medal for Heroism. Although he spent most of his career in the service of the democratic Czech Republic, Pavel is sometimes criticized for his Communist-era membership in the ruling party and for his training with Communist military intelligence.
Camp Doha (Kuwait), January 20, 2003
Commander of the Czech specialized forces, Brigadier General Petr Pavel (left), together with members of the U.S. Marine Corps at the base in Kuwait, where the Czech anti-chemical unit was deployed.
Photo: Otto Ballon Mierny
Dukla Pass, October 6, 1944
Commander of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps, Ludvík Svoboda, at the observation post at the time when his soldiers crossed the Dukla Pass in northeastern Slovakia and entered Czechoslovak territory. The Carpathian-Dukla operation in the fall of 1944 was the bloodiest battle on Czechoslovak soil during World War II.
6 - Volby a sliby / Elections and Inaugurations
All Czechoslovak presidents were elected by the parliament, although in the case of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk's appointment as the first head of the newly formed Czechoslovakia, there was no traditional election. The Revolutionary National Assembly elected the leader of the anti-Austrian resistance as president in mid-November 1918 in the Lesser Town's Thun Palace. Its composition was based on the elections to the Austrian Parliament in 1911. Among the deputies at that time there were no Slovaks and representatives of the German and Hungarian minorities.
Masaryk took his first oath of office on 21 December 1918, the day he triumphantly returned to Prague after many years. He was elected two years later in the Rudolfinum, where the lower house of parliament was located during the First Republic, as it would be seven years later.
The Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle became the venue for the election and the oath-taking for the first time in May 1934, when the President himself read the oath for the first time, which caused considerable difficulties for the seriously ill Masaryk. A year and a half later, Edvard Beneš was elected and inaugurated there. In the difficult period following the Munich Pact, the election returned to the Rudolfinum, where Emil Hácha became the last president to have been elected there.
The post-war presidents were again elected in the Vladislav Hall. While Masaryk and Benes drove through a jubilant Prague, other heads of state held a military parade at the Castle with public participation. Spontaneous enthusiasm was not seen until 1968, when, in the atmosphere of the Prague Spring, the deputies elected Ludvík Svoboda president. Many years later, several lawmakers did not vote for the future president.
Prague, November 30, 1938
Newly elected President Emil Hácha (right), accompanied by Speaker of the House Jan Malypetr (left), and Prime Minister, General Jan Syrový (middle) during the honor guard review in front of the Parliament building.
Prague, March 30, 1968
Prague residents welcome newly elected President Ludvík Svoboda after he was elected President of Czechoslovakia.
Photo: Jan Bárta
Prague, March 21, 1953
The second communist President Antonín Zápotocký greets citizens from the balcony of the third courtyard of Prague Castle after his election. For the needs of communist propaganda, this photograph was later retouched to show the courtyard filled with people.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Prague, May 24, 1934
By that time, the seriously ill T. G. Masaryk takes the oath in the Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle during his fourth election as President of Czechoslovakia.
7 - Z kuloárů k přímé volbě / From Parliamentary Lobbies to Direct Election
With the exception of Ludvík Svoboda in 1968, communist presidents were elected unanimously, and the same was true in December 1989, when Václav Havel became head of state for the first time. With the help of Prime Minister Marián Čalfa, then still a member of the Communist Party, he was elected unanimously by the Communist-dominated Federal Assembly. Thousands of people then came to the Castle to greet Havel and the military honour guard in the courtyard. At the event, Havel wore trousers that were a bit too short, which made a memorable image.
Half a year later, Havel was re-elected by a parliament that had clearly - but not by all votes - emerged from free elections. In the summer of 1992, Václav Havel was not re-elected, mainly because of opposition from Slovak MPs, and he abdicated. A new Czechoslovak president could not be elected, and Havel subsequently became president of the Czech Republic in January 1993. He had two rivals, the communist Marie Stiborová and the republican Miroslav Sládek, and the same parties fielded candidates in the 1998 election. Verbal attacks by deputies of the Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSČ) on Havel then prompted his second wife Dagmar to whistle in protest in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle, where the election was taking place.
In early 2003, there were seven candidates. After three rounds of voting, Václav Klaus emerged victorious. His former opposition-contract partner Miloš Zeman hastily left Prague Castle after the failure and went into political seclusion. Five years later, Klaus's re-election was accompanied by a number of uncertainties and disputes, which became one of the reasons why his successor was chosen by direct election.
This brought about television debates between the candidates that were unknown until then, but also a campaign that sometimes did not mince its words. In January 2013, Zeman became the first directly elected head of state, defeating Karel Schwarzenberg in the run-off, thanks in part to a campaign marked by lies. Similarly, five years later, Zeman won against Jiří Drahoš in a run-off. This year, Petr Pavel became president, winning a record number of votes in the second round.
Prague, December 29, 1989
Václav Havel during the honor and castle guard review shortly after he was elected Czechoslovakian President by the still communist parliament. Havel explained his noticeably short trousers, which did not escape the public's and journalists' attention, by saying he had simply pulled them up. According to one of his associates, this habit was a consequence of the strict discipline during Havel's stays in communist prisons.
Photo: Karel Vlček
Prague, February 9, 2008
The third round of the first presidential election in which Václav Klaus defended his presidential mandate. Neither Klaus nor his opponent Jan Švejnar (left) received enough votes from deputies and senators, so a new election had to be held in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle.
Photo: Michal Doležal
Prague, January 26, 2013
Miloš Zeman celebrates with his team and supporters in his campaign headquarters at Top Hotel Prague after becoming the first directly elected President of the Czech Republic. His supporters included actress Jiřina Bohdalová (left).
Photo: ČTK/Profimedia/Milan Petrovič/Czech Editorial Photography
Prague, January 29, 2023
Newly elected President Petr Pavel with his wife Eva at a press conference in his campaign headquarters in the hall of Forum Karlín.
Photo: Vít Šimánek
8 - Do škol i na známky / In Schools and on Postage Stamps
The distribution of the official presidential portrait has been associated with the Czech and formerly Czechoslovak News Agency (ČTK) since the founding of the republic. With a few exceptions, ČTK has also taken official portraits of the head of state for more than a century.
In the early years of the First Republic, ČTK received photographic news directly from the Castle. A substantial part of the presidential image documentation was transferred to its archives in order to make it more quickly accessible to the media through the agency. Gradually, ČTK began to produce the image documentation of the head of state, including official portraits.
This model changed with the accession of Václav Havel as President of Czechoslovakia. At that time, the Office of the President of the Republic supplied ČTK with an image from the workshop of photographer Dušan Šimánek. "It was only the establishment of the Czech Republic in 1993 and the fact that Šimánek's portrait existed only in a black-and-white version that caused the authorship to be returned to the Czech News Agency," said former editor-in-chief of ČTK's Pictorial News Editorial Office Dušan Veselý in his book The President, which traces Václav Havel's tenure through ČTK photographs.
After his election in 2003, Václav Klaus also had a portrait taken at ČTK, but his successor Miloš Zeman entrusted the official portrait to photographer Herbert Slavík, but ČTK took care of its distribution. The official portrait of the current president, Petr Pavel, is also available in ČTK’s photo library and was created by the president's team. In contrast to past practice, it is in different colours.
Prague, January 27, 1993
CTK Photographer Jaroslav Hejzlar taking a portrait of President Václav Havel and his wife Olga in the CTK studio.
Photo: Jana Noseková
Prague, May 2, 2023
Preparations for the expedition and distribution of the portrait of the new Czech President Petr Pavel in Daniel Print House in Prague.
Photo: Petr Mlch
Ústí nad Labem, March 19, 2003
Framing of official portraits of the new President Václav Klaus at the Ústí nad Labem City Hall.
Photo: Libor Zavoral
Prague, January 27, 1993
CTK Photojournalist Michal Krumphanzl photographing President Václav Havel at Prague Castle.
Photo: Jaroslav Hejzlar
9 - Cesty po krajích / Travels around the Regions - The Founding Father and the Proletarians
Presidential trips to the regions helped to create Czechoslovak identity, especially in the 1920s, dozens of such trips were undertaken by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, while his successor Edvard Beneš made fewer trips among the population. But he also had less time than Masaryk, who spent 17 years as head of state.
Masaryk began his travels with a triumphant return to his homeland on 20 and 21 December 1918, which culminated in Malá Strana, where he took the oath of office in the Thun Palace. Between 1919 and 1933, he made over 90 trips around Czechoslovakia, during which he visited almost 300 towns and villages. He usually set off on his visits by train and then changed to a car on the spot, thus managing to visit five or more places in a single day.
Beneš left Prague for the regions less frequently, but even his visits were accompanied by enthusiastic welcomes. And he also received a warm welcome on 16 May 1945 when he returned to Prague by train after the war.
The first communist presidents went out more "among their own" on propaganda trips to support the building of the new regime. After his election in June 1948, Klement Gottwald first went to see his ailing predecessor Beneš in Sezimovo Ústí, and later he was photographed at SNP celebrations in Zvolen and on Miners' Day in northern Bohemia and Ostrava.
Antonín Zápotocký did not miss the opportunity to highlight the "heroes of labour" - he celebrated with miners, power plant builders and members of agricultural cooperatives. Less than half a year after the suppression of the local anti-communist revolt, Zápotocký also appeared in Plzeň in November 1953, where he unveiled a monument to Stalin. However, he also occasionally went to see folk culture, for example in June 1955 he visited the folk festival in Strážnice.
Kutná Hora, July 6, 1946
President Beneš' stopover en route to Moravia.
Lány, August 30, 1953
President Antonín Zápotocký dancing with cooperative members at the harvest festival, his wife Marie can be seen on the right in the circle. According to the caption of the time, "he spent moments of heartfelt merriment in friendly entertainment and dance with the Lány farmers."
Photo: Jan Tachezy
Hronovská Dúbrava, August 30, 1949
Brigade members building the Youth Railway greet President Klement Gottwald during his stay in Slovakia.
Photo: Jiří Rublič/Parbus
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk at a meeting with his former classmates.
10 - Od Aše až po Hradiště / From Aš to Hradiště
Václav Havel, the first president elected after a long era of communist heads of state, also followed his First Republic predecessors by travelling through Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. In January 1990, he visited northern Moravia, Bratislava and Brno, and later added hundreds of other places from Aš to Košice to his itinerary.
As a Czechoslovak and later Czech president, Havel travelled to the regions not only for official events such as celebrations of the Slovak National Uprising or commemorations of the Lidice tragedy, but also to visit schools, businesses and agricultural cooperatives. Occasionally he did something unusual, such as when he flew in a World War II-era American Catalina seaplane in Roudnice nad Labem in June 1993.
Havel was also the first and for a long time the only Czech president to visit the site of the former concentration camp for Roma in Lety near Písek. In 1995, he unveiled a monument to the Roma victims of the Second World War there. For the next 28 years, however, Czech heads of state passed by Lety, although southern Bohemia was one of their frequent destinations. It was not until May 2023 this year that Petr Pavel arrived for a commemorative event marking the 80th anniversary of the transport of prisoners from Lety to Auschwitz.
Lety, May 13, 1995
President Václav Havel unveiled a monument to the Roma victims of World War II in Lety, near Písek, where a concentration camp had been located.
Photo: Jaroslav Sýbek
Lety, May 14, 2023
President Petr Pavel attended a memorial gathering to honor the memory of the victims of the concentration camp for Roma.
Photo: Roman Vondrouš
Dolní Vltavice, July 19, 2023
President Petr Pavel tried on diving goggles during his visit to a water rescue base. According to the rescuers, the goggles best simulate the visibility conditions in the Lipno Reservoir.
Photo: Václav Pancer
Kleť, July 18, 2023
President Petr Pavel descends from Mount Kleť in the Blanský Forest with his supporters during a visit to the South Bohemian Region.
Photo: Václav Pancer
11 - Limuzíny a jedna motorka / Lots of limousines and a Motorcycle
Czechoslovak and Czech presidents were transported by cars of both domestic and foreign production, with rare exceptions they were limousines of the highest class. When Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk returned to his homeland in December 1918, he drove around Prague in a luxurious Laurin & Klement limousine. Later, he was driven in Praga limousines, and from the mid-1920s onwards, a Škoda Hispano Suiza, built in Plzeň under Spanish licence, appeared in the presidential garage, replaced a decade later by a Tatra 80.
Edvard Beneš also used Tatras, but he preferred an individually built Praga Golden with armoured bodywork, which he used even after the war. During the Protectorate, Emil Hácha was driven in a Mercedes-Benz that he received from Adolf Hitler in 1942. After the liberation, British Daimlers became the ornaments of the Czechoslovak head of state's fleet, and after Beneš, they were also used by Klement Gottwald. However, the first communist president, fearing for his safety, later preferred being taken around in a Škoda VOS special, but eventually it was replaced by Soviet-made cars.
Since the 1950s, the head of state was transported by GAZ and ZIL cars, which could not hide their inspiration from the design of American limousines. Ludvík Svoboda, for example, had an elegant GAZ-M13 Chaika, Gustáv Husák later had the angular ZIL 114 and 115, and the domestic Tatra 613 formed part of his motorcade. Václav Havel, however, did not want to be driven in cars associated with the communist "bosses", and for a short time he used a relatively ordinary Renault 21 donated by the Portuguese president, but soon the era of castle BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes arrived.
Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman started using domestic cars again, specifically the top-of-the-range Skoda Superb. Klaus, however, eventually saw himself in a car a class above, the Audi A8, while under Zeman, a Škoda Kodiaq SUV also appeared in the castle garage. The current president, Petr Pavel, is driven in a top-of-the-range BMW 7 Series. However, being an avid motorcycle aficionado, he went on an official trip to a German border region on a BWM motorcycle.
Prague - Chuchle, November 19, 1926
The first Czechoslovak President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, is seen by the Škoda Hispano Suiza automobile during a stop on the Chuchle road.
Selb, May 19, 2023
Czech President Petr Pavel (center) arrived on a motorcycle to the cross-border Bavarian-Czech Weeks festival.
Photo: Miroslav Chaloupka
12 - Ostře sledované vlaky a letadla / Presidential Trains and Aircraft
Today, travel and foreign visits are part of the normal duties of the presidency, but from the time of the First Republic until the early 1950s, it was rare for a head of state to travel abroad. At that time, only a train or a ship was available, and it was this combination that Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk used on his trip to Egypt, Palestine and Greece in the spring of 1927, which took 79 days.
Masaryk and Beneš used special custom-made rail carriages, for example a salon car for TGM was delivered by the Ringhoffer factory in 1930 for his 80th birthday. At the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, the President and high representatives of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia were transported in trains made in East Germany. These carriages also carried Alexander Dubček in August 1968 to a crucial meeting between the Czechoslovak and Soviet leaderships at Čierna nad Tisou on the border with the USSR.
In the 1950s, it was common for heads of state to travel abroad by train, such as when Klement Gottwald went to Moscow in October 1952. However, six months later, Gottwald's journey by air to the Soviet capital for Stalin's funeral proved fatal when his aorta burst as a result of flying. Flying also had an unfortunate impact on the life of President Gustáv Husák, whose wife died in a helicopter crash near Bratislava in October 1977.
But otherwise, air travel is one of the safest, though not always without its difficulties. Technical problems have interfered several times with the travels of Václav Klaus, for example, while Miloš Zeman's flying was complicated by health problems towards the end of his mandate. Zeman also "dusted off" the presidential railcars in the summer of 2018, when he travelled with his Slovak counterpart Andrej Kiska on a historic train from Hodonín to Topoľčany. His successor, Petr Pavel, has also used the train for several trips, among others to Vienna and wartime Kyiv.
Czechoslovakia, May 16, 1945
The dining car of the presidential train, which President Edvard Beneš used to return to his homeland from exile after World War II.
Prague, June 2, 1965
Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito (left) with Czechoslovak President Antonín Novotný next to the presidential limousine at Prague Castle.
Prague, April 29, 1946
President Edvard Beneš drives along Prague's Smetana Embankment after being re-elected as head of state.
Brno, December 11, 2001
President Václav Havel waves a greeting from the presidential limousine during a visit to Brno.
Photo: Igor Zehl
New York/Prague, October 26, 1995
President Václav Havel (left) is onboard the presidential aircraft returning from a work trip to the USA, accompanied by film director Miloš Forman (center) and actor Jan Tříska, who emigrated to the USA after 1968. They were both friends with President Havel.
Photo: Michal Doležal
13 - Prezident světoběžník / Presidents Travelling Abroad
Václav Havel and Václav Klaus spent the most time abroad of the Czechoslovak and Czech presidents. As head of state, Havel was on the road for 393 days. However, he also went abroad quite often on vacation and medical treatments, spending a total of 28 months abroad during his nearly 13 years in office. One of his first trips, a visit to the US in February 1990, was memorable as Havel received a triumphant welcome. He was the first head of state from behind the former Iron Curtain to address the US Congress, where his speech was interrupted 23 times by applause.
Havel's travels influenced specific milestones in Czech history - for example, the Czech Republic's admission to NATO as one of the first candidates from the former Eastern Bloc in 1999. Havel's longest trip was in 1995, when he visited four countries on the other side of the globe in 14 days. He visited Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore. A year and a half later, he had a similarly packed itinerary, flying to Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. However, after lung and colon surgery in 1996 and 1998, Havel significantly reduced his trips abroad.
After his election as Czech president, Havel visited Slovakia, establishing a tradition of taking the first and last trips by a Czech president to Slovakia. The tradition was maintained by Václav Klaus - who spent a total of some two years abroad during his ten years in office - as well as Miloš Zeman and Petr Pavel. Zeman, however, travelled abroad significantly less frequently than his predecessors, staying abroad only about 200 days, and unlike Havel, he focused more on Russia and China. In recent years, due to the coronavirus pandemic and poor health, Miloš Zeman travelled abroad only rarely.
Bangkok, February 11, 1994
President Václav Havel sunbathes on the deck of a ship during his journey through Thailand.
Photo: Igor Zehl
14 - Za humna i přes oceán / Away From Home And Overseas
While the post-Soviet presidents visited dozens of countries, their predecessors, especially during the First Republic, travelled rather rarely. However, this was not only true of the head of the Czechoslovak state; in the interwar period, leading representatives of the major powers also rarely travelled abroad. The change came with the development of aviation and especially after the Second World War, when planes shortened travel from days to hours.
In the autumn of 1923, for example, Masaryk spent almost a whole month travelling to Paris, Brussels and London. Perhaps his most famous trip was to Egypt, Palestine and Greece in the spring of 1927, which he took shortly before Parliament was due to re-elect him head of state. He returned to Lány almost three months later.
Masaryk's successor, Edvard Beneš, travelled extensively as foreign minister, then began to use airplanes more and more frequently as president. The first communist president, Gottwald, rarely went abroad, refusing to go to Moscow from the autumn of 1948, fearing for his life. He did not travel there by train until October 1952. And then to Stalin's funeral in March 1953, but pressure changes on the plane contributed to the rupture of his aorta, and Gottwald died shortly after his return.
Antonín Zápotocký also made a few trips abroad, making a major trip to Moscow in January 1957 at the head of a party and government delegation. His successor, Antonín Novotný, travelled much more thanks to airplanes. Ludvík Svoboda was received by the Shah of Iran and the Emperor of Japan, while Gustáv Husák added Cuba to the countries visited by the Czechoslovak President.
Václav Havel, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman visited dozens of countries, although in the case of the first and last of them, health problems limited their travel towards the end of their mandates. Zeman failed to be received at the White House, but made a record five trips to China. Havel visited the then besieged Sarajevo in December 1995 and Kosovo in June 1999 shortly after the fighting. In April 2023 , Petr Pavel travelled to Ukraine near the front lines.
Naples (Italy), May 28, 1921
President T.G. Masaryk in an armchair on a ship, along with his closest collaborators, before their journey to the island of Capri.
Houston (USA), March 5, 2007
President Václav Klaus attended a rodeo performance.
Photo: Marta Myšková
Kompongcham (Cambodia), January 23, 1963
Czechoslovakian President Antonín Novotný, along with Cambodian Prince Sihanuk, during the traditional pirogue races, which were organized in their honor on the Mekong River.
Photo: Jiří Finda
Moscow, January 1957
President Antonín Zápotocký (center) with his delegation visited the mausoleum by the Kremlin wall.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Washington, February 21, 1990
President Václav Havel delivered a speech to the American Congress less than two months after his election, which was met with roaring applause. To the left center is the President's spokesperson and future diplomat, Michael Žantovský.
Photo: Jaroslav Hejzlar
Borodyanka (Ukraine), April 28, 2023
President Petr Pavel, along with the Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, viewed the ruins of the city of Borodyanka, which was heavily damaged during the Russian military aggression in Ukraine.
15 - Hosté vítaní i nevítaní / Guests Welcome And Unwelcome
Visits by heads of state were not very common between the world wars, but Czechoslovakia was visited by the leaders of the member states of the so-called Little Entente, i.e. Yugoslavia and Romania. In the 1920s, Masaryk also received King Fuad I of Egypt and Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, and in 1934 King Rama VII of Siam also visited Czechoslovakia.
Crowned heads of state also met with Czechoslovak presidents later, in the 1960s Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk came repeatedly, Antonín Novotný also received Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Gustáv Husák also met the Shah in Prague two years before the fall of the Shah’s regime.
But communist presidents most often held talks with the heads of friendly countries or their top bosses in Moscow. Stalin, however, received his East European subordinates in Moscow. Thus, the first Soviet leader to visit Prague was Nikita Khrushchev in July 1957, who repeated the visit in August 1964, shortly before his ouster. Leonid Brezhnev, in his capacity as General Secretary of the Soviet Communists, visited Prague for the first time in February 1967 in this capacity, when he was welcomed by Novotný. In later years he was met by both Ludvík Svoboda and Gustáv Husák.
However, the list of heads of state who visited Prague Castle in the first four decades after Czechoslovakia’s founding is much longer. Klement Gottwald was visited by Wilhelm Pieck, President of the GDR, in 1951, and Antonín Zápotocký held talks with North Korean leader Kim Ir-sen in June 1956. And Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, for example, came to Prague as Stalin's ally in 1946 - and then in the wake of Tito’s break with Mosocw, he only came back to Prague after the restoration of relations in June 1965. Tito’s last visit was in August 1968, just days before the Warsaw Pact troops invaded.
Lány, May 31, 1933
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Beneš with members of the Permanent Council of the Little Entente. On the left is Yugoslav Foreign Minister Bogoljub Jevtić, and on the right is the head of Romanian diplomacy, Nicolae Titulescu.
Prague, November 7, 1940
Protectorate President Emil Hácha speaks with Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels during their visit to the National Theater, where they watched a performance of Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride.
Bratislava, August 1, 1968
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev (right), and Czechoslovak President Ludvík Svoboda kiss farewell after the meeting of communist parties in Bratislava. On the left is a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the Speaker of the Parliament, Josef Smrkovský. Twenty days later, Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the attempt to democratize the regime, also known as the Prague Spring.
Prague, May 6, 1950
President Klement Gottwald in Mongolian attire during the reception of the Mongolian government delegation at Prague Castle.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Lány, July 14, 1957
The First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (seated), observes the shooting of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Antonín Novotný, during the visit of the Soviet government delegation to Czechoslovakia.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
16 - Do Prahy na pivo / World Powers in Prague
Although Prague had already experienced a visit by a head of a world power other than the Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, in the 1980s, most of them came only after November 1989. Less than a year before the fall of the communist regime, French President François Mitterrand arrived in Czechoslovakia and met with dissidents. During 1990, the free country welcomed not only West German President Richard von Weizsäcker and Pope John Paul II, but also US President George Bush in November.
After Bush, Czech presidents welcomed most of his successors, and Bill Clinton's visit in January 1994, during which the most powerful man in the world had a beer at the Golden Tiger and played the saxophone at the Reduta jazz club, remains unforgettable.
The list of crowned heads has also expanded: the Spanish King Juan Carlos I met Gustáv Husák in July 1987 (and eight years later Václav Havel), the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Prague in the summer of 2002.
After her son and heir to the throne, the current king of the United Kingdom Charles III, who visited Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1991, the Queen Elizabeth II also came to Prague. Her visit in March 1996 was the first official visit of a British monarch to the territory of Bohemia and Moravia in the thousand-year history of Czech-British relations.
The Kremlin rulers also visited Prague after November 1989, but in a different way than before. In August 1993, Boris Yeltsin laid a bouquet of flowers at the memorial plaque of a student shot dead by the invaders in August 1968, and in 2006 Vladimir Putin acknowledged Moscow's moral responsibility for the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in March 2016 was in a somewhat different vein, accompanied by skirmishes between his supporters and opponents.
Prague, March 30, 2016
Chinese President Xi Jinping concludes his visit to Prague by toasting with beer on the terrace of Strahov Monastery with President Miloš Zeman.
Photo: René Fluger
Prague, January 11. 1994
President Václav Havel at a dinner with US President Bill Clinton and US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright at the U Zlatého tygra pub.
Photo: Tomáš Novák
Prague, March 27, 1996
President Václav Havel hosted a reception at Prague Castle in honor of British Queen Elizabeth II during her only visit to Prague.
Photo: Tomáš Turek
17 - Do Prahy na summit / Prague Summits
Czech presidents have hosted several meetings of world statesmen in Prague, among which the three-day US-Russian summit in April 2010 is probably the most significant in history. The highlight of the marathon diplomatic negotiations was the US-Russia nuclear arsenal limitation treaty signed by Russian and US Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama on 8 April.
However, the treaty, known as New START, is now null and void; in February 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law suspending Russia's participation. In addition to Václav Klaus, Obama met with the top leaders of 11 Central and Eastern European countries in the spring of 2010. A year earlier, he attended an EU-US summit in Prague during the first Czech presidency of the European Union.
Václav Havel also hosted two summits as Czech President. The first was the September 2000 summit of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, held at the Prague Congress Centre. The event was accompanied by several days of mass protests against economic globalisation, during which radical opponents of both institutions provoked clashes with the police in the streets and caused extensive damage. About 182 ministers and governors and over 15,000 other official guests attended.
The two-day NATO summit, held on 21 and 22 November 2002, was the largest event hosted by the Czech Republic in terms of the number of participating heads of state. Twenty-two presidents and two dozen prime ministers arrived in Prague.
Prague, April 8, 2010
Czech President Václav Klaus (center) welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and American President Barack Obama at Prague Castle.
Photo: Roman Vondrouš
18 - Manželky a první dámy / First Ladies and First Wives
The role of the First Lady of the Republic has taken many forms over the past century, determined by the circumstances of the time and the personalities of individual women. The wife of the first Czechoslovak president, Charlotte Garrigue Masaryková, remained in seclusion due to illness, and after her death, her daughter Alice Masaryková (inter alia the chairwoman of the Czechoslovak Red Cross), stood by her father's side. The idea of an elegant First Lady was fulfilled by Hana Benešová, who came into the limelight as the educated and charming wife of the Foreign Minister and later, as the President's wife, combined the position of First Lady with charity work.
After Benešová, who supported her husband in exile in London and spent the rest of her life in seclusion after his death in 1948, came the long era of wives of presidents who were sidelined by the Communists. The exception was the first of these, Marta Gottwaldová, who tried in vain to emulate the elegance of Hana Benešová. She dressed in a way that did not flatter her stronger figure and rather aroused ridicule. The convinced communist Marie Zápotocká is remembered as a simple and modest woman, while the reclusive Božena Novotná preferred to be a housewife.
A change came with Irena Svobodová, who took care of Prague Castle and also promoted the building of the first Czech SOS village for abandoned children, while Gustáv Husák's wife Viera was little seen by the public in the role of First Lady. Her tragic death in a helicopter crash in October 1977 affected Husák very much. A First Lady returned to the Castle 12 years later with Olga Havlová, who devoted herself to helping people until her untimely death in 1996.
Prague, June 29, 1920
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his wife Charlotte observe the 7th All-Sokol Meet in Prague at Letná.
Moravia, June 17, 1947
First Lady Hana Benešová speaks with local people during her visit to Moravia.
Koloděje, June 12, 1948
Prime Minister Klement Gottwald with his wife Marta, daughter Marta, and granddaughter Marta, who is pushing a doll's pram.
Prague, October 22, 1976
President Gustáv Husák and his wife Viera leave the polling room at Prague Castle after casting their votes for the National Front candidates.
19 - První dámy opět na scéně / Return of the First Ladies
With Olga Havlová, the role of First Lady resumed in both form and content. The woman, who as the wife of a dissident was already famous for her strong will and natural authority, was involved in the reconstruction of Prague Castle, but mainly devoted herself to charity, among other things she founded the Committee of Good Will. When she died of cancer in January 1996, thousands of people came to say goodbye to her. Havel's second wife Dagmar was slow to gain sympathy. The popular actress was helped in the public eye when she tirelessly cared for her seriously ill husband in the spring of 1998. She, too, has devoted herself to charity.
Livia Klausová had already been trained for the role of First Lady when Václav Klaus was Prime Minister. She also devoted herself to various charitable activities, especially helping children in orphanages and supporting the elderly. During Miloš Zeman's presidency, Klausová was ambassador to her native Slovakia from 2013 to 2018. However, her appointment was not approved until after the fall of the government of Petr Nečas.
The change in the role of first lady came with Ivana Zemanová, who had already guarded her privacy in her husband's previous political posts. She appeared by Zeman's side rarely, for the most part on official occasions. As First Lady, she devoted herself to helping at-risk children, the elderly and the homeless. She communicated minimally with the media, but in October 2021 she did briefly comment on Zeman's serious illness.
The wife of the current president, Eva Pavlová, has assumed a more active role of First Lady. She also wants to devote herself to charity, focusing on helping single mothers.
Pretoria (South Africa), December 11, 2006
President Václav Klaus and his wife Livia visit the Sterkfontein caves, a region known as the cradle of humankind, where the oldest predecessor of human skeleton was found.
Photo: René Volfík
Prague, January 22, 1993
Václav Havel, when six months after his abdication, he ran for president, this time of an independent Czech Republic, with his wife Olga in their apartment on Rašínovo nábřeží.
Photo: Jaroslav Hejzlar
Prague, January 4, 1997
Newlyweds, President Václav Havel and actress Dagmar Havlová (Veškrnová) upon their return to Havel's villa after their wedding ceremony, which took place at the Žižkov Town Hall.
Photo: Stanislav Peška
Prague, January 11, 2013
Presidential candidate Miloš Zeman with his wife Ivana (left) and daughter Kateřina heading to vote in Prague's Stodůlky neighborhood.
Photo: Mafra/Jan Zatorsky
Prague, January 28, 2023
Victorious presidential candidate Petr Pavel with his wife Eva at a press conference in the election headquarters after the results of the second round of the direct presidential election were announced.
Photo: Ondřej Deml
20 - Prezidenti a “sedmá velmoc” / Presidents and the "Seventh Power"
The relationship of the head of state to the media has undergone many changes, related to the personality of the president and the circumstances of the time. During the First Republic, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk stood above politics, his image was of a wise ruler helping to consolidate the republican establishment. He gave few interviews; Čapek's three-volume Conversations with TGM is a notable exception. The official concept of informing about the president, where information about his health was kept secret, continued under Edvard Beneš and Emil Hácha.
During the German occupation, censorship took on a repressive form, and journalists came under the strict control of the authorities again in the wake of the February 1948 coup. In the era of communist presidents, their health was a state secret, and even their photographs were subject to censorship and sometimes editing. Press censorship disappeared only during the brief period of the Prague Spring of 1968, when Ludvík Svoboda joined the pantheon of popular Czechoslovak leaders. The advent of the so-called normalisation, however, also meant a return to official reporting in the case of the President.
The changes after November 1989 also affected the relationship between the president and the media. It was only Václav Havel's Masaryk-like status that influenced the way he was written about in the early years. Thus, in 1996, secretly filmed footage of the president recovering from a major operation caused shock. Václav Klaus brought his reserved attitude towards the media to Prague Castle, and his successor Miloš Zeman, even as president, did not spare harsh words. Already on taking office, he described a substantial part of the media as "an island of negative deviance", and later joked with Russian leader Vladimir Putin about the physical liquidation of journalists.
Even in relation to the media, Petr Pavel is trying to return to the concepts of the 1990s. He has maintained an open attitude towards journalists since the election campaign as well as after his arrival at the Castle.
Prague, February 15, 2008
Václav Klaus leaves the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle after a joint session of both chambers of parliament, where he was re-elected as the head of state.
Photo: René Volfík
Darwin (Australia), March 26, 1995
President Václav Havel speaks with journalists aboard a plane during his journey from Darwin to Sydney.
Photo: Stanislav Peška
Belgrade (Yugoslavia), 1932
Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš (first on the left) with journalists after the Little Entente meeting.
Zbiroh, October 20, 2017
President Miloš Zeman shows off one of his gifts at a press conference at the end of his visit to the Plzeň Region - a wooden model of a submachine gun with the inscription "for journalists," the magazine of which is a bottle of Zeman's favorite Becherovka.
Photo: Miroslav Chaloupka
Rzeszów (Poland), March 17, 2023
President Petr Pavel during a press briefing on the airport tarmac at the end of a two-day visit to Poland.
Photo: Roman Vondrouš
21 - Tatíček prezident / Good Uncle President
Since the First Republic, meetings between the President and children have frequently been a part of the programme of the Head of State. Czechoslovakia´s first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk received flowers from children in national costume during his travels around the republic. His successor Edvard Beneš and his wife Hana visited children not only at home in Czechoslovakia, but also during their exile in Great Britain. Emil Hácha was photographed, for example, during a Christmas visit to a widowed mother of seven children and in a Prague children's hospital.
Klement Gottwald initially followed this tradition. During a trip to Slovakia in the summer of 1949, he was still greeted by children in folk costumes, but shortly after that pioneers took their place. Gottwald received the dressed-up members of the Communist Party's youth at Prague Castle and in Lány. Later, the selected pioneers became part of the May Day parades, as well as the mourning ceremonies. Children in white shirts with red scarves stood guard of honour at the coffin of Antonín Zápotocký in November 1957.
In the time of Antonín Novotný, Children's Day was celebrated in Lány, and in October 1963 the House of Czechoslovak Children was opened at Prague Castle, with the President in attendance. Pioneers were also present during the welcoming of Soviet party chief Leonid Brezhnev by Gustáv Husák.
The children's meeting with the head of state took a more civil form after November 1989. In addition to travelling around the regions, Václav Havel, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman regularly visited schoolchildren at the start of the school year. Havel was also interviewed by children's television reporters, and Children's Day was celebrated at the Castle under Klaus.
Úpice, Date Unknown
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk visited a children's shelter in Úpice.
22 - Děvčátko ze známky / The President and the Little Girl from the Postage Stamp
One of the iconic images of the First Republic is a photograph of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk holding a little girl dressed in a folk costume. A random moment from Masaryk's visit to Žďár nad Sázavou in June 1928 appeared on the front pages of magazines, was printed in newspapers and in 1938, a year after the President's death, was used on a postage stamp. "Have respect for the soul of a child" reads the tiny graphic, which began appearing on letters on the eve of the war.
The story of the little girl pictured with Masaryk is well known to this day. The three-year-old daughter of the owner of the local sawmill, dressed in a Kyjov dress, smiled at her parents and headed to the podium with the president, who took her in for a moment. "Suddenly she was lost in the crowd and then I saw her climbing the stairs to the podium and walking in front of the president. He watched her in amusement and then she was pushed into his arms," Eva Neugebauer's mother, née Haňková, later recounted.
While the family lived through the German occupation relatively peacefully - even though the famous photo of the little girl with Masaryk was used on leaflets in Britain - after February 1948 they were hit by repression against businessmen. Eva, then Haňková, emigrated to Germany in 1950 across the Šumava "green border", eventually settling in the U.S. with her husband. From the 1970s, she was able to visit Czechoslovakia several times, and flew back regularly after November 1989. She also met another Czechoslovak president, Václav Havel. In 2000, this lady also saw the reissue of the famous Masaryk stamp.
Lány, June 1, 1958
On the occasion of International Children's Day, President Antonín Novotný invited the best pioneers from all over Czechoslovakia to the castle in Lány.
Photo: Josef Mucha
Prague, June 20, 2007
President Václav Klaus received a portrait drawn by students during his visit to an elementary school on Umělecká Street in Prague 7.
Photo: Stanislav Zbyněk
Žďár nad Sázavou, 1928
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk holding three-year-old Eva Neugebauer. A world-famous postage stamp was later engraved based on this photograph.
23 - Hradní zvěřinec / “First Pets”
Presidents and pets belong together, although not all Czechoslovak and Czech leaders had a pet. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was famous for his relationship with horses. Although he did not start riding until he was in his fifties, he could still be seen in the saddle long after his 80th birthday. Most often, however, presidents are associated with dogs, the most famous of which was undoubtedly Havel's schnauzer, Dula.
Dula, who, according to Havel displayed no respect, even towards constitutional officials, was the pet of his first wife Olga and moved in with his housekeeper after the president's marriage to Dagmar Veškrnová in 1997. With the new First Lady came two boxers, Sugar and Madla, who did not get along with Dula.
Some of Havel's predecessors at Prague Castle also had dogs. For example, Edvard Beneš kept a Fox Terrier in the 1930s, and in the mid-1940s the Benešs got a German Shepherd, allegedly from a well-known breeder František Czerný from Kravaře, who also sent a dog to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
Antonín Zápotocký also received a dog of a similar breed, a wolfdog named Astor, from border guards. Ludvík Svoboda, who had a German Shepherd, also walked the dog around the Prague Castle grounds.
Miloš Zeman got a golden retriever named Darcy in 2013, but not much is known about its fate. The current president, Petr Pavel, used to be a "dog person", but now he has a cat named Micka. In June 2023, a Children's Day was held in the Royal Garden of Prague Castle in her name.
Prague, December 19, 1949
Prime Minister Antonín Zápotocký received a German Shepherd named Astor as a gift from the National Security Corps (the police at the time) for his 65th birthday.
Photo: Rostislav Novák
Lány, July 8, 1942
The President of the Protectorate, Emil Hácha, is feeding a sheep at the Lány castle.
Prague, May 6, 1971
First lady Irena Svobodová, carrying a dog, during a walk with her husband Ludvík Svoboda in the Royal Garden of Prague Castle.
Photo: Karel Mevald
The first Czechoslovak President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, on horseback at the castle in Lány.
Hrádeček (Trutnov Region), August 17, 1996
President Václav Havel with his female dog Ďula in his lap, in the audience during the public rehearsal of his play "The Garden Party".
Photo: Tomáš Turek
24 - V uniformě / Presidents in Uniform
Two presidents, one of Czechoslovakia, the other of Czechia were professional soldiers during their lives and rose to the rank of army general. However, in addition to Ludvík Svoboda and Petr Pavel, some other presidents had a penchant for uniforms. Although Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Edvard Beneš and Emil Hácha avoided service in the Austria-Hungary’s armed forces. Masaryk often wore clothing strongly resembling a uniform. After 1945, Beneš, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, had a special uniform made for himself, which he wore at parades and important events connected with the military.
A special general's uniform was worn by the first two communist presidents, who were eventually in uniform at their funerals. Klement Gottwald until his embalmed body was dressed in civilian clothes in 1958 five years after his death; Antonín Zápotocký was cremated with his uniform. However, Gottwald also spent three years of the First World War in uniform, fighting for the emperor; between 1918 and 1920 he also served in the Czechoslovak Army. Zápotocký served in the Austro-Hungarian uniform on the frontlines in Galicia, Serbia and Italy.
Václav Havel spent two years in the 1950s in the army with an engineering unit, despite having tried unsuccessfully to avoid military service. While still in the army, he translated his experiences in uniform into his first play, The Life Before Me, which he wrote in 1958 with Karel Brynda. The work is known today mainly thanks to another play of his, “Mills” performed by the Sklep (Cellar) Theater. As a graduate of the university’s military department, Václav Klaus was in the army for only a year, and his service was not entirely standard, as he played for the first-league basketball team Dukla Dejvice. Miloš Zeman managed to avoid military service due to a heart defect.
Vršovice (Lounsko), November 25, 2016
President Miloš Zeman inspects a target after testing a CZ 805 BREN assault rifle during his visit to the 41st Mechanized Battalion.
Photo: Libor Zavoral
Prague, October 27, 1948
Minister of National Defense, Ludvík Svoboda (second from right), presents all Czechoslovak orders to President Klement Gottwald (second from left), if he hadn't been previously decorated with them. The event was attended by generals Šimon Drgač (on the right) and Army General Richard Bulander, head of the military office of the President of the Republic.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Brezno, August 22, 1991
President Václav Havel tries on military footwear during a visit to the 49th Artillery Regiment of the Czechoslovak Army in central Slovakia.
Photo: Michal Doležal
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (on the right) with General Sergej Vojcechovský during maneuvers in Moravia.
25 - Do civilu / From Uniforms to Civilian Clothes
The current Czech president, Petr Pavel, spent most of his life in the army, putting on a uniform at the age of 14 as a student at a military college and retiring 43 years later as an army general. During the election campaign, he recalled his military career, going back to his time in the UN peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia.
As head of state, however, Pavel is acting in a civilian capacity. The last time he wore a uniform in public was in July 2022, when he and his wife attended the installation of the new Archbishop of Prague, Jan Graubner.
Before the election, the current president also used the phrase "General Pavel" and his Twitter account was tagged @generalpavel. Andrej Babiš, for example, used the slogans "The General does not believe in peace. Vote for peace. Vote Babiš." or "I will not drag the Czech Republic into war. I am a diplomat. Not a general."
Petr Pavel responded at the time that thanks to his personal experience in war zones, he knows well how important peace is. He described Babiš‘s fear-mongering about being dragged into a war or a mobilization as cowardly and vile. After the first round of elections, he described Babiš’s rhetoric as "the exploitation of fear for one's own political gain”, adding, "I'm the last person who would want to drag the country into war." He reassured voters of his commitment to peace, asserting that his firsthand experiences of war made him more dedicated to peacekeeping than many politicians.
Prague, June 29, 2012
The new Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army, Petr Pavel, assumed his position during a ceremonial military parade at the National Monument in Vítkov.
Photo: Michal Kamaryt
26 - U vody i na horách / On the Waterfront and in the Mountains
Presidential vacations were among the most popular subjects for photographers, although most of the time only choreographed scenes appeared in front of the camera and the heads of state kept their moments of real leisure to themselves. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was photographed on holidays in Topoľčany and with his grandchildren in Lány, but his several-week medical holidays in Capri in the early 1920s remained hidden from the public eye. Thanks to Karel Čapek, Edvard Beneš is known to have gardened at his villa in Sezimovo Ústí.
Many presidents went to the mountains in summer and winter, often to the High Tatras. For example, at the very end of 1938, Emil Hácha was attracted to the Slovak mountains. Ludvík Svoboda was also a frequent guest in the mountains, During the interwar period, he had walked through almost all the Czechoslovak mountain ranges, including the Krkonoše and Jizera Mountains as well as the Carpathians in the easternmost part of the country, known then as Subcarpathian Ruthenia, and also visited. Svoboda’s photographs from a hike in the Tatras in October 1969 are unusually relaxed. In February 1954, Antonín Zápotocký had his photograph taken with his wife and grandchildren while walking in the snowy surroundings of Vysoké nad Jizerou.
Communist presidents from Gottwald to Husák often spent their holidays in resorts in the Soviet Crimea, where, for example, Gustáv Husák regularly flew for two weeks in the second half of July. In April 1973, Husák and other colleagues in the party leadership also tested the waters of the Caribbean Sea during a visit to Cuba. The party and state leadership also had domestic recreational facilities at their disposal, Antonín Novotný being very fond of the resort at the Orlík reservoir, built at the turn of the 1950s and ‘60s. However, he preferred to spend his free time with his family or playing cards.
High Tatras, October 31, 1969
President Ludvík Svoboda hiking in the High Tatras.
Cuba, April 1, 1973
Members of the party and government delegation relaxing in Cuba. From left: Vasil Biľak, Gustáv Husák, Mikuláš Beňo, and Josef Korčák.
Photo: Karel Mevald
Lake Awasa (Ethiopia), November 22, 1966
President Antonín Novotný with a caught catfish.
Photo: Karel Mevald
Lány, July 8, 1942
The Protectorate president Emil Hácha resting on a park bench in Lány.
27 - Prezidenti chalupáři / Presidents "Cottagers"
The holidays of the post-Soviet presidents were also documented by photographers. Václav Havel, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman let the public see much more than their predecessors. All three of them were united by spending some of their free time in a cottage, although each had a different understanding of spending time in a second home in the country. Havel bought his cottage at Hrádeček near Trutnov in 1967 and during the normalisation period it became a meeting place for dissidents and people from the alternative culture scene. Havel also had his photographs taken at Hrádeček during various domestic activities, including pounding cutlets for schnitzels. He died there in December 2011.
In addition to spending time in the foothills of the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše), Havel enjoyed spending his holidays by the sea in Spain and Portugal, where the climate suited his ailing lungs. He spent some time at a residence of King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and for several years he also owned a villa near the Portuguese town of Albufeira on the Algarve. Václav Klaus also went abroad on holiday, but in his case to the mountains, where he hiked and played tennis. He also bought an apartment in Pec pod Sněžkou in the Giant Mountains While head of state, he rarely visited a cottage in Prudice, South Bohemia, which he bought in the 1970s.
By contrast, the apartment in an a former castle in Nové Veselí in the Žďár region was a favourite resting place for Miloš Zeman when he temporarily withdrew from public life. He visited the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands as long as his health allowed, even as president. In the summer, the media regularly showed pictures of Zeman lying in a rubber dinghy, accompanied by a large security detail wading through the water of a local pond. Later, however, Zeman spent more and more time at the presidential country residence, a stately home, at Lány, where he spent much of his time. Petr Pavel also spends much of his free time at his cottage in Česká Čermná in the Náchod region, which was inherited by his wife.
Hrádeček, July 29, 1992
Václav Havel is pounding cutlets in the garden of a cottage in Hrádeček, where he spent his vacation after resigning as President of Czechoslovakia, which was heading for division into two separate states at that time.
Photo: Jana Noseková
Nové Veselí, July 4, 2016
President Miloš Zeman, accompanied by security, took a boat ride on the Veselský pond in Nové Veselí in the Žďár region, where he spent his vacation annually.
Photo: Luboš Pavlíček
Prague, Spring 1954
President Antonín Zápotocký with his wife Marie, during a walk in the gardens of Prague Castle.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Sezimovo Ústí, 1930s
Edvard Beneš with his wife Hana in the garden of their villa in Sezimovo Ústí. Given the incomplete dating and description of the photograph, it is not clear whether he was already president at that time or still the foreign minister.
28 - Umělci a prezidenti / Presidents and Artists
The interplay between politics and art has a rich history, with politicians often mingling with artists who shared their worldview. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, for instance, was known to attend the meetings of the "Fridays", gatherings of prominent figures in politics and culture. Emil Hácha, perceived by many as a dry judge, had a literary side, having translated the humorous novel 'Three Men in a Boat (Except for the Dog)' with his brother Theodor in his youth.
Of all political figures, Václav Havel had the deepest ties to culture. Prior to his political involvement in the late 1960s, he was renowned as a playwright and had a close relationship with film. His uncle Miloš founded the Barrandov studios, and Havel himself had a cameo in Pavel Juráček's film 'Every Young Man' in 1965. As a president, he often met with artists, including international stars like the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson.
During the era of communist presidents, artists were frequently given audiences, primarily to receive awards such as the Order of Labour or the titles of Meritorious or National Artist. Notably, a relaxed atmosphere prevailed at the Castle in September 1968, before Havel's presidency, when popular stars like Waldemar Matuška, Václav Neckář, Marta Kubišová, and Jiřina Bohdalová visited Ludvík Svoboda.
Prague, September 21, 1968
President Ludvík Svoboda met at Prague Castle with a group of well-known singers, composers, actors, and other artists. From left in the photo are Ludvík Svoboda, singer Pavel Novák, singer Milena Zahrynowská, singer Václav Neckář, and far right is actress Jiřina Bohdalová.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Prague, April 30, 1985
President Gustáv Husák presents singer Karel Gott with a decree appointing him a national artist during a ceremonial awarding in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle on May 1st.
Bystřička (Slovakia), 1930s
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk meeting with writer Karel Čapek in Bystřička, Slovakia.
Melbourne (Australia), March 29, 1995
During a visit to Australia, President Václav Havel met at the airport in Melbourne with members of the British band Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger (right) and Keith Richards (center).
Photo: Stanislav Peška
29 - Prezidenti na mušce / Attacks on Presidents
Czechoslovak and Czech history does not feature the assassination of a president. The most prominent political assassination was that of the first Minister of Finance, Alois Rašín, in 1923. Furthermore, Czechoslovak paratroopers killed one of the Third Reich's leading figures, Reinhard Heydrich, in 1942, marking the largest anti-Nazi act of the European Resistance. During the Communist era, a few contemplated attacking the head of state, but no such action transpired. In 1978, a miner was sentenced to nine years in prison for blowing up a statue of Klement Gottwald.
Post-1989, Czech presidents have experienced a few symbolic attacks. In 1991, President Václav Havel was bombarded with eggs during national holiday celebrations in Bratislava. Václav Klaus, his successor, also faced an unpleasant incident when he was shot at close range with an airsoft gun in 2012, causing minor injuries.
Miloš Zeman, like Havel, was pelted with eggs during national holiday celebrations, this time in Prague in 2014. During the 2018 presidential elections, Zeman was confronted by a semi-nude protester from the Femen movement, who displayed a defamatory message on her body.
Prague, November 17, 2014
President's security and the director of the president's secretariat, Jaroslav Hlinovský (right), attempt to protect Miloš Zeman from an egg attack. During the celebrations of the Velvet Revolution anniversary, Zeman's opponents protested against his then-pro-Russian stance in the Ukraine conflict, use of vulgar language, and his downplaying of the brutal suppression of student protests in November 1989.
Photo: AP/Petr David Josek
Bratislava, March 14, 1991
President Václav Havel, surrounded by his security detail, tries to get into his car at SNP square, where a nationalist demonstration was taking place. His security was trying to isolate him from the crowd.
Photo: Tomáš Novák
Chrastava, September 28, 2012
Police arrested a man who fired at President Václav Klaus from an airsoft gun in Chrastava, in the Liberec region. Klaus was in Chrastava to open a Secessionist bridge that had been rebuilt after devastating floods in 2010.
Photo: Radek Petrášek
Prague, January 12, 2018
A topless activist from the Femen movement, with a derogatory anti-Zeman message on her chest, surprised President Miloš Zeman as he arrived to vote in the first round of the elections, in which he was defending his presidential mandate.
Photo: Profimedia/Mafra/Dan Materna
30 - V zdravém těle zdravý duch / Sporting Presidents
Almost every Czech or Czechoslovak president has engaged in sports at some point in their life. Edvard Beneš, a footballer for Prague Slavia in his youth, maintained his affiliation with the sport till the end of his life. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk valued physical fitness, participating in activities like horse riding and cycling. Emil Hácha was a versatile sportsman, co-founding the Czech mountaineering association and taking up swimming even in his sixties.
In the early 20th century, Antonín Zápotocký was a football official in Kladno. Gustáv Husák was an enthusiastic sportsman in his younger days, with football, skiing, and volleyball among his favored sports. Hiking was popular among the presidents, and Václav Klaus, a former first league basketball player, had a special fondness for sports.
Miloš Zeman and Václav Havel, however, were not notable athletes, although Havel made efforts, according to Milan Jirásek, his classmate and later the head of the Czech Olympic Committee. The current president, Petr Pavel, a former paratrooper, continues to keep himself fit.
Prague, November 1, 1901
The future Foreign Minister and President Edvard Beneš wearing the jersey of Prague's Slavia.
From 1901 to 1904, he played for Slavia C. The picture is from a match, in which the Slavic C team defeated Sparta A by a high score of 6-1.
The agile Benes played on the left wing, but never under his own name. The high school cantors at the beginning of the last century did not like football and Beneš, as a scholarship student could not risk being expelled from the school.
Photo: SK Slavia Prague archive
Vysoké nad Jizerou, February 5, 1954
President Antonín Zápotocký and his wife Marie take a walk during a short health vacation in the vicinity of Vysoké nad Jizerou.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
Hradec nad Moravicí, July 1, 1962
President Antonín Novotný (center) competes in a tug-of-war with pioneers along with other communist officials.
Photo: Věnek Švorčík, Jovan Dezort
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (third row, third from the left) among the members of the Malostranský Sokol.
31 - Branky, body, Klaus / Sportsman Klaus
The most famous sportsman among our modern presidents is undoubtedly Václav Klaus. Even as a university student he made it to the first basketball league and added many other sports to basketball. In his capacity as Prime Minister, he was willing to be photographed with a tennis racket in his hand, in winter he went to the ski slopes and often spent his summer holidays in the mountains.
The Prague Vinohrady native started playing basketball in the mid-1950s. He made it to the Czechoslovak national youth and junior teams, and among adults he played ten seasons in the first league for Vyšehrad and later for Orbis. Basketball also allowed Václav Klaus to avoid the regular army, he spent a year of compulsory service as a player for Dukla Dejvice.
"He was a good player. Not for the national team, but a good league basketball player... He often argued with the coach. And he didn't like to be substituted," his former teammate Stanislav Ulrych recalled Klaus.
Other people who knew Klaus on the boards - including his longtime friend and classmate Tomáš Ježek - also recalled his difficulty accepting defeat and his tendency to lecture others. However, Václav Klaus himself sees it a little differently. "I may not have been the best player, but I definitely had the sweaties shirt. And I was annoyed by those who didn't have a sweaty shirt," he told reporters from Lidové noviny daily years ago.
Rokytnice nad Jizerou,
Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus during a ski race (location unspecified). Klaus did not miss the opportunity to challenge his rivals, even on international trips. For instance, during a visit to Finland in 1994, he beat his host in a reindeer-drawn sled race. "It must have been part of Finnish hospitality, because my reindeer seemed somewhat more spirited than my rivals'," Klaus commented at the time.
Photo: Profimedia/Czech Editorial Photography/Daniel Vrabec
32 - Nemoci a neduhy / Presidential Ills
Few presidents have avoided illness during their term of office; some have remained at Prague Castle despite suffering from serious health problems. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was seriously ill before his last election in 1934, but the Castle kept his condition secret from the public. It was similar in the case of Edvard Beneš, whose difficulties after suffering a stroke greatly influenced his decision-making in February 1948.
Neither of Beneš's two successors escaped illness while in office. Emil Hácha struggled with a serious illness throughout his presidency, and the heavy smoker and alcoholic Klement Gottwald died in office, as did the second communist head of state, Antonín Zápotocký. Because of Ludvík Svoboda's frail health, the constitution was amended to allow parliament to remove him. He was replaced by Gustáv Husák, who himself was struggling with the effects of a stroke towards the end of his term.
In the early years of Václav Havel's presidency, the president's health was not openly discussed, and the removal of part of his lung due to a tumour was somewhat downplayed in the first reports in December 1996. The situation changed after a sudden operation on a ruptured colon in April 1998 in Austria, after which the Castle began to report openly on Havel's condition.
After Václav Klaus, who avoided serious health problems, the health of sitting presidents began to be addressed again during the presidency of Miloš Zeman.
At the beginning of his first term, doctors reported that Zeman was suffering from neuropathy, which caused him to lose feeling in his legs. In April 2021, he announced that he had decided to move to a wheelchair. Six months later, Zeman found himself in hospital due to liver failure, and it was only thanks to intensive care that he was able to return to Lány after a month and a half, where he spent most of the remainder of his mandate.
Prague, June 18, 2008
President Václav Klaus and the head of the Orthopedic Clinic of Bulovka University Hospital, Pavel Dungl, at a briefing following hip joint surgery.
Photo: Stanislav Peška
Lány, November 28, 2021
President Miloš Zeman appointing the chairman of the ODS (Civic Democratic Party), Petr Fiala, as the Prime Minister. Zeman was recovering from liver failure at Lány. At the time when a new government was being formed following the elections, he additionally fell ill with COVID-19. Therefore, he was separated from the government members by a Plexiglas screen during the negotiations and appointment.
This photo won in the 'People in the News' category of the Czech Press Photo competition.
Photo: Roman Vondrouš
Prague, November 29, 1996
President Václav Havel in his room at the 3rd Surgical Clinic of the General University Hospital in Londýnská Street, where he was waiting for lung surgery. At the time, the Castle Office reported an inflammation, but only after the successful operation did it announce that a malignant tumour had been removed from Havel's lungs.
Photo: Tomáš Turek
33 - Vynucené abdikace / Presidential Abdications
None of the Czechoslovak presidents completed all of their terms in office. Most have abdicated, either for political or health reasons, two have died in office and one seriously ill one was removed by parliament after a retroactive constitutional amendment was passed.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was head of state for 17 years, but towards the end he was practically unable to exercise the office of president due to illness; he abdicated on 14 December 1935. His successor, Edvard Beneš, resigned twice; the first time was on 5 October 1938, shortly after the Munich Pact, "to allow the new government and state to reorient itself internally and externally, at least temporarily"; the second time was in June 1948, a quarter of a year after the communist coup. Emil Hácha ended as President along with the Protectorate and died shortly afterwards in a prison hospital.
The first two communist presidents - Klement Gottwald and Antonín Zápotocký - died during their terms in office. Antonín Novotný, during whose rule socialism was being "built" in Czechoslovakia and the republic was given the appellation "socialist", left the post of president under pressure in March 1968, two months after he had concluded his term as head of the Communist Party.
The constitution was amended because of Ludvík Svoboda’s refusal to abdicate despite being seriously ill. Parliament then used its newly acquired authority to remove him from office in March 1975.
Gustáv Husák, whose resignation was one of the consequences of the fall of the regime, was also in poor health towards the end of his government. Václav Havel also left the office of President of Czechoslovakia prematurely. At a time when the country was heading towards a break-up into two separate states, he did not have enough votes in the federal parliament to be re-elected he decided to abdicate on 20 July 1992. In contrast to the unscheduled departure from office of all Czechoslovak presidents, all three presidents of the Czech Republic, Havel, Klaus and Zeman, were able to retire normally at the end of their second term in office.
Prague, December 14, 1953
The abdication of the first Czechoslovak President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. From left to right in the photo are Senate Chairman František Soukup, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Jan Malypetr, President TGM, Prime Minister Milan Hodža, and Chancellor Přemysl Šámal.
Prague, November 24, 1975
President Gustáv Husák (left) and the chairman of the Czechoslovak government, Lubomír Štrougal (right), visited former President General Ludvík Svoboda on his eightieth birthday. This took place six months after he was stripped of his function by the Communist Parliament.
Photo: Jiří Burian
Prague, July 20, 1992
Czechoslovak President Václav Havel looks out of a window of Prague Castle after announcing his abdication.
Photo: Michal Krumphanzl
Sezimovo Ústí, June 8, 1948
Edvard Beneš in his villa after stepping down from the position of president.
Photo: Jiří Rublič
34 - Sametová abdikace / The Velvet Abdication
The early departures of Czechoslovak presidents were usually associated with historical upheavals - this was the case with both abdications of Edvard Beneš in 1938 and 1948, the resignation of Antonín Novotný in March 1968 and the end of Gustáv Husák’s rule in December 1989. The departure of the "president of forgetting", as Milan Kundera characterised Husák, was one of the highlights of the Velvet Revolution. The main face of the normalisation regime left Prague Castle on 10 December 1989, Human Rights Day.
The last step Husák took at Prague Castle was to appoint a "government of national understanding". For the first time since 1948, the cabinet headed by Marián Čalfa did not have a communist majority although it still contained a greater percentage of communist ministers than were in the coalition government that was formed after the last relatively free elections in 1946. After his abdication, Husák withdrew into private life and quietly watched the democratisation developments in the country he had ruled for two decades from the sidelines until his death in 1991.
A year before his abdication, Gustáv Husák held talks with his French counterpart François Mitterrand, whose visit on 10 December 1988 led to the first and only permitted rally of dissidents in Prague. However, the communists were not interested in democratic changes, they just wanted to avoid unpleasantness abroad in a purely pragmatic way. Shortly afterwards, however, it became clear to Husák that the regime was in serious trouble.
"Can't you see that everything around us is going to the dogs? Do something!" declared the president, who was struggling with the effects of a stroke, at a meeting of the party presidium in October 1989. However, history had already taken a different course by then and Husák, according to his biographers, an essential "homo politicus", could not change that. Until his death, he did not admit that he had been wrong for most of his life. He believed that it was not the system that had failed, but the people.
Prague, December 9, 1989
The last communist president, Gustáv Husák, watches a recording of his prepared speech with his associates and representatives of Czechoslovak Television, in which he announced that he would step down from his position as soon as a new government was formed. This took place the following day.
Photo: Jiří Kruliš
35 - Na poslední cestě / Presidential Funerals
Many parallels can be drawn between the lives of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Václav Havel, and their final farewells were similar.
The state funerals of the first and the last Czechoslovak president were a manifestation of unity, although in the case of TGM in September 1937, in addition to commemorating their favourite head of state, people also came together because they were going through difficult times due to the threat of Nazi Germany. Tens of thousands of people lined the funeral route of Masaryk's coffin through Prague and along the railway line to Lány, while hundreds of guests, including representatives of European countries, attended the procession itself.
The last farewell to Havel in December 2011 also brought tens of thousands of mourners to the Prague Castle and the streets of the capital. The funeral mass in St. Vitus Cathedral was attended by the world's top politicians, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former US President Bill Clinton, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Other presidents have also had grand state funerals, although in the case of Klement Gottwald or Antonin Zapotocky, it is doubtful that attendance at the funerals was voluntary for many. In contrast, the funeral of Edvard Beneš, which became for a long time the last opportunity to show disapproval of the emerging communist regime. The last farewell to Ludvík Svoboda also attracted spontaneous interest.
On the other hand, the funerals of the presidents who had left office involuntarily for various reasons were kept out of the limelight. Only members of his immediate family were allowed to say goodbye to Emil Hácha in June 1945, and the funerals of Antonín Novotný in January 1975 and Gustáv Husák in November 1991 were also held without state honours.
Prague, September 21, 1937
President Edvard Beneš at the conclusion of the funeral procession in front of Wilson's Station (now the Main Station) in Prague, from where the coffin containing the remains of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was transported to Lány.
Prague, March 1, 1953
The coffin containing the embalmed body of the first communist president, Klement Gottwald.
Prague, December 21, 2011
The hearse carrying the coffin of the last Czechoslovakian and the first Czech president, Václav Havel, leads the funeral procession across Charles Bridge on its way to Prague Castle, where it was displayed in Vladislav Hall.
Photo: Martin Štěrba
36 - Kult Klementa Gottwalda / The Cult of Klement Gottwald
"The best of us have entered Prague Castle, the seat of the Czech kings," the Communist Party daily Rudé Právo wrote in June 1948 after the election of the first "workers' president". It did not take long for Klement Gottwald to replace Tomáš Masaryk in the names of squares; statues of him popped up all over the country until the days of normalisation.
Even during his lifetime, mines were named after Gottwald; his name replaced the name of Nazi politician, military leader and war criminal, Hermann Göring, in the name of the Vítkovice ironworks. Long after Gottwald's death, the communists did not cease promoting the personality cult around him. He was given a military-style funeral and eventually - following the example of Lenin and Stalin - he was embalmed and his body displayed in the Žižka memorial.
In the second half of the 1950s, however, the break with the cult of communist leaders arrived in Prague from Moscow. Gottwald's body was first dressed in civilian clothes in 1958 and cremated in June 1962. Less than half a year later, Stalin's monument, the largest example of a personality cult in Czechoslovakia, disappeared from Letná overlooking the centre of Prague. It began to be built during Gottwald's lifetime, but was not completed until May 1955.
Nevertheless, the personality cult surrounding Czechoslovakia’s first communist president long outlived the Soviet break with the cult of Joseph Stalin in 1956. Gottwald’s name was only removed from streets, squares, bridges and businesses after November 1989. However, the end of the Gottwald cult was swift - on the first day of 1990, the town of Gottwaldov reverted to its original name, Zlín; at the same time, the state bank withdrew the extremely unpopular green 100-crown with his portrait, which had only entered circulation on 1 October 1989. A few weeks later, the Gottwald Bridge over Prague’s Nusle Valley and an adjacent metro station were also renamed.
Kladno, May 1, 1951
A giant bust of Klement Gottwald, which was part of the May Day parade.
Photo: Čestmír Jírů
37 - (Dočasné) pomníky / Demolishing the Presidential Cult
Dozens of monuments all over Czechoslovakia once honoured the first communist president, Klement Gottwald. Some of them - such as the white statue on Prague's waterfront, nicknamed after the ghost from the British TV detective show Hopkirk - were ridiculed, and the Příbram monument was even the target of a bomb attack in the late 1970s. After November 1989, however, the Gottwalds quickly disappeared, as did monuments to other communist politicians.
Apart from Gottwald, two other presidents from 1948 to 1989 have been sculpted - and their monuments can still be found in public spaces. A bronze of Antonín Zápotocký still looks down on visitors to the park in his native Zákolany near Kladno, unlike the monument unveiled in 1977 in the square in front of the Prague University of Economics. At that time, the space was also named after Zápotocký, as was a new bridge over the Vltava River a few years later. Nowadays, it is known as the Barrandov Bridge, while the square in Žižkov is named after Winston Churchill.
Ludvík Svoboda, who was elevated to the post of head of state by the events of the Prague Spring of 1968, is better remembered today. His name is still borne by an embankment along the Vltava in Prague, a square in Ostrava and streets in Vrchlabí and Hranice na Moravě. Even his monuments - even if only a few were created - have not disappeared in melting furnaces or - as in the case of the Zápotocký statue from Klatovy - buried underground. In March 2013, a small monument to Svoboda was unveiled in his native village of Hroznatín in the Trebic region.
In the second half of the 1980s, plans were made to unveil a monument to Ludvík Svoboda in Třebíč as well, but only a three-metre bronze model of the statue had been completed by 1989. Today it is part of the collections of the Military Historical Institute in Prague.
Dubí, June 12, 2018
Porcelain from the series "Ornament and Crime" (Lenin and Gottwald) at an exhibition of the artist Maxim Velčovský's work.
Photo: Libor Zavoral
Děčín, February 9, 2006
A three-meter bronze statue of Klement Gottwald between brick walls during the construction of the Post Hotel in the center of Děčín. Its owner, Radek Flasch, acquired the statue from scrap metal and then used it as a symbolic guardian.
Photo: Libor Zavoral
Zlín (Gottwaldov), January 3, 1949
Traffic signage after the ceremonial renaming of Zlín to Gottwaldov. The name stayed with the town until the end of 1989.
Photo: František Nesvadba
Blansko, March 28, 1977
The artistic casting team of Ivan Kocman in the foundry of the national company ČKD Jiří Dimitrov with a bronze cast of the monument of the second communist president, Antonín Zápotocký. The statue, created by Jan Simota, standing 3.2 meters tall and weighing 800 kilograms, was intended for the Central Council of Trade Unions in Prague.
Photo: František Nesvadba
38 - TGM tam a zase zpátky / Moving Masaryk
Dozens of Czech towns are once again decorated with statues of the first Czechoslovak president, whose name was restored to squares and other public spaces after 1989, including Brno University. Many of the monuments to Masaryk had dramatic fates, mirroring the development of Czechoslovak society in the 20th century. Both the Nazis and the Communists had them removed and some ended up in melting furnaces. The first wave of the restoration of Masaryk statues in the 1990s was followed by another during the celebrations of the centenary of Czechoslovakia.
Some statues and monuments of T.G. Masaryk have been unveiled as many as three times. The first time they began to disappear after Reichsprotektor Konstantin von Neurath issued an order in 1940 for the government to ensure the removal of reminders of the previous administration. Soon after the liberation in 1945, many of the statues returned to their places, but a few years after February 1948 they had to disappear again.
The statue of the "President of the Liberator" in Břeclav, for example, experienced a double return, as did the monument in Masaryk's birthplace, Hodonín. The National Liberation Monument in Plzeň with a statue of Masaryk from 1928 was removed for the first time in 1940, and 13 years later the communists in Plzeň tore it down as an act of revenge for the Plzeň citizens' opposition to the currency reform. It was unveiled for the third time in 1999.
However, the removal of Masaryk's statue was not always peaceful. For example, in Prostějov in April 1953, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the removal of Masaryk’s statue. Some of the demonstrators even broke into the town hall. The next day, however, the communist security forces intervened, dozens of participants ended up in prison and others, especially students, were punished. The statue was returned to Prostějov in 1998.
Třebíč, September 7, 2022
Unveiling of the statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in the Tyrš Gardens in Třebíč.
Photo: Luboš Pavlíček
Kyšice (Plzeň region), October 23, 2006
Sculptor Tomáš Kůs finalizing a three-meter statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, which was suspended above the Radbuza in the center of Plzeň during the Masaryk Live happening.
Photo: Petr Eret
Horka near Stará Paka, March 4, 2010
Transportation of the equestrian statue of the first Czechoslovak president from the art foundry in Horní Kalná in the Trutnov region to the castle in Lány. The work of sculptor Petr Novák from Jaroměř is situated in front of the TGM Museum.
Photo: Alexandra Mlejnková
Jevíčko, December 11, 1989
The sandstone statue of T.G. Masaryk being revealed in the former brewery in Jevíčko in the Svitavy region. The work of Martin Polák had been hidden in a walled niche for 50 years.
Photo: Ladislav Galgonek
39 - V roli prezidenta / Presidents in Film and Theatre
All presidents have appeared on the screen and, since the 1950s, on television. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his successors were heroes or at least minor characters in stories whose creators did not always stick to reality. After February 1948, cinema became an important part of communist propaganda, and while Klement Gottwald or Antonin Zapotocky were portrayed in a positive light, Edvard Beneš was at best portrayed as politically naive.
This was the case, for example, in the trilogy Days of Betrayal, Sokolovo and Liberation of Prague from the mid-1970s, where he was portrayed by Jiří Pleskot. In that film, he appeared as the president with the commander of the Czechoslovak troops in the USSR, Ludvík Svoboda, played by Ladislav Chudík, and Gottwald, played by Bohumil Pastorek. The life of the first communist president became the basis for the 1986 series Gottwald, where the title role was played by Jiří Štěpnička.
Three years later, Masaryk received a rehabilitation of sorts, appearing as Svatopluk Beneš in a film, Man vs. Ruin about the last years of Karel Čapek's life, played by Josef Abrhám. The same actor portrayed the doctor in the 1993 television film The Night of Decision, about Emil Hácha's difficult decision on the night of 15 March 1939. Rudolf Hrušínský played the President as his last role.
In recent years, Masaryk has been played by the Slovak actor Martin Huba in the Czech Century series and in the film Talks with TGM, while Benes was played by Jan Novotný, Oldřich Kaiser or Jaroslav Plesl (who also played Václav Klaus when he was Prime Minister). Gottwald was played by Jiří Vyorálek (Czech Century and the film Milada) and Aleš Procházka. Václav Havel has been portrayed by Marek Daniel in Czech Century and Viktor Dvořák in the biopic Havel.
Prague, December 16, 1956
Actor Josef Vinklář (on the right) as Tonča and Věra Kubánková in the role of Žanda in Antonín Zápotocký's play "Bouřlivý rok" (Stormy Year), presented by the Realistické divadlo Zdeňka Nejedlého (today's Švandovo Theatre).
Photo: Jaroslav Drbohlav
Prague, June 29, 2014
Shooting of the series "České století" (Czech Century) directed by Robert Sedláček. From left to right: Martin Dejdar as Miroslav Macek, Jaroslav Plesl as Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus and Martin Ťapák as Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.
Photo: Profimedia/Mafra/Dan Materna
Prague, October 21, 2014
Actor Marek Daniel playing the role of dissident and future president Václav Havel in the series "České století" directed by Robert Sedláček. On the left is Tereza Hofová as Olga Havlová.
Photo: Profimedia/Mafra/Dan Materna
Prague, March 25, 2018
Tomáš Mischura in the main role as Milan Rastislav Štefánik (on the left) and Václav Neužil as Edvard Beneš during the filming of the movie "Cesta do nemožna" directed by Noro Držiak.
Photo: Vít Šimánek
40 - Odcházení / Leaving
Václav Havel has a unique place among Czechoslovak and Czech presidents, in his relationship to cultural events. Long before the events of the Velvet Revolution brought him to Prague Castle in December 1989, Havel had established himself as a playwright. His absurdist plays have been performed all over the world since the 1960s. Thanks to this, he was able to enjoy international support for dissident activities in Czechoslovakia during the normalisation period.
The then nineteen-year-old Havel entered literary life in 1955, when he first published in the magazine Květen. He wrote his first play while still in the army. However, he did not encounter the theatre world in a significant way until he was a stagehand. When he was not admitted to Theatre Faculty of the Performing Arts (DAMU), he worked from 1960 at the Divadlo Na zábradlí Theatre. He also worked as an assistant to Alfréd Radok.
He also gained experience in directing as president. "Of course, politics works and has to work with signs, symbols, rituals; of course, it is always a bit of theatre... Political concepts simply want their visualisation," Havel said in a book interview with Karel Hvíždala “Please be brief”. He staged summits at Prague Castle down to such details as the type of chairs used.
Havel used his experience in politics to write after his retirement, and his last play, called Leaving, premiered in May 2008. Three years later, a film adaptation was released, with him directing. The work, which received a reserved reception from audiences and critics alike, was described by Havel in hindsight as "a film that will either fit in completely, or will covertly influence cinema for a long time without anyone noticing".
Česká Skalice (Náchod region), July 20, 2010
Former President Václav Havel on the director's chair during the shooting of his first and last full-length film based on his own play "Odcházení" (Leaving).
Photo: Alexandra Mlejnková