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Modern History Sourcebook:
Eduard Beneš:
The Coup d'Etat in Prague, October 28, 1918

The events at Prague between October 28th and 30th formed a connecting link in the great chain of circumstances constituting the downfall of the Habsburg Empire. Each of those who took part in this huge drama played his part as the instrument of a destiny which some interpret as the irresistible development of historical forces, others as the divine purpose of Providence. And as regards the events in Prague their relation to our national cause is that of a logical conclusion to the vast struggle which demanded so much exertion and sacrifice, self-denial, and firmness of will. This last phase had been so well prepared by the preceding events that, at the moment when the time came to act, there could be no doubt of immediate success, provided that sufficient skill and determination were brought to bear upon the task. The results show that this was indeed the case. On October 25th a meeting was held at the Hotel Continental in Vienna between our Geneva delegates and the Poles and Jugoslavs. On the same day the delegation proceeded to Geneva and Dr. Rasin returned to Prague. This was the time when news had reached our politicians and, in fact, all persons of authority in the Empire, that an Austro-Hungarian military collapse was imminent. On October 26th Rasin refused the appeal for help which General Boroevic had made to the Prague National Committee, his answer being that Austria-Hungary must first capitulate. On the same day the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of War was negotiating with the National Committee on the subject of joint action concerning the food supply, and the National Committee decided to cooperate with the Corn Exchange. On the evening of October 27th Tusar telephoned to Dr. Rasin about the disastrous situation on the Italian front, whereupon Rasin immediately settled with Scheiner that arrangements should now be made because on the next day "things were going to happen." The Germans in Bohemia, being also aware of the critical situation of the Empire, held a meeting at Dresden on the same day to discuss the question of help for German Bohemia in case there should be a catastrophe and a revolution in Bohemia. Early on the morning of October 28, 1918, the chief members of the National Committee learnt the contents of Andrassy's note (Tusar had telephoned about it to Rasin during the night and the newspaper Bohemia had brought out a special early morning edition containing full details) as well as the capitulation of Vienna. This news at once became the starting-point for decisive action on the part of the National Committee. Svehla, together with Dr. F. Soukup, on behalf of the National Committee, took charge of the Corn Exchange, which formed the headquarters of the food supply for the whole country. Immediately afterwards the Vaclav Square, where the inhabitants of Prague learnt the joyful news in front of the offices of the Narodni Politika, was filled with cheering crowds and the houses were decorated with flags. In this atmosphere of excitment the National Committee met at 11.30 a.m., and at noon Svehla, Rasin, Soukup, and Stribrny proceeded to the Governor's residence and to the central administrative offices, where they demanded that the administrative authority should be surrendered to the National Committee. The news of these events reached Vienna shortly after midday at the moment when Lammasch, the new Prime Minister, was taking his vow of loyalty to the Emperor at the Hofburg. The Emperor at once began to discuss the situation with Lammasch and Andrassy, and these discussions were continued at the first meeting of the Lammasich Cabinet which was held on the same day at five o'clock in the afternoon. Coudenhove, the Governor of Bohemia, was present, and from the Council Chamber telephoned to his deputy, Vice-President Kosina, instructing him to refuse to hand over the administration to the National Committee. Meanwhile, in Prague, during the afternoon, the mili tary authorities endeavoured to moderate the excitement of the crowds, who had already begun to pull down the Austrian emblems. The Magyar troops who were garrisoned in Prague were sent to patrol the streets. The military commander, however, who had been instructed to cooperate with the national committees for the maintenance of peace, acceded to the request of the National Committee in Prague and recalled the troops. The National Committee thereupon undertook the task of maintaining order in the city, largely with the help of the Sokols. The enthusiasm of the people was thus allowed free play, and October 28th was duly celebrated as the first day of national liberty. In accordance with the prevailing mood the National Committee, at seven o'clock in the evening, issued the first law of the Czecho-Slovak State. It runs as follows:The independent Czechoslovak State has come into being. In order that continuity should be preserved between the juridicial order hitherto existing and the new regime, in order that no confusion may arise and that there may be an undisturbed transition to the new life of the State, the National Committee, as executor of the State supremacy, enacts as follows on behalf of the Czechoslovak nation:Article IThe State form of the Czechoslovak State will be decided by the National Assembly in agreement with the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris as bodies expressing the unanimous will of the nation. Before this is done, the State supremacy will be exercised by the National Committee. Article IIAll imperial and provincial laws will continue to remain in force until further notice.Article IIIAll autonomous bodies, all State, district, municipal, and local institutions are answerable to the National Commitee, and until further notice they will continue to carry out their duties in accordance with the existing laws and regulations. Article IVThis law comes into force from today onwards. Article VThe presidential board of the national Committee will be responsible for the carrying out of this law. PRAGUE, October 28,1918. ANTONIN SVEHLA. DR. F. SOUKUP DR. ALOIS RASIN. DR. VAVRO SROBAR. JIRI STRIBRNY. At the same time the National Committee issued a proclamation to the people, calling upon them to maintain order and to show themselves worthy of the freedom which had crowned their efforts.

Source:From: Eduard Beneš, My War Memoirs, trans. Paul Selver, (New York and Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1928 [Copyright Expired]), pp. 451-454, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan and Achilles Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), pp. 264-268. Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu