Gustáv Husák

[hoo-sahk; Eng. hoo-sak]

Gustáv Husák (January 10, 1913 - November 18, 1991) was a Slovak politician, president of Czechoslovakia and a long-term Communist leader of Czechoslovakia and of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s. His rule is known as the period of Normalization.


Gustáv Husák was born as a son of an unemployed worker in Dúbravka (now part of Bratislava), Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia). He joined the Communist Youth Union at the age of sixteen while studying at the grammar school in Bratislava. In 1933, when he started his studies at the Law Faculty of the Comenius University in Bratislava, he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) which was banned from 1938 to 1945. During World War II he was periodically jailed by the Jozef Tiso government for illegal Communist activities, and he was one of the leaders of the 1944 Slovak National Uprising against Nazi Germany and Tiso. Husak was a member of the Presidium of the Slovak National Council from September 1, to September 5, 1944.

After the war he began a career as a government official in Slovakia and party functionary in Czechoslovakia. From 1946–1950, he was a kind of quasi Prime Minister of Slovakia, and as such he strongly contributed to the liquidation of the Democratic Party of Slovakia, which had won 62% in the 1946 elections in Slovakia, thus preventing the Communists from seizing power in Czechoslovakia.

In 1950 he fell victim to a Stalinist purge of the party leadership, and was sentenced for life, spending the years from 1954 to 1960 in the Leopoldov Prison. A convinced Communist, he did not cease to view his imprisonment a gross misunderstanding which he periodically stressed in several appealing letters addressed to the party leadership. It is well known that Antonín Novotný, the Czechoslovak president and first party secretary of that time, repeatedly declined to grant Husák pardon by assuring his comrades that "you do not know what he is capable of when coming to power". The true reason for Novotný's stance, however, may be ascribed to his personal politically motivated Slovakophobia as well. Finally, as a result of the De-Stalinization period in Czechoslovakia, Husák's conviction was overturned and his party membership restored in 1963. By 1967 he was attacking the KSČ's neo-Stalinist leadership, and he became a deputy premier of Czechoslovakia in April 1968, during the period of liberalization under party leader Alexander Dubček.

As the Soviet Union grew increasingly alarmed by Dubček's liberal reforms in 1968 (Prague Spring), Husák began calling for caution. After the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August and he participated in the Czechoslovak-Soviet negotiations between the kidnapped Alexander Dubček and Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, he suddenly became a leader of those party members calling for the reversal of Dubček's reforms. An account for his pragmatism was given in one of his official speeches in Slovakia after the 1968 events, during which he ventured the rhetorical question, where his opponents (i. e. supporters of opposition against the Soviet Union) want to find those "friends" of Czechoslovakia (i. e. countries in Europe) that would come to support the country (i. e. against Soviet troops).

Supported by Moscow, he was appointed leader of the Communist Party of Slovakia in as early as August 1968, and he succeeded Dubček as first secretary (title changed to general secretary in 1971) of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April 1969. He reversed Dubček's reforms and purged the party of its liberal members in 1969–1971. In 1975, Husák was elected President of Czechoslovakia. During the two decades of Husák's leadership, Czechoslovakia became one of Moscow's most loyal allies. In the first years following the invasion, Husák managed to appease the outraged civil population by providing a relatively satisfactory living standard and avoiding any overt reprisals like was the case in the 1950s. This did not make his regime a liberal one however. Under the cover of everyday stability, there was a permanent campaign of repression by the secret police (StB) targeted at the outspoken dissidents represented later by Charter 77 as well as hundreds of unknown individuals who happened to be objects of StB's preventive strikes. Husák yielded his post as general secretary in 1987, when younger members of the Communist party wanted to participate in power (Milouš Jakeš, Ladislav Adamec). Communist rule collapsed in Czechoslovakia in late 1989, and that December Husák resigned as president. In February 1990 he was expelled from the Communist Party. He died almost forgotten on 18 November 1991.

There is still some question about Husák's moral responsibility for the last two decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. After its collapse Husák kept saying that he was just trying to diminish the aftermath of the Soviet invasion and had to constantly resist pressure from hard line Party Stalinists such as Vasil Bilak, Alois Indra and the like. It is true that in the early 1970s he personally pushed for an early withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Czechoslovak territory, which did not happen until 1991; this may be ascribed to his pragmatic attempts to ease the situation and to give an impression that things were leaning toward "normality".

However, there are many irrefutable facts, convicting him of a great deal of personal contribution to the regime's nature. As the General Secretary of the Party he was well able and willing to control the repressive state apparatus. There are many documented cases of appeals from politically persecuted persons, however almost none of them was given Husák's attention. As the overall decay of Czechoslovak society was becoming more and more obvious in the 1980s, Husák became a politically impotent puppet of events. Evidence shows him emotionally sticking to his Party positions until the bitter end of Communism in Czechoslovakia.

Gustáv Husák was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union on January 9 1983


Communist Party of Czechoslovakia/KSČ (prohibited 1938, dissolved 1939-1945)

  • 1933-1938/1939 and 1989(December)-(February)1990: common member
  • spring 1945: member of its Provisional Central Committee (established in the parts of Czechoslovakia liberated by the Red Army)
  • 1949-1951 and 1968 (August 31)-1989: member of its Central Committee and (except for 1949-1951) a member of its Presidium
  • 1969 (April) -?1987: one of its secretaries
  • 1969 (April)-1987: party leader (first secretary, since 1971 general secretary)
  • 1987 (December 17): resigned as party leader (replaced by Miloš Jakeš)

Communist Party of Slovakia/KSS (illegal 1939-1944/1945)

  • 1939-1945: one of its leaders
  • 1943-1944: member of its 5th illegal Central Committee
  • 1944-1950 and 1968 -1971: member of its Central Committee and (except for 1970-1971) member of its Presidium and (except for 1944-1948) one of its secretaries
  • 1944-1945: vice-chairman
  • 1968 (August 28)-1969: party leader („first secretary“)

Slovak National Council (during WWII a resistance parliament-government, since 1968 the Slovak parliament)

  • 1943-1944: one of its main organizers
  • 1944-1950 and 1968 (December)-1971: its deputy
  • 1944-1950: member of its Presidium
  • 1944-1945:vice-chairman

Council of Commissioners (Zbor povereníkov) (a quasi government responsible for Slovakia)

  • 1944-1945: Commissioner of the Interior
  • 1945-1946: Commissioner of Transport and Technology in Slovakia
  • 1946-1950: President of the Council of Commissioners, in which he contributed to the suppression of the influential Democratic Party of Slovakia by the Communists (1947–1948)
  • 1948-1950: Commissioner of Agriculture and Land Reform in Slovakia
  • 1949-1950: Commissioner of Alimentation in Slovakia

Czechoslovak Parliament (called National Assembly and since 1968 Federal Assembly)

  • 1945-1951 and 1968-1975: deputy
  • 1969-1975: member of its Presidium

Czechoslovak government

  • 1968 (April-December): a vice-premier of the Prague Spring Czechoslovak government

President of Czechoslovakia

Other important data

  • 1929-1932: member of the Communist Youth Union (prohibited in 1932)
  • 1933-? : studies at the Law Faculty of the Comenius University in Bratislava, then a lawyer in Bratislava
  • 1936-1938: member of the Slovak Youth Union (1936 founder and secretary)
  • 1937-1938 vice-president of the Slovak Students Union and secretary of the Association for the Economic and Cultural Cooperation with the Soviet Union
  • 1940-1944: four times jailed by the government of Jozef Tiso for illegal Communist activities
  • 1943-1944: member of the 5th illegal KSS Central Committee, one of the main organizers of the anti-Nazi Slovak National Uprising (1944) and of its leading body, the Slovak National Council
  • late 1944- February 1945: he fled to Moscow after the defeat of the Slovak National Uprising
  • 1950: charged with "bourgeois nationalism" with respect to Slovakia (see History of Czechoslovakia)
  • 1951: arrested
  • 1954: sentenced to life imprisonment
  • 1954-1960: imprisoned
  • 1960: conditionally released through an amnesty
  • 1963: his conviction was overturned and his party membership restored and he was rehabilitated
  • 1963-1968: scientific employee of the State and Law Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences
  • 1969 (April)-?1989: chief commander of the Popular Militia
  • 1971 (January)-?1989: president and member of the Presidium of the National Front Central Committee

See also


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