Fate had both ups and downs in store for him. Vladimír Clementis (Sep 9, 1902 – Dec 3, 1952) was one of the most prominent personalities of Czechoslovak politics in the first half of the 20th century. Minister, lawyer, and magazine editor, as well as a confirmed communist who dared to have views of his own even in the face of death. September will mark 120 years since his birth and December 70 years since his execution.
Political acumen, admiration for Russia, and animosity towards the Hungarian people were traits instilled in him by his family of Slovak evangelical intellectuals. He was opposed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, rejected the personality cult of Stalin, and refused to accept that Czechoslovakia should be completely subservient to the USSR. Similar to Jan Masaryk, Clementis supported the State of Israel. In domestic politics, he was loyal to Czechoslovakia despite disagreeing with the idea of Czechoslovakism.
His left-leaning tendencies started showing during his law studies at Charles University in Prague. He founded the DAV magazine, which he led as editor-in-chief, and joined the KSČ (Czechoslovak Communist Party) in 1924. He was a proponent of Soviet Russia but also of undogmatic Marxism not tied to the personality cult of Stalin. As a successful attorney, he was elected into the National Assembly on the KSČ ticket. He sat on the parliamentary benches until 1938 and then made his way back after the war, serving as an MP until 1951.
Exile in London
When KSČ was outlawed, Clementis was sent to France at the request of the Party. From there, he was meant to move to America to help nurture the activities of his countrymen in the US and Canada. However, he was expelled from the KSČ for staunchly criticizing and disputing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as well as the subsequent Soviet-Finnish war. Following the occupation of France, he and his wife lived in London for some time where he worked as an editor in the Czechoslovak department of the BBC. Having signed a memorandum that demanded Czechoslovakia be restored and proposed solving the Slovak question by making it equal to Czechia, Clementis was deemed untrustworthy by the communists and Edvard Beneš alike.
Following the restoration of the Czechoslovak Republic, he returned to the Party and served as an MP in the National Assembly between 1945–1948 as well as a deputy at the ministry of foreign affairs. He initially acted in lieu of his minister, Jan Masaryk, while the department was being reinstituted following the war. He was his right hand and later went on to replace the man. As a minister, he was in charge of dealing with the issue of state-owned land passing into the hands of the civil administration between 1948–1950. Due to his deep-rooted antipathy toward Hungarians, he facilitated the “exchange” of a part of the Hungarian population. Another issue passed on to him by Jan Masaryk was the agenda of supplying arms to Israel. Arms that were a lifeline for Israel. Czechoslovakia trained more than 80 pilots and almost 70 ground specialists, many of whom were integrated into the Israeli Air Force. But later, due to Stalin’s support of Israel waning, Czechoslovakia was forced to stop the arms supply and discharge any collaborating officers.
Clementis’ political career was in for a decline. He left the country in 1949 as the head of a Czechoslovak delegation bound for the UN General Assembly only to find out in New York that arrests were made at his ministry. News of danger to Clementis, which he believed to be false, started appearing in print. C.L. Sulzberger published an article in the New York Times (October 23, 1949 edition) mentioning the dangers Clementis would face once he returned to his home country. The French Le Monde made similar claims in its October 27 edition. From the recollection of Adolf Hoffmeister, a member of the delegation: “One day, I received correspondence in an envelope from Erich Juhn, a German refugee. He asked me to urge Vlado not to return home. We heard many such allusions back then… I decided to invite Vlado to walk with me one morning. We strolled through Central Park where children played and here and there a truly inconspicuous and unconcerned passerby would walk past us. We watched everyone with great interest. I then handed Juhn’s note to Vlado. He read it. Was silent. Then told me that it must have come from a frightened journalist. That it was nonsense. We burned the note in a metal trash can together.”
Returning was a mistake
Unfortunately, it wasn’t nonsense. Upon his return, Clementis was charged with so-called bourgeois nationalism and animosity towards the USSR, removed from his position of minister of foreign affairs, and placed under state police surveillance. It was clear as early as the spring of 1950 that he would be another victim of a fabricated trial. While he was being investigated, his case was reclassified as part of the so-called anti-state conspiracy cell of Rudolf Slánský. Fourteen “traitorous” high-ranking Party and state officials stood trial and eleven of those accused and later executed were Jewish, showing the true anti-semitic nature of the ruling. The trial was Stalin’s intended revenge for supporting Israel and was meant to serve Soviet foreign policy interests of garnering influence in the Middle East through certain Arab countries. The Zionist argument was used against Vladimír Clementis and he was sentenced to death. He was only rehabilitated 11 years after his execution.
A captivating exhibition providing a window into the life and work of Vladimír Clementis can be found in his birthplace, the town of Tisovec.
Vladimír Clementis was a Slovak politician, attorney, and editor-in-chief of the DAV magazine.
He came from an intellectual evangelical family with noble roots. He believed in the idea of Slavic mutuality but rejected Czechoslovakism. He was a confirmed communist but one with views of his own.
During his exile in London, he worked as an editor for the BBC under the alias Peter Hron. He was a member of the National Assembly, going on to become a deputy and later minister of foreign affairs.
He was accused of crimes against the state in a fabricated trial and sentenced to death. He was rehabilitated after 11 years, becoming a Hero of the CSSR in memoriam in 1968.
He was married to Ľudmila Lída Pátková, a singer in the Slovak National Opera. The marriage produced no children. Lída Clementis spent 22 months in prison due to the investigation into the crimes of her husband. She later went on to work in a library.