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First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party
Antonín Novotný was born in Letnany, Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), on December 10, 1904, the son of a bricklayer. He joined the Communist Party in 1921, and became a paid party leader in 1935.
After the Communist party was declared illegal in 1938, Novotny and other party leaders worked in the underground, but in 1941 he was captured by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen, Austria. Liberated by the U.S. Army in 1945, he was elected to the Communist Party Central Committee in 1946. He took a leading role in the Stalinist takeover of the government in February 1948, and was admitted to the Politburo in 1951.
Novotny became First Secretary of the Czechsolovak Communist Party in 1953, replacing Klement Gottwald (who had died). Over the next few years he introduced central planning and concentrated on the needs of heavy industry. He assumed the presidency after the death of Antonin Zápotocký (on November 13, 1957), and continued his central planning policies. In the early 1960's the country suffered an economic recession and Novotny was forced to make liberal concessions. In 1965 he introduced a program of decentralization, the main feature of which was that individual companies were given more freedom to decide on prices and wages. These reforms were slow to make an impact on the Czech economy, however, and in September 1967 Alexander Dubcek, secretary of the party, presented a long list of grievances against the government. The following month there were large demonstrations against Novotny, and on February 5, 1968, he was forced to resign the party leadership to Dubcek. He was replaced as President by Major General Ludvik Svoboda on March 22, and stripped of his party offices and membership later in the year
At the Party Congress of May 1971, with Stalinists back in power, Novotny was reinstated in the party in exchange for leniency toward the recently ousted Dubcek. He never regained any true power in the party, however, and died in Prague on January 28, 1975.
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This page was last updated on September 10, 2018.