The complex legacy of the president many would prefer to forget
A handful of people gathered on Monday at Prague's Vinohrady Cemetery to mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Czechoslovakia's third President, Emil Hacha. It was an event that wasn't marked with pomp and ceremony: Emil Hacha remained in office throughout the German wartime occupation, and he is remembered by many as a symbol of wartime collaboration. David Vaughan reports.
But the organizers of Monday's small commemoration say that the reality is more complicated. They insist that they are not trying to rewrite history, but want to put the difficult decisions faced by Hacha into context. Many historians agree with them. They point out that Hacha was anything but a cynical opportunist. After Hitler annexed the Czech borderlands in 1938, he became president only reluctantly, when President Edvard Benes resigned, He was already an old man and an academic rather than a politician.
In the early days of the war, both Hacha and the prime minister in the puppet Czech government, Alois Elias, were in contact with the resistance, and enjoyed the support of Benes himself, who had set up a government in exile in London. Historian Jaroslav Hrbek:
Although contacts with London were broken off, Hacha and Elias, with their obvious Czech patriotism, remained a thorn in the side of the Germans, and when the hard line Reinhard Heydrich became Hitler's man in occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Elias was removed, arrested and then executed, and the increasingly frail Hacha became completely marginalized. In the Czech Radio archive a radio broadcast survives from just before the end of the war, where you can hear that Hacha is scarcely even able to string a sentence together or speak comprehensibly.
"He was a senile, ill old man and I would say that he did not stay in power - he just stayed in office. There is a difference. He was a powerless puppet of the Germans and could not influence almost anything. From that point he was, I would say, a tragic figure, and it was, I would say, his mistake not to have abdicated during 1940 or 1941."
Emil Hacha died in the hospital in Prague's Pankrac prison on the 27th June 1945 just six weeks after the end of the war.