* December 19, 1884 Zakolany
† November 13, 1957 Prague
Czech social democrat and then a Czechoslovak politician and President
He was the son of Ladislav Zapotocky, a pioneer in the Czech workers' movement. He was apprenticed as a stonemason, but from the beginning of the century until 1914 he was engaged as a functionary in the Social Democratic Party in the Kladno district and as a party press editor. During the World War I he served as a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army. Following the establishment of Czechoslovakia he was one of the founding members of the left wing of the Social Democrats and an organizer of the Workers' Councils. In 1920 he attended the Second Congress of the Communist International. In December 1920 he ranked among the chief organizers of a general strike in the Kladno region and participated in an attempt at a left-wing coup. This earned him a 9-month prison sentence.
In the course of the twenties he belonged to Smeral's group in the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (CCP). From 1922 to 1925 he held the office of general secretary of the CCP. He maintained his position in the CCP leadership even after the Fifth Congress in February 1929 when his election was asserted - in spite of the criticism from the ranks of Gottwald supporters - by a delegate from the Comintern. During the 30s he represented the Communist Red Trade Unions and organized the strike in the Most area (1932) which proved to be the most wide-spread strike on the European continent at the time of the world economic crisis. In the second half of the 30s he strove to unite Czechoslovak trade unions on an anti-fascist ticket.
When, shortly after the signing of the Munich Agreement with Hitler the activities of the CCP were halted Zapotocky together with J. Dolansky represented the legal leadership of the Party until it was officially dissolved on December 27, 1938. Soon after the German occupation he was arrested in April 1939 while attempting an illegal crossing over the borders into Poland and until February 1940 he was imprisoned in Pankrac. After being jailed in Dresden internment in the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg awaited him.
After May 1945 he was appointed chairman of the Central Council of Trade Unions, a member of the presidium of the Central Committee of the CCP and a deputy in the National Assembly.
As of February 1948 in whose course he took a share (also in the famous congress of representatives of the factory councils) he held the post of vice-chairman until June 1948 and then until 1953 he held the position of prime minister. Following Gottwald's death, as of March 21 until he died he was the President of the Republic.
As a leading state cum party functionary and because he held state positions he bears full responsibility - together with K. Gottwald, R. Slansky, A. Cepicka, J. Dolansky, V. Siroky and others - for the introduction and implementation of organized brutality in Czechoslovakia. He participated in the decision making regarding arrests, internment, he shared in the preparation of the political trials and in the introduction of all forms of post-February terror. His "folksy" public performances and fair amount of popularity among a certain section of the population who appreciated Zapotocky's personal modesty and his civic "ranting" against minor every day vices and rampantly developing bureaucracy can in no way obliterate his responsibility. It is, of course, true to say that at least on the face of it he differed from the majority of Communist dehumanized apparatchiks and big shots, such as the Slansky and Cepicka types, or later on types such as Hendrych, Koucky, Indra and Bilak. On the other hand Zapotocky's promises - whether they concerned the currency reform in 1953 or rescinding coercive forms of establishing collective farms - remained just mere words. The way the army was called in to suppress the employees of the Skoda Works in Plzen in 1953 demonstrated to what lengths "the trade union and workers'" President was willing to go.
In the 50s Zapotocky's autobiographical novels dealing with the beginnings and development of the working-class movement were published. The pioneer of the working class movement, Ladislav Zapotocky, the main character of the novel "New Fighters Will Arise", would probably look on with disgust at the actions of his son and at the terror in whose introduction he shared and for which he was responsible. By comparison the Austrian police force and judiciary who persecuted Zapotocky's father and put him on trial were innocent humane institutions. (nk)