The founder of modern Czechoslovakia was Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), a philosopher-statesman born of a Slovak father and a Czech mother. Eduard Beneš (1884–1948), cofounder with Masaryk of the Czechoslovak Republic, was foreign minister, premier, and president of the republic (1935–38 and 1940–48). Jan Masaryk (1886–1948), son of Tomáš G. Masaryk, was foreign minister of the government-in-exile and, until his mysterious death, of the reconstituted republic. Klement Gottwald (1896–1953) became a leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1929 and was the president of the republic from 1948 to 1953; Antonín Zápotocky´ (1884–1957), a trade union leader, was president from 1953 to 1957. Alexander Dubcek (1921–92) was secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and principal leader of the 1968 reform movement that ended with Soviet intervention. Gen. Ludvík Svoboda (1895–1979) was president of the republic from 1968 to 1975. Gustáv Husák (1913–91) was general secretary of the Communist Party from 1969 to 1987; he became president of the republic in 1975. Parliamentary elections at the end of 1989 saw the rise of the playwright Vaclav Havel (b. 1936) to power. The Czech and Slovak republics decided to split in 1992. Havel was elected president of the Czech Republic in parliamentary elections. Vaclav Klaus was elected prime minister. Perhaps the two most famous Czechs are the religious reformer John Huss (Jan Hus, 1371–1415) and the theologian, educator, and philosopher John Amos Comenius (Jan Amos Komensky´, 1592–1670), an early advocate of universal education. The History of the Czech People by František Palacky´ (1798–1876) inspired Czech nationalism. Karel Havlicek (1821–56) was a leading political journalist, while Alois Jirásek (1851–1930) is known for his historical novels. The most famous woman literary figure is Bozena Nemcová (1820–62), whose Babi c ka (The Grandmother), depicting country life, is widely read to this day. A poet of renown, Jaroslav Vrchlicky´ (1853–1912) wrote voluminous poetry and translations. The Good Soldier Schweik by Jaroslav Hašek (1883–1923) is a renowned satire on militarism. Karel Capek (1890–1938), brilliant novelist, journalist, and playwright, is well known for his play R.U.R. (in which he coined the word robot ). Bedrich Smetana (1824–84), Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904), Leoš Janácek (1854–1928), and Bohuslav Martinu (1890–1959) are world-famous composers. The leading modern sculptor, Jan Stursa (1880–1925), is best known for his often-reproduced The Wounded.
Prominent 20th-century Czech personalities in culture and the arts include the writers Vladislav Vancura (1891–1942) and Ladislav Fuks (b.1923), the painter Jan Zrzavy´ (1890–1977), and the Czech filmmakers Jirí Trnka (1912–69) and Karel Zeman (1910–89). Leaders of the "new wave" of Czechoslovak cinema in the 1960s were Ján Kadár (1918–79) and Miloš Forman(b.1932), both expatriates after 1968. The best-known political dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s were the playwrights Pavel Kohout (b.1928) and Václav Havel (b.1936), and the sociologist Rudolf Battek (b.1924). The novelist Milan Kundera (b.1929), who has lived in France since 1975, is the best-known contemporary Czech writer. Two Czechs have become top world tennis players: Martina Navrátilová (b.1956), expatriate since 1975, and Ivan Lendl (b.1960).
There have been only two Czechoslovak Nobel Prize winners: in chemistry in 1959, Jaroslav Heyrovsky´ (1890–1967), who devised an electrochemical method of analysis; and in literature in 1984, the poet Jaroslav Seifert (1901–84).