Former country in eastern central Europe, which came into existence as an independent republic in 1918 after the break-up of the Austro–Hungarian empire at the end of World War I. It consisted originally of the Bohemian crown lands (Bohemia, Moravia, and part of Silesia) and Slovakia, the area of Hungary inhabited by Slavonic peoples; to this was added as a trust, part of Ruthenia when the Allies and associated powers recognized the new republic under the treaty of St Germain-en-Laye. Besides the Czech and Slovak peoples, the country included substantial minorities of German origin, long settled in the north, and of Hungarian (or Magyar) origin in the south. Despite the problems of welding into a nation such a mixed group of people, Czechoslovakia made considerable political and economic progress until the troubled 1930s. It was the only East European state to retain a parliamentary democracy throughout the interwar period, with five coalition governments (dominated by the Agrarian and National Socialist parties), with Tomas Masaryk serving as president.
Munich Agreement The rise to power of the Nazi leader Hitler in Germany brought a revival of opposition among the German-speaking population, and nationalism among the Magyar speakers. In addition, the Slovak clerical party demanded autonomy for Slovakia. In 1938 the Munich Agreement was made between Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, without consulting Czechoslovakia, resulting in the Sudeten being taken from Czechoslovakia and given to Germany. Six months later Hitler occupied all Czechoslovakia. A government in exile was established in London under Eduard Beneš until the liberation in 1945 by Soviet and US troops. In the same year some 2 million Sudeten Germans were expelled, and Czech Ruthenia was transferred to the Ukraine, USSR.
Elections in 1946 gave the left a slight majority, and in February 1948 the communists seized power, winning an electoral victory in May. Beneš, who had been president since 1945, resigned. The country was divided into 19 and, in 1960, into 10 regions plus Prague and Bratislava. There was a Stalinist regime during the 1950s, under presidents Klement Gottwald (1948–53), Antonin Zapotocky (1953–57), and Antonin Novotný (1957–68).
Prague Spring Pressure from students and intellectuals brought about policy changes from 1965. Following Novotný's replacement as the Communist Party (CCP) leader by Alexander Dubček and as president by war hero General Ludvík Svoboda (1895–1979), and the appointment of Oldřich Černik as prime minister, a liberalization programme began in 1968. This ‘Socialist Democratic Revolution’, as it was known, promised the return of freedom of assembly, speech, and movement, and the imposition of restrictions on the secret police, all with the goal of creating ‘socialism with a human face’.
Despite assurances that Czechoslovakia would remain within the Warsaw Pact, the USSR viewed these events with suspicion, and in August 1968 sent 600,000 troops from Warsaw Pact countries to restore the orthodox line. Over 70 deaths and some 266 injuries were inflicted by this invasion. After the invasion a purge of liberals began in the CCP, with Dr Gustáv Husák (a Slovak Brezhnevite) replacing Dubček as CCP leader in 1969 and Lubomír Štrougal (a Czech) becoming prime minister in 1970. Svoboda remained as president until 1975 and negotiated the Soviet withdrawal. In 1973 an amnesty was extended to some of the 40,000 who had fled after the 1968 invasion, signalling a slackening of repression. But a new crackdown commenced in 1977, triggered by a human-rights manifesto (‘Charter 77’) signed by over 700 intellectuals and former party officials in response to the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, from 1994 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE).
Protest movement Czechoslovakia under Husák emerged as a loyal ally of the USSR during the 1970s and early 1980s. However, after Mikhail Gorbachev's accession to the Soviet leadership in 1985, pressure for economic and administrative reform mounted. In 1987 Husák, while remaining president, was replaced as CCP leader by Miloš Jakeš, a Czech-born economist. Working with prime minister Ladislav Adamec, a reformist, he began to introduce a reform programme (prestavba ‘restructuring’) on the USSR's perestroika model. His approach was cautious, and dissident activity, which became increasingly widespread 1988–89, was suppressed.
Influenced by events elsewhere in Eastern Europe, a series of initially student-led pro-democracy rallies were held in Prague's Wenceslas Square from 17 November 1989. Support for the protest movement rapidly increased after the security forces' brutal suppression of the early rallies; by 20 November there were more than 200,000 demonstrators in Prague and a growing number in Bratislava. An umbrella opposition movement, Civic Forum, was swiftly formed under the leadership of playwright and Charter 77 activist Václav Havel, which attracted the support of prominent members of the small political parties that were members of the ruling CCP-dominated National Front coalition.
With the protest movement continuing to grow, Jakeš resigned as CCP leader on 24 November and was replaced by Karel Urbanek (1941– ), a South Moravian, and the politburo was purged. Less than a week later, following a brief general strike, the national assembly voted to amend the constitution to strip the CCP of its ‘leading role’ in the government, and thus of its monopoly on power.
Opposition parties, beginning with Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence (PAV), were legalized. On 7 December Adamec resigned as prime minister and was replaced three days later by Marián Čalfa, who formed a ‘grand coalition’ government in which key posts, including the foreign, financial, and labour ministries, were given to former dissidents. Čalfa resigned from the CCP in January 1990, but remained premier.
Reform government On 27 December 1989 the rehabilitated Dubček was sworn in as chair of the federal assembly, and on 29 December Havel became president of Czechoslovakia. The new reform government immediately extended an amnesty to 22,000 prisoners, secured agreements from the CCP that it would voluntarily give up its existing majorities in the federal and regional assemblies and state agencies, and promised multiparty elections for June 1990. It also announced plans for reducing the size of the armed forces, called on the USSR to pull out its 75,000 troops stationed in the country, and applied for membership of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Václav Havel was re-elected president, unopposed, for a further two years by the assembly on 5 July 1990.
Moves toward privatization Some devolution of power was introduced in 1990 to ameliorate friction between the Czech and Slovak republics. A bill of rights was passed in January 1991, and moves were made towards price liberalization and privatization of small businesses. In February 1991 a bill was passed to return property nationalized after 25 February 1948 to its original owners, the first such restitution measure in Eastern Europe, and legislation was approved in May 1991. The name ‘Czech and Slovak Federative Republic’ was adopted in April 1990. In November 1990 the Slovak Republic declared Slovak the official language of the republic, a move promoted by the Slovak National Party.
New parties emerge During the opening months of 1991, Civic Forum began to split in two: a centre-right faction under the leadership of finance minister Václav Klaus, designated the Civic Democratic Party in April 1991; and a social-democratic group, the Civic Forum Liberal Club, renamed the Civic Movement April 1991, led by foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier and deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky. The two factions agreed to work together until the next election. In March 1991 PAV also split when Slovak premier Vladimir Meciar formed a splinter grouping pledged to greater autonomy from Prague. In April 1991 he was dismissed as head of the Slovak government by the presidium of the Slovak National Council (parliament) because of policy differences. Protest rallies were held in the Slovak capital of Bratislava by Meciar supporters.
Jan Carnogursky, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement, junior partner in the PAV-led ruling coalition, took over as Slovak premier. In October 1991, PAV became a liberal-conservative political party, and was renamed the Civic Democratic Union–Public Action Against Violence (PAV), led by Martin Porubjak. The major political parties were becoming divided into separate Czech and Slovak groups.
Foreign relations In July 1991, a month after the final withdrawal of Soviet troops, the USSR agreed to pay the equivalent of US$160 million to Czechoslovakia in compensation for damage done to the country since the 1968 Soviet invasion. In August, the phased privatization of Czech industry commenced, with 50 of its largest businesses put up for sale on international markets. Friendship treaties were signed with France, Germany, and the USSR in October 1991.
Czech and Slovak split A general election was held in June 1992. Václav Klaus, leader of the CDP, became prime minister, and President Havel resigned. It was agreed that two separate Czech and Slovak states would be created from January 1993. In October 1992 the Slovakia-based political party, the new PAV, became the Civic Democratic Union (CDU). The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic became sovereign states on 1 January 1993.
Chamberlain, Neville: Munich Agreement
Chamberlain, Neville: Peace in Our Time
Soviet tank, Prague
A republic in central Europe from 1918, when the Czechs and Slovaks declared an independent state, until 1992, when it dissolved itself to form...
The beginnings to the 18th century The evolution of theatre in Czechoslovakia falls into several periods, most of which have...
Former federal state in central Europe. Formed after World War 1 from parts of the old Austro-Hungarian empire , Czechoslovakia was formally...