History of Czechoslovakia
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|History of Czechoslovakia|
With the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy at the end of World War I, the independent country of Czechoslovakia (Czech, Slovak: Československo) was formed, encouraged by, among others, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
The Czechs and Slovaks were not at the same level of economic and technological development, but the freedom and opportunity found in an independent Czechoslovakia enabled them to make strides toward overcoming these inequalities. However, the gap between cultures was never fully bridged, and the discrepancy played a continuing role throughout the seventy-five years of the union.
- 1 Political history
- 1.1 Historical settings to 1918
- 1.2 The First Republic (1918–1938)
- 1.3 The Second Republic (1938–1939)
- 1.4 Second World War
- 1.5 The Third Republic (1945–1948) and the Communist takeover (1948)
- 1.6 The Communist era (1948–1989)
- 1.7 The end of the Communist era (1989) and the Velvet Revolution 1989
- 1.8 Democratic Czechoslovakia (1989–1992)
- 2 Economic history
- 3 See also
- 4 From creation to dissolution – overview
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Historical settings to 1918
The creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 was the culmination of the 19th-century struggle of identity and ethnicity politics of a multi-ethnic, multi-linguisitic empire. The Czechs lived primarily in Bohemia since 6th century and German immigrants settled the Bohemian periphery since the 13th century. After 1526 Bohemia came under Habsburg control as they became first elected and then the hereditary rulers of Bohemia and following the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, the Kingdom of Bohemia was gradually integrated into the Habsburg monarchy as one of its three principal parts, alongside the Archduchy of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. With the rise of national revival movements (Czech National Revival, Slovak National Revival instigated by Ľudovít Štúr), mounting tensions combined with religious and ethnic policies (such as the Slovaks' resistance to Magyarization by their Hungarian rulers as Slovakia was largely part of the Hungarian controlled region of the empire) to push the empire to the breaking point.
Subject peoples all over the empire wanted to be free from the rule of the old aristocracy and imperial family. This was partly solved by the introduction of local ethnic representation and language rights, however, the First World War put a stop to further reform, and ultimately caused the internal collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the liberation of subject peoples such as the Czechs and Slovaks.
Although the Czechs and Slovaks have similar languages, at the end of the 19th century, the situation of the Czechs and Slovaks was very different, because of the different stages of development of their overlords – the Austrians in Bohemia and Moravia, and the Hungarians in Slovakia – within Austria-Hungary. Bohemia was the most industrialized part of Austria and Slovakia that of Hungary – however at a different level.
Around the start of the 20th century, the idea of a "Czecho-Slovak" entity began to be advocated by some Czech and Slovak leaders. In the 1890s, contacts between Czech and Slovak intellectuals intensified. Despite cultural differences, the Slovaks shared with the Czechs similar aspirations for independence from the Habsburg state and voluntarily united with the Czechs.
During World War I, in 1916, together with Edvard Beneš and Milan Štefánik (a Slovak astronomer and war hero), Tomáš Masaryk created the Czechoslovak National Council. Masaryk in the United States, Štefánik in France, and Beneš in France and Britain worked tirelessly to gain Allied recognition. Around 1.4 million Czech soldiers fought in World War I, 150,000 of them died.
More than 90,000 Czech and Slovak volunteers formed the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia, France and Italy, where they fought against the Central Powers and later with White Russian forces against Bolshevik troops. At times controlling much of the Trans-Siberian railway and being indirectly involved in the hasty execution of the Tsar and his family. Their goal was to win the Allies' support for the independence of Czechoslovakia. They succeeded on all counts. When secret talks between the Allies and Austrian emperor Charles I (1916–18) collapsed, the Allies recognized, in the summer of 1918, the Czechoslovak National Council would be the main contributor to the future Czechoslovak government.
The First Republic (1918–1938)
The independence of Czechoslovakia was officially proclaimed in Prague on October 28, 1918 in Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, a physical setting strongly associated with nationalist feeling. The Slovaks officially joined the state two days later in the town of Martin. A temporary constitution was adopted and Tomáš Masaryk declared president on November 14. The Treaty of St. Germain, signed in September 1919 formally recognized the new republic. Ruthenia was later added to the Czech lands and Slovakia by the Treaty of Trianon (June, 1920). There were also various border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The new state was characterized by problems with its ethnic diversity, the separate histories and greatly differing religious, cultural, and social traditions of the Czechs and Slovaks. The Germans and Magyars (Hungarians) of Czechoslovakia openly agitated against the territorial settlements. Nevetheless, the new republic saw the passage of a number of progressive reforms in areas such as housing, social security, and workers’ rights.
The new nation had a population of over 13.5 million. It had inherited 70 to 80% of all the industry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Czechoslovakia was one of the world's ten most industrialized countries. The Czech lands were far more industrialized than Slovakia. Most light and heavy industry were located in the Sudetenland and were owned by Germans and controlled by German-owned banks. The very backward Subcarpathian Ruthenia was essentially without industry.
In 1929 compared to 1913, the gross domestic product increased by 52% and industrial production by 41%. In 1938 Czechoslovakia held a 10th place in the world industrial production.
The Czechoslovak state was conceived as a parliamentary democracy. The constitution identified the "Czechoslovak nation" as the creator and principal constituent of the Czechoslovak state and established Czech and Slovak as official languages. The concept of the Czechoslovak nation was necessary in order to justify the establishment of Czechoslovakia towards the world, because otherwise the statistical majority of the Czechs as compared to Germans would be rather weak.
The operation of the new Czechoslovak government was distinguished by its political stability. Largely responsible for this were the well-organized political parties that emerged as the real centers of power. After 1933, Czechoslovakia remained the only democracy in central and eastern Europe.
The Second Republic (1938–1939)
Although Czechoslovakia was the only central European country to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it faced problems with ethnic minorities, the most important of which concerned the country's large German population. The Sudeten Germans constituted 3 to 3.5 million out of 14 million of the interwar state's population and were largely concentrated in the Bohemian and Moravian border regions, called the Sudetenland in German. Some members of this minority, which were predominantly sympathetic to Germany, undermined the new Czechoslovak state.
Adolf Hitler's rise in Nazi Germany, the German annexation (Anschluss) of Austria, the resulting revival of revisionism in Hungary and of agitation for autonomy in Slovakia, and the appeasement policy of the Western powers (France and the United Kingdom) left Czechoslovakia without allies, exposed to hostile Germany and Hungary on three sides and to unsympathetic Poland on the north.
After the Austrian Anschluss, Czechoslovakia was to become Hitler's next target. The German nationalist minority, led by Konrad Henlein and vehemently backed by Hitler, demanded the union of the predominantly German districts with Germany. Threatening war, Hitler extorted through the Munich Agreement in September 1938 the cession of the Bohemian, Moravian and Czech Silesian borderlands—Sudetenland, where all Czech population were forcibly expelled. On September 29, the Munich Agreement was signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain.
The Czechoslovak government agreed to abide by the agreement. The Munich Agreement stipulated that Czechoslovakia must cede Sudetenland territory to Germany. Beneš resigned as president of the Czechoslovak Republic on October 5, 1938, fled to London and was succeeded by Emil Hácha. In early November 1938, under the First Vienna Award, which was a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia) was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) to Hungary. After an 30 September ultimatum (but without consulting with any other countries), Poland obtained the disputed Zaolzie region as a territorial cession shortly after the Munich Agreement, on 2 October.
The Czechs in the greatly weakened Czechoslovak Republic were forced to grant major concessions to the non-Czechs. The executive committee of the Slovak People's Party met at Žilina on October 5, 1938, and with the acquiescence of all Slovak parties except the Social Democrats formed an autonomous Slovak government under Jozef Tiso. Similarly, the two major factions in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the Russophiles and Ukrainophiles, agreed on the establishment of an autonomous government, which was constituted on October 8, 1938. In late November 1938, the truncated state, renamed Czecho-Slovakia (the so-called Second Republic), was reconstituted in three autonomous units: the Czech lands (i.e. Bohemia and Moravia), Slovakia, and Ruthenia.
On March 12, 1939 the Slovak State declared its independence as a satellite state under Jozef Tiso. Hitler forced Hácha to surrender what remained of Bohemia and Moravia to German control on 15 March 1939, establishing the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which was created on March 15. On the same day, the Carpatho-Ukraine (Subcarpathian Ruthenia) declared its independence and was immediately invaded and annexed by Hungary. Finally, on March 23 Hungary invaded and occupied from the Carpatho-Ukraine some further parts of Slovakia (eastern Slovakia).
Second World War
Beneš and other Czechoslovak exiles in London organized a Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile and negotiated to obtain international recognition for the government and a renunciation of the Munich Agreement and its consequences. The government was recognized by government of United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax on July 18, 1940. In July and December 1941, the Soviet Union and United States also recognized the exiled government, respectively.
Czechoslovak military units fought alongside Allied forces. In December 1943, Beneš's government concluded a treaty with the Soviet Union. Beneš worked to bring Czechoslovak communist exiles in Britain into active cooperation with his government, offering far-reaching concessions, including nationalization of heavy industry and the creation of local people's committees at the war's end (which then indeed happened). In March 1945, he gave key cabinet positions to Czechoslovak communist exiles in Moscow.
The assassination of Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 by a group of British-trained Czech and Slovak commandos led by Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík led to reprisals, including the annihilation of the village Lidice. All adult male inhabitants were executed, while females and children were transported to concentration camps. A similar fate met the villages Ležáky and later, at the end of war, Javoříčko too.
On May 8, 1944, Beneš signed an agreement with Soviet leaders stipulating that Czechoslovak territory liberated by Soviet armies would be placed under Czechoslovak civilian control.
From September 21, 1944, Czechoslovakia was liberated by Soviet troops (the Red Army), supported by Czech and Slovak resistance, from the east to the west; only southwestern Bohemia was liberated by other Allied troops (U.S. Army) from the west. In May 1945, American forces liberated the city of Plzeň. A civilian uprising against the Nazi garrison took place in Prague in May 1945. The resistance was assisted by heavily armed Russian Liberation Army, i.e., Gen. Vlasov's army, a force composed of Soviet POWs organised by the Germans, now turning again against them.
Except for the brutalities of the German occupation in Protectorate (and, after the Slovak National Uprising in August 1944, also in Slovakia), Czechoslovakia suffered relatively little from the war. Bratislava was taken over on April 4, 1945, and Prague on May 9, 1945 by Soviet troops. Both Soviet and Allied troops were withdrawn in the same year.
A treaty ceding Carpatho-Ukraine to the Soviet Union was signed in June 1945 between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, following an apparently rigged Soviet-run referendum in Carpatho-Ukraine (Ruthenia). The Potsdam Agreement provided for the expulsion of Sudeten Germans to Germany under the supervision of the Allied Control Council. Decisions regarding the Hungarian minority reverted to the Czechoslovak government. In February 1946, the Hungarian government agreed that Czechoslovakia could expatriate as many Hungarians as there were Slovaks in Hungary wishing to return to Czechoslovakia.
The Third Republic (1945–1948) and the Communist takeover (1948)
The Third Republic came into being in April 1945. Its government, installed at Košice on April 4 and moved to Prague in May, was a National Front coalition in which three socialist parties—Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), Czechoslovak Social democratic Party, and Czechoslovak National Socialist Party—predominated. Certain nonsocialist parties were included in the coalition; among them were the Catholic People's Party (in Moravia) and the Democratic Party (Slovakia).
Following Nazi Germany's surrender, some 2.9 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia with Allied approval, their property and rights declared void by the Beneš decrees. Czechoslovakia soon came to fall within the Soviet sphere of influence.
The popular enthusiasm evoked by the Soviet armies of liberation (which was decided by compromise of Allies and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta conference in 1944) benefited the KSČ. Czechoslovaks, bitterly disappointed by the West at the Munich Agreement (1938), responded favorably to both the KSČ and the Soviet alliance. Reunited into one state after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks set national elections for the spring of 1946.
The democratic elements, led by President Edvard Beneš, hoped the Soviet Union would allow Czechoslovakia the freedom to choose its own form of government and aspired to a Czechoslovakia that would act as a bridge between East and West. Communists secured strong representation in the popularly elected National Committees, the new organs of local administration. In the May 1946 election, the KSČ won most of the popular vote in the Czech part of the bi-ethnic country (40.17%), and the more or less anti-Communist Democratic Party won in Slovakia (62%).
In sum, however, the KSČ won a plurality of 38 percent of the vote at countrywide level. Edvard Beneš continued as president of the republic. The Communist leader Klement Gottwald became prime minister. Most important, although the communists held only a minority of portfolios, they were able to gain control over all key ministries (Ministry of the Interior, etc.)
In 1947, Stalin summoned Gottwald to Moscow; upon his return to Prague, the KSČ demonstrated a significant radicalization of its tactics. On February 20, 1948, the twelve non-communist ministers resigned, in part, to induce Beneš to call for early elections: Beneš refused to accept the cabinet resignations and did not call for elections. In the meantime, the KSČ garnered its forces for the coup d'état of 1948. The communist-controlled Ministry of Interior deployed police regiments to sensitive areas and equipped a workers' militia. On February 25, Beneš, perhaps fearing Soviet intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the dissident ministers and received a new cabinet list from Gottwald, thus completing, under the cover of superficial legality, the communist takeover.
On March 10, 1948 the moderate foreign minister of the government, Jan Masaryk, was found dead in an apparent suicide, although the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death have led some to believe that it was a political assassination.
The Communist era (1948–1989)
In February 1948, the Communists took power (1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état), and Edvard Beneš inaugurated a new cabinet led by Klement Gottwald. Czechoslovakia was declared a "people's democracy" (until 1960) – a preliminary step toward socialism and, ultimately, communism. Bureaucratic centralism under the direction of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) leadership was introduced. Dissident elements were purged from all levels of society, including the Roman Catholic Church. The ideological principles of Marxism-Leninism and socialist realism pervaded cultural and intellectual life.
The economy was committed to comprehensive central planning and abolition of private ownership of capital. Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union; it was a founding member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) in 1949 and of the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The attainment of Soviet-style command socialism became the government's avowed policy.
Slovak autonomy was constrained; the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) was reunited with the KSČ (Communist Party of Czechoslovakia) but retained its own identity. Following the Soviet example, Czechoslovakia began emphasizing the rapid development of heavy industry. Although Czechoslovakia's industrial growth of 170 percent between 1948 and 1957 was impressive, it was far exceeded by that of Japan (300 percent) and the Federal Republic of Germany (almost 300 percent) and more than equaled by Austria and Greece.
Beneš refused to sign the Communist Constitution of 1948 (Ninth-of-May Constitution) and resigned from the presidency; he was succeeded by Klement Gottwald. Gottwald died in March 1953. He was succeeded by Antonín Zápotocký as president and by Antonín Novotný as head of the KSČ. After extensive purges modeled on the Stalinist pattern in other east European states, the Communist Party tried 14 of its former leaders in November 1952 and sentenced 11 to death. In June 1953, thousands of workers in Plzen went on strike to demonstrate against a currency reform that was considered a move to solidify Soviet socialism in Czechoslovakia. The demonstrations ended without significant bloodshed, disappointing American Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles who wished for a pretext to help the Czechoslovakian people resist the Soviets.  For more than a decade thereafter, the Czechoslovak communist political structure was characterized by the orthodoxy of the leadership of party chief Antonín Novotný. Novotný became president in 1957 when Zápotocký died.
In the 1950s, the Stalinists accused their opponents of "conspiracy against the people's democratic order" and "high treason" in order to oust them from positions of power. Large-scale arrests of Communists with an "international" background, i.e., those with a wartime connection with the West, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Jews, and Slovak "bourgeois nationalists," were followed by show trials. The outcome of these trials, serving the communist propaganda, was often known in advance and the penalties were extremely heavy, such as in the case of Milada Horáková, who was sentenced to death together with Jan Buchal, Záviš Kalandra and Oldřich Pecl.
The 1960 Constitution declared the victory of socialism and proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR).
De-Stalinization had a late start in Czechoslovakia. In the early 1960s, the Czechoslovak economy became severely stagnant. The industrial growth rate was the lowest in Eastern Europe. As a result, in 1965, the party approved the New Economic Model, introducing free market elements into the economy. The KSČ "Theses" of December 1965 presented the party response to the call for political reform. Democratic centralism was redefined, placing a stronger emphasis on democracy. The leading role of the KSČ was reaffirmed but limited. Slovaks pressed for federalization. On January 5, 1968, the KSČ Central Committee elected Alexander Dubček, a Slovak reformer, to replace Novotný as first secretary of the KSČ. On March 22, 1968, Novotný resigned from the presidency and was succeeded by General Ludvík Svoboda.
The Prague Spring (1968)
Dubček carried the reform movement a step further in the direction of liberalism. After Novotný's fall, censorship was lifted. The press, radio, and television were mobilized for reformist propaganda purposes. The movement to democratize socialism in Czechoslovakia, formerly confined largely to the party intelligentsia, acquired a new, popular dynamism in the spring of 1968 (the "Prague Spring"). Radical elements found expression: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press; the Social Democrats began to form a separate party; new unaffiliated political clubs were created.
Party conservatives urged the implementation of repressive measures, but Dubček counseled moderation and reemphasized KSČ leadership. In addition, the Dubček leadership called for politico-military changes in the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact and Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. The leadership affirmed its loyalty to socialism and the Warsaw Pact but also expressed the desire to improve relations with all countries of the world regardless of their social systems.
A program adopted in April 1968 set guidelines for a modern, humanistic socialist democracy that would guarantee, among other things, freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel; a program that, in Dubček's words, would give socialism "a human face." After 20 years of little public participation, the population gradually started to take interest in the government, and Dubček became a truly popular national figure.
The internal reforms and foreign policy statements of the Dubček leadership created great concern among some other Warsaw Pact governments. KSČ conservatives had misinformed Moscow regarding the strength of the reform movement. As a result, the troops of Warsaw Pact countries (except Romania) invaded Czechoslovakia during the night of August 20–21. Two-thirds of the KSČ Central Committee opposed the Soviet intervention. Popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. In Prague and other cities throughout the republic, Czechs and Slovaks greeted Warsaw Pact soldiers with arguments and reproaches.
The Czechoslovak Government declared that the troops had not been invited into the country and that their invasion was a violation of socialist principles, international law, and the UN Charter. Dubček, who had been arrested on the night of August 20, was taken to Moscow for negotiations. The outcome was the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, which provided for the strengthening of the KSČ, strict party control of the media, and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.
The principal Czechoslovak reformers were forcibly and secretly taken to the Soviet Union where they signed a treaty that provided for the "temporary stationing" of an unspecified number of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia. Dubček was removed as party First Secretary on 17 April 1969, and replaced by another Slovak, Gustáv Husák. Later, Dubček and many of his allies within the party were stripped of their party positions in a purge that lasted until 1971 and reduced party membership by almost one-third.
The Slovak part of Czechoslovakia made major gains in industrial production in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1970s, its industrial production was near parity with that of the Czech lands. Slovakia's portion of per capita national income rose from slightly more than 60 percent of that of Bohemia and Moravia in 1948 to nearly 80 percent in 1968, and Slovak per capita earning power equaled that of the Czechs in 1971. The pace of Slovak economic growth has continued to exceed that of Czech growth to the present day (2003).
Dubcek remained in office only until April 1969. Gustáv Husák (a centrist, and interestingly one of the Slovak "bourgeois nationalists" imprisoned by his own KSČ in the 1950s) was named first secretary (title changed to general secretary in 1971). A program of "Normalization" — the restoration of continuity with the prereform period—was initiated. Normalization entailed thoroughgoing political repression and the return to ideological conformity. A new purge cleansed the Czechoslovak leadership of all reformist elements.
Anti-Soviet demonstrations in August 1969 ushered in a period of harsh repression. The 1970s and 1980s became known as the period of "normalization," in which the apologists for the 1968 Soviet invasion prevented, as best they could, any opposition to their conservative regime. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. The population, cowed by the "normalization," was quiet. The only point required during the Prague spring that was achieved was the federalization of the country (as of 1969), which however was more or less only formal under the normalization. The newly created Federal Assembly (i.e., federal parliament), which replaced the National Assembly, was to work in close cooperation with the Czech National Council and the Slovak National Council (i.e., national parliaments).
In 1975, Gustáv Husák added the position of president to his post as party chief. The Husák regime required conformity and obedience in all aspects of life. Husák also tried to obtain acquiescence to his rule by providing an improved standard of living. He returned Czechoslovakia to an orthodox command economy with a heavy emphasis on central planning and continued to extend industrialization.
For a while the policy seemed successful; the 1980s, however, were more or less a period of economic stagnation. Another feature of Husák's rule was a continued dependence on the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, approximately 50 percent of Czechoslovakia's foreign trade was with the Soviet Union, and almost 80 percent was with communist countries.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, the regime was challenged by individuals and organized groups aspiring to independent thinking and activity. The first organized opposition emerged under the umbrella of Charter 77. On January 6, 1977, a manifesto called Charter 77 appeared in West German newspapers. The original manifesto reportedly was signed by 243 persons; among them were artists, former public officials, and other prominent figures.
The Charter had over 800 signatures by the end of 1977, including workers and youth. It criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of documents it had signed, including the state's own constitution; international covenants on political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights; and the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although not organized in any real sense, the signatories of Charter 77 constituted a citizens' initiative aimed at inducing the Czechoslovak Government to observe formal obligations to respect the human rights of its citizens.
Signatories were arrested and interrogated; dismissal from employment often followed. Because religion offered possibilities for thought and activities independent of the state, it too was severely restricted and controlled. Clergymen were required to be licensed. Unlike in Poland, dissent and independent activity were limited in Czechoslovakia to a fairly small segment of the populace. Many Czechs and Slovaks emigrated to the West.
The end of the Communist era (1989) and the Velvet Revolution 1989
Although, in March 1987, Husák nominally committed Czechoslovakia to follow the program of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, it did not happen much in reality. On December 17, 1987, Husák, who was one month away from his seventy-fifth birthday, had resigned as head of the KSČ. He retained, however, his post of president of Czechoslovakia and his full membership on the Presidium of the KSČ. Miloš Jakeš, who replaced Husák as first secretary of the KSČ, did not change anything. The slow pace of the Czechoslovak reform movement was an irritant to the Soviet leadership.
The first anti-Communist demonstration took place on March 25, 1988 in Bratislava (the Candle demonstration in Bratislava). It was an unauthorized peaceful gathering of some 2,000 (other sources 10,000) Roman Catholics. Demonstrations also occurred on August 21, 1988 (the anniversary of the Soviet intervention in 1968) in Prague, on October 28, 1988 (establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918) in Prague, Bratislava and some other towns, in January 1989 (death of Jan Palach on January 16, 1969), on August 21, 1989 (see above) and on October 28, 1989 (see above).
The anti-Communist revolution started on November 16, 1989 in Bratislava, with a demonstration of Slovak university students for democracy, and continued with the well-known similar demonstration of Czech students in Prague on November 17.
Democratic Czechoslovakia (1989–1992)
On 17 November 1989, the communist police violently broke up a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration, brutally beating many student participants. In the following days, Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Václav Havel. Intentionally eschewing the label "party", a word given a negative connotation during the previous regime, Civic Forum quickly gained the support of millions of Czechs, as did its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence.
Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party all but collapsed. Its leaders, Husák and party chief Miloš Jakeš, resigned in December 1989, and Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia on 29 December. The astonishing quickness of these events was in part due to the unpopularity of the communist regime and changes in the policies of its Soviet guarantor as well as to the rapid, effective organization of these public initiatives into a viable opposition.
A coalition government, in which the Communist Party had a minority of ministerial positions, was formed in December 1989. The first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1946 took place in June 1990 without incident and with more than 95% of the population voting. As anticipated, Civic Forum and Public Against Violence won landslide victories in their respective republics and gained a comfortable majority in the federal parliament. The parliament undertook substantial steps toward securing the democratic evolution of Czechoslovakia. It successfully moved toward fair local elections in November 1990, ensuring fundamental change at the county and town level.
Civic Forum found, however, that although it had successfully completed its primary objective—the overthrow of the communist regime—it was ineffectual as a governing party. The demise of Civic Forum was viewed by most as necessary and inevitable.
By the end of 1990, unofficial parliamentary "clubs" had evolved with distinct political agendas. Most influential was the Civic Democratic Party, headed by Václav Klaus. Other notable parties that came into being after the split were the Czech Social Democratic Party, Civic Movement, and Civic Democratic Alliance.
By 1992, Slovak calls for greater autonomy effectively blocked the daily functioning of the federal government. In the election of June 1992, Klaus's Civic Democratic Party won handily in the Czech lands on a platform of economic reform. Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia emerged as the leading party in Slovakia, basing its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy. Federalists, like Havel, were unable to contain the trend toward the split. In July 1992, President Havel resigned. In the latter half of 1992, Klaus and Mečiar hammered out an agreement that the two republics would go their separate ways by the end of the year.
Members of Czechoslovakia's parliament (the Federal Assembly), divided along national lines, barely cooperated enough to pass the law officially separating the two nations in late 1992. On 1 January 1993, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (Slovakia) were simultaneously and peacefully founded.
Relationships between the two states, despite occasional disputes about the division of federal property and the governing of the border, have been peaceful. Both states attained immediate recognition from the USA and their European neighbors.
At the time of the communist takeover, Czechoslovakia was devastated by WWII. Almost 1 million people, out of a prewar population of 15 million, had been killed. An additional 3 million Germans were expelled in 1946. In 1948, the government began to stress heavy industry over agricultural and consumer goods and services. Many basic industries and foreign trade, as well as domestic wholesale trade, had been nationalized before the communists took power. Nationalization of most of the retail trade was completed in 1950–1951.
Heavy industry received major economic support during the 1950s, but central planning resulted in waste and inefficient use of industrial resources. Although the labor force was traditionally skilled and efficient, inadequate incentives for labor and management contributed to high labor turnover, low productivity, and poor product quality. Economic failures reached a critical stage in the 1960s, after which various reform measures were sought with no satisfactory results.
Hope for wide-ranging economic reform came with Alexander Dubcek's rise in January 1968. Despite renewed efforts, however, Czechoslovakia could not come to grips with inflationary forces, much less begin the immense task of correcting the economy's basic problems.
The economy saw growth during the 1970s but then stagnated between 1978–1982. Attempts at revitalizing it in the 1980s with management and worker incentive programs were largely unsuccessful. The economy grew after 1982, achieving an annual average output growth of more than 3% between 1983–1985. Imports from the West were curtailed, exports boosted, and hard currency debt reduced substantially. New investment was made in the electronic, chemical, and pharmaceutical sectors, which were industry leaders in eastern Europe in the mid-1980s.
From creation to dissolution – overview
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- See main article for details
- Norman Davies Europe at War Pan Books, 2007 ISBN 978-0-330-35212-3 p. 69
- Jacques Rupnik The Other Europe Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, 1988 ISBN 0-297-79804-9 p. 96>
- Christian F. Ostermann, ed., Uprising in East Germany, 1953 (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001), pp. 113-32.
- Conversation dated 7-21-56 and cited in David M. Barrett, The CIA and Congress: The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas) p. 251.
- Sentence (original)
- Misha Glenny The Rebirth of History Penguin Books, 1990 ISBN 0-14-014394-7 p. 22
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