The Czech Republic comprises the former provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia, together often called the Czech Lands. In the western part of the republic lies the Bohemian plateau, which is separated by the Bohemian-Moravian heights from the fertile Moravian lowland in the eastern part of the republic. The Sudetes Mts. in the north separate Moravia from Czech Silesia along the Polish border. Agriculture is concentrated in the Moravian lowlands and in the valleys of the Elbe and Vltava rivers.
More than 90% of the people are Czech, with small minorities of Slovaks, Germans, Poles, Gypsies, and Hungarians; the Gypsies have been subjected to increased discrimination since the fall of Communist rule. Although many Czechs do not profess a religion, more than 25% are Roman Catholic. There is also a substantial Hussite minority and a smaller group belonging to the Orthodox Church. Czech is spoken by most people; Slovak is also spoken.
In state hands during the Communist era, much of the Czech Republic's agricultural and industrial sectors was relatively quickly privatized and showed appreciable growth in the early 1990s. Foreign investment was widely sought. An economic slowdown beginning in 1997, however, revealed problems in the transition from government control to a privatized economy, as many large industrial conglomerates with thousands of employees lost money and sought government aid instead of revamping. In 1999-2000 most of the state-owned banks were privatized, with the government assuming responsibility for bad loans; privatization of the telecommunications industry took place in 2005.
The chief crops are wheat and other grains, potatoes, sugar beets, hops, and fruit. Among the country's livestock are hogs, cattle, sheep, and poultry. Manufacturing is the chief economic activity, especially the production of automobiles, machine tools, machinery, glass, and armaments. Iron and steel industries are important in Moravia. Other industries include metalworking, chemicals, and electronics. The republic's rather scant natural resources include hard and soft coal, timber, and uranium. Machinery and transportation equipment, chemicals, raw materials, and fuels are exported, and similar products also constitute the most significant imports. The largest trading partners are Germany, Slovakia, Poland, France, and Italy.
The Czech Republic is governed under the constitution of 1992. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by the legislature for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister is the head of government. The bicameral Parliament consists of the 81-seat Senate, whose members are elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms, and the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively the country is divided into 13 regions and the capital city.
For a detailed history of the Czech Lands see Bohemia, Moravia, and Czechoslovakia. In response to Slovakia's demands for greater autonomy, Czechoslovakia was on Jan. 1, 1969, declared a federation. The constituent Czech and Slovak republics received autonomy over local affairs, with the federal government responsible for foreign relations, defense, and finance. The Communist regime collapsed in 1989, and in 1990 economic reforms were begun that were especially disruptive in Slovakia, which had a disproportionate share of subsidized state-owned heavy industry. A strong secessionist movement in Slovakia led to a declaration in 1992 that the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic would separate into independent states. In response to the imminent breakup of Czechoslovakia, a new Czech constitution was written. It was implemented with the birth of the new Czech Republic on Jan. 1, 1993.
Václav Havel, who had been president of Czechoslovakia, became the Czech Republic's president; after legislative elections a right-of-center coalition government came into office, headed by Václav Klaus. The government moved quickly to privatize state-owned businesses, and mutual funds became a popular investment vehicle for a public unused to dealing with a stock market. The Czech Republic actively sought membership in Western institutions and alliances. In 1994 it became an associate member of the European Union (it became a full member ten years later), in 1995 it was admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and in 1999 it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Meanwhile, the economy faltered in 1997 and Klaus was forced to resign. Austerity measures were put in place and Josef Tosovsky, a banker, was appointed caretaker prime minister. Havel was reelected in 1998 and, following legislative elections later that year, Social Democrat Milos Zeman became prime minister, vowing to slow privatization and return more control to the state.
In the 2002 elections the Social Democrat-led coalition was returned to power, but Zeman, who had resigned as party leader prior to the election, was replaced as prime minister by Vladimír Spidla. Václav Klaus was elected president in 2003, succeeding the retiring Havel. In 2004, after the Social Democrats made a poor showing in the European Parliament elections, Spidla only narrowly survived a party confidence vote, and subsequently resigned as prime minister.
Social Democrat Stanislav Gross succeeded Spidla as government leader, but Gross resigned in Apr., 2005, dogged by charges of personal financial impropriety. He was succeeded as prime minister by fellow Social Democrat Jiri Paroubek. In the June, 2006, elections the Civic Democrats won the largest share of the vote and the most seats in parliament, but the Social Democrat-led coalition secured half the seats. The Civic Democrats formed a three-party coalition, and Mirek Topolánek became prime minister in August. In October, however, the coalition lost a confidence vote, forcing the president to open negotiations on formation of a new government. In Jan., 2007, the president again approved a government headed by Topolánek that involved the same three parties, and it narrowly won a vote of confidence.
Klaus was elected to a second term as president in Feb., 2008. In July, 2008, the Czech Republic signed an agreement with the United States to base a radar system there. Russia had previously strongly objected to such an arrangement, and shortly after the signing there was a decrease in Russian oil supplies to the Czech Republic that Russia attributed to technical problems despite disbelief from the Czechs. Some 14 months later, however, a new U.S. administration suspended plans to base a ballistic missile defense system in E Europe. In Mar., 2009, Topolánek's government lost a confidence vote; an interim government, extending until elections in October and headed by a techocrat, Jan Fischer, was agreed to by the parties and took office in May.
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