Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia

[chek-uh-sluh-vah-kee-uh, -vak-ee-uh]
Czechoslovakia, Czech Československo, former federal republic, 49,370 sq mi (127,869 sq km), in central Europe. On Jan. 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (see Slovakia) became independent states and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. (For history prior to 1918 as well as geographic and economic information, see Bohemia; Czech Republic; Moravia; Slovakia.)

History

The Emergence of Czechoslovakia

The creation of Czechoslovakia was the culmination of the long struggle of the Czechs against their Austrian rulers. It was largely accomplished by the nation's first and second presidents, T. G. Masaryk and Eduard Beneš. The union of the Czech lands and Slovakia was officially proclaimed in Prague on Nov. 14, 1918; the Treaty of St. Germain (Sept., 1919) formally recognized the new republic. Ruthenia was added by the Treaty of Trianon (June, 1920).

Because Czechoslovakia inherited the greater part of the industries of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, it was economically the most favored of the Hapsburg successor states. Benefiting from a liberal, democratic constitution (1920) and led by able statesmen, the new republic appeared to have a bright future. Redistribution of some of the estates of the former nobility and the church generally improved the living conditions of the peasantry. In foreign policy Czechoslovakia relied on its friendship with France and on its Little Entente with Yugoslavia and Romania.

Yet the new state was far from being a stable unit. With its antagonistic and nationalistic ethnic elements, it reflected the inherent weakness of the Hapsburg empire. The Czechs and Slovaks had separate histories and greatly differing religious, cultural, and social traditions. The constitution of 1920, which set up a highly centralized unitary state, failed to take into account the important problem of national minorities. The Germans and Magyars of Czechoslovakia openly agitated against the territorial settlements. Although the constitution provided for autonomy for Ruthenia, in practice autonomy was constantly postponed. The Slovak People's party accused the Czech government of having denied Slovakia promised autonomous rights. Hitler's rise in Germany, the German annexation of Austria, the resulting revival of revisionism in Hungary and of agitation for autonomy in Slovakia, and the appeasement policy of the Western powers left Czechoslovakia without allies, exposed to hostile Germany and Hungary on three sides and to unsympathetic Poland on the fourth.

The nationality problem led to a European crisis when 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 Pact (Sept., 1938) the cession of the Bohemian borderlands (Sudetenland). Poland and Hungary obtained territorial cessions shortly thereafter. Beneš resigned the presidency in October and was succeeded by Emil Hacha. In Nov., 1938, the truncated state, renamed Czecho-Slovakia, was reconstituted in three autonomous units—Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia, and Ruthenia.

The War Years

In Mar., 1939, Hitler forced Hacha to surrender Czecho-Slovakia to German control and made Bohemia and Moravia into a German "protectorate." Slovakia gained nominal independence as a satellite state. Ruthenia was awarded to Hungary. After the outbreak of World War II, Beneš set up a provisional government in London, and Czech units fought with the Allied forces. Except for the brutalities of the German occupation, Czechoslovakia suffered relatively little from the war. In Apr., 1944, Soviet forces, accompanied by a Czech coalition government headed by Beneš, and American troops entered Czechoslovakia; the fall (May 12, 1945) of Prague marked the end of military operations in Europe. Soviet and American troops were withdrawn later in the year.

At the Potsdam Conference of 1945 the expulsion of about 3,000,000 Germans from Czechoslovakia and an exchange of minorities between Czechoslovakia and Hungary were approved. The country's pre-1938 territory was restored, except for Ruthenia, which was ceded to the USSR. In the elections of 1946 the Communists emerged as the strongest party (obtaining one third of the votes) and became the dominant party in the coalition headed by the Communist Klement Gottwald. Beneš was elected president. Soviet pressure prevented Czechoslovakia from accepting Marshall Plan aid (June, 1947).

The Communist Era

During the summer of 1947, the Communists began a campaign of political agitation and intrigue that gave them complete control of the government in Feb., 1948. In March, Jan Masaryk, the non-Communist foreign minister, died in suspicious circumstances. After the adoption of a new constitution (Beneš resigned rather than sign it), a new legislature was elected and enacted a program for nationalizing the economy. Czechoslovakia became a Soviet-style state.

Political and cultural liberty was curtailed, and purge trials were conducted from 1950 to 1952. Riots occurred in 1953, reflecting economic discontent. A very modest liberalization trend was begun in response but was reversed in Nov., 1957, when Antonin Novotný became president. In 1960 a new constitution was enacted. Another cautious movement toward liberalization was initiated in 1963. Restrictions on the press, education, and cultural activities were eased, and local authorities received increased economic autonomy. Profit considerations were introduced into the economy. Czechoslovakia became celebrated internationally for its experimental theater work and its many fine films. But political power remained the exclusive possession of a small circle in the Communist party.

That factor, the sluggishness of the economy (despite the reforms), and Slovak resentment over Novotný's Czech-dominated administration, produced the startling developments of 1968. Alexander Dubček, a Slovak, replaced Novotný as party leader in January; Ludvik Svoboda became president in March. Under Dubček, in what is known as Prague Spring, democratization went further than in any other Communist state. Press censorship was reduced, and the restoration of a genuinely democratic political life seemed possible. Slovakia was granted political autonomy.

Seriously alarmed at what it construed to be a threat to Soviet security and to the supremacy within the USSR of the Soviet Communist party, the USSR with some of its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia in Aug., 1968. Dubček and other leaders were taken to Moscow. Despite opposition by the populace, the USSR forced the repeal of most of the reforms. A revised constitution was promulgated. (Slovakian autonomy was retained.) In Apr., 1969, Dubček was replaced as party leader, and in June, 1970, he was expelled from the party.

In the early 1970s there were many efforts to stamp out dissent, including mass arrests, union purges, and religious persecution. The repressive policies and rigid Soviet-style economic policies continued throughout the 1970s despite inflation and a sluggish economy. In 1977, the appearance of a declaration of human rights called Charter 77, which was signed by 700 intellectuals and former party leaders, instigated further repressive measures.

The "Velvet Revolution"

In late 1989, massive antigovernment demonstrations in Prague were at first suppressed by the police, but as democratization swept through Eastern Europe, the Communist party leadership resigned in November. In December, a new, non-Communist cabinet took over, and the playwright and former dissident Václav Havel was elected president. Under Communist rule, Czechoslovakia had a Soviet-style planned economy in which its highly developed industry as well as trade, banking, and agriculture were under state control. In 1990, the nation began the transition to a market economy with a broad program designed to encourage private enterprise and outside investment. The "Velvet Revolution" was successfully completed with the departure of the last Soviet troops in May, 1991, and a free parliamentary election in June, 1992.

The new government was faced with several difficulties, including a distressed and inefficient economic system in need of drastic reform, high unemployment, widespread social discontent, and environmental pollution. Under the 1968 constitution, Czechoslovakia was a federal republic. The two component parts were the Czech Republic, with its capital in Prague, and the Slovak Republic, with its capital at Bratislava. There was a bicameral federal legislature elected every five years. The federal president, who was elected by the legislature, appointed the premier and ministers. Each republic had a council and assembly. The federal government dealt with defense, foreign affairs, and certain economic matters. A strong secessionist movement in Slovakia, however, led to the formal declaration on Aug. 26, 1992, that the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic would separate into independent states on Jan. 1, 1993, thus dissolving the 74-year-old federation. In response to the imminent breakup, the federal government was dismantled and drafts of new Czech and Slovak constitutions were begun.

Bibliography

See historical studies by R. J. Kerner (1940) and S. H. Thomson (2d ed. 1953, repr. 1965); M. Rechcigl, Jr., ed., Czechoslovak Contribution to World Culture (1964) and Czechoslovakia Past and Present (2 vol., 1968); Z. A. B. Zeman, Prague Spring (1969); W. Shawcross, Dubcek (1970); G. Golan, The Czechoslovak Reform Movement (1971); I. Sviták, The Czechoslovak Experiment, 1968-1969 (1971); J. Kalvoda, The Genesis of Czechoslovakia (1986); N. Stone and E. Strouh ed., Czechoslovakia: Crossroads and Crises, 1918-1988 (1989); J. Batt, Economic Reform and Political Change in Eastern Europe (1988).

Czechoslovakia may also refer to what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak: Československo; Slovak after 1990: Česko-Slovensko) was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918 (upon declaring its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire) until 1992 (with a government-in-exile during the World War II period). On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Basic characteristics

Form of state:

Neighbors: Germany (1945–1990: BRD and DDR), Poland, from 1945 Soviet Union (1992: Ukraine), Romania (until 1939), Hungary, Austria

Topography: Generally irregular terrain. Western area is part of north-central European uplands. Eastern region is composed of northern reaches of Carpathian Mountains and Danube River Basin lands.

Climate: Predominantly continental but varied from the moderate temperatures of Western Europe in the west to more severe weather systems affecting Eastern Europe and the western Soviet Union in the east.

Official names

  • 1918–1920: Republic of Czechoslovakia (abbreviated RČS); short form Czecho-Slovakia
  • 1920–1938: Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR); short form Czechoslovakia
  • 1938–1939: Czecho-Slovak Republic; short form Czecho-Slovakia
  • 1945–1960: Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR); short form Czechoslovakia
  • 1960–1990: Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR); Czechoslovakia
  • April 1990: Czechoslovak Federative Republic (Czech version) and Czecho-Slovak Federative Republic (Slovak version),
  • afterwards: Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (ČSFR, with the short forms Československo in Czech and Česko-Slovensko in Slovak)

History

Foundation

Czechoslovakia was founded in October 1918 as one of the successor states of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I. It consisted of the present-day territories of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia. Its territory included some of the most industrialized regions of the former Austria-Hungary. It was a democratic republic throughout the pre-World War II period, but was characterized by ethnic problems stemming from dissatisfaction among the second and third largest ethnic groups (Germans and Slovaks, respectively) with the political and economic dominance of the Czechs, and from a failure among most Germans and Hungarians of Czechoslovakia to ever fully accept the creation of the new state.

Czechoslovak lands inside Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1911

The official statement about constituent nations at the time was that there are no Czechs and Slovaks, but only one nation: Czechoslovaks (see Czechoslovakism). According to this idea was also old statistic from this era about population and nations in the country (see bellow). But not all people agreed with this ideology (mainly among Slovaks) and once a unified Czechoslovakia was restored after WWII (see dividing of the country during WWII) this idea was left behind and Czechoslovakia was a country of two nations - the Czechs and the Slovaks.


Nationalities of Czechoslovakia 1921
total population 13,607.385
Czechoslovaks 8,759.701 64.37 %
Germans 3,123.305 22.95 %
Hungarians 744.621 5.47 %
Ruthenians 461.449 3.39 %
Jews 180.534 1.33 %
Poles 75.852 0.56 %
Others 23.139 0.17 %
Foreigners 238.784 1.75 %

The original ethnic composition of the new state was 51% Czechs, 16% Slovaks, 22% Germans, 5% Hungarians and 4% Rusyns. Many of the Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians and Poles and also some Slovaks, felt disadvantaged in Czechoslovakia, because the political elite of the country introduced a centralized state and most of the time did not allow political autonomy for the ethnic groups. This policy, combined with increasing Nazi propaganda especially in the industrialized German speaking Sudetenland, led to increasing unrest among the Non-Czech population.

World War II

After the Munich Agreement of 1938, in which the UK and France forced Czechoslovakia to cede the German-speaking Sudetenland to Nazi Germany despite existing treaties in what is commonly known as part of the Western Betrayal, the still-democratic state briefly existed as a basically non-functioning entity at the mercy of its fascist neighbours. In 1939 Czechoslovakia was invaded by Nazi Germany and divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the puppet Slovak State. Much of Slovakia and all of Subcarpathian Ruthenia was annexed by Hungary.

Following the War the ante bellum arrangement was restored, with the exception of Subcarpathian Ruthenia which was annexed by the Soviet Union as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the territory passed to the hands of Ukraine where it remains today.

Communist Czechoslovakia

After World War II, pre-war Czechoslovakia was reestablished, the so-called Beneš decrees concerned the expropriation of wartime "traitors" and collaborators accused of treason but also all ethnic Germans (see Potsdam Agreement) and Hungarians. They also ordered the removal of citizenship for people of German and Hungarian ethnic origin who decided to acquire the German and Hungarian citizenship during the occupation. (These provisions were cancelled for the Hungarians, but not for the Germans, in 1948). This was then used to confiscate their property and expel around 90% of the ethnic German population of Czechoslovakia, over 2 million people. The people who remained were collectively accused of supporting the Nazis (after the Munich Agreement, in December 1938, 97.32% of adult Sudetengermans voted for NSDAP in elections). Almost every decree explicitly stated that the sanctions did not apply to anti-fascists although the term Anti-fascist was not explicitly defined. Some 250,000 Germans, many married to Czechs, some anti-fascists, but also people required for the post-war reconstruction of the country remained in Czechoslovakia. The Benes Decrees still cause controversy between nationalist groups in Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Hungary.

Carpathian Ruthenia was occupied by (and in June 1945 formally ceded to) the Soviet Union. In 1946 parliamentary election the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia emerged as the winner in the Czech lands (the Democratic Party won in Slovakia). In February 1948 the Communists seized power. Although they would maintain the fiction of political pluralism through the existence of the National Front, except for a short period in the late 1960s (the Prague Spring) the country was characterised by the absence of liberal democracy. While its economy remained more advanced than those of its neighbours in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia grew increasingly economically weak relative to Western Europe. In the religious sphere, atheism was officially promoted and taught.

In 1968, in response to a brief period of liberalization, five Eastern Bloc countries invaded Czechoslovakia. Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev viewed this intervention as vital to the preservation of the Soviet, socialist system and vowed to intervene in any state that sought to replace Marxism-Leninism with capitalism. In 1969, Czechoslovakia was turned into a federation of the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. Under the federation, social and economic inequities between the Czech and Slovak halves of the state were largely eliminated. A number of ministries, such as Education, were formally transferred to the two republics. However, the centralized political control by the Communist Party severely limited the effects of federalization.

The 1970s saw the rise of the dissident movement in Czechoslovakia, represented (among others) by Václav Havel. The movement sought greater political participation and expression in the face of official disapproval, making itself felt by limits on work activities (up to a ban on any professional employment and refusal of higher education to the dissidents' children), police harassment and even prison time.

After 1989

In 1989 the country became democratic again through the Velvet Revolution. This occurred at around the same time as the fall of communism in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. Within three years communist rule had been totally eradicated from Europe.

Unlike Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the end of communism in this country did not automatically mean the end of the "communist" name: the word "socialist" was removed from the name on March 29, 1990, and replaced by "federal".

In 1992, because of growing nationalist tensions, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved by parliament. Its territory became the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which were formally created on January 1, 1993.

Heads of state and government

International agreements and membership

After WWII, active participant in Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), Warsaw Pact, United Nations and its specialized agencies; signatory of conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Administrative divisions

  • 1918–1923: different systems on former Austrian territory (Bohemia, Moravia, small part of Silesia) and on former Hungarian territory (Slovakia and Ruthenia): three lands [země] (also called district units [obvody]) Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia plus 21 counties [župy] in today's Slovakia plus two(?) counties in today's Ruthenia; both lands and counties were divided in districts [okresy]
  • 1923–1927: like above, except that the above counties were replaced by six (grand) counties [(veľ)župy] in today's Slovakia and one (grand) county in today's Ruthenia, and the number and frontiers of the okresy were changed on these two territories
  • 1928–1938: four lands [in Czech: země / in Slovak: krajiny]: Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia; divided in districts [okresy]
  • late 1938–March 1939: like above, but Slovakia and Ruthenia were promoted to "autonomous lands"
  • 1945–1948: like 1928–1938, except that Ruthenia became part of the Soviet Union
  • 1949–1960: 19 regions [kraje] divided in 270 districts [okresy]
  • 1960–1992: 10 regions [kraje], Prague, and (since 1970) Bratislava (capital of Slovakia); divided in 109–114 districts (okresy]); the kraje were abolished temporarily in Slovakia in 1969–1970 and for many functions since 1991 in Czechoslovakia; in addition, the two republics Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic were established in 1969 (without the word Socialist since 1990)

Population and ethnic groups

Politics

After WWII, monopoly on politics held by Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Gustáv Husák elected first secretary of KSC in 1969 (changed to general secretary in 1971) and president of Czechoslovakia in 1975. Other parties and organizations existed but functioned in subordinate roles to KSC. All political parties, as well as numerous mass organizations, grouped under umbrella of the National Front. Human rights activists and religious activists severely repressed.

Constitutional development

Czechoslovakia had the following constitutions throughout its history (1918 – 1992):

Economy

After WWII, economy centrally planned with command links controlled by communist party, similar to Soviet Union. Large metallurgical industry but dependent on imports for iron and nonferrous ores.

  • Industry: Extractive and manufacturing industries dominated sector. Major branches included machinery, chemicals, food processing, metallurgy, and textiles. Industry wasteful of energy, materials, and labor and slow to upgrade technology, but country source of high-quality machinery, aircraft, aero engines and instruments, electronics and arms for other communist countries.
  • Agriculture: Minor sector but supplied bulk of food needs, due to collectivised farms of large acreage and relatively effective way of operation. Dependent on imports of grains (mainly for livestock feed) in years of adverse weather. Meat production constrained by shortage of feed, but high per capita consumption of meat.
  • Foreign Trade: Exports estimated at US$17.8 billion in 1985, of which 55% machinery, 14% fuels and materials, 16% manufactured consumer goods. Imports at estimated US$17.9 billion in 1985, of which 41% fuels and materials, 33% machinery, 12% agricultural and forestry products other. In 1986, about 80% of foreign trade with communist countries.
  • Exchange Rate: Official, or commercial, rate Kcs 5.4 per US$1 in 1987; tourist, or noncommercial, rate Kcs 10.5 per US$1. Neither rate reflected purchasing power. The exchange rate on the black market was around Kcs 30 per US$1, and this rate became the official one once the currency became convertible in the early 1990s.
  • Fiscal Year: Calendar year.
  • Fiscal Policy: State almost exclusive owner of means of production. Revenues from state enterprises primary source of revenues followed by turnover tax. Large budget expenditures on social programs, subsidies, and investments. Budget usually balanced or small surplus.

Resource base

After WWII, country energy short, relying on imported crude oil and natural gas from Soviet Union, domestic brown coal, and nuclear and hydroelectric energy. Energy constraints a major factor in 1980s.

Transportation and communications

Society and social groups

Education

Education free at all levels and compulsory from age six to fifteen. Vast majority of population literate. Highly developed system of apprenticeship training and vocational schools supplemented general secondary schools and institutions of higher education.

Religion

In 1991: Roman Catholics 46.4%, Evangelic Lutheran 5.3%, Atheist 29.5%, n/a 16.7%, but there were huge differences between the 2 constituent republics – see Czech Republic and Slovakia

Health, social welfare and housing

After WWII, free health care was available to all citizens. National health planning emphasized preventive medicine; factory and local health-care centers supplemented hospitals and other inpatient institutions. There became substantial improvement in rural health care during the 1960s and 1970s.

Mass media

The mass media in Czechoslovakia was controlled by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). Private ownership of any publication or agency of the mass media was generally forbidden, although churches and other organizations published small periodicals and newspapers. Even with this informational monopoly in the hands of organizations under KSČ control, all publications were reviewed by the government's Office for Press and Information.

Sports

The Czechoslovakia national football team was a consistent performer in the international scene, with 8 appearances in the FIFA World Cup Finals, finishing in second-place in 1934 and 1962. The team also won the European Football Championship in 1976 and came in third in 1980.

The Czechoslovak national ice hockey team won many medals from the world championships and Olympic games.

Emil Zátopek, winner of four Olympic gold medals in athletics, is considered one of the top athletes in history.

The famous tennis players Ivan Lendl, Miloslav Mečíř, Daniela Hantuchová and Martina Navrátilová were born in Czechoslovakia.

Culture

Postage stamps

From creation to dissolution—overview

References

Czechoslovak Republic

See also

External links

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