The Czech Republic is a nation state in Central Europe that borders Slovakia, Germany, Poland and Austria. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared after the Republic gained independence in 1993 that the name "Czechia" was to be used when referring to the country informally, but this has not caught on in English usage. The country has a population of 10 million and its capital city is the historic Prague (population one million, more than the next four largest cities put together). The country is highly urbanised with seventy five per cent of the population living in cities.
The Czech Republic is comprised of thirteen administrative divisions, or krage (thirteen krage, one krag), and the capital city. The divisions are -
Ethnically, the country is made up of 81% ethnic Czechs with a substantion Moravian minority (13%), and a smaller Slovak one (3%). The official language is Czech.
The Republic is geographically placed on the Bohemian plateau, which is not rich in mineral resources. However, the Republic's economy is one of the most advanced and industrialised of the former Soviet bloc. Stalinist development in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of which Czeckoslovakia was a satellite state from World War II until the Velvet Revolution, was based on planned interdependence. This meant that when the U.S.S.R collapsed in 1989 and then the economic alliance was dissolved in 1991, Czech manufacturers lost their traditional market. Furthermore, agriculture had been organised on a collectivised Stalinist model, which could never hope to reach the efficiency of Western European agriculture.
Czech agriculture accounts for just 3.8% of its GDP, but is now the most advanced such sector among the former Soviet bloc. It still does not in general compare to Western Europe in terms of efficiency or productivity, however. Agriculture took off after 1995, by which time 98% of the state's agriculture was in private hands. The other major source of primary production is coal mining, which produced 59 million tonnes in 1999.
Most of the economy is split between manufacturing (41%) and the service sector (55.2%). 80% of businesses are now in private hands, which was accomplished via the voucher system - each citizen was given a chance to buy vouchers (effectively shares) in formally state-owned businesses, which would enfuse these businesses with capital. Czech citizens are now one of the highest per capita share-owning populations in the world. The Republic is taking steps towards a stable investment climate (energy privatisation is an important step in this direction), and saw a doubling of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the period 2000 - 03.
Pre-20th century history
The Czech Republic was formed in 1993 out of half of what used to be Czechoslovakia, the other half of which is now Slovakia. Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918 and quickly became a satellite state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and was a signatory of the Warsaw Pact. Czechoslovakia had been formed out of the former Austro-Hungarian imperial provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, parts of Silesia and sub-Carpathian Ruthenia.
Bohemia, Slovakia and Moravia were first united in the 9th century, and Moravia and Bohemia were firmly attached from the 10th. In 1050 Bohemia was forced to accept the factuality of German supremacy and became a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Bohemia was the center of the Hussite Wars, a religion conflict fought between 1419 and 1436 which did a lot to contribute to Czech national consciousness. The conflict was sparked by the burning at the stake of proto-Protestant Jan Huss in 1416, which set off a rebellion by the Hussites in Bohemia. Emperor Sigismund sent in imperial armies that eventually subdued the movement, but not before Germanization of the region had been turned back by rising Bohemian nationalism. Milan Kundera still spoke of Czech patriotism concerning Huss in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1982).
In 1526 Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I (who beat Henry VIII of England in the run for the title) was elected King of Bohemia and Hungary. The House of Habsburg's rule over Bohemia and Austria would continue until 1918. Bohemia largely avoided religious violence for a century after Luther nailed his theses to the Cathedral door, but experienced it on an unprecedented scale with the Thirty' Years War. With rising emnity between Catholics and Protestants in the Kingdom, and the aggravations of Emperor Rudolf II, the majority Protestant population of Bohemia demanded action by their King. When it was not forthcoming, King Ferdinand II been both a Catholic and Habsburg heir presumptive, citizens of Prague invaded the Royal palace and threw two of the King's ministers from the window. This became known as the Defenestration of Prague. A year later Ferdinand became Holy Roman Emperor and the Bohemians declared Frederick V (a Calvinist Elector) their sovereign.
The Hasburgs were soon restored in Bohemia in 1620, following the Battle of the White Mountain. They fiercely repressed nationalist sentiment, enforced the Germanisation of culture and language, and mercilessly pushed out Protestantism. Czech nationalism festered and went through ebbs and flows, reaching a peak in the revolution of 1848. In 1867 the states owing allegience to the Habsburg monarchy were centralised into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
20th c. history
After World War I, the Empire was dissolved, and a provisional government was formed by Eduard Bene and Tomá Garrigue Masaryk with the aim of establishing a Czech-Slovak Republic. These two were to be the only Presidents of the First Republic, which enjoyed generally stable government and whose economy weathered the storm of the Great Depression relatively well.
However, there were problems. The Austro-Hungarian state had been plagued by the problems of trying to encompass many nations (ethnic groups with their own distinct cultures and histories) into one state, and sadly the states created to replace it often recreated this problem as well. The new Czechoslovakia was no exception, as the "state people" made up only 67% of the population, and the dominant Czechs only 51%. The rest of the people within the state's borders were generally well-treated, but did not identify with the state or want to become part of it. Ethnic Germans, who comprised 21% of the population, were actually barred from taking office in the state. The state was declared by the Constitution (which was nevertheless one of the most liberal of Eastern Europe) to be of the "Czechoslovak people".
The new state was understandably worried about the aims of its neighbours, it been potentially weak. It signed a treaty of mutual defence with France in 1925, and with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1935. It was to be betrayed, in turn, by both. Yet although Czechoslovakia was the only Eastern European state to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it could never have hoped to emerge unscathed from Eastern Europe as the Old Continent's Age of Crisis continued. The three million Germans in the Sudetenland, the border regions of Bohemia and Moravia, were disaffected with the new state and saw a way out through Nazi Germany. Hitler encouraged the leaders of the Sudeten German party to reject concilliation with the state and to push for complete autonomy in their region, and then to be passed into the protection of Nazi Germany. Neville Chamberlain, wanting to forestall the European conflagation, said Czechoslovakia should cede all lands with more more than 50% German population.
Czech leaders were not keen. But this didn't matter, because they were completely excluded from he international agreement that eventually brought change about. The Munich Pact was signed by Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain on September 30, 1938. Czechoslovakia lost its northern and western borders, which contained its only fortifications against Nazi Germany along with vast economic resources. President Bene left the country and a new right-wing government came into power. The state had effectively passed entirely into German hands, something which occured de facto when German troops occupied Moravia and Bohemia. An independent Slovak state came to power with a fascist as head of state.
Bene brooded in London on the nature of his betrayal by the West, and aligned himself with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. When the Red Army and the United States overran the country at the end of the war, he returned to head the new government. The three million Germans were expelled from the country and it was quickly turned into a Soviet sattelite. Klement Gottwald was sent from Moscow to be Deputy Prime Minister, and he became Prime Minister in 1948 when it looked like Communist power was weakening. He completed the power monopoly of the Communists, nationalising major industry and sending anti-Communists to prison camps. The Czech Communist Party enjoyed a wave of Stalinist purges and then liberalised mildly after Stalin's death. There were various attempts at reaction by Stalinists, but by 1968 the reformers were in the ascendent.
Thus began the Prague Spring. Alexander Dubcek became General Secretary of the Czech Communist Party and set about liberalising and democratising the country. Freedom of press and religion was granted, anti-Communists were rehabilitated and Slovakia was promised federal status. Dubcek called for wider reforms in the Eastern bloc, saying he sought good relations with all the nations of the World, whatever their social system. He famously called for "socialism with a human face" and became popular among his people, who were once again seeing an opportunity to be involved in their country's government. But the rest of the Warsaw Pact was displeased, being composed as it was mainly of autocrats who could not bear the thought of Czech reforms spreading to their countries. The tanks rolled in.
On the night of August 20, 1968, the country was invaded by troops from Hungary, Belgaria, East Germany, the USSR and Poland. The Czech government said that such an invasion was a violation of not only the Charter of the United Nations, but also socialist principles. Dubcek and his fellow-travellers in the Party were whisked away to Moscow and compelled to sign a treaty that destroyed Czechoslovakia's last vestiges of independence, allowing as it did for Soviet troops to be stationed there indefinitely. Dubcek was stripped of his position as Party General Secretary and then in the period 1969 - 71, along with a third of the rest of the Party, deprived of membership.
Nationalism and human rights activism continued underground in the state. In 1977 a group known as Charter 77 signed a manifesto calling upon the government to respect at least the human rights provisions of its own Constitution, which it failed to do so. Then, in 1989, as tremors spread throughout Eastern Europe, the government brutally put down a student demonstration. Dissident groups, smelling victory in the face of such blatant brutality, formed to create the Civic Forum. The Party, running out of options, was forced to negotiate with the new group. The leader of the group, a dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, was elected President after the Communists resigned. The first elections took place without incident and 95% of the population voted.
After this peaceful Velvet Revolution, there followed the peaceful partitioning of Czechoslovakia. There was an economic disparity between the two regions and it was agreed that it would be mutually beneficial if they split into autonomous regions, nevertheless maintaining the same currency and an open border. A number of federalists opposed the move, but it was eventually passed by the Parliament. On January 1, 1993 the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia came into being. Both achieved the immediate recognition of their neighbours and have co-existed amicably since.