And Czech Republic
- World War I (-1914)
area today known as the Czech Republic and Slovakia were settled
by many Slavic groups: the Boii (according to the ancient Romans)
and Marcomans settled in Bohemia; the Cotini, settled in Moravia
and parts of Slovakia. The area was at times influenced by the
Romans, the Byzantines, and later the Ottoman Turks. The Premyslide
dynasty ruled the region until the Habsburg Empire took control
over it. Catholicism was the official religion, but a famous professor
of theology who advocated reform in the Roman Catholic Church,
Jan Hus, was from in Bohemia. Antonin
Dvorak, a renown romantic composer who wrote the much admired
Slavic Dances, concertos, and syphonies.
of Czechoslovakia (1918)
became independent in 1918, subsequent to the break-up of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire after the World War I. It was a nation
formed by three regions: Slovakia, Moravia and Bohemia. The government
was a Parliamentary Republic, led by Tomas Masaryk. The bi-cameral
parliament was called the National Assembly, which was secretly
and freely elected. The President had appointing and dismissing
government, and direct executive powers during emergencies. Although
President Masaryk had great powers, he never abused them: the
government of Czechoslovakia was the most democratic and constitutional
in Eastern Europe at that time.
were about 3 million people of German ancestry living in Czechoslovakia,
near the Sudeten Mountains. When Hitler rose to power, nationalism
rose in the German-speaking people throughout Europe. The Sudeten
Germans claimed that they were treated badly by the Czech authorities,
and in September of 1938, the meeting in Munich between Hitler,
Mussolini, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and French
Premier Eduoard Daladier (the Czech representatives were shut
out of the room) reached an agreement that Czechoslovakia will
cede Sudetenland to Germany to avoid war. But Hitler didn’t
stop there: the Nazis stirred up hostile feelings between the
Czechs and the Slovakians, and in March 1939, Slovakia claimed
independence. German troops poured into Moravia and Bohemia to
“protect” the newly independent Slovakia.
has ceased to exist.”– Hitler
people who resisted the Nazis were either executed or were sent
to concentration camps. When Reinhard Heydrich, (the Nazi “protector”
of Bohemia and Moravia, who took the crown jewels under his own
personal protection; deported the Jewish population to concentration
camps, and abolished public entertainment) was assassinated by
Czech patriots, the Nazis killed 1331 men and women for revenge.
The Nazi vengeance also fell on a village near Prague called Lidice,
where all male above sixteen were shot, and the women and children
were deported to concentration camps. The conditions were bad,
and were getting worse by the day. The food, fuel and resources
were used by the Nazis for war efforts. On April 25, 1945, the
Russians and Americans gathered forces at Torgau, a city in Eastern
Germany. Hitler, once the most powerful man in Europe, realized
that his end was near. On April 30, Hitler committed suicide.
On May 7, the Germans surrendered to the Allies. On May 9, Russian
General Konev with his troops along with the American forces entered
Prague and liberated it
Benes (who led a government-in-exile during the war in London)
was made president, and Jan Masaryk (son of the former president)
was made Foreign Minister. Seven out of twenty posts of the new
government’s cabinet were rewarded to the Communist Party
for underground struggle against the Nazis during the war. The
winter between 1945 and 1946, there were food shortages as a result
of the war, but the Communists blamed Benes’s government
for acting too slow with dealing with the problems. The Communists
gained control in the government by taking advantage of the people’s
discontent, and in the election of 1946, the new communist leader
Klement Gottwald was named the new Prime Minister, and he was
charged with responsibility of forming a new government.
complete power, Gottwald announced a “fascist plot”
that had been discovered to overthrow the republic, and forced
the non-Communist member in the cabinet to resign. He also threatened
Benes with the intervention of the Soviet army. Not wanting civil
war, Benes named a new government completely sympathetic to the
Gottwald became president after the resignation and death of Benes
and Masaryk, the foreign minister. The Communist government declared
a “purification of Czech and Slovak literature: seven million
books were destroyed, and it was forbidden to mention the names
of Benes and Masaryk. Teachers were removed from their posts and
were replaced by Communists, and all students were required to
study Marxism-Leninism and Russian. The government took over 95%
of the industries in Czechoslovakia as an act to eliminate capitalism.
Prague Spring was a liberal period in Czechoslovakia, under the
leadership of Alexander Dubcek. Dubcek gained power in the Communist
party in Slovakia, which was the poorer part of the country. Dubcek
and his followers demanded drastic reforms in the country’s
economy and more political freedom in the government.
Novotny was the President when Dubcek rose to power. Although
he supported Dubcek’s reforms in his speeches, he, in reality,
stuck to the old Stalinist ways of ruling. After the Soviet leader
Leonid Brezhnev refused to back up Novotny, Dubcek and his followers
confronted Novotny and stripped him of power. In March 22, 1968,
Novotny gave in to popular demands and resigned as president.
Ludvik Svobada, a close ally of Dubcek, was appointed president.
dismissed the conservative officials from high office positions
in the government, and he established a court system that did
not depend on the Communist Party. Dubcek abolished censorships;
trade Unions were given more rights to bargain on behalf of the
workers; farmers were given the right to form independent co-operatives,
and the newspapers were allowed to speak freely. The people rightly
named the period of free expression the “Prague Spring.”
Vaclav Havel was allowed to go abroad during this time period.
He came to the United States to produce his play, The Memorandum,
and admired the free and easy atmosphere in America.
World War II, Stalin tried to take Western Germany by blockading
East Germany. He hoped that the Western powers would be scared
and might cede Western Germany as well. But Stalin’s plan
didn’t work – the Americans and British sent supplies
by air, since the roads and water routes are closed. At last,
Stalin gave in and ended the blockade. Western Europe was frightened
by the Soviet Union. In 1949, the United States, Canada, and Western
Europe joined forces in a defensive military alliance against
the Soviet Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.
Warsaw Pact, or the Warsaw Treaty, was a military alliance formed
in 1955 by the communist countries in response to NATO. The countries
that joined the Pact were: Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania,
East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia – all
the communist countries in Eastern Europe with the exception of
Yugoslavia. The countries that signed the Warsaw Pact pledged
to defend each other if one of the members were attacked.
to see the Warsaw Pact.
Summer of Tanks
free and liberal atmosphere ushered in by Alexander Dubcek horrified
Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union. He warned Dubcek to stop
his “nonsense” and go back to the old Stalinist ways
of governing. The people of Czechoslovakia thought that it was
too late to abandon the reform and go back to the old ways.
July of 1968, the Soviet Union had “evidence” of German
plans of invading Sudetenland, but Dubcek declined Soviet Union’s
offer of sending in the Red Army to protect Czechoslovakia. The
members of Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968.
The reason was stated in the Brezhnev Doctrine, “When forces
that are hostile to socialism and try to turn the development
of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only
a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern
of all socialist countries.” The government ordered the
citizens not to resist, in order to avoid bloodshed. Dubcek and
Ludvik Svobada, the president, were taken to Moscow. The Soviet
Union, after a “free comradely discussion”, announced
that Czechoslovakia would abandon its reform programs.
the fall of Dubcek (who for the next eighteen years worked as
a clerk in a lumberyard in Slovakia), Gustav Husak was appointed
as president. Husak had very conservative policies and was in
close relations with the Soviet Union.
Czechoslovakia people did not intend to have a revolution in 1989,
but one thing led to another, and the Communist government was
overthrown. It all started when the people of Prague wanted to
honor the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the young martyr,
Jan Opletal, a Czech-Jewish student killed by the Nazis during
the German occupation. Masses gathered at Jan’s grave on
November 7, 1989, and the ceremony became an anti-communist demonstration.
The people started to protest on the streets, singing John Lennon’s
(former member of the Beatles) “We Shall Overcome”,
shouting slogans against the Communist government and “Svoboda!”
crowds gathered at Wenceslas Square, and the
government was already mobilized. Squads of policemen were organized
into the “Red Berets”.
students presented flowers to the police, and bared their hands
to show that they didn’t have any weapons. After facing
each other for a few minutes, one squad was ordered to not let
any student escape. They started to beat students, then trampled
over the fallen students. Many were injured, and there was a rumor
that one protester was killed. Some people refer to this event
to as the “Massacre of November 17.”
day, students voted to call a strike. The actor’s union
was the first to openly side with the students. They agreed to
have a strike nine days later – all the people in country
would stand up against the inhumane actions of the police and
government to support human rights. Vaclav Havel was made head
of Civic Forum, a political organization that opposes the dictatorial
regime of the Communist government.
students and people (eventually up to half a million) gathered
at Wenceslas Square over weekend. The atmosphere was filled with
excitement, and almost celebratory. Banners were draped on the
buildings, and groups of students climbed the statue of Saint
Wenceslas. The workers left their factories for the demonstration;
even a newscaster on national TV announced that he was joining
the strike and walked off the set.
November 24, 1989, the Communist government resigned. Husak didn’t
want too much bloodshed. On November 26, negotiations between
Ladislav Adamec, the Prime Minister and Havel released all of
the political prisoners, but Havel refused to postpone the strike
on the 27th. On December 7, 1989, Adamec resigned as Prime Minister.
A communist member, Calfa, who favored reform, replaced Adamec.
Calfa invited the Civic Forum and Public Against Violence to reopen
negotiations with the government. The decisions reached during
the negotiations were: Calfa would be prime minister until spring
of 1990, and Civic Forum and Public Against Violence would dominate
the new government.
December 28, Alexander Dubcek was elected as chairman of the National
Assembly, the votes were 298 to 0. Vaclav Havel was elected president
of Czechoslovakia, and the votes were 323 to 0.
eastern part of Czechoslovakia, differs both culturally and socially
from the western part. The religions are different: Catholicism
is mainly practiced in Slovakia, while Czech leans towards Protestantism.
They spoke different languages and shared different cultures.
Until after World War I, they were never a common state. After
the Communist government was overthrown, Slovakia suffered unemployment
because it wasn’t prepared for the new economy, which was
different from the government - controlled one before the Velvet
the Slovakians felt that Czech representatives dominated politics.
The tension increased in Slovakia when Havel replaced Slovakia’s
very nationalistic Prime Minister Vladmir Mecair with his friend
Carnogursky. When Havel went to Slovakia to give speeches, the
people sometimes pelted him with tomatoes.
with Vladimir Meciar and the Czech politician Vaclav Klaus, an
agreement was reached between the two states: on January 1, 1993,
Czechoslovakia became two states: the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
The split of Czechoslovakia was called the Velvet Divorce. But
it is interesting to note that most people in the Czech Republic
and Slovakia opposed the split.
Havel resigned his presidency rather than signing the Declaration
of Independence of Slovakia.
On January 26, 1993, the Czech Republic elected Vaclav Havel as
the first president of the nation state.
Political Life for more details on Vaclav Havel's Involvement
in the Revolution and his Presidency.