History of Czechoslovakia

Table of contents
1 Historical settings to 1918
2 The early years (1918-1938) [The First Republic]
3 Before WWII (1938 – 1939)
4 World War II, 1939-45
5 The Third Republic (1945 - 1948) and the Communist Takeover (1948)
6 Communist Era I (1948- 1968)
7 Communist Era II (1969 – 1987)
8 The End of the Communist Era (1987-1989) and Democratic Czechoslovakia (1989/1990-1992)

Historical settings to 1918

Main Article: Czechoslovakia: Historical settings to 1918

The creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 was the culmination of the long struggle of the Czechs against their Austrian rulers and of the Slovaks against Hungarisation and their Hungarian rulers. Although the Czechs and Slovaks have similar languages, they have a different mentality a different historical experiences. At the end of the 19th century, the situation of the Czechs and Slovaks was very different, due to the different stages of development of their overlords – the Austrians in Bohemia and the Hungarians in Slovakia – within Austria-Hungary. The only common feature was the fact that Bohemia was the most industrialized part of Austria and Slovakia that of Hungary – however at a different level:At the turn of the 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.

During World War I, in 1916, together with Eduard Benes and Milan Stefanik (a Slovak astronomer and war hero), Masaryk created the Czechoslovak National Council. Masaryk in the United States, Stefanik in France, and Benes in France and Britain worked tirelessly to gain Allied recognition. 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 as the supreme organ of a future Czechoslovak government.

The early years (1918-1938) [The First Republic]

Main article: Czechoslovakia: 1918 - 1938

The independence of Czechoslovakia was officially proclaimed in Prague on October 28, 1918. The Slovaks officially joined the state 2 days later in the town of Martin. A temporary constitution was adopted and 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).

The new state was characterized by problems due to 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.

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 states. The Czech lands were far more industrialized than Slovakia.Most light and heavy industry was located in the Sudetenland and was owned by Germans and controlled by German-owned banks. The very backward Subcarpathian Ruthenia was essentially without industry.

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 stability. Largely responsible for this were the well-organized political parties that emerged as the real centers of power.

In 1935 Benes succeeded Masaryk as president.

Before WWII (1938 – 1939)

Main article: Czechoslovakia: 1938 - 1939

Hitler's rise in 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 Anchluss, 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. 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 Sudeten territory to Germany. Benes had resigned as president of the Czechoslovak Republic on October 5, 1938, fled to London and was succeeded by Emil Hacha. In early November 1938, under the Vienna Arbitration, which was a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia) was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (1/3 of Slovak territory) to Hungary, and Poland obtained small territorial cessions shortly thereafter

The Czechs in the greatly weakened Czechoslovak Republic were forced to grant major concessions to the non-Czechs. The executive committee of the Slovak Popular Party met at Zilina 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 - Czechia (i.e. Bohemia and Moravia), Slovakia, and Ruthenia.

On March 14, 1939, Slovakia gained nominal independence as a satellite state under Jozef Tiso. One day later, Hitler forced Hacha to surrender remaining Czechia to German control and made it into the German protectorate "Bohemia and Moravia". On the same day (March 15), the Carpatho-Ukraine (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).

World War II, 1939-45

Main articles: Benes 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. In the summer of 1941, the Allies recognized the exiled government. Czechoslovak military units fought alongside the Allied forces.In December 1943, Benes's government concluded a treaty with the Soviets. Benes 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.

On May 8, 1944, Benes 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 on, Czechoslovakia was liberated mostly 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 from the west. Except for the brutalities of the German occupation in Bohemia and Moravia (after the August 1944 Slovak National Uprising 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. (The Soviet troops, however, came back in 1968 (see Prague Spring) and were withdrawn only in the early 1990s).

A treaty ceding Carpatho-Ukraine to the Soviet Union was signed in June 1945 between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The Potsdam Agreement provided for the expuslsion of Sudeten Germans in 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 expulsion of about three million ethnic Germans (including even swiss citizens) and several hundred thousends of ethnic Hungarians was a brutal form of ethnic cleansing, that killed more ethnic Germans than ethnic Czecs both by the second World War and by the Nazis during the time of Nazi Occupation of Czechoslovakia.

The Third Republic (1945 - 1948) and the Communist Takeover (1948)

Main article: Czechoslovakia: 1945 - 1948

The so-called Third Republic came into being in April 1945. Its government, installed at Kosice on April 4 and moved to Prague in May, was a so-called National Front coalition in which three socialist parties--KSC, Czechoslovak Social democratic Party, and Czechoslovak National Socialist Party--predominated. Certain acceptable nonsocialist parties were included in the coalition; among them were the Catholic People's Party (in Moravia) and the Slovak Democratic Party.

The popular enthusiasm evoked by the Soviet armies of liberation benefited the KSC. Czechoslovaks, bitterly disappointed by the West at Munich (1938), responded favorably to both the KSC and the Soviet alliance. Communists secured strong representation in the popularly elected national committees, the new organs of local administration. In the May 1946 election, the KSC won in the Czech part of the country (40,17%), and the anti-Communist Democratic Party won in Slovakia (62%). In sum, however, the KSC won a plurality of 38 percent of the vote at countrywide level. Benes continued as president of the republic,. The Communist leader 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 KSC demonstrated a significant radicalization of its tactics. On February 20, the twelve noncommunist ministers resigned, in part, to induce Benes to call for early elections: Benes refused to accept the cabinet resignations and did not call for elections. In the meantime, the KSC garnered its forces. The communist-controlled Ministry of Interior deployed police regiments to sensitive areas and equipped a workers' militia. On February 25, Benes, perhaps fearing Soviet intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the dissident ministers and received a new cabinet list from Gottwald, thus completing the communist takeover.

Communist Era I (1948- 1968)

Main article: Czechoslovakia: 1948 - 1968, see also: Economic History of Communist Czechoslovakia

In February 1948, when the Communists definitively took power, Czechoslovakia was declared a "people's democracy"(till 1960)--a preliminary step toward socialism and, ultimately, communism. Bureaucratic centralism under the direction of KSC leadership was introduced. Dissident elements were purged from all levels of society, including the 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 the elimination of private ownership. Czechoslovakia became a satellite 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 "socialism" became the government's avowed policy. Slovak autonomy was constrained; the KSS (Communist Party of Slovakia )was reunited with the KSC (Comunist 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.

Benes refused to sign the Communist Constitution of 1948 and resigned from the presidency; he was succeeded by Gottwald. Gottwald died in 1953. He was succeeded by Antonin Zapotocky as president and by Antonin Novotny as head of the KSC. Novotny became president in 1957 when Zapotocky 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 1960 Constitution declared the victory of "socialism" and proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

De-Stalinization had a late start in Czechoslovakia.In the early 1960s, the Czechoslovak economy became severely stagnated. 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 KSC "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 KSC was reaffirmed but limited. Slovaks pressed for federalization.. On January 5, 1968, the Central Committee elected Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak reformer, to replace Novotny as first secretary of the KSC. On March 22, 1968, Novotny resigned from the presidency and was succeeded by General Ludvik Svoboda.

Dubcek carried the reform movement a step further in the direction of liberalism. After Novotny's fall, censorship was lifted. The media--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 (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 Dubcek counseled moderation and reemphasized KSC leadership.

KSC conservatives had misinformed Moscow regarding the strength of the reform movement. As a result, the troops of Warsaw Pact countries (except Rumania) invaded Czechoslovakia during the night of August 20-21. Two-thirds of the KSC 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. Dubcek, 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 KSC, strict party control of the media, and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.

On January 19, 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968.

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 Slovak economy has continued to grow at a higher spead then the Czech one till today (2003).

Communist Era II (1969 – 1987)

Main article: Czechoslovakia: 1969 - 1987, see also: Economic History of Communist Czechoslovakia

Dubcek remained in office only until April 1969. Gustav Husak (a centrist, and interestingly one of the Slovak "bourgeois nationalists" imprisoned by his own KSC in the1950s) 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.

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 Husak added the position of president to his post as party chief. The Husak regime required conformity and obedience in all aspects of life.Husak 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 Husak'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; 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, opposition to the government, 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 (1987-1989) and Democratic Czechoslovakia (1989/1990-1992)

Main article: Czechoslovakia: 1987 - 1992

Although in March 1987 Husak nominally committed Czechoslovakia to follow the program of Gorbatchev’s perestroika, it did not happen much in reality. On December 17, 1987, Husak, who was one month away from his seventieth birthday, had resigned as head of the KSC. He retained, however, his post of president of Czechoslovakia and his full membership on the Presidium of the KSC. Milos Jakes, who replaced Husak as first secretary of the KSC, 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. It was an unauthorized peaceful gathering of some 2, 000 (other sources 10, 000) Catholics . Demonstrations also occured on October 28 1988 (the anniversary of the 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 (Soviet intervention in 1968) 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. See Velvet Revolution.

Following the Velvet revolution, Czechoslovakia's parliament (the Federal Assembly) on November 25, 1992 voted to split the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia starting on January 1, 1993.


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