What happened to Czechoslovakia?
The middle-European country formerly known as Czechoslovakia was created from the northern part of the collapsed Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the end of the First World War. The then new state incorporated the Czechs of Bohemia-Moravia in the western part, with the Slovaks from the east.
Tomas Masaryk was the republic’s new President, and a certain Benes the foreign minister. The League of Nations existed then, and Masaryk was loyal to this ill-assorted group hastily thrown together after the holocaust of the World War, in which millions died hopelessly and uselessly. Alliances were made with Yugoslavia and Roumania in 1921, followed by a pact with France in 1924, and with the Soviet Union in 1935. These associations proved to give a certain notion of stability, but thinking Czechs were uncertain and suspicious, as indeed they should have been.
The danger for Czechoslovakia lay within the national minorities, principally German and Hungarian, who lived and worked within her borders. In 1938, finding himself deserted by his ‘allies’, President Benes accepted the terms forced upon him by Adolf Hitler in what became known as The Munich Pact. This deprived the state of the Sudetenland, plus nearly 5 million inhabitants. It was all in vain, however, because in 1939 the Werhmacht occupied Czechoslovakia. Benes however escaped and set up a provisional government in London. Hitler’s invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia were found to be good enough reasons for starting the Second World War.
After the War there was a period of restored independence (1945 – 1948), again under Benes; but the Communist Party under Gottwald, powerfully backed by the Soviet Union gained control of the government, and Czechoslovakia was made a satellite of the USSR.
In 1968 ‘the Prague Spring’, a kind of peaceful attempt at revolution, took place, led by Dubcek. The revolutionaries were liberal communist reformers who wished for a renewed form of independence. The movement failed as the country was famously invaded by tanks from Warsaw Pact countries, and the usual brutal oppression took place. Unarmed students tried to put fresh flowers into the gun barrels of the USSR’s soldiers, and most were shot for their pains.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s opposition to totalitarianism was initiated by the ‘Charter 77’ movement. A series of peaceful demos was organised by students and their teachers, and the ‘Civic Forum’ movement culimated in November, 1989 when workers joined with the students and forced a nation-wide strike. President Husák resigned and the Communist Party at last lost power. This was the long-awaited moment for Václav Havel (journalist and novelist). He was elected as President of the New Elected Assembly. Czech and Slovak National Councils formed, carrying equal legislative powers. The transition to a market economy was gradual, but effective, but in 1992 came the big split – the Slovaks under their Premier Vladimir Meciar voted in a referendum for national independence and a more centrally controlled economy. Thus, in January, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia came into existence.
The Czech Republic
The newly formed state is landlocked. It comprises the former kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia. Its borders lie to the west with Germany, to the south with Austria, to the east with Slovakia, and to the north and east by Silesian Poland. The river Oder flows northwards towards the Baltic. Agriculture flourishes especially around Moldau-Elba river systems emptying into the Bohemian Basin; the soil is rich and alluvial. The Bohemian highlands form a large basin encircled by high mountain ranges, reaching 1,602 metres at one point. The country enjoys an abundance of mineral springs, and the climate is moderate.
Slovakia was invited to join the United Nations in 1993; the Republic applied for full membership of the EU in 1996, later achieving this status. In 1997 the country was formally invited to join NATO, and did so.
The capital of the Czech Republic is one of the most beautiful and ordered in Europe – Prague – sometimes referred to as the ‘Paris’ of central Europe. The country’s population approaches 11 million. Her currency is the Koruna (Crown). 39.3% of her population are Catholics, while 39.7% are non-religious. Her official languages are Czech and Slovak, but her Roumanian and Hungarian citizens continue their studies in their own languages, and no-one forces them not to do so.
The country covers an area of 49,035 sq. km. and is surrounded by Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, Hungary to the south, and Austria and the Czech Republic to the west. The country is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains, which reach a height of 2,655 metres at the Gerlach Shield, in the High Tatras. Extensive grazing lands lie in the south-eastern lowlands, and about one third of the country is cultivated. Two fifths are covered in forest. The River Danube briefly forms the border between Slovakia and Hungary as it flows towards Bratislava before continuing to the Black Sea.
Since independence and the national split with the Czech Republic, Slovakia’s industry has had an urgent need for modernisation, but is partially thwarted by the need to import energy. Possibilities for the use of hydroelectic power are gradually becoming realistic. Her main exports are cars and trucks, glass, armaments, footwear (shoes and boots) and textiles. The International Monetary Fund has made resources available to help stabilize the transition from a communist to a market economy. Slovakia’s mineral resources are huge, including iron ore, copper, magnesite, lead, zinc and lignite. Mineral springs abound, as they do in all parts of Central Europe. Slovakia is a full member of the European Union.
The country’s capital is Bratislava, and she shares the Koruna with the Czech Republic as currency. 63.8% of the population are Catholics, while 26.7% are non-religious. Only 7.9% are Protestant. 86% of the people speak Slovak, the offical language, while Hungarian is spoken by 10.9%.