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Last updated : Nov 2009
Czech Republic History
Czech Republic History - TravelPuppy.com
Czechoslovakia gained independence in 1918. Previously, Moravia and Bohemia was under Austrian rule, while Slovakia came under the aegis of Hungary during World War II, Bohemia and Moravia became a German protectorate. After the war, Czechoslovakia was established under the supervision of the occupying Red Army.

By 1948 the Communists had become the dominant political force and took effective control, following elections that year. Soviet-style political and economic systems were put in place and Czechoslovakia became a Soviet ally, joining the Warsaw Pact and COMECON. The Government closely followed Soviet policy in all respects, until the emergence of a new leadership group under Alexander Dubcek in the late 1960s. This became known as the Prague Spring’, the Dubcek governments introduction of liberalising reforms.

Several months later, the Soviets decided that the reforms had gone too far and failing to persuade the Czechoslovaks to desist from their chosen course, sent the tanks into Prague. Dubcek and his cronies were deposed in favour of a hard-line leadership led by Gustav Husak. For the next two decades, Czechoslovakia did not deviated from the Soviet line. That was until the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader and his vision of glasnost and perestroika. The Husak Government aligned itself with East Germany’s Honeker, who was opposed to such reforms.

Four years later, as Eastern Europe was marred by political upheaval and massive demonstrations, the Communists were swept away from office. The main opposition, Civic Forum, became the principal political force in the country and its most celebrated member, playwright Václav Havel, was appointed president. The country set about introducing a pluralistic political system and a market economy. Civic Forum won multi-party elections for a new National Assembly in June of 1990. However, divisions within the winning party quickly emerged.

The decisive split came in January 1991, when right-wing Finance Minister Václav Klaus, the architect and chief engineer of the privatisation programme, left the Civic Forum with his supporters to create the Civic Democratic Party (ODS, Obcanské Demokratická Strana). Klaus then emerged as the most powerful figure within the government.

Meanwhile, there was a growing clamour in Slovakia for greater autonomy and, among a vocal and growing constituency, full independence. Despite the strong opposition of President Havel, who considered that the country could afford a split at that stage, the positions adopted by Czech and Slovak were endorsed by the people at the June 1992 national election. Klaus’ ODS won a majority in the Czech part of the country, just as the main Slovak party – the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by the ex-communist turned nationalist, Vladimir Meciar – won the lion’s share in Slovakia. Dividing the two independent countries was quickly accepted as the only acceptable option and took place formally on 1 January 1993.

Under Klaus’, the Czech Republic pursued a programme of market-oriented reforms and social policies designed to reduce the role of the state. A period of economic growth and rising prosperity for most people followed. After re-election in 1996, the ODS administration fell to popular disillusionment and an economic slowdown in June 1998. The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), under Milos Zeman formed a minority government with the support of Klaus’ ODS. Also in 1998, Václav Havel, the country’s towering political figure was re-elected to a second term as president, despite his chronic ill health.

Against the stacked odds, the Social Democrats not only completed its term, which ended in 2002, but also won the general election in June. Zeman ceded the premiership to Vladimir Spidla, whose new administration no longer had to rely on ODS support. However, Klaus remains a potent political figure after winning the March 2003 presidential vote by a the narrowest of margins. In particular, he is known to be sceptical about the Czech Republic’s entry into the European Union. Along with membership of NATO (of which the Czech Republic is now a member) this had been the priority for Czech governments since the break-up of the Soviet bloc. A formal application for EU membership was lodged in 1996 and in May 2004 the Czech Republic gained membership.