Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles

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ABOUT THE CZECH REPUBLIC

History

Some facts from the Czech history

Czechoslovakia's independence was established in 1918. Previously, Moravia and Bohemia had been under Austrian rule and Slovakia came under the aegis of Hungary. During World War II Bohemia and Moravia together became a German protectorate. After the war, a reconstituted Czechoslovakia was established under the supervision of the occupying Red Army. By 1948, as planned, the Communists had become the dominant political force in the country and took effective control following elections that year. Soviet-style political and economic systems were put in place; Czechoslovakia became a firm Soviet ally, joining the Warsaw Pact and COMECON. The Government adhered closely to Soviet policy in all respects until the emergence in the late 1960s of a new leadership group under Alexander Dubcek. In what became known as the 'Prague Spring', the Dubcek governments introduced a series of liberalising reforms. After several months, the Soviets decided that the reforms had gone too far and, after failing to persuade the Czechoslovaks to desist from their chosen course, sent the tanks in. Dubcek and his allies were deposed in favour of a hard-line leadership led by Gustav Husak. For the next two decades, Czechoslovakia barely deviated from the Soviet line. That was until the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader and his promotion of glasnost and perestroika. The Husak Government aligned itself with those, such as East Germany's Honecker, who were opposed to such reforms. But 4 years later, as Eastern Europe was engulfed by political upheaval and massive demonstrations, the Communists were swept from office. The main opposition movement, Civic Forum, became the principal political force in the country; its most celebrated member, playwright Václav Havel, was appointed President as the country set about introducing a pluralistic political system and market economy. Multi-party elections for a new National Assembly in June 1990 were won by Civic Forum. However, divisions within the victorious party quickly emerged.

The decisive split occurred in January 1991 when the right-wing federal Finance Minister Václav Klaus, the architect and chief engineer of the privatisation programme, left the Forum with his supporters to create the Civic Democratic Party ( Obcanské Demokratická Strana, ODS). Klaus emerged as the most powerful figure within the federal government. Meanwhile, there was a growing clamour in Slovakia, the eastern part of the country, for greater autonomy and, among a vocal and growing constituency, full independence. Despite the firm opposition of President Havel, who considered that the country could ill afford a split at that stage, the positions adopted by Czech and Slovak nationalists were endorsed by the people at the June 1992 national election. Klaus' ODS won a substantial majority in the Czech part of the country, just as the main Slovak party - the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by an ex-communist turned nationalist, Vladimir Meciar - won the lion's share in Slovakia. Division into two independent countries was quickly accepted thereafter as the only mutually acceptable option and took place formally on January 1 1993.

Under Klaus' premiership, the Czech Republic pursued a comprehensive 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 of the population followed. After re-election in 1996, the ODS administration eventually fell to popular disillusionment and an economic slowdown in June 1998. The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) under Miloš Zeman now leads a minority government with, improbably enough, the support of Klaus' ODS. Also in 1998, Václav Havel, the country's towering political figure, was comfortably re-elected to a second term as president although ill-health may force him to truncate it in due course. Not surprisingly, the deal between the two major parties brought a change of emphasis and pace rather than of fundamentals. In 2000, the accord was formalised to maintain the Zeman government in office until 2002. At that time, if current indications are correct, it will be replaced by the 'Coalition of Four', a centre-left bloc which performed particularly well in the latest senatorial poll in November 2000.

Abroad, the government's priority remains securing membership of the EU - an application which was lodged in January 1996 - to go with the Czech Republic's recently acquired membership of NATO. Despite its eager pursuit of close relations with Western Europe, Prague remains concerned to maintain good relations with its former Warsaw Pact partners and has signed a friendship and co-operation treaty with Russia. The Czech Republic has also joined Hungary and Poland in the Visegrad group which aims to promote regional economic and security co-operation.