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Czechoslovakia (Československo; from 1990 ) was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992. From 1939 to 1945 the state did not have de facto existence, due to its forced division and partial incorporation into Nazi Germany, but the Czechoslovak government-in-exile nevertheless continued to exist during this time period while Slovakia was independent from the Czech part. On 1 January 1993 Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker.

Basic characteristics

Form of state:

Neighbours: Germanymarker (1945–1990: BRD and DDRmarker), Polandmarker, from 1945 Soviet Unionmarker (1992: Ukrainemarker), Romaniamarker (until 1939), Hungarymarker, Austriamarker

Topography: Generally irregular terrain. Western area is part of north-central European uplands. Eastern region is composed of northern reaches of Carpathian Mountainsmarker and Danube River Basin lands.

Climate: Predominantly continental but varied from the moderate temperatures of Western Europe in the west to more severe weather systems affecting Eastern Europe and the western Soviet Union in the east.

Official names



Czechoslovakia in 1928

Czechoslovakia was founded in October 1918 as one of the successor states of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I and as part of the Treaty of Versailles. It consisted of the present day territories of the Czech Republicmarker, Slovakiamarker and Carpathian Rutheniamarker. Its territory included some of the most industrialized regions of the former Austria-Hungary. It was a multiethnic state. The original ethnic composition of the new state was 51% Czechs, 16% Slovaks, 22% Germans, 5% Hungarians and 4% Rusyns or Ruthenians. Many of the Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians and Poles and also some Slovaks, felt disadvantaged in Czechoslovakia, because the political elite of the country introduced a centralized state and most of the time did not allow political autonomy for the ethnic groups. This policy, combined with increasing Nazi propaganda especially in the industrialized German speaking Sudetenland, led to increasing unrest among the non-Czech population.

The official ideology about constituent nations of the new state at the time was that there are no Czechs and Slovaks, but only one nation: Czechoslovaks (see Czechoslovakism). But not all people agreed with this ideology (especially Slovaks) and once a unified Czechoslovakia was restored after WWII (after the division of the country during WWII) this idea was left behind and Czechoslovakia was a country of two nations - the Czechs and the Slovaks.

Czechoslovakia 1930: linguistic

Nationalities of Czechoslovakia 1921
total population 13,607.385
Czechoslovaks 8,759.701 64.37 %
Germansmarker 3,123.305 22.95 %
Hungarians 744.621 5.47 %
Ruthenians 461.449 3.39 %
Jews 180.534 1.33 %
Poles 75.852 0.56 %
Others 23.139 0.17 %
Foreigners 238.784 1.75 %

World War II

In the Munich Agreement of 1938, the UKmarker and Francemarker forced Czechoslovakia to cede the German-speaking borderlands to Nazi Germany despite existing treaties, in what is commonly known as part of the Western Betrayal. In 1939 the remainder ("rump") of Czechoslovakia was invaded by Nazi Germany and divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the puppet Slovak State. Much of Slovakia and all of Subcarpathian Rutheniamarker was annexed by Hungary. Poland occupied Zaolzie, an area with a Polish minority (October 1938).

Communist Czechoslovakia

After World War II, prewar Czechoslovakia was re-established, with the exception of Subcarpathian Ruthenia, which was annexed by the Soviet Unionmarker and incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Beneš decrees were promulgated concerning ethnic Germans (see Potsdam Agreement) and ethnic Hungarians. Under these decrees, citizenship was abrogated for people of German and Hungarian ethnic origin who had accepted German or Hungarian citizenship during the occupations. (In 1948 this provision was canceled for the Hungarians, but only partially for the Germans). This was then used to confiscate their property and expel around 90% of the ethnic German population of Czechoslovakia, over 2 million people. Those who remained were collectively accused of supporting the Nazis (after the Munich Agreement, and 97.32% of adult Sudeten Germans voted for the NSDAP in the December 1938 elections). Almost every decree explicitly stated that the sanctions did not apply to antifascists, although the term antifascist was not explicitly defined. Some 250,000 Germans, many married to Czechs, some antifascists, and also those required for the post-war reconstruction of the country, remained in Czechoslovakia. The Beneš Decrees still cause controversy among nationalist groups in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Hungary.

Carpathian Rutheniamarker was occupied by (and in June 1945 formally ceded to) the Soviet Unionmarker. In the 1946 parliamentary election the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia emerged as the winner in the Czech lands and (the Democratic Party won in Slovakia). In February 1948 the Communists seized power. Although they would maintain the fiction of political pluralism through the existence of the National Front, except for a short period in the late 1960s (the Prague Spring) the country was characterised by the absence of liberal democracy. While its economy remained more advanced than those of its neighbours in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia grew increasingly economically weak relative to Western Europe.

In 1968, in response to a brief period of liberalization, five Eastern Bloc countries invaded Czechoslovakia. Soviet Russia rolled tanks into Prague on August 21, 1968. Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev viewed this intervention as vital to the preservation of the Soviet, socialist system and vowed to intervene in any state that sought to replace Marxism-Leninism with capitalism. In 1969, Czechoslovakia was turned into a federation of the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. Under the federation, social and economic inequities between the Czech and Slovak halves of the state were largely eliminated. A number of ministries, such as Education, were formally transferred to the two republics. However, the centralized political control by the Communist Party severely limited the effects of federalization.

The 1970s saw the rise of the dissident movement in Czechoslovakia, represented (among others) by Václav Havel. The movement sought greater political participation and expression in the face of official disapproval, manifested in limitations on work activities, which went as far as a ban on professional employment, the refusal of higher education for the dissidents' children, police harassment and even prison.

Czechoslovakia was the first democratic communist nation where the leaders were voted and other nations soon followed.

After 1989

In 1989 the country became democratic again through the Velvet Revolution. This occurred at around the same time as the fall of communism in Romaniamarker, Bulgariamarker, Hungarymarker and Polandmarker. Within three years communist rule was extricated from Europe.

Unlike Yugoslavia and the Soviet Unionmarker, the end of communism in this country did not automatically mean the end of the "communist" name: the word "socialist" was removed from the name on March 29, 1990, and replaced by "federal".

In 1992, because of growing nationalist tensions, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved by parliament. Its territory became the Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker, which were formally created on January 1, 1993.

Heads of state and government

Foreign policy

International agreements and membership

After WWII, active participant in Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), Warsaw Pact, United Nations and its specialized agencies; signatory of conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Administrative divisions

  • 1918–1923: different systems in former Austrian territory (Bohemia, Moravia, a small part of Silesia) compared to former Hungarian territory (Slovakiamarker and Ruthenia): three lands (země) (also called district units (obvody)): Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, plus 21 counties (župy) in today's Slovakia and two(?) counties in today's Ruthenia; both lands and counties were divided into districts (okresy).
  • 1923–1927: as above, except that the Slovakian and Ruthenian counties were replaced by six (grand) counties ((veľ)župy) in Slovakia and one (grand) county in Ruthenia, and the numbers and boundaries of the okresy were changed in those two territories.
  • 1928–1938: four lands (Czech: země, Slovak: krajiny): Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia, divided into districts (okresy).
  • Late 1938–March 1939: as above, but Slovakia and Ruthenia gained the status of "autonomous lands".
  • 1945–1948: as in 1928–1938, except that Ruthenia became part of the Soviet Union.
  • 1949–1960: 19 regions (kraje) divided into 270 okresy.
  • 1960–1992: 10 kraje, Praguemarker, and (from 1970) Bratislavamarker (capital of Slovakia); these were divided into 109–114 okresy; the kraje were abolished temporarily in Slovakia in 1969–1970 and for many purposes from 1991 in Czechoslovakia; in addition, the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic were established in 1969 (without the word Socialist from 1990).

Population and ethnic groups


After WWII, a political monopoly was held by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC). Gustáv Husák was elected first secretary of the KSC in 1969 (changed to general secretary in 1971) and president of Czechoslovakia in 1975. Other parties and organizations existed but functioned in subordinate roles to the KSC. All political parties, as well as numerous mass organizations, were grouped under umbrella of the National Front. Human rights activists and religious activists were severely repressed.

Constitutional development

Czechoslovakia had the following constitutions during its history (1918–1992):


After WWII, the economy was centrally planned, with command links controlled by the communist party, similarly to the Soviet Unionmarker. The large metallurgical industry was dependent on imports of iron and non-ferrous ores.

  • Industry: Extractive and manufacturing industries dominated this sector. Major branches included machinery, chemicals, food processing, metallurgy, and textiles. Industry was wasteful of energy, materials, and labor and slow to upgrade technology, but the country was a source of high-quality machinery, aircraft, aero engines and instruments, electronics and arms for other communist countries.
  • Agriculture: Minor sector but supplied the bulk of the country's food needs, due to collectivised farms of large acreage and relatively effective modes of operation. Dependent on imports of grains (mainly for livestock feed) in years of adverse weather. Meat production constrained by shortage of feed, but high per capita consumption of meat.
  • Foreign Trade: Exports estimated at US$17.8 billion in 1985, of which 55% machinery, 14% fuels and materials, 16% manufactured consumer goods. Imports at estimated US$17.9 billion in 1985, of which 41% fuels and materials, 33% machinery, 12% agricultural and forestry products other. In 1986, about 80% of foreign trade with communist countries.
  • Exchange Rate: Official, or commercial, rate Crowns (Kcs) 5.4 per US$1 in 1987; tourist, or noncommercial, rate Kcs 10.5 per US$1. Neither rate reflected purchasing power. The exchange rate on the black market was around Kcs 30 per US$1, and this rate became the official one once the currency became convertible in the early 1990s.
  • Fiscal Year: Calendar year.
  • Fiscal Policy: State almost exclusive owner of means of production. Revenues from state enterprises primary source of revenues followed by turnover tax. Large budget expenditures on social programs, subsidies, and investments. Budget usually balanced or small surplus.

Resource base

After WWII, the country was short of energy, relying on imported crude oil and natural gas from Soviet Union, domestic brown coal, and nuclear and hydroelectric energy. Energy constraints a major factor in 1980s.

Transportation and communications

Society and social groups


Education free at all levels and compulsory from age six to fifteen. Vast majority of population literate. Highly developed system of apprenticeship training and vocational schools supplemented general secondary schools and institutions of higher education.


In 1991: Roman Catholics 46.4%, Evangelic Lutheran 5.3%, Atheist 29.5%, n/a 16.7%, but there were huge differences between the 2 constituent republics – see Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker

Health, social welfare and housing

After WWII, free health care was available to all citizens. National health planning emphasized preventive medicine; factory and local health care centers supplemented hospitals and other inpatient institutions. There was substantial improvement in rural health care during the 1960s and 1970s.

Mass media

During Communist rule, the mass media in Czechoslovakia were controlled by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). Private ownership of any publication or agency of the mass media was generally forbidden, although churches and other organizations published small periodicals and newspapers. Even with this information monopoly in the hands of organizations under KSČ control, all publications were reviewed by the government's Office for Press and Information.


The Czechoslovakia national football team was a consistent performer on the international scene, with 8 appearances in the FIFA World Cup Finals, finishing in second place in 1934 and 1962. The team also won the European Football Championship in 1976, came in third in 1980 and won the Olympic gold 1980.

The Czechoslovak national ice hockey team won many medals from the world championships and Olympic Games. Peter Šťastný, Jaromír Jágr, Peter Bondra, Marián Gáborík, and Pavol Demitra all come from Czechoslovakia.

Emil Zátopek, winner of four Olympic gold medals in athletics, is considered one of the top athletes in history.

Věra Čáslavská was an Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics, winning seven gold medals and four silver medals, and represented Czechoslovakia in three consecutive Olympics.

The famous tennis players Ivan Lendl, Miloslav Mečíř, Daniela Hantuchová and Martina Navrátilová were born in Czechoslovakia.


Postage stamps

Timeline: From creation to dissolution

See also




  1. "The War of the World", Niall Ferguson Allen Lane 2006.
  2. Playing the blame game, Prague Post, July 6th, 2005
  3. Škorpila F. B.; Zeměpisný atlas pro měšťanské školy; Státní Nakladatelství; second edition; 1930; Czechoslovakia
  4. East European Constitutional Review
  5. "Russia Invades Czechoslovakia: 1968 Year in Review,"
  6. John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (New York: The Penguin Press),150.

External links

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