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Czech History

The earliest historic evidence of ethnic groups who settled in the Czech basin at the beginning of 4th century B.C. were the Celtic Boii tribes according to whom the territory gained its name Boiohaemum (Home of the Boii), Bohemia in Latin. At the turn of the century the Celts were forced out by Germanic tribes. As of 6th century various Slavonic tribes settled here, who in the 7th century joined forces in the face of Avar expansion (so-called Samo's realm). After 820 the first proven state, the Great Moravian Empire, which is connected with the conversion to Christianity in the region, was established on the territory of the present Republic. Following its decline at the beginning of 10th century the mainstay of the people who created a state moved west to Bohemia.

The Premyslide dynasty finally succeeded in uniting the state. The borders of the main historic countries (Bohemia and Moravia) have essentially not changed since the Middle Ages, the other territories of the Czech state always existed only temporarily. As of 1526 the land of the Czech Crown formed a part of the Habsburg monarchy. But at all times there were efforts to maintain independence.

After the disintegration of the monarchy the historic Czech lands were united with parts of the Hungarian kingdom (Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia) to form Czechoslovakia as one of the states of the post Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1938 neighbouring Germany claimed as its own part of the territory of the Republic (the Sudeten Land). As of March 1939 the rest of the Czech Lands were occupied by the Germans (the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) whereas Slovakia was declared an independent state.

In 1945 Czechoslovakia regained its status (without Carpathian Ruthenia) and simultaneously the three-million German minority was forcibly transferred. After the coup in 1948 the Communist Party took over the government and introduced a totalitarian regime in the country. The sixties saw developments leading to a slight relaxation of totalitarian rule, which however was cut short in August 1968 by a military intervention on the part of the Soviet Union and member countries of the Warsaw Pact.

The fall of the Communist regime in November 1989 facilitated a renewal of a pluralistic democracy. In subsequent years the Soviet occupation units were withdrawn (1990-91) and many reforms within the state were enacted. At the beginning of the nineties leaders of both Federal republics engaged in a mutual dialogue whose outcome was an agreement to divide the common state into two independent states. The Czech Republic came into being on January 1, 1993 following the division of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (CSFR).

The Czech Republic joined NATO (1999) and on May 1, 2004 it became a full member of the European Union.

Following the First World War, the closely related Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia. During the interwar years, the new country's leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Sudeten Germans and the Ruthenians (Ukrainians).

After World War II, a truncated Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize Communist party rule and create "socialism with a human face." Anti-Soviet demonstrations the following year ushered in a period of harsh repression.

With the collapse of Soviet authority in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through a peaceful "Velvet Revolution." On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

The Bohemian or Czech state emerged in the late 9th century, when it was unified by the Premyslid dynasty. The kingdom of Bohemia with capital Prague was a significant regional power during the Middle Ages. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire during the entire existence of that confederation.

The 13th century was a period of large-scale German immigration. The Germans populated towns and mining districts on the Bohemian periphery and, in some cases, formed German colonies in the interior of the Czech lands. The 14th century, particularly the reign of Charles IV (1342-1378), is considered the Golden Age of Czech history. Of particular significance was the founding of Charles University in Prague in 1348. Prague also grew into one of the largest cities in Europe. The Black Death, which had raged in Europe from 1347 to 1352, decimated the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1380.

In the 15th century the religious and social reformer Jan Hus formed a movement, later named after him. Although Hus was named a heretic and burnt in Constanz in 1415, his followers seceded from the Catholic Church and in the Hussite Wars (1419-1434) defeated five crusades organized against them by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Petr Chelcick continued with Czech Hussite Reformation movement. During the next two centuries, 90% of the inhabitants converted to the Hussite form of Protestantism.

After 1526 Bohemia came increasingly under Habsburg control as the Habsburgs became first the elected and then the hereditary rulers of Bohemia.The Czechs lost their national independence to the Habsburgs Empire in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain and for the next 300 years were ruled by the Austrian Monarchy. The Habsburgs banned all religions other than Catholicism. The people were given the choice either to convert to Catholicism or leave the country.

Czechs call the period from 1620 to the late 18th century, the "Dark Age". The population of the Czech lands declined by a third due to war, disease, famine and the expulsion ofthe Protestant Czechs.

At the close of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and much of Bohemia, including Prague. In May 1945, U.S. forces liberated the city of Plzen and most of western Bohemia. Acivilian uprising against the German garrison took place in Prague in May 1945. Following Germany's surrender, some 2.9 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia with Allied approval under the president Benes Decrees.

Reunited after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks set national elections for the spring of 1946. The democratic elements, led by President Eduard Benes, hoped the Soviet Union would allow Czechoslovakia the freedom to choose its own form of government and aspired to a Czechoslovakia that would act as a bridge between East and West. The Czechoslovak Communist Party, which won 38% ofthe vote, held most of the key positions in the government and gradually managed to neutralize or silence the anti-communist forces. Although the communist-led government initially intended to participate in the Marshall Plan, it was forced by Moscow to back out.

Under the cover of superficial legality, the Communist Party seized power in February 1948. For the next 41 years, Czechoslovakia was a Communist state within the Eastern Bloc. This period was marked by a variety of social developments. The Communist government completely nationalized the means of production and established a command economy. The economy grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, but slowed down in the 1970s, with increasing problems during the 1980s. The political climate was highly repressive during the 1950s, including numerous show trials, but became more open and tolerant in the 1960s, culminating in Alexander Dubcek's leadership in the 1968 Prague Spring, which tried to create "socialism with a human face" and set guidelines for a modern, humanistic socialist democracy that would guarantee, among other things, freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, andtravel.

This was forcibly ended by the 21 August 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion. On the night of August 20, 1968,Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, and Polish troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia.The Czechoslovak Government immediately declared that the troops had not been invited into thecountry and that their invasion was a violation of socialist principles, international law, and the UNCharter.The invasion was followed by a harsh program of "Normalization" in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

Until 1989, the political establishment relied on censorship of the opposition, though using more "carrot" than "whip" to secure the populace's passivity. Dissidents published Charter 77 in 1977 and the first of a newwave of protests were seen in 1988. Between 1948 and 1989 more than 250,000 Czechs and Slovakswere sent to prison for "anti-state activities", and over 400,000 emigrated.

The Velvet Revolution, 1989 In November 1989, Czechoslovakia returned to a liberal democracy through the peaceful "Velvet Revolution". On November 17, 1989, the communist police violently broke up a peaceful pro-democracydemonstration and brutally beat many student participants. In the days that followed, Charter 77 andother groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel.

Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party all but collapsed. Its leaders, Husak and party chief Milos Jakes, resigned in December 1989, and Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia on December 29. A coalition government, in which the Communist Party had a minority of ministerial positions, was formed in December 1989. The first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1946 took place in June 1990 without incident and with more than 95% of the population voting. As anticipated, Civic Forum won and gained a comfortable majority in the federal parliament. The parliament undertook substantial steps toward securing the democratic evolution of Czechoslovakia. It successfully moved toward fair local elections in November 1990, ensuring fundamental change at the county and town level.

Czechoslovakia split, 1993

By 1992, Slovak calls for greater autonomy effectively blocked the daily functioning of the federal government. On January 1, 1993, the country peacefully split into the independent Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both states attained immediate recognition from the U.S. and their European neighbors. Both countries went through economic reforms and privatizations, with the intention of creating a capitalist economy.

From 1991, the Czech Republic, originally as part of Czechoslovakia and now in its own right, has been amember of the Visegrád Group and from 1995, the OECD. The Czech Republic was accepted as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization March 12, 1999. The Czech Republic is now a formal member of NATO and the United Nations, and its units have participated in missions to Iraq, Croatia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and many other countries. An affiliation agreement between the Czech Republic and the European Community was concluded October 4, 1993. This took effect February 1, 1995. The process of convergence with the European Community culminated with the Czech Republic becoming a member of the European Union, along with nine other states, May 1, 2004 and held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from January 1 to June 30, 2009.

Currently, the Czech Republic is a fully democratic country with a stable political culture and growing economic power. The positive results of economic transformation and democratic administration are easily apparent: The increasing living standards of inhabitants are noticeable and are approaching the levels of some standards of the European Union.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:50:00 ZULU