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Czech Republic Modern History

After World War II, the Communists took over power in Czechoslovakia and the country ended up in Moscow's sphere of interest. When Czechoslovakia began to loosen up the hard rule in 1968, the Warsaw Pact entered the country with troops. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the communist regime was overthrown via the peaceful so-called velvet revolution. Four years later, Czechoslovakia was divided into two countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. After that the power switched between the bourgeois ODS and the Social Democratic Party ČSSD, which usually had to rule together with several smaller parties.

After the liberation from the Germans in 1945, Edvard Beneš again became president of the restored Czechoslovakia. The former borders were restored, with the exception of the Carpathian Ruti annexed by the Soviet Union. Slovakia gained self-government with its own parliament.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Czech Republic. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Most Sudanese were expelled to Germany, and through some provisional laws - the Benešec Decree - their properties were confiscated. Between 15,000 and 30,000 Germans died during the expulsion. Thousands of Hungarians were forced to leave Slovakia.

The Communists take power

In the 1946 parliamentary elections, the Communists became the largest party and its leader Klement Gottwald was appointed to lead a unifying government. A series of radical reforms were implemented; among other things, all major industrial companies were nationalized. The Communists soon strengthened their position, not least through the control of the security service. When the bourgeois parties in protest left the government in 1948, the Communists strengthened their grip on power in Prague. A new constitution was adopted and other parties were banned in practice. Gottwald took over as President and Czechoslovakia was included in the Moscow-dominated Eastern European cooperation. In Slovakia, the Communists under Gustáv Husák had already taken power the year before.

Contemporary History of Czech RepublicThe late 1940s and early 1950s were marked by terror and purges.

The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion

At the beginning of 1968, the Slovak Communist leader Alexander Dubček became party chairman. Dubček represented a reform-friendly group within the party that wanted to introduce freedom of expression and relax the planning economy. The intention was to create "a socialism with a human face". Democratization during the Prague Spring was followed with concern by Moscow leaders. The Soviet Union tried to persuade the leadership of Prague to repeal the reform policy. When this failed, Czechoslovakia was invaded by Warsaw Pact troops (Soviet, Polish, East German, Bulgarian and Hungarian forces) on the night of August 21, 1968, triggering protests from the West.

Extensive purges were made within the Communist Party. Dubček's supporters were dismissed from their posts and virtually all reforms were repealed. Half a million of more than 1.6 million members were excluded or left the Communist Party. About 150,000 Czechoslovakians, many of them well-educated, fled abroad.

Husák took over as party leader in April 1969. His position was strengthened in 1975 when he was also elected president. In 1977, a manifesto, Charter 77, was published, in which 242 regime critics protested against political repression and violations of human rights. Many of the signatories were sentenced to prison or deportation. However, Charter 77 continued with its regime-critical activities and gained new followers, not least among intellectuals.

velvet Revolution

Mikhail Gorbachev's reform policy in the Soviet Union during the second half of the 1980s opened the way for reformers. Just over a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, 50,000 people demonstrated in Prague. When police forcibly tried to disperse the protesters, more than 500 people were injured, leading to more protests around the country. Everything happened now quickly and without violence, and without the regime really having anything to oppose. Its legitimacy had been undermined in the autumn by events in East Germany, Hungary and Poland and by Gorbachev's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968. On December 10, 1989, Husák resigned. His last step as president was to install a new government where the Communists were in the minority.

Havel is elected president, multi-party is held

The driving force during the velvet revolution was the Citizens' Forum, that is, the opposition that Václav Havel gathered around him. Havel was elected President in December 1989. Dubček had previously been elected President of Parliament. Democratic freedoms and rights were introduced, the victims of the dictatorship were restored, the church was freed, the borders were opened and the economy was liberalized. A number of parties were formed or resurrected.

In June 1990, the first multi-party was held since 1946. At that time 97 percent of the voters participated. Citizens' Forum received over half of the Czech vote, while its Slovak counterpart The Public Violence (VPN) received 35 percent in Slovakia. The two movements formed a federal government together with the Slovak Christian Democrats. Havel is re-elected president.

Soon, most of the Citizens 'Forum was transformed into the right-wing Democratic Citizens' Party (ODS), with Finance Minister Václav Klaus as leader. Two small liberal parties emerged from the movement, and some members joined the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) which resurfaced. In Slovakia, VPNs split when Slovak nationalists gathered in the new Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

Czechoslovakia is bursting

In the 1992 elections, ODS received the most votes in the Czech Republic, while HZDS won in the Slovakian part of the country. The victors' perceptions of how the country should be governed went very far apart. While the Czechs demanded a swift transition to a market economy in a cohesive, centrally governed state, the Slovaks ordered continued state subsidies in a confederation of two basically independent states. The contradictions led Parliament to decide to divide the country. This happened despite opinion polls showing that a majority of the population wanted to keep the federation.

On January 1, 1993, two new states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, saw the light of day. The breakdown was surprisingly painless. A right-wing coalition government led by Václav Klaus took office in the Czech Republic and Havel was again elected president.

For starters, the economy grew and the state had budget surpluses. But soon there was dissatisfaction with corruption and shortcomings in education and healthcare. The privatization policy meant that a large part of the former state assets ended up in the hands of a small group of business people who often have good relations with high-ranking politicians.

In the 1996 parliamentary elections, the government coalition lost its majority, but the ODS could still form a new bourgeois government.

Banking crisis, currency crisis, austerity and a corruption scandal in the ODS contributed to Klaus being forced to resign in 1997. The 1998 elections were won by the Social Democrats, who formed a minority government led by Miloš Zeman. The Social Democrats also became the biggest in the 2002 elections and were able to form a government with a new party leader, Vladimír Špidla, as prime minister.

When Havel's term of office expired in 2003, Parliament had failed to agree on a successor. Only after three attempts was the ODS leader Václav Klaus elected as new president by a small margin.

The Czech Republic joins the EU

In a referendum on EU membership in June 2003, just over 77 percent voted yes. Before the accession, the government was forced to tighten the economy and reform the judiciary to meet EU demands. In May 2004, the Czech Republic became one of ten new EU states.

A few months later, Špidla resigned and his party mate Stanislav Gross took over, but he was forced to resign in the spring of 2005 after a revelation about a foam apartment in the Gross family. Three parties then formed government with Social Democrat Jirí Paroubek as prime minister.

Before the June 2006 parliamentary elections, both ODS and ČSSD promised to lower taxes. The Social Democrats portrayed themselves as a defender of social welfare, while the ODS promises were mainly about making it easier for companies to hire and fire staff.

ODS won the election and its leader Mirek Topolánek was commissioned to form a government. It became a complicated story, as an equilibrium situation arose in Parliament. The ODS, the KDU-ČSL and the Green Party had as many mandates, 100, as the ČSSD and the Communists together.

Only in January 2007 did Topolánek succeed in getting a tripartite government. With a marginal margin, it received a gradual reduction in corporate and income taxes, while child allowance and compensation for sick and long-term unemployed were lowered and food VAT increased.

In February 2008, Klaus was re-elected as president with a slight margin, but several members said they were exposed to threats and attempted bribes.

Economic and political crisis

The global recession of 2008 hit hard on the country's economy. The government was weak and the ODS split, not least in the view of the EU. Among the skeptics of the European Union was the President who opposed the Lisbon Treaty, which aimed to make it easier to make decisions within the Union.

In March 2009, the government lost a vote of no confidence and a new election was announced in October. The leaders of the largest parties agreed to appoint an interim government. The President assigned Jan Fischer, a party politically independent economist, to lead the government until the election. At the same time, the economy deteriorated.

One of few successes for Fischer's government was when in May Parliament voted yes to the Lisbon Treaty. However, 17 senators requested that the Constitutional Court review whether the treaty violated the Constitution. In addition, President Klaus requested a Czech exemption from the Charter of Rights. The intention was to get an assurance that Sudetis expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II would not be able to claim confiscated property again. A compromise was negotiated which meant that the Czech exemption was not included in the Treaty text itself, but in a special supplement. In November 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that the EU Treaty did not contravene the Czech Constitution and the agreement was signed by Klaus.

Tripartite coalition with cooperation difficulties

In February 2010, elections to the Chamber of Deputies were announced in May. The hope was that the election would pave the way for an ordinary government that could address the country's growing budget problems. Former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek jumped off a few weeks before the election after he arose by speaking disparagingly about the church, Jews and gays. New top candidate for ODS was Petr Nečas.

The Social Democrats became the largest party with 22 percent of the vote, a few percentage points more than the ODS. But it became the ODS that together with two new bourgeois parties, Tradition Responsibility Prosperity (TOP 09) and Public Affairs (VV), could form government.

The coalition's first budget included salary cuts for public employees as well as reductions in pensions, parental benefits and other social benefits. However, the measures were delayed due to contradictions between and within the government parties. The savings plans also sparked protests. The dissatisfaction led the Social Democrats to secure a majority in the Senate in the October elections. The government must therefore take into account the opposition's demand for "more socially acceptable savings". At the same time, a series of corruption deals led to the government becoming increasingly unpopular.

In the wake of the euro crisis, in the autumn of 2011, a debate broke out about the introduction of the euro as a currency, which the Czech Republic had committed to at the EU accession. Prime Minister Nečas felt that the country should vote in favor of this, as the conditions had changed since voters in 2003 voted yes to EU membership. The government also chose to stand outside the fiscal pact signed by EU leaders in March 2012. Its purpose was to tighten member states' budget discipline and prevent new debt crises. Neča's decision was criticized by Top 09's leader, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who accused him of damaging the Czech interests.

Despite this, the collaboration between ODS and Top 09 improved, while their relationship with VV, which opposed the savings plans, was getting worse. The divestments within the government led to the parties breaking the coalition settlement. ODS and Top 09 formed a new government together with a faction of the VV which in May formed a new party, Lidem. In May, the Chamber of Deputies approved a austerity package. It was also clear that several cuts in social welfare, as well as increased taxes, were to be expected.

On January 1, 2013, outgoing President Klaus pardoned nearly a third of the country's convicted criminals, about 7,000 prisoners. The amnesty received harsh criticism from the opposition as it also stopped several protracted legal proceedings against persons suspected of cheating the Czech state on multimillion amounts.

The same month, presidential elections were held in which former Socialist Prime Minister Miloš Zeman prevailed. The shift in the presidential post seemed to signal a more positive attitude to EU cooperation. Attempts to have Klaus brought before the national court for amnesty failed when the Constitutional Court ruled that there was no legal basis for prosecution.

The Social Democrats win the new election

In June 2013, the government was shaken by a new crisis when several of Neča's employees were arrested by police suspected of corruption. The scandal split the government and forced Nečas to step down. The plans to form a new coalition with a new head of government fell when Zeman sat across. Instead, he appointed former Social Democratic Finance Minister Jiři Rusnok as new prime minister, but he was not approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Since Rusnok lost a vote of confidence in August, new elections were announced until October.

It was a dissatisfaction election, where ODS was crushed, the party received just under 17 percent of the vote and only 16 seats. Even the Social Democrats, who went to elections on promises of higher taxes for wealthy and big corporations, backed but became the largest party with 50 seats and just over 20 percent of the vote. In second place came the dissatisfaction party ANO (Yes), formed in 2011 by billionaire Andrej Babiš, whose 29 percent reached 47 seats. In third place came the Communist Party, which, like ANO, had opposed a series of cuts. The Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and the dawn of the Direct Democracy were also represented in the Chamber of Deputies.

In early 2014, a coalition government was formed with the Social Democrats, the ANO and the Christian Democrats. The head of government became Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka.

Government cooperation became difficult, not least because of the great contradictions between Sobutka and ANO leader Babiš. Despite internal teardowns, the ruling parties still managed to agree on rules to increase transparency in how political parties and presidential candidates fund their campaigns. For example, an upper limit was set for how large sums a presidential candidate may use to try to get elected.

The parties also agreed to raise pensions, minimum wages and various social contributions.

However, the conflict between Sobotka and Babiš persisted and in the long term the cooperation broke down. Just a few months before the 2017 election, Babiš, who had been Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, was forced to resign since his private affairs became too burdensome. Babiš is suspected of garnering EU funding through cheating (see Current Policy).

 
 

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