Czech History


The Czech Republic, made up of Bohemia and Moravia, is home to some 10 million people, living on the edge of Germanic and Slavic worlds. Despite many common historical links with Germans and Austrians, the result being part of the Soviet communist block for more than 40 years is that the Czech Republic is now commonly referred to as an eastern European Country.

The Czech and Moravian lands have a long history. The first attempt to establish a state in this region was made in the 7th century AD by the merchant Samo, who unified the Slavonic tribes to protect them against the Avars. The Přemyslid Dynasty started with the unification of the Bohemian tribes, which led to the foundation of the Bohemian Principality in the 10th century. Saint Wenceslas became a symbol of the Czech country which at that time also included Moravia, Silesia and a part of Slovakia. In 1086, Bohemia became a Kingdom known as ´Lands of the Czech Crown´. The greatest territorial extent was reached in the 13th century in the time of the rule of King Přemysl l Otakar II, when the Kingdom´s borders reached the Baltic and Adriatic seas. The greatest cultural and political significance came in the 14th century under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who also founded in Prague, the first university in Central Europe, known as Charles University. In 1526, Ferdinand, from the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, was elected as a king and all the Lands of the Czech became a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and remained so for more than 300 years. After World War I, an independent democratic Czechoslovakia was founded. It consisted of Bohemia, Moravia, part of Silesia, Slovakia and Carpatho-Ruthenia. Tomas G. Masaryk was elected as its first president. The Czechs, at the time, defined themselves through their culture, based on a very high moral code, summed up by the Czechoslovakian president´s slogan "Truth wins", and put succinctly by Tomas Masaryk, when he said that the life of the Czechs and Slovaks should be guided by two simple commandments: "Do not be afraid" and "Do not steal." Because industry in the Czech lands was one of the most developed in Europe, Czechoslovakia quickly became one of the world´s top 10 economies, with a GDP higher than that of England.

In 1938, the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, invaded the region of Czechoslovakia known as Sudetenland, using the presence of Sudeten Germans there as a pretext. This violation was conceded to at the meeting in Munich by both England and France, despite the fact that France had a military treaty with Czechoslovakia. Despite the resolve of all Czech people to protect their border with Germany, the Czechoslovak government and president Benes, who followed Masaryk, decided to give up the unequal fight with Germany when it was clear there would be no help from any other country. This event represented a huge disappointment for the Czech people and probably influenced, not only the development of the political situation after World War II, but also some recent characteristics of the Czech nation. During the War, the Czech lands were occupied by Germany, while Slovakia declared independence under German influence. The Yalta conference of February 1945 was important in determining the post-war situation. Stalin and Roosevelt agreed that Czechoslovakia would be in the Soviet zone and so Prague had to wait for liberation by the Soviet Army. After the War, the Czech lands and Slovakia rejoined to form Czechoslovakia again, but Carpatho-Ruthenia was annexed by the USSR.

In the 1946 elections, the Communist party won and convinced a major part of the nation to prefer links with the Soviet Union. In 1948, the Communist party took over the country by force. The communists nationalized most property, forced farmers to join collective farms, and, in the early 1950s, imprisoned or executed many political opponents. In 1968, Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak Communist leader, began a program of liberal reform. The USSR, fearing that reform would weaken Communist control in Czechoslovakia, led an invasion that re-established tight control. Although the Czech nation seemed to be unique in this tendency to change the communistic regime, after the invasion of Soviet troops there was no organized opposition. The repeated bad experiences of a small nation in the centre of interests from West and East led to lethargy and the majority of people preferred to save their own families and jobs instead of joining a risky political fight. The Communist Party remained in power until November 1989, when Czechs and Slovaks joined in mass demonstrations that forced the government to resign in the "velvet revolution". Vaclav Havel became the country´s new president, and in 1990 Czechoslovakia held its first free elections since 1946. However, because of Slovak nationalism fomented by some of their political leaders, tensions developed between Czechs and Slovaks. Slovakia declared its sovereignty and in January 1993, the Czechoslovak federation was replaced by two new independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Havel was elected president of the new Czech Republic.

After successful and famous periods of Czech history; in the twentieth century our country became a victim first of Nazi Germany and later of the communist Soviet Union. It seems that the Czech historian and philosopher of the 19th century, Palacky, was right when he declared an Austro-Slavic community as an important condition for safety in central Europe. Despite a long tradition of Czech lands as a part of western European culture, 41 years of communistic regime under the influence of the Soviet Union substantially changed the character of the Czech nation.