Dissolution of Czechoslovakia
The Dissolution of Czechoslovakia (Czech: Rozdělení Československa, Slovak: Rozdelenie Česko-Slovenska) took effect on January 1, 1993 and was the self-determined split of the federal republic of Czechoslovakia into the independent countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both mirrored the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic, which had been created in 1969 as the constituent states of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic.
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It is sometimes known as the Velvet Divorce, a reference to the bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989, which had led to the end of the rule of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia was created with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I. In 1918, a meeting took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States at which the future Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and other Czech and Slovak representatives signed the Pittsburgh Agreement, which promised a common state consisting of two equal nations: Slovaks and Czechs. Soon afterward, he and Edvard Beneš violated the agreement by pushing for greater unity and a single nation.
Some Slovaks were not in favour of that change, and in March 1939, with pressure from Adolf Hitler, the First Slovak Republic was created as a satellite state of Germany with limited sovereignty. The alignment with the Soviet Union after World War II oversaw the reunification into the Third Czechoslovak Republic.
In 1968, the Constitutional Law of Federation reinstated an official federal structure of the 1917 type, but during the Normalization Period in the 1970s, Gustáv Husák, despite being a Slovak himself, returned most of control to Prague. That approach encouraged a regrowth of separatism after the fall of communism.
By 1991, the Czech Republic's GDP per capita was some 20% higher than Slovakia's. Transfer payments from the Czech budget to Slovakia, which had been the rule in the past, were stopped in January 1991.
Many Czechs and Slovaks desired the continued existence of a federal Czechoslovakia. Some major Slovak parties, however, advocated a looser form of coexistence and the Slovak National Party complete independence and sovereignty. For a few years, political parties re-emerged, but Czech parties had little or no presence in Slovakia and vice versa. To have a functioning state, the government demanded continued control from Prague, but Slovaks continued to ask for decentralisation.
In 1992, the Czech Republic elected Václav Klaus and others, who demanded either an even tighter federation ("viable federation") or two independent states. Vladimír Mečiar and other leading Slovak politicians wanted a kind of confederation. Both sides opened frequent and intense negotiations in June. On July 17, the Slovak parliament adopted the declaration of independence of the Slovak nation. Six days later, Klaus and Mečiar agreed to dissolve Czechoslovakia at a meeting in Bratislava. Czechoslovak President Václav Havel resigned, rather than oversee the dissolution, which he had opposed. In a September 1992 opinion poll, only 37% of Slovaks and 36% of Czechs favoured dissolution.
The goal of negotiations switched to achieving a peaceful division. Peaceful division was prioritized as the process ran in parallel with the violent breakup of Yugoslavia (another socialist, Slavic federal state created after the Dissolution of Austria-Hungary) which motivated the elites to avoid such an outbreak in Czechoslovakia. On November 13, the Federal Assembly passed Constitution Act 541, which settled the division of property between the Czech lands and Slovakia. With Constitution Act 542, passed on November 25, they agreed to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia as of December 31, 1992.
The separation occurred without violence and so was thus said to be "velvet", much like the "Velvet Revolution", which had preceded it and had been accomplished by massive peaceful demonstrations and actions. In contrast, other post-communist breakups (such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) involved violent conflict. Czechoslovakia is the only former Eastern bloc state that had an entirely-peaceful breakup. In the following years, as Slovakia's economy struggled, Slovaks began to describe the dissolution as a "sandpaper divorce".
A number of reasons have been given for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, with the main debates focusing on whether dissolution was inevitable or whether dissolution occurred in conjunction with or even in contrast to the events that occurred between the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the end of the joined state in 1992.
Those who argue from the inevitability stance tend to point to the differences between the two nations, which date back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to other issues. There are ethnic differences between the Czechs and Slovaks, such as problems with the shared state during communism, the success of the state in the Czech lands and its failure in the Slovak lands that still resulted in the adoption of communism since the Czechs were more influential in the running of the state than Slovaks, and the 1968 constitution with its minority veto.
Those who argue that events between 1989 and 1992 led to the dissolution point to international factors such as the breakaway of the Soviet satellite nations, the lack of unified media between the Czech and the Slovak Republics, and most importantly the actions of the political leaders of both nations like the disagreements between Prime Ministers Klaus and Mečiar.
Since the coat of arms of Czechoslovakia was a composition of those of the historic geographic areas forming the country, each republic simply kept its own symbol: the Czechs the lion and the Slovaks the double cross. The same principle was applied to the two-part bilingual Czechoslovak national anthem that comprised two separate pieces of music, the Czech stanza Kde domov můj and the Slovak stanza Nad Tatrou sa blýska. Disputes occurred only with respect to the Czechoslovak flag. During the 1992 negotiations on the details of dissolution of Czechoslovakia, as demanded by Vladimír Mečiar and Václav Klaus, a clause forbidding the use of the state symbols of Czechoslovakia by its successor states was inserted into the constitutional law on the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
From 1990 to 1992, the red and white flag of Bohemia (differing from the Polish flag only by the proportion of the colours) officially served as the flag of the Czech Republic. Eventually, after a search for new symbols, the Czech Republic unilaterally decided to ignore the constitutional law on the dissolution of Czechoslovakia (Article 3 of Law 542/1992 stated that the "Czech Republic and Slovak Republic shall not use the national symbols of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic after its dissolution.") and to keep the Czechoslovak flag, with an altered meaning. Slovakia, meanwhile, adopted its traditional flag; however, just before independence, on September 3, 1992, the coat of arms was added to prevent confusion with the similar flags of Russia and Slovenia.
The national territory was divided along the existing internal borders, but the border was not clearly defined at some points and, in some areas, the border cut across streets, access roads and communities that had coexisted for centuries. The most serious issues occurred around the following areas:
- U Sabotů or Šance (cs:Šance (Vrbovce)) – historically part of Moravia, awarded to Slovakia in 1997
- Sidonie or Sidónia (cs:Sidonie) – historically part of Hungary (which contained all present-day Slovak territory until 1918), awarded to the Czech Republic in 1997
- Kasárna (cs:Kasárna (Makov)) recreational area – historically Moravian, disputed between Moravia and Hungary since the 16th century, formally part of Hungary since 1734; accessible by car only from the Czech side until early 2000s; remained in Slovakia despite heavy objections from the mostly-Czech property owners whose real estate, effectively fell into a foreign country.
People living or owning property in the border area, however, continued to experience practical problems until both new countries entered the Schengen Agreement Area in 2007, when the borders became less significant.
Division of national property
Most federal assets were divided in a ratio of two to one, the approximate ratio between the Czech and Slovak population in Czechoslovakia, including army equipment, rail and airliner infrastructure. Some minor disputes, such as gold reserves stored in Prague and federal know-how valuation, lasted for a few years after the dissolution.
Initially, the old Czechoslovak currency, the Czechoslovak koruna, remained in use by both countries. Czech fears of an economic loss caused the adoption two national currencies as early as February 8, 1993. At the beginning, the currencies had an equal exchange rate, but the value of the Slovak koruna was then usually lower than that of the Czech koruna (in 2004, around 25–27% lower). On August 2, 1993, both currencies were distinguished by different stamps that were first affixed to and then printed on old Czechoslovak koruna banknotes.
On January 1, 2009, Slovakia adopted the euro as its currency with an exchange rate of 30.126 SK/€, and the €2 commemorative coin for 2009, Slovakia's first, featured the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in remembrance of the common struggle of the Czechoslovaks' for democracy. By a quirk of fate, the welcoming speech on the behalf of the European Union on the occasion of Slovakia's entry to the eurozone was delivered by Mirek Topolánek, the prime minister of the presiding country, the Czech Republic, naturally in his native language, but the other guest speakers used English. The Czech Republic continues to use the Czech koruna, or crown.
Neither the Czech Republic nor Slovakia sought recognition as the sole successor state to Czechoslovakia. This can be contrasted to the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, when the Russian Federation was recognised as successor state to not only the Russian SFSR but also the Soviet Union itself. Therefore, Czechoslovakia's membership in the United Nations ceased upon the dissolution of the country, but on January 19, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were admitted as new, separate states.
With respect to other international treaties, the Czechs and the Slovaks agreed to honour the treaty obligations of Czechoslovakia. The Slovaks transmitted a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations on May 19, 1993 to express their intent to remain a party to all treaties signed and ratified by Czechoslovakia and to ratify treaties signed but not ratified before dissolution of Czechoslovakia. The letter acknowledged that under international law, all treaties signed and ratified by Czechoslovakia would remain in force. For example, both countries are recognised as signatories of the Antarctic Treaty from the date that Czechoslovakia had signed the agreement in 1962.
Both countries have ratified the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, but it was not a factor in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia since it did not come into force until 1996.
The dissolution had some negative impact on the two economies, especially in 1993, as traditional links were severed to accommodate the bureaucracy of international trade, but the impact was considerably less than expected by many people.
A customs union between the Czech Republic and Slovakia remained in place from the dissolution until May 1, 2004, when both countries entered the European Union.
Many Czechs hoped that dissolution would quickly start an era of high economic growth in the Czech Republic, which no longer had to sponsor the "less-developed Slovakia". Similarly, others looked forward to an independent unexploited Slovakia that might become a new "economic tiger".
According to The Prague Post, "Slovak GDP reached 95 percent of the Czech GDP, and it is likely to draw level with it. The Slovak gross national product (GNP), which includes citizens' incomes abroad and deducts the money multinational companies move out of the country, is higher than the Czech one. Old-age pensions are more or less at the same level in both countries, and the consumption per capita is slightly higher in Slovakia. However, salaries are 10 percent lower on average in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic".
However, Martin Filko, the head of the Institute of Financial Policy of the Slovak Finance Ministry, pointed out that Slovakia is among the EU countries whose salaries form the lowest portion of their GDP. In other words, some of people's incomes come from sources other than their main employment, which reduces the real difference between the Czech and the Slovak salaries.
Slovakia has higher political stability than the Czech Republic. As of 2018, Slovaks have had only four prime ministers since 1998, but the Czechs have had ten. Slovaks have become a more integral part of the EU because of their adoption of the euro and are more resolved to take part in the banking and fiscal unions. In the Czech Republic, the right wing opened the economy, and the left wing privatised banks and attracted foreign investors.
Until 2005, the GDP of the two countries was growing at a similar rate. However, from 2005 to 2008, the Slovak economy grew faster than the Czech economy. Economists agree that this growth was caused by the right-wing reforms of the Mikuláš Dzurinda government and the promise to adopt the euro, which attracted investors.
When the left-wing populist Robert Fico replaced Dzurinda as Slovak prime minister after eight years in 2006, he reduced the right-wing reforms only moderately, but he did not abolish them, unlike the Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD).
Meanwhile, the Czechs had three ČSSD prime ministers in four years (2002–06), followed by a shaky centre-right cabinet, which cut and simplified taxes but failed to push through other reforms and did not want to adopt the euro because of the financial crisis and the Civic Democrats' ideological stance.
Since federalisation in 1968, Czechoslovakia had divided citizenship, either of the Czech Socialist Republic or of the Slovak Socialist Republic, the word Socialist being dropped from both names shortly after the Velvet Revolution. That distinction, however, had little effect on citizens' life. On January 1, 1993, all Czechoslovak citizens automatically became citizens either of the Czech Republic or the Slovak Republic, based on their previous citizenship, permanent residence address, birthplace, family ties, job and other criteria. Additionally, people had one year's time to claim the other citizenship under certain conditions.
Slovak legislation allowed dual citizenship until 2010, when it was abolished (see Citizenship Act (Slovakia)). Only a handful of people have exercised that right, but its significance is lessened by both nations' membership in the EU as the freedom of movement for workers, a policy that guarantees EU citizens the right to work and to live anywhere in the Union. In the case of movement between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the policy took effect from 2004.
By contrast, the Czech Republic has prohibited dual citizenship for naturalized citizens and requires them to give up existing citizenship(s) prior to receiving citizenship of the Czech Republic. That requirement can be waived only if giving up an existing citizenship might put the applicant or their relatives in danger of persecution in their homeland, which was not the case of applicants from Slovakia. That situation changed with the new Citizenship Act of 2013 (186/2013 Sb.), in force since January 1, 2014. However, most Slovak citizens are still unable to become dual citizens of both the Czech Republic and Slovakia since they automatically lose Slovak citizenship upon voluntarily acquiring another one (see previous paragraph). Exempt from that law are only Slovak citizens who obtain a foreign citizenship by virtue of marriage with a foreign national. Some Slovak politicians have speculated in the media about softening the Citizenship Act, but no change has yet materialised as of January 2015.
People of both countries were allowed to cross the border without a passport and were allowed to work anywhere without the need to obtain an official permit. Border checks were completely removed on December 21, 2007, when both countries joined the Schengen Agreement.
Under the current European regulations, citizens of either country are entitled to the diplomatic protection of any other EU country and so both have been considering merging their embassies, together with nations of the Visegrád Group, to reduce costs.
One of the problems not solved during dissolution was the question of a large number of Romani living in the Czech Republic born and officially registered in today's Slovakia. Most of them did not re-register their official place of stay during the months before dissolution and so the question of their citizenship was left open. The 1992 Czech Nationality Act allowed a grant of automatic citizenship only to those who were born on Czech territory. For others, the right to citizenship required proof of a five-year period of residence, an "unobjectionable" criminal record, significant fees and a complicated bureaucratic process, which reportedly excluded a rather large percentage of Roma.
The Slovak government did not want to grant citizenship to nonresidents. Significant numbers of Roma living in Czech orphanages did not have their legal status clarified and were released from care as adult noncitizens without any right to work or live in the Czech Republic. Under pressure from the European Union, the Czech government made amendments to its nationality law in 1999 and 2003, which effectively solved the problem, but compensation has not been provided to those rendered stateless in 1992.
In the former Czechoslovakia, the first television channel was a federal one and Czech and Slovak were languages that were used in equal ratios in the television news there, but foreign films and television series were almost exclusively dubbed into Czech, for example. That and the fact that the two languages are very similar made almost all people of both nations passively bilingual: they could understand but not necessarily speak the other language. After the dissolution in 1990s, the new television channels in the Czech Republic practically stopped using Slovak, and young Czech people now have a much lower understanding of Slovak. Also, the number of Slovak-language books and newspapers sold in the Czech Republic dropped drastically. The Czech television news, however, started to reintroduce Slovak-language coverage from Slovakia and Slovak television (STV2) rebroadcasts the Czech television newscast Události ČT daily, ten minutes after midnight.
On the public Radio and Television of Slovakia, it is common to have at least one daily newscast from the Czech Republic during prime time news. Furthermore, many programmes on Slovak television channels are still dubbed into Czech, some films in cinemas are subtitled in Czech and there are far more Czech-language books and periodicals on the market than there were before the dissolution. The major boost for the language interchange has come from private television channel providers like CS Link (Czech Republic) and Sky Link (Slovakia) that offer Slovak channels in the Czech Republic and vice versa. Additionally, several channels, regardless of their national origin, offer programs both in Czech and Slovak (CSFilm, TV Barrandov) or even mix like TV Nova's Nova Sport coverage of the English Premier League. New impulses to mutual contacts coming via television are also common shows like the Intelligence Test of Nations, Czechoslovakia's Got Talent, and Masked Singer broadcast by PRIMA and TV JOJ, and Czecho-Slovak SuperStar, the latter being the first international edition of the Pop Idol song contest broadcast by TV Nova and Markíza (both owned by CME), which also organized joint versions of MasterChef and The Voice in 2012. Also, the New Year's Eve Program for 2009 was prepared and broadcast jointly by ČT and STV and for 2010 by the Czech TV PRIMA and the Slovak TV JOJ, this time even including the singing of the Czechoslovak national anthem.
Young Slovak people still have the same knowledge of Czech as their predecessors, if it has not improved. In Slovakia, Czech may still be used automatically in all judicial proceedings, and all documents written in Czech are acknowledged by Slovak authorities and vice versa. Further, the Slovak Official Language Act, passed in 2009, reconfirmed the right of Czechs to use their language in all official communication when dealing with Slovak authorities although it explicitly limited the use of Czech in Slovakia to persons with Czech as their mother tongue. The same is true about using the Slovak language in the Czech Republic because of the Administration Procedure Act of 2004. Gustáv Slamečka, a Slovak citizen who was the Czech transport minister (2009–2010), used only Slovak exclusively during his official communication.
See also differences between Slovak and Czech languages.
The official breakup occurred right in the middle of the 1993 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, which took place in Sweden. The team representing Czechoslovakia was renamed "Czech-Slovak" on January 1. In international ice hockey tournaments, the Czech Republic took over Czechoslovakia's place in the A-groups, and Slovakia had to start in the lower divisions.
During the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 1993 in Falun, Sweden, the ski jumping team competed as a combined Czech–Slovakia team in the team large hill event and won silver. The team had been selected prior to the dissolution. Jaroslav Sakala won two medals in the individual hill events for the Czech Republic at those games along with his silver in the team event.
In their qualifying section for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the Czechoslovakia national football team competed under the name RCS, which stood for "Representation of Czechs and Slovaks". It was afterward that it was officially split up into Czech and Slovak national teams. The team failed to qualify after it got only a draw in its final match against Belgium, a match that it needed to win to qualify.
The mutual encounters between the national teams of both countries in many sports are followed by most of the populations, and the number of players and coaches active in the other republic is significant. Martin Lipták, a Slovak handball coach, successfully led the Czech national team to the EHF 2010 Handball European Championship in Austria. A Slovak team under his coaching, Tatran Prešov, won the Czech national league in 2008 and 2009. Czech ice hockey coach Vladimír Vůjtek led the Slovak national team to the silver medal at the 2012 IIHF World Championship, having beaten the Czech team in the semifinals.
The road cyclist Ján Svorada earned Slovakian citizenship in 1993. In 1994, he became the first Slovak rider ever to win a Tour de France stage. Two years later, he earned Czech citizenship, and he became the first Czech rider ever to win another Tour de France stage in 1998.
Public perception of the dissolution has not changed much, with a December 2017 poll showing that just 42% of Czechs and 40% of Slovaks agree with what happened (compared to 36% and 37% in 1992, respectively). According to the Czech political analyst Lubomir Kopeček, many Czechs and Slovaks view the breakup process unfavourably because they had no say in the matter, and most would have rather had a referendum decide. In 2015, a Slovak movement called "Czechoslovakia 2018" was established to try to get a referendum by 2018. Its leader, Ladislav Zelinka, said that he had received thousands of emails and calls from supporters, but it was unable to reach the necessary 350,000 petition signatures. The younger generations of both countries are largely indifferent to the issue since they never experienced the previous period themselves, and older generations are more focused on present issues such as immigration and favour their own separate nationalism.
Surveys from 2010 showed that the majority of the population of Prague (Czechs) still considers the division of the country a mistake; similarly, the general representative survey in Slovakia (from 2008) showed that society is still divided in opinion on the dissolution, with 47% favouring the dissolution and 44% considering it as a mistake.
Political influences between the countries are minimal, but social democrats tend to cooperate very closely on regional and European topics in recent years. Furthermore, it has become customary that the elected presidents pay their first and last official foreign visits during their term to the other republic of the former Czechoslovakia. Appointed foreign ministers tend to follow that unwritten rule. On October 29, 2012, to commemorate Czechoslovakia's declaration of independence, which occurred on October 28, 1918, the Czech and the Slovak governments held, for the first time, a joint cabinet meeting in the communities of Trenčín and Uherské Hradiště, near the common border.
Also, peacekeeping troops stationed in the former Yugoslavia were put under joint command on several occasions. For example, from 2002 to July 2005, the Czech Armed Forces joined with the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic to form a joint Czech–Slovak KFOR battalion in Kosovo, which contributed to the Multinational Brigade CENTRE. Trade relationships were re-established and stabilised, and the Czech Republic continues to be Slovakia's most important business partner. After a short interruption, Slovakia's resorts in the Carpathian mountains are again the destination of a growing number of Czech tourists.
Following the death of the last Czechoslovak (and the first Czech) president, Václav Havel, on December 18, 2011, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia observed a day of national mourning. During the funeral mass in Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral, prayers were recited in an equal ratio in the Czech and the Slovak languages.
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