Czech Republic: History

For a detailed history of the Czech Lands see Bohemia, Moravia, and Czechoslovakia. In response to Slovakia's demands for greater autonomy, Czechoslovakia was on Jan. 1, 1969, declared a federation. The constituent Czech and Slovak republics received autonomy over local affairs, with the federal government responsible for foreign relations, defense, and finance. The Communist regime collapsed in 1989, and in 1990 economic reforms were begun that were especially disruptive in Slovakia, which had a disproportionate share of subsidized state-owned heavy industry. A strong secessionist movement in Slovakia led to a declaration in 1992 that the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic would separate into independent states. In response to the imminent breakup of Czechoslovakia, a new Czech constitution was written. It was implemented with the birth of the new Czech Republic on Jan. 1, 1993.

Václav Havel, who had been president of Czechoslovakia, became the Czech Republic's president; after legislative elections a right-of-center coalition government came into office, headed by Václav Klaus. The government moved quickly to privatize state-owned businesses, and mutual funds became a popular investment vehicle for a public unused to dealing with a stock market. The Czech Republic actively sought membership in Western institutions and alliances. In 1994 it became an associate member of the European Union (it became a full member ten years later), in 1995 it was admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and in 1999 it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Meanwhile, the economy faltered in 1997 and Klaus was forced to resign. Austerity measures were put in place and Josef Tosovsky, a banker, was appointed caretaker prime minister. Havel was reelected in 1998 and, following legislative elections later that year, Social Democrat Miloš Zeman became prime minister, vowing to slow privatization and return more control to the state.

In the 2002 elections the Social Democrat–led coalition was returned to power, but Zeman, who had resigned as party leader prior to the election, was replaced as prime minister by Vladimír Spidla. Václav Klaus was elected president in 2003, succeeding the retiring Havel. In 2004, after the Social Democrats made a poor showing in the European Parliament elections, Spidla only narrowly survived a party confidence vote, and subsequently resigned as prime minister.

Social Democrat Stanislav Gross succeeded Spidla as government leader, but Gross resigned in Apr., 2005, dogged by charges of personal financial impropriety. He was succeeded as prime minister by fellow Social Democrat Jiri Paroubek. In the June, 2006, elections the Civic Democrats won the largest share of the vote and the most seats in parliament, but the Social Democrat–led coalition secured half the seats. The Civic Democrats formed a three-party coalition, and Mirek Topolánek became prime minister in August. In October, however, the coalition lost a confidence vote, forcing the president to open negotiations on the formation of a new government. In Jan., 2007, the president again approved a government headed by Topolánek that involved the same three parties, and it narrowly won a vote of confidence.

Klaus was elected to a second term as president in Feb., 2008. In July, 2008, the Czech Republic signed an agreement with the United States to base a radar system there. Russia had previously strongly objected to such an arrangement, and shortly after the signing there was a decrease in Russian oil supplies to the Czech Republic that Russia attributed to technical problems despite disbelief from the Czechs. Some 14 months later, however, a new U.S. administration suspended plans to base a ballistic missile defense system in E Europe, and the Czech government later (2011) withdrew from the revamped project.

In Mar., 2009, Topolánek's government lost a confidence vote; an interim government headed by a techocrat, Jan Fischer, was agreed to by the parties and took office in May. The May, 2010, parliamentary elections resulted in a victory for conservative and centrist parties, which won a majority of the seats. Petr Nečas, leader of the Civic Democrats, became prime minister of a center-right coalition government. In the October elections, however, the Social Democrats gained a narrow majority in the senate. In November Nečas won passage of austerity measures and survived a confidence vote but also lost his slim majority in parliament. Subsequently, a number of his government's austerity measures faced senate rejection and presidential veto.

In Jan., 2013, former prime minister Miloš Zeman was elected to succeed Klaus as president; the election was the first time that the president had been chosen directly by the voters. A corruption and abuse of power scandal that involved a close aide to the prime minister led the government to resign in June, 2013; Zeman subsequently appointed a new government headed by Jiří Rusnok despite opposition from parliament. In August, Rusnok lost a confidence vote; parliament subsequently was dissolved and new elections called.

The Social Democrats won a plurality of just over 20% in the October elections, and formed (Jan., 2014) a coalition with two centrist parties; Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka was subsequently appointed prime minister. Tensions with the populist ANO party, the second largest member of the coalition, and its leader Andrej Babiš threatened the government for a time in 2017. In the Oct., 2017, parliamentary elections the ANO party won a plurality; Babiš formed a minority government in December, but lost a confidence vote the following month. Also in Jan., 2018, Zeman was reelected president. Babiš finally formed a minority coalition government with the Social Democrats in July, 2018; it also had the support, but not the participation, of the Communists. In 2019 the government was threatened when Zeman repeatedly would not remove and appoint government ministers as requested by the government, and it led to an unsuccessful attempt by the opposition to remove him from office.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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