Why did the Czech Republic and Slovakia separate countries

Why the ČSSR disintegrated

Formally, Czechoslovakia had been a federation since 1969, made up of two republics with extensive autonomy. On the symbolic level, the government did a lot to emphasize the equality of the two nations. Half of the television news was read out in Czech and half in Slovak. However, the Slovaks were not granted any real self-determination, autonomy was only on paper, in truth the country was ruled centrally from Prague, by the all-powerful Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. It has always been like this: Even in the First Republic before the Second World War, the numerically and economically superior Czechs de facto had the say in the common state.

No people in the world will be satisfied with just a federation; every people wants its own state. While the Czechs identified with Czechoslovakia as their nation-state as early as 1918, in Slovakia it was always understood as a union of two nation-states.

Jan Rychlík, Institute for Czech History, Charles University in Prague

The prejudices lived far and wide

The equality proclaimed during socialism did not change this situation much. In both peoples, mutual prejudices lived on beneath the beautiful surface. Otto-Normaltscheche was firmly convinced that "his" tax millions end up in the allegedly backward Slovakia. Conversely, every taxi driver in Bratislava swore that the Czechs would build a stylish subway in Prague with Slovak taxpayers' money. Many Slovaks found their fellow Czech citizens arrogant, as people who acted as missionaries who would have brought civilization and culture to the somewhat less developed Slovakia. The Czechs, on the other hand, found it difficult to come to terms with the supposed ingratitude of their Slovak brothers. Historical facts from the Second World War, when Slovakia became a vassal state of Hitler's Germany while Hitler's so-called "remaining Czech Republic" was occupied, had a long-lasting effect.

Divorce becomes inevitable

The communist dictatorship, in which national aspirations were taboo, acted as it were like a freezer compartment that made national ambitions and animosities invisible without eliminating them. All the more they need to emerge after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. There were also differences between the two parts of the country in terms of mentality, everyday culture and, above all, economic performance. It quickly became apparent that there was no one Czechoslovak society, but two societies that had only lived with each other and, to a certain extent, side by side for decades. And so it happened, as it had to: The two societies began to diverge rapidly after the communist freezer was turned off. A divorce was inevitable in the end.

The actual process of dissolving the federation began as early as 1990 and was systematically advanced.

Vladimír Mečiar, the first freely elected Prime Minister of Slovakia

One consequence of this situation was that after 1989 different, separate party landscapes developed in the two parts of the country. Not a single party was able to score with voters nationwide, with the exception of the communists. And the political programs were also fundamentally different. The Czechs preferred quick reforms and the transition to a neo-liberal market economy "without adjectives" (unlike in Germany with its "social market economy", the state in the Czech Republic keeps out of the economic activities of its citizens to this day). Even if many were not uncritical about the rapid privatization of state property and the necessary cuts in living standards, the prevailing view was that the socialist planned economy was at an end. The Slovaks wanted much slower reforms, more social security and a lot of government in the economy.

Ballast Slovakia

The different economic strengths of the two parts of the country contributed to this polarization. As early as the 19th century, Bohemia was the industrial heart of the Habsburg monarchy and was also in a relatively good economic position within the former Eastern Bloc. Slovakia was originally an agricultural country and was forced during socialism, but industrialized on one side. This now had negative consequences, because the Slovak heavy and armaments industry had lost its sales markets in the east. The result was a mass death of the companies and 20 percent unemployment. It is a miracle that the Czechs were able to look to the future with much more optimism and hoped for a quick economic miracle based on the West German model. Many were even of the opinion that without the "ballast" Slovakia would be able to catch up with the affluent zone of Western Europe much more quickly. Even then, both parts of the country were striving for membership in today's EU.

It was clear to us that this would make the state smaller and, in this sense, weaker. (…) But it was also clear to us that we would emerge stronger because there would then be two independent states that would not suffer from an interrupted battle for competencies between Prague and Bratislava.

Václav Klaus, then finance minister, later prime minister and president

Two politicians with a thirst for recognition

The faces of the two opposing programs were Václav Klaus in the Czech Republic and Vladimír Mečiar in Slovakia. Their political temperament is also partly blamed for the collapse of the common state. Jiří Dienstbier, the first Czech foreign minister, remembered after years that both had great ambitions and were not ready to share power. Instead, they would have preferred the separation in order to play first fiddle in their respective countries without restrictions.

After the early elections in June 1992 it finally became clear that the wishes of the two peoples were incompatible. Then everything went very fast. After a series of rounds of negotiations, the separation was decided in July. On November 25th at 1:21 p.m. the federal parliament approved with a narrow majority. On December 31, 1992, exactly midnight, the common state of the Czechs and Slovaks ceased to exist 74 years after it was founded. The two peoples actually wanted to live under one roof until the end, but could not agree on how their "marriage" should look in the future.


TV | 06/23/2017 | 5:45 p.m.