The Breakup of Czechoslovakia

Velvet revolution

Forced by the popular movement (and by changes in Soviet policy towards Central European Allies) the Communist Party dropped its claims to "a leading role" in November and December 1989. President Husak was replaced by Vaclav Havel, playwright and dissident, who led the strongest political organisation of that era, Civic Forum (CF). An allied (formally independent) organisation Public Against Violence (PAV) was founded in Slovakia. Negotiations between renewed leadership of Communist Party and the alliance of non-communist organisations led by CF and PAV yielded new Government led by a Slovak communist, M. Calfa who soon deserted to PAV. The Federal Assembly was reconstructed. The most outspoken representatives of the old regime were ousted and replaced by those of new political organisations. The system of central planning was abandoned. The country has been striving to reintroduce market economy and to forge close links with the international economic and financial community.

A serious Czecho-Slovak conflict suddenly emerged when the Federal Assembly discussed the proposal to drop the attribute "socialistic" (introduced by A. Novotny in 1960) out of the name of the country. Many Slovak deputies demanded that the country return to its original name Czecho-Slovakia, adopted by the Treaty of Versailles in 1918. (The hyphen has been dropped out only in 1923). After unexpectedly fierce discussions the country was renamed as Czech and Slovak Federal Republic in April 1990. At the same time Slovak National Party (demanding the independence of Slovakia) was founded.

The first free elections for 40 years were held in June 1990. Jan Carnogursky, the leader of Slovak Christian Democratic Movement (CDM) protested against President Havel's "intervening in Slovak internal affairs" and his open agitation for the PAV. CF won absolute majority in the Czech Republic and formed a single party government there. On the other hand PAV had to form a coalition with CDM. The federal government was formed by members of CF, PAV and CDM. Both governments, federal and Slovak, were led by PAV - members (Calfa and V.Meciar). Nevertheless, strong jurisdictional disputes soon emerged between these two governments causing serious political crises in the PAV as well as in the whole federal state. After some hesitation CDM joined the pro-federal wing of PAV. They, together with two Hungarian parties, managed to establish a very slight majority in the Slovak National Council and in its Presidium, that ousted Meciar and replaced him by J. Carnogursky in April, 1991. Meciar's group split from the PAV and established so-called Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). The Civic Forum had split even earlier. Its major part formed the Civic Democratic Party (CDP) led by pragmatic Finance Minister V. Klaus. Many prominent former dissidents found themselves isolated in a small Civic Movement that failed to gain any of the seats in the Federal or Czech Parliament in the next elections in 1992.

Under the overwhelming influence of V. Klaus the crude form of monetarism that had been hardly practised elsewhere, has dominated economic policy. Already suffering from external shocks - collapse of the market for Czechoslovak goods in the Soviet Union and other former East block countries - the country has been subjected to macro-economic policies assuring a collapse of domestic demand as well. The real volume of credits was decreased by 30% and the real wages declined by 26,9% in the first half of 1991 while the personal consumption dropped by 37%. As a result industrial production was down by about one-third in 1991. Unemployment, virtually non-existent before 1990, rise to 8,4% in April 1992 (12,7% in Slovakia). Such a rates of decline make the Great Depression of 1930s pale.

The government's approach to privatisation and its methods (e.g. voucher privatisation, physical restitution, non-competitive sale to a predetermined owner, sale to foreign entity, "Dutch auctions", uncompensated transfer to commercial banks) have provoked controversial discussions both in the country and abroad.

Discussions on the future constitution of the country and related negotiations did not yield the desired effect. Their only remarkable indirect result was splitting of CDH to a national wing - the Slovak CDH(SCDH)-- and pro-federal wing (CDH).

Velvet Divorce

The results of the elections of June 1992 reflected the growing split between the two lands. The liberal Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by Slovak Vladmir Meciar, and the conservative Civic Democratic Party, led by Czech Vclav Klaus won the two largest representations in parliament; each leader became the prime minister of his own republic. Disagreements between the republics intensified, and it became clear that no form of federal government could satisfy both.

Both of them gained more than one third of seats within their republics where they can easily form coalitions with sympathising parties. CDS ran for election in Slovakia as well but it failed to reach 5% threshold. This "schizophrenic" election result led a series of negotiations between two victorious parties. They agreed to form a federal government on the principle of symmetric power-sharing. However, this government had only a limited mandate until the end of 1992. CDS considered the principle of symmetry claimed by HZDS as impractical and unprofitable. (There are approximately 10 millions of Czechs and 5 millions of Slovaks.) CDS also refused the proposal of Slovak partners to transform the country into a loose federation based on the principle of the Treaty of Maastricht and Premier Klaus uttered pessimistic comments concerning that treaty. This principal dis-consensus yielded the conditions necessary for negotiations for breakup.

In July 1992 Slovakia declared itself a sovereign state, meaning that its laws took precedence over those of the federal government. Throughout the fall of that year, Meciar and Klaus negotiated the details for disbanding the federation. In November the federal parliament voted to dissolve the country officially on December 31, despite polls indicating that the majority of citizens opposed the split. In January 1993 Czechoslovakia was replaced by two independent states: Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Slovaks gathered for celebrations in their new nation’s capital at Bratislava. Independence under Meciar’s leadership, the process of privatization slowed in Slovakia. However, a divorce can hardly be pleasant, especially because of usual problems connected with splitting of common assets. One of the main problems that remained to be settled is the division of the pipeline that transports Russian gas to Germany. No better solution has been find than the construction of an extra pumping station at the new common border. On the other hand, especially for Slovakia, this pipeline is one of the most important factors of countries strategic position. It crosses 8 times the border line between Slovakia and Hungary from the period 1939-45. This is therefore a very strong argument for the stability of the present border between these two countries.

In February 1993 Michal Kovac was elected president of the country. Although a fellow member of the HZDS party, Kovac was not a Meciar ally, and conflicts soon developed within the government. Meciar’s position was further undermined by the resignation and defection of a number of party deputies in early 1994. In March of that year, Meciar resigned from office after receiving a vote of no confidence from the Slovak parliament. An interim coalition government comprising representatives from a broad range of parties was sworn in, with Jozef Moravcik of the Democratic Union of Slovakia Party as prime minister. Moravcik’s government revived the privatization process and took steps to attract more foreign investment to Slovakia. It also helped to calm the increasingly strained relations between Slovaks and resident Hungarians, who had begun campaigning for educational and cultural autonomy. In May a law was passed by parliament allowing ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia to register their names in their original form; this replaced previous legislation requiring Hungarians to convert their names to the Slavic form.