The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest.

The Czech Republic has been a member of NATO since 1999 and of the European Union since 2004. The Czech Republic is also a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As an OSCE participating State, the Czech Republic’s international commitments are subject to monitoring under the mandate of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. From 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2009, the Czech Republic held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Czech state, or Lands of the Bohemian Crown as it was known until 1918, was formed in the late 9th century. The country reached its greatest territorial extent during the 13th and 14th century, under the rule of the Přemyslid and Luxembourg dynasties. Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia was integrated into the Habsburg monarchy as one of its three principal parts[citation needed] alongside Austria and Hungary. The independent Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I. After the Munich Agreement (signed by Nazi Germany, France, Britain and Italy), Polish annexation of Zaolzie and German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the consequent disillusion with the Western response and gratitude for the liberation of the major portion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, the Communist party won plurality (38%)[8] in the 1946 elections.

In a 1948 coup d’état, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state. In 1968, the increasing dissatisfaction culminated in attempts to reform the communist regime. The events, known as the Prague Spring of 1968, ended with an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (with the exception of Romania); the troops remained in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the communist regime collapsed. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Czech Republic is a pluralist multi-party parliamentary representative democracy. President Václav Klaus is the current head of state. The Prime Minister is the head of government (currently Petr Nečas). The Parliament has two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. It is also a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe and the Visegrád Group.

The Czech Republic made economic reforms such as fast privatizations. Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth stood at around 6% until the outbreak of the recent global economic crisis. The country is the first former member of the Comecon to achieve the status of a developed country according to the World Bank (2006).[9] In addition, The Czech Republic has the highest human development in Eastern Europe,[10] ranking as a “Very High Human Development” nation. It is also ranked as the most democratic, peaceful and healthy (by infant mortality) country in the region.[11][12][13]



[edit] Etymology

The current Czech Republic comprises three historical lands: Bohemia (Čechy) in the West, Moravia (Morava) in the South-East, and Czech Silesia (Slezsko; the smaller, south-eastern part of historical Silesia, most of which is located within modern Poland) in the North-East. Jointly, these 3 parts can be described as “Czech lands”, with the Czech language being spoken in all three. When the Czech nation regained its independence in 1918, the new state of Czechoslovakia was constituted to reflect the union of the Czech and Slovak territories that were merged together after World War I (in addition, a small part of Western Ukraine was included as well).

The word Czech itself came into English later via Polish.[14] The current English spelling is similar to an antiquated Czech spelling (Cžechy, Cžech), however it is unlike the modern Čechy and Česko. This discrepancy arises from a 15th century reform of Czech orthography.

Following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1992, the Czech part of the former nation found itself without a common single-word name in English. In 1993, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested the name Czechia as an official alternative in all situations other than formal official documents and the full names of government institutions; however, this has not become widespread in English, even though most other languages have single-word names for the country (usually their own variants of “Czechia”).

[edit] History

[edit] Prehistory

Archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric human settlements in the area, dating back to the Neolithic era. In the classical era, from the 3rd century BC Celtic migrations, the Boii (see Bohemia) and later in the 1st century, Germanic tribes of Marcomanni and Quadi settled there. During the Migration Period around the 5th century, many Germanic tribes moved westwards and southwards out of Central Europe.

Slavic people from the Black Sea and Carpathian regions settled in the area (a movement that was also stimulated by the onslaught of peoples from Siberia and Eastern Europe: Huns, Avars, Bulgars and Magyars). Following in the Germans’ wake, they moved southwards into Bohemia, Moravia and some of present day Austria. During the 7th century, the Frankish merchant, Samo, supporting the Slavs fighting their Avar rulers, became the ruler of the first known Slav state in Central Europe. The Moravian principality arose in the 8th century (see Great Moravia).

[edit] Bohemia


Ottokar II Přemysl at miniature from Gulhausen kodex.

The Bohemian or Czech state emerged in the late 9th century, when it was unified by the Přemyslid dynasty. The kingdom of Bohemia was a significant regional power during the Middle Ages. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire during the entire existence of that confederation.[15]

In 1212, King Přemysl Otakar I (1198–1230), bearing the title “king“ already since 1198, extracted a Golden Bull of Sicily (a formal edict) from the emperor, confirming the royal title for Otakar and his descendants. The 13th century was also a period of large-scale German immigration. The Germans populated towns and mining districts on the Bohemian periphery and, in some cases, formed German colonies in the interior of the Czech lands. In 1235, the mighty Mongol army launched an invasion of Europe and after the Battle of Legnica, the Mongols carried their devastating raid into Moravia.[16]


Charles IV, 1316–78, eleventh king of Bohemia, elected as the Největší Čech (Greatest Czech) of all time.[17]

King Přemysl Otakar II (1253–1278) earned the nickname of “the King of Gold and Iron” due to his military power and wealth. He acquired Austria, Styria and Carinthia thus spreading the Bohemian territory to the Adriatic sea. He met his death at the Battle on the Marchfeld in 1278, in a war with his rival, the Roman king Rudolph I of Germany.[18] Ottokar’s son Wenceslaus II acquired the Polish crown in 1300 for himself and the Hungarian crown for his son. In 1306, however, the Přemyslid line died out and, after a series of dynastic wars, the House of Luxembourg gained the Bohemian crown.

The 14th century, particularly the reign of Charles IV (1342–1378), is considered the Golden Age of Czech history. Of particular significance was the founding of Charles University in Prague in 1348. The Black Death, which had raged in Europe from 1347 to 1352, decimated the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1380,[19] killing about 10% of the population.[20]

In the 15th century, the religious and social reformer Jan Hus formed a movement, later named after him. Although Hus was named a heretic and burnt in Constanz in 1415, his followers seceded from the Catholic Church and in the Hussite Wars (1419–1434) defeated five crusades organized against them by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Petr Chelčický continued with Czech Hussite Reformation movement.

During the next two centuries, 90% of the inhabitants converted to the Hussite form of Protestantism. After 1526 Bohemia came increasingly under Habsburg control as the Habsburgs became first the elected and then the hereditary rulers of Bohemia. The Defenestration of Prague and subsequent revolt against the Habsburgs in 1618 marked the start of the Thirty Years’ War, which quickly spread throughout Central Europe. In 1620, the rebellion in Bohemia was crushed at the Battle of White Mountain and the ties between Bohemia and Habsburgs’ hereditary lands in Austria were strengthened. The war had a devastating effect on the local population; the people were given the choice either to convert to Catholicism or leave the country.


Frederick II of Prussia was defeated in the Battle of Kolin, as a result of which he had to evacuate Bohemia.

The following period, from 1620 to the late 18th century, has been often called the “Dark Age”. The population of the Czech lands declined by a third due to war, disease, famine and the expulsion of the Protestant Czechs.[21] The Habsburgs banned all religions other than Catholicism.[22] Ottoman Turks and Tatars invaded Moravia in 1663,[23] taking 12,000 slaves.[24] In 1679–1680 the Czech lands faced a devastating plague and an uprising of serfs.[25]

The reigns of Maria Theresa of Austria (1740–80) and her son Joseph II (1780–90), Holy Roman Emperor and co-regent from 1765, were characterized by enlightened absolutism. In 1742, most of Silesia, then the possession of the Bohemian crown, was seized by King Frederick II of Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession. The Great Famine, which lasted from 1770 until 1771, killed about one tenth of the Czech population, or 250,000 inhabitants, and radicalized countrysides leading to peasant uprisings.[26]

After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia became part of the Austrian Empire and later of Austria–Hungary. Serfdom was not completely abolished until 1848. After the Revolutions of 1848, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria instituted an absolute monarch in an effort to balance competing ethnic interests in the empire.

[edit] Czechoslovakia

An estimated 150,000 Czech soldiers died in World War I. More than 100,000 Czech volunteers formed the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia, where they fought against the Central Powers and later against Bolshevik troops.[27] Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the independent republic of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918. This new country incorporated regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakia and the Carpathian Ruthenia (known as the Subcarpathian Rus at the time) with significant German, Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian speaking minorities.[28]


Although Czechoslovakia was a unitary state, it provided what were at the time rather extensive rights to its minorities. However, it did not grant its minorities any territorial political autonomy. The failure to do so resulted in discontent and strong support among some of the minorities for a break from Czechoslovakia. Adolf Hitler took advantage of this opportunity and, supported by Konrad Henlein‘s Sudeten German Party, gained the largely German speaking Sudetenland (and its substantial Maginot Line like border fortifications), through the 1938 Munich Agreement. Poland annexed the Zaolzie area around Český Těšín. Hungary gained parts of Slovakia and the Subcarpathian Rus as a result of the First Vienna Award in November 1938.

The remainders of Slovakia and the Subcarpathian Rus gained greater autonomy, with the state renamed to “Czecho-Slovakia” (The Second Republic; see German occupation of Czechoslovakia). After Nazi Germany threatened to annex part of Slovakia, allowing the remaining regions to be partitioned by Hungary and Poland, Slovakia chose to maintain its national and territorial integrity, seceding from Czecho-Slovakia in March 1939, and allying itself, as demanded by Germany, with Hitler’s coalition.[29]

The remaining Czech territory was occupied by Germany, which transformed it into the so-called Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The Protectorate was proclaimed part of the Third Reich and the President and Prime Minister were subordinate to the Nazi Reichsprotektor (“imperial protector”). Subcarpathian Rus declared independence as the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine on 15 March 1939, but was invaded by Hungary the same day and formally annexed the next day. Approximately 345,000 Czechoslovak citizens, including 277,000 Jews, were killed or executed, while hundreds of thousands of others were sent to prisons and concentration camps or used as forced labour. Perhaps two–thirds of the Czech nation was destined either for extermination or removal.[30] A Nazi concentration camp existed at Terezín, to the north of Prague.

There was Czech resistance to Nazi occupation, both at home and abroad, most notably with the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in a Prague suburb on 27 May 1942. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile and its army fighting against the Germans were acknowledged by the Allies; Czechoslovak troops fought in the UK, North Africa, the Middle East and the Soviet Union. The German occupation ended on 9 May 1945, with the arrival of the Soviet and American armies and the Prague uprising. An estimated 140,000 Soviet soldiers died in the fighting for the liberation of Czechoslovakia.[31]

In 1945–1946, almost the entire German minority in Czechoslovakia, about 2.7 million people, were expelled to Germany and Austria. During this time, thousands of Germans were held in prisons and detention camps, or used as forced labour. In the summer of 1945, there were several massacres. The only Germans not expelled were some 250,000, who had been active in the resistance against the Nazis or were considered economically important, though many of these emigrated later. Following a Soviet-organised referendum, the Subcarpathian Rus never returned under Czechoslovak rule, but became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, as the Zakarpattia Oblast in 1946.

Czechoslovakia uneasily tried to play the role of a “bridge” between the West and East. However, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia rapidly increased in popularity, with a general disillusionment with the West, due to the pre-war Munich Agreement, and a favourable popular attitude towards the Soviet Union, due to the Soviets’ role in liberating Czechoslovakia from German rule. In the 1946 elections, the Communists gained 38% of the votes and became the largest party in the Czechoslovak parliament. They formed a coalition government with other parties of the National Front and moved quickly to consolidate power. The decisive step took place in February 1948, during a series of events characterized by Communists as a “revolution” and by anti-Communists as a “takeover”, the Communist People’s Militias secured control of key locations in Prague, and a new, all-Communist government was formed.


A memorial to 82 Lidice children killed by the Nazis in Chelmno.

For the next 41 years, Czechoslovakia was a Communist state within the Eastern Bloc (see History of Czechoslovakia (1948–1989)). This period was marked by a variety of social developments. The Communist government completely nationalized the means of production and established a command economy. The economy grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, but slowed down in the 1970s, with increasing problems during the 1980s. The political climate was highly repressive during the 1950s, including numerous show trials, but became more open and tolerant in the 1960s, culminating in Alexander Dubček‘s leadership in the 1968 Prague Spring, which tried to create “socialism with a human face” and perhaps even introduce political pluralism. This was forcibly ended by 21 August 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion.

The invasion was followed by a harsh program of “Normalization” in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Until 1989, the political establishment relied on censorship of the opposition, though using more “carrot” than “whip” to secure the populace’s passivity. Dissidents published Charter 77 in 1977 and the first of a new wave of protests were seen in 1988. Between 1948 and 1989 more than 250,000 Czechs and Slovaks were sent to prison for “anti-state activities”, and over 400,000 emigrated.[32]


The Czech Republic became a member of the European Union in 2004, signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 and ratified it in 2009 as the last EU member.

[edit] Velvet revolution and independence

Main article: Velvet Revolution

In November 1989, Czechoslovakia returned to a liberal democracy through the peaceful “Velvet Revolution“. However, Slovak national aspirations strengthened and on 1 January 1993, the country peacefully split into the independent Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both countries went through economic reforms and privatisations, with the intention of creating a capitalist economy. This process was largely successful, as in 2006, the Czech Republic was recognised by the World Bank as a “developed country”[9] and in 2009, the Human Development Index ranked it as a nation of “Very High Human Development”.[10]

From 1991, the Czech Republic, originally as part of Czechoslovakia and now in its own right, has been a member of the Visegrád Group and from 1995, the OECD. The Czech Republic joined NATO on 12 March 1999 and the European Union on 1 May 2004. It held the Presidency of the European Union for the first half of 2009.

[edit] Politics


Václav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic.


Václav Klaus, current President of the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic is a pluralist multi-party parliamentary representative democracy, with the Prime Minister as head of government. The Parliament (Parlament České republiky) is bicameral, with the Chamber of Deputies (Czech: Poslanecká sněmovna) (200 members) and the Senate (Senát) (81 members).

The President of the Czech Republic is selected by a joint session of the parliament for a five-year term, with no more than two consecutive terms. The president is a formal head of state with limited specific powers, most importantly to return bills to the parliament, nominate Constitutional court judges for the Senate’s approval and dissolve the parliament under certain special and unusual circumstances. He also appoints the prime minister, as well the other members of the cabinet on a proposal by the prime minister.

The Prime Minister is the head of government and wields considerable powers, including the right to set the agenda for most foreign and domestic policy, mobilize the parliamentary majority and choose government ministers.

The members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected for a four year term by proportional representation, with a 5% election threshold. There are 14 voting districts, identical to the country’s administrative regions. The Chamber of Deputies, the successor to the Czech National Council, has the powers and responsibilities of the now defunct federal parliament of the former Czechoslovakia.

The members of the Senate are elected in single-seat constituencies by two-round runoff voting for a six-year term, with one-third elected every even year in the autumn. The first election was in 1996, for differing terms. This arrangement is modeled on the U.S. Senate, but each constituency is roughly the same size and the voting system used is a two-round runoff. The Senate is unpopular among the public and suffers from low election turnout, overall roughly 30% in the first round and 20% in the second.

[edit] Foreign relations


Czech soldier in Afghanistan

Membership in the European Union is central in Czech Republic’s foreign policy. The Czech Republic held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2009.

Czech officials have[vague] supported dissenters in Burma, Belarus, Moldova and Cuba.[33]

[edit] Military

The Czech armed forces consist of the Army, Air Force and of specialized support units. In 2004, the Czech armed forces completely phased out conscription and transformed into a fully volunteer military army and air force. The country has been a member of NATO, since 12 March 1999. Defence spending is around 1.8% of the GDP (2006).

[edit] Administrative divisions

Since 2000, the Czech Republic is divided into thirteen regions (Czech: kraje, singular kraj) and the capital city of Prague. Each region has its own elected Regional Assembly (krajské zastupitelstvo) and hejtman (usually translated as hetman or “president”). In Prague, their powers are executed by the city council and the mayor.

The older seventy-six districts (okresy, singular okres) including three “statutory cities” (without Prague, which had special status) lost most of their importance in 1999 in an administrative reform; they remain as territorial divisions and seats of various branches of state administration.[34]