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Brief History of the Czech Republic...

1989 - The Velvet Revolution and more
The Russian perestroika that was introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s marked the last years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. The late 1980s are characterized by public demonstrations. A week after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Velvet Revolution brought an end to communism. Václav Havel, former dissident, was elected president during the country's first democratic elections in January 1990.

On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two independent countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Havel was elected the first president of the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999. In 2002, the country was approved to become a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004.

1945 -1989 The Communist era
Soon after WWII, the power in the country went largely to the hands of the Communist Party and the first wave of nationwide nationalization of the industry and other areas of the economy took place. At the same time, some two million Germans were expelled from the country and their property was confiscated.

The Communist Party seized complete power after the coup d'etat on February 25, 1948. This event marked the start of the Communist totalitarian regime that lasted until the Velvet Revolution of 1989. A second wave of nationalization took place and 95% of all privately owned companies became the property of the state. There were a number of political trials and executions in the following several years. The economy went steadily down under the socialist regime. Basic human rights were suppressed.

The 1960s were a time of greater political and cultural freedom and changes were made in the Communist Party itself. Alexander Dubček, secretary of the Communist Party, attempted to create a more humane version of socialism, "socialism with a human face", that would guarantee people's basic rights and reduce the amount of political persecution in the country. The changes culminated in the spring of 1968 (known as "Prague Spring") when changes reached the government. The growing political freedoms in Czechoslovakia were seen as a threat by the Soviet Union. On August 21, 1968, five Warsaw Pact member countries invaded Czechoslovakia and Soviet troops continued to occupy the country until 1989.

The period from 1968 to mid-1980s was the period of 'normalization', the purpose of which was to put things back to the way they were before the attempted Prague Spring reform. Any sign of disapproval of the regime was persecuted and opposition moved underground or became limited to isolate acts of protest, such as the suicide of Jan Palach, student of Charles University, who set himself on fire on Prague's Wenceslas Square in January 1969.

Czech culture

Brief overview
Part of Czechoslovakia until the ‘velvet revolution’ in January 1993, the Czech Republic has a rich cultural heritage represented by classical composers such as Dvorak and Smetana and writers like Kafka. Today tourists come from all over the world to experience a unique culture that is Czech. In particular Prague, the Republic’s biggest and most important town, boasts an unrivalled range of architectural styles which includes some of the finest Baroque, Art Nouveau and Cubist buildings in the world.

An era ended in February 2003 when Vaclav Havel’s term as president came to an end. The dissident playwright had spearheaded the velvet revolution in 1989 and was the first president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia. His presidency was interrupted for only a few months at the time of the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Mr Havel saw the ghost of former Soviet military influence exorcized in 1999 when the republic was granted full membership of Nato. He left office having led it to the referendom on membership to the EU.

Death of Havel

2011 December – Vaclav Havel dies. A week of mourning is declared. He is given a state funeral, which is attended by many world leaders.

Demographics of the Czech Republic
Population: 10.6 million (UN, 2012)
Capital: Prague

Area: 78,866 sq km (30,450 sq miles)
Main language: Czech
Major religions: Catholic
Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 81 years (women) (UN)
Currency: Czech Crown (CZK) – koruna, Euro
Main exports: Manufactured goods, machinery, cars, transport equipment, crystal and beer

Internet domain: .cz

Leader of the Czech Republic

President: Miloš Zeman

Former prime minister Milos Zeman won the first direct Czech presidential election in January 2013, beating conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg by a margin of 55% to 45%. Unlike his predecessor, the notoriously euro-sceptic Vaclav Klaus, Mr Zeman describes himself as a euro-federalist and is an advocate of closer European integration, though he believes that the Czech Republic should take its time over joining the euro.

Like Mr Klaus, Mr Zeman thrives on confrontation and is keen to exercise his presidential powers to the full, even if this means entering into conflict with the Czech government. His appointment of a close ally, Jiri Rusnok, as prime minister following the resignation of Petr Necas in June 2013 met with the fierce opposition of the main political parties, who accused him of staging a power-grab. Mr Zeman’s critics said that the move undermined democracy and accused him of trying to introduce a semi-presidential system, which one outgoing minister from the Necas government described as “Putinesque”. Mr Zeman effectively retired from politics in 2003, after failing to beat Mr Klaus in the election to succeed Vaclav Havel as president. Even his own Social Democratic party split over whether to back him.

Political analysts attribute his spectacular comeback to his harnessing of discontent among older and poorer voters with the Necas government’s handling of the economic downturn. In his younger days, he was frequently dismissed from various posts because of his criticism of the Communist system’s economic failings, and played a prominent part in the Civic Forum movement that helped oust the pro-Soviet government in 1989. He rose to be Social Democratic prime minister in 1998-2002, but quit the party after his presidential election humiliation the following year. He now leads the small social-democratic Party of Civic Rights, which does not have any seats in parliament.

Prime Minister: Bohuslav Sobotka

Social Democratic party leader Bohuslav Sobotka was formally appointed as prime minister by President Zeman in January 2014, almost three months after an early election in October 2013 that was triggered by the fall of the centre-right government led by Petr Necas in June.

Following the abrupt departure of Mr Necas – who had become embroiled in a spying, sex and bribery scandal – President Zeman appointed his former economic adviser, Jiri Rusnok, to head a government of experts. However, Mr Rusnok’s administration was deeply resented by the main political parties, who contended that the president’s action was intended to undermine the authority of parliament, and after the new caretaker government failed to win a confidence vote in August, MPs voted to dissolve parliament, paving the way for the October election.

The Social Democrats emerged from these elections as the party with the greatest number of votes, but not enough to govern on its own. Following protracted efforts to assemble a viable government, the Social Democrats reached a framework coalition agreement with two other parties – the pro-business ANO party led by billionaire Andrej Babis and the Christian Democrats – in December. Talks on the allocation of ministerial portfolios were further complicated by President Zeman’s insistence on being consulted, and by the fact that Mr Sobotka belongs to the Social Democrat faction that parted company with Mr Zeman in the early 2000s.

Analysts attribute Mr Zeman’s apparent foot-dragging over the confirmation of Mr Sobotka as prime minister to deep-rooted tensions between the two men. The normally mild-mannered Mr Sobotka stood his ground, declaring that he would be prepared to go to the constitutional court if the president attempted to block his cabinet appointments.

He has also indicated that his government will prepare constitutional changes designed to curb the president’s powers. On his appointment, Mr Sobotka pledged to end the political gridlock that had paralysed policy making for seven months and revive economic growth following the country’s longest recession on record. He has promised to boost the economy by reversing what he has described as the former centre-right government’s “deadly spiral” of austerity measures. However, his social spending plans may meet with opposition from the Social Democrats’ coalition partners.

The new Czech prime minister is also keen for the country to play a fuller role in EU politics, after the eurosceptic course pursued by centre-right governments for most of the previous decade. Mr Sobotka was born in the Moravian village of Telnice in 1971. A trained lawyer, he has been a member of parliament since 1996 and served as finance minister in 2002-6. He joined the Social Democrats in 1989 and has led the party since 2011.

Media of the Czech RepublicIn the 1990’s private radio boomed and provided competition for public broadcasters and TV stations alike. Public TV station Česká Televize (CT) operates two channels, and Czech public radio, Český Rozhlas (CRo), operates three national networks together with local services. Two major private television channels broadcast nationally, and there are over 70 private radio stations (Last count) across the Czech Republic.

The press
Lidové Noviny – Prague-based national daily publication
Mladá Fronta Dnes – Prague-based national daily
Právo – Prague-based national daily
The Prague Post – English-language publication
The Prague Tribune – English-language publication

Television
Czech TV – public broadcaster; operates mainstream channel CT1 and cultural channel CT2
TV Nova – commercial
Prima – commercial

Radio
Czech Radio – public broadcaster; operates national and regional networks
Radio Free Europe – private, national
Frekvence 1 – private, national
Radio Impuls – private, national

News agency
ČTK

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