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Czech History


Czech History

The Czech Republic was the western part of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. Formed into a common state after World War I (October 28, 1918), the Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks remained united for almost 75 years. On January 1, 1993, the two republics split to form two separate states.

The Czechs lost their national independence to the Hapsburg Empire in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain and for the next 300 years were ruled by the Austrian Monarchy. With the collapse of the monarchy at the end of World War I, the independent country of Czechoslovakia was formed, encouraged by, among others, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Despite cultural differences, the Slovaks shared with the Czechs similar aspirations for independence from the Hapsburg state and voluntarily united with the Czechs. For historical reasons, Slovaks were not at the same level of economic and technological development as the Czechs, but the freedom and opportunity found in Czechoslovakia enabled them to make strides toward overcoming these inequalities. However, the gap never was fully bridged, and the discrepancy played a continuing role throughout the 75 years of the union.

Although Czechoslovakia was the only east European country to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it was plagued with minority problems, the most important of which concerned the country's large German population. Constituting more than 22% of the interwar state's population and largely concentrated in the Bohemian and Moravian border regions (the Sudetenland), members of this minority, including some who were sympathetic to Nazi Germany, undermined the new Czechoslovak state. Internal and external pressures culminated in September 1938, when France and the United Kingdom yielded to Nazi pressures at Munich and agreed to force Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland to Germany.

Fulfilling Hitler's aggressive designs on all of Czechoslovakia, Germany invaded what remained of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, establishing a German "protectorate." By this time, Slovakia had already declared independence and had become a puppet state of the Germans. Hitler's occupation of the Czech lands was a clear betrayal of the Munich Pact and still stirs passions in modern-day Czech society, but at the time it was met by muted resistance; the brunt of Nazi aggression was felt by Czech Jews and other minorities who were rounded up and deported to concentration camps in systematic waves. Over 100,000 Jews lived in the Czech lands in 1939. Only several thousand remained or returned after the Holocaust in 1945.

At the close of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and much of Bohemia, including Prague. In May 1945, U.S. forces liberated the city of Plzen and most of western Bohemia. A civilian uprising against the German garrison took place in Prague in May 1945. Following Germany's surrender, some 2.9 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia with Allied approval under the Benes Decrees.

Reunited after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks set national elections for the spring of 1946. The democratic elements, led by President Eduard Benes, hoped the Soviet Union would allow Czechoslovakia the freedom to choose its own form of government and aspired to a Czechoslovakia that would act as a bridge between East and West. The Czechoslovak Communist Party, which won 38% of the vote, held most of the key positions in the government and gradually managed to neutralize or silence the anti-communist forces. Although the communist-led government initially intended to participate in the Marshall Plan, it was forced by Moscow to back out. Under the cover of superficial legality, the Communist Party seized power in February 1948.

After extensive purges modeled on the Stalinist pattern in other east European states, the Communist Party tried 14 of its former leaders in November 1952 and sentenced 11 to death. For more than a decade thereafter, the Czechoslovak communist political structure was characterized by the orthodoxy of the leadership of party chief Antonin Novotny.

The 1968 Soviet Invasion

The communist leadership allowed token reforms in the early 1960s, but discontent arose within the ranks of the Communist Party central committee, stemming from dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the economic reforms, resistance to cultural liberalization, and the desire of the Slovaks within the leadership for greater autonomy for their republic. This discontent expressed itself with the removal of Novotny from party leadership in January 1968 and from the presidency in March. He was replaced as party leader by a Slovak, Alexander Dubcek.

After January 1968, the Dubcek leadership took practical steps toward political, social, and economic reforms. In addition, it called for politico-military changes in the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact and Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. The leadership affirmed its loyalty to socialism and the Warsaw Pact but also expressed the desire to improve relations with all countries of the world regardless of their social systems.

A program adopted in April 1968 set guidelines for a modern, humanistic socialist democracy that would guarantee, among other things, freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel; a program that, in Dubcek's words, would give socialism "a human face." After 20 years of little public participation, the population gradually started to take interest in the government, and Dubcek became a truly popular national figure.

The internal reforms and foreign policy statements of the Dubcek leadership created great concern among some other Warsaw Pact governments. On the night of August 20, 1968, Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, and Polish troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak Government immediately declared that the troops had not been invited into the country and that their invasion was a violation of socialist principles, international law, and the UN Charter.

The principal Czechoslovak reformers were forcibly and secretly taken to the Soviet Union. Under obvious Soviet duress, they were compelled to sign a treaty that provided for the "temporary stationing" of an unspecified number of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia. Dubcek was removed as party First Secretary on April 17, 1969, and replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak. Later, Dubcek and many of his allies within the party were stripped of their party positions in a purge that lasted until 1971 and reduced party membership by almost one-third.

The 1970s and 1980s became known as the period of "normalization," in which the apologists for the 1968 Soviet invasion prevented, as best they could, any opposition to their conservative regime. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. The population, cowed by the "normalization," was quiet.

The Velvet Revolution

The roots of the 1989 Civic Forum movement that came to power during the "Velvet Revolution" lie in human rights activism. On January 1, 1977, more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called the Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of documents it had signed, including the state's own constitution; international covenants on political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights; and the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although not organized in any real sense, the signatories of Charter 77 constituted a citizens' initiative aimed at inducing the Czechoslovak Government to observe formal obligations to respect the human rights of its citizens.

On November 17, 1989, the communist police violently broke up a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration and brutally beat many student participants. In the days that followed, Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel. Intentionally eschewing the label "party," a word given a negative connotation during the previous regime, Civic Forum quickly gained the support of millions of Czechs, as did its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence.

Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party all but collapsed. Its leaders, Husak and party chief Milos Jakes, resigned in December 1989, and Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia on December 29. The astonishing quickness of these events was in part due to the unpopularity of the communist regime and changes in the policies of its Soviet guarantor as well as to the rapid, effective organization of these public initiatives into a viable opposition.

A coalition government, in which the Communist Party had a minority of ministerial positions, was formed in December 1989. The first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1946 took place in June 1990 without incident and with more than 95% of the population voting. As anticipated, Civic Forum and Public Against Violence won landslide victories in their respective republics and gained a comfortable majority in the federal parliament. The parliament undertook substantial steps toward securing the democratic evolution of Czechoslovakia. It successfully moved toward fair local elections in November 1990, ensuring fundamental change at the county and town level.

Civic Forum found, however, that although it had successfully completed its primary objective--the overthrow of the communist regime--it was ineffectual as a governing party. The demise of Civic Forum was viewed by most as necessary and inevitable.

By the end of 1990, unofficial parliamentary "clubs" had evolved with distinct political agendas. Most influential was the Civic Democratic Party, headed by Vaclav Klaus, who later became Prime Minister. Other notable parties that came to the fore after the split were the Czech Social Democratic Party, Civic Movement, and Civic Democratic Alliance.

By 1992, Slovak calls for greater autonomy effectively blocked the daily functioning of the federal government. In the election of June 1992, Klaus's Civic Democratic Party won handily in the Czech lands on a platform of economic reform. Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia emerged as the leading party in Slovakia, basing its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy. Federalists, like Havel, were unable to contain the trend toward the split. In July 1992, President Havel resigned. In the latter half of 1992, Klaus and Meciar hammered out an agreement that the two republics would go their separate ways by the end of the year.

Members of the federal parliament, divided along national lines, barely cooperated enough to pass the law officially separating the two nations. The law was passed on December 27, 1992. On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia were simultaneously and peacefully founded.

Relationships between the two states, despite occasional disputes about the division of federal property and governing of the border, have been peaceful. Both states attained immediate recognition from the U.S. and their European neighbors.


Fifteen Centuries of Czech History

By Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, 2005

You’ve probably already heard of Charles IV, the successful Bohemian king and the Holy Roman Emperor from the 14th century, Hussitism, the most important European religious movement of the 15th century and precursor of the reformation in Europe, Rudolph II the passionate art collector and lover of alchemy, the Czech Estates Rising, which began the Thirty Years War, or of Václav Havel, the defender of human rights and the first democratically elected president after more than 40 years of communist totalitarianism.

But history doesn’t just consist of important figures or tense moments. History is a stream of events, which have their causes and effects. Therefore, please accept an invitation to peruse fifteen centuries of Czech history. It is a history which comprises an important tessera in the mosaic of Europe’s past.



Like every proper story, Czech history also has a beginning – the arrival of the Czechs. Medieval chroniclers worked on this and ascertained that Praotec Čech (“Ancestor Czech”) led his tribe to Bohemia in 644. He climbed to the top of Říp Mountain and looked around him. Říp is a 455-metre-high hill in the middle of what is now Bohemia. Standing near the confluence of the Elbe (Labe) and the Vltava, it protrudes steeply above the flat surrounding landscape so that it looks as though somebody forgot a huge hat.  The Romanesque rotunda of St. George and St. Adalbert stands at its summit. 

He decided that this land “overflowing with milk and honey” (as he apparently put it) was the place where his tribe was going to settle. So goes the first of the Czech legends.

Nevertheless, it is a historic fact that the Slavic tribes came to Central Europe from the east in the course of the sixth century during the time known as the migration of nations.  They settled in areas which German tribes had previously settled and where Celtic tribes had resided before them.

The first accounts of a Slavic settlement on our territory come from Fredegar’s Chronicle. This provides an account of a battle at Wogastisburg (Vosgate Castle) in 631. In this encounter, Sámo, the leader of the Slavs, and his forces defeated the divisions of the Frankish king Dagobert. Nevertheless Samo’s Empire itself did not last long and succumbed to the forays of the nomadic Avars.

The first genuine state structure on the territory of the Czech Republic was the Great Moravian Empire. This was located on the territory of Bohemia, Silesia, Moravia, Slovakia and the Danube Basin. In the west, it bordered on the powerful East Frankish Kingdom, from where Christianity spread to pagan Moravia. Prince Rostislav in an effort to limit dependence on the Frankish kingdom sent a mission to the Byzantine emperor Michael III and requested that he send some priests. In 863, the brothers Constantine (Cyril) and Methodius, who hailed from Salonika, came to Great Moravia.


The Frankish priests viewed the representatives of the Eastern Church as unwelcome and unwanted competition.  As a result, disputes often arose between them. Instead of Latin, which was not comprehensible to people, Constantine and Methodius used Old Church Slavonic as the liturgical language.  By creating an Old Slavonic script, they founded Slavonic literature, which later developed in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and other countries. They strengthened their position when they received the pope’s consent for the use of Old Church Slavonic. Constantine entered a monastery in Rome and took the name of Cyril. He died in 869. Methodius returned to Great Moravia. He was assigned the task of building a new church province to the east of Salzburg. He was also appointed Archbishop of Sirmium and missionary bishop for the Slavs. Later the pope even established a Moravian archbishopric with Methodius at its head.

In 880 an important event in Czech history occurred in Great Moravia. The Bohemian Prince Bořivoj and his wife Ludmila were baptised in the court of Prince Svatopluk. Ludmila and Bořivoj were the grandparents of the legendary Prince Wenceslas.

After Methodius’ death in 885, his pupils were expelled to the Balkans by the Moravian Prince Svatopluk. Every year, we commemorate the arrival of the Slavic missionaries Cyril and Methodius with a state holiday on 5 July. The end of both the state and church administration of Great Moravia came at the beginning of the tenth century as a result of Magyar invasions.

The centre of the state moved westward to Bohemia.  Power was concentrated here in the hands of the Premyslids, who held onto it for more than 400 years until 1306. There are many old legends associated with this family and the entire Czech tribe. One of them describes the origin of the Premyslid dynasty itself.

The Czechs were ruled by Princess Libuše, the daughter of Krok, who reigned several generations after Praotec Čech. Even in this instance, the chroniclers have evidently given us very precise accounts of what happened. Libuše did not want to govern the ungrateful Czechs without male support. She instructed her people to follow her horse who on his own would lead them to the future prince. He was to be recognized by the fact that he would be ploughing with oxen. The horse led the delegation to a small village near what is today Ústí nad Labem, where they actually did find a ploughman. His name was Přemysl. And so, according to legend, the first ruling dynasty in Bohemia was given his name. Premysl’s shoes of bark and a period-style stone throne, on which a new prince was always installed, were held at Prague Castle as a reminder of the ancient times of Libuše and Přemysl until well into the Middle Ages.

Of course, the first historically documented Premyslid was Bořivoj, who is already known to us. He had himself baptised at the Great Moravian court of Prince Svatopluk. He was initially based in the fortified settlement of Levý Hradec, which is where the oldest preserved church in Bohemia is located.

He subsequently relocated to Prague. Bořivoj’s wife Ludmila became one of the first Czech saints because she was throttled at the Tetín settlement on the orders of her daughter-in-law Drahomíra.

Ludmila and Bořivoj’s grandson Wenceslas went down in history as one of the most famous Premyslids. He lived from 907 to 935. After losing a war to the Saxon King Henry I, he undertook to pay a tribute to the victor. He also requested the shoulder of St. Vitus from him (which was originally deposited at Saint Dennis) so that he could construct a Church of St. Vitus over his relics at Prague Castle.  In the course of time, this was rebuilt many times and not completed until 1929. His younger brother Boleslav, who was dissatisfied with Wenceslas’ policies and hankered after princely power himself, had Wenceslas murdered on 28 September 935 at his settlement in Stará Boleslav. He took charge of government as Boleslav I., and was later called Boleslav the Cruel by medieval chroniclers. His war with the Saxon king Otto I, however, ended in defeat.

With the creation of the state, it was desirable to build a separate church administration. Consequently, a bishopric was established in 973, which was subordinate to the archbishopric in Mainz. Until that time, Bohemia came under the Regensburg diocese.  Sas Dětmar became the first Prague bishop.  After him, Adalbert (Vojtěch) was appointed Prague bishop at the church in Levý Hradec in 982. Adalbert was a member of the powerful Slavník family, whose importance was comparable with that of the Premyslids. They, however, did not want any threat to their reign. In 995, Premyslid forces attacked the Slavník settlement in Libice. All of its inhabitants were massacred.

Adalbert and his two brothers were residing abroad at the time. He then left for Prussia to spread Christianity and on 23 April 997 he was killed by pagans while promulgating the Christian faith.

Adalbert’s fame and the power of his legend were exploited by the Bohemian Prince Břetislav in 1039 for a campaign in Gniezno. He captured the city and had Adalbert’s remains brought back to Prague. In order to prevent confusion and power struggles between the Premyslids, Břetislav set rules of succession. Like everywhere in ruling families at that time, relations between members of a dynasty included family murders, torture, blinding and castration. Consequently, Břetislav introduced the so-called Seniority Principle, whereby the oldest living Premyslid always occupied the throne. Later, the principle of primogeniture was applied, which meant that the succession went to the firstborn son of the ruling monarch.  Vratislav I., who reigned from 1061 to 1092, was the first Bohemian sovereign to receive the royal crown in 1085. However, it was only bestowed on him personally, and was not given on a hereditary basis.  He received the crown from the emperor Henry IV for assisting in a struggle with Pope Gregory VII over investiture, which was a Europe-wide dispute as to whether the Church had precedence over or was subject to secular power.

In 1126, Bohemian forces under the leadership of Prince Soběslav defeated the army of Emperor Lothar III in a battle near Kulm (Chlumec). The emperor had wanted to strengthen his influence in Bohemia by intervening in the power struggles of the Premyslids. The Bohemian forces, who went into battle under the banner of St. Adalbert, which was attached to the lance of St. Wenceslas, prompted the chaplain Vitus (Vít) to have a vision.  Allegedly, he saw how St. Wenceslas was fighting for Bohemia on a white horse and in a white robe above the point of the lance.  Lothar III was defeated in the battle and Soběslav had the rotunda of St. George built at Říp out of gratitude.  It still stands there to this day.

Vladislav I became the second Bohemian king in 1158. He also received the royal crown for assisting an emperor. A Bohemian division led by the sovereign himself was of considerable help to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in a campaign against the city of Milan.

Přemysl Otakar I. (who reigned in the years 1197–1230) skilfully used struggles for the imperial throne in the empire. First in 1198 he achieved the renewal of the royal title for the Bohemian prince, and in 1212 Emperor Frederick II elevated Bohemia to the status of a kingdom in his document called the Golden Sicilian Bull.

Konrád Ota’s legal code of 1189 changed the status of the nobility in the Bohemian kingdom. Lands given to individuals for lifelong use were transformed into fiefs, i.e. free aristocratic estates.  The nobility emerged out of warriors from the sovereign’s retinue, which was originally completely dependent on his favour. This independence in terms of property gradually resulted in an increase in the power of this nobility, which had a decisive influence on events in the state. Similarly, the church was also emancipated in Bohemia. With a concordat concluded in 1222, the church negotiated the right to hold its own ecclesiastical elections and the recognition of legal and economic immunities.

With economic developments, the town emerged as the centre of trade. The sovereign established royal cities to buttress his own power and as a source of income for him. Towns were communities for free burghers – as opposed to the serfs in the countryside. A large portion of burghers comprised Germans coming from relatively overpopulated areas of the empire, and consequently the German patriciate acquired crucial influence in the cities.

The relationship between the serfs and their overlords also changed. The serfs obtained land in a hereditary lease, which gave them more security in comparison with the past. The colonization of hitherto uninhabited regions began.

Farmers used the three-field crop-rotation system, i.e. during the cultivation of fields they alternated spring cereal, winter wheat and fallow land. The corvée obligations of the serfs only comprised a few days a year. They also had to pay the overlord a firmly fixed amount twice a year.

The Premyslid king Otakar II (Přemysl Otakar II), who reigned in the years 1253–1278, earned the nickname of “the King of Gold and Iron” due to his military power and wealth. He came to the throne during a favourable foreign-political situation and enjoyed the position of the strongest sovereign in the Empire. In order to receive the inheritance of the Babenbergs, who owned Austria and Styria, he married Margarethe von Babenberg, who was ten years older than him. In the first phase of his reign, he ruled in agreement with the nobility, which profited from the territorial expansion of the Bohemian kingdom.

In 1255 on a crusade to Prussia, he founded the city of Královec (Königsberg), which is Kaliningrad today. Five years later, he defeated the Hungarian king Béla IV near Kressenbrunn and he managed to hold on to Styria, which was the cause of the war.  A dispute between the king and nobility on status within the kingdom culminated in a revolt by the nobles.

After its suppression, mutual relations remained tense. Přemysl Otakar II met his death on a Moravian battlefield in 1278 in a war with his rival, the Roman king Rudolph Hapsburg.

His son Wenceslas II (1278–1305) was still a child at the time his father died. A dispute broke out among relatives over who would be the young Wenceslas’ guardian in a rich kingdom. For five years, the country was occupied by Brandenberg forces, and there was a threat that the state would break up. The nobility, however, came together and paid out money for the prince royal Wenceslas to be released from Brandenberg captivity.

They then demanded a greater share of power for this. One of the nobles – Záviš of Falckenstein – married Kunigunde, Přemysl Otakar’s widow. He held the important position of regent, but this was followed by his downfall. Opponents managed to get him arrested, and Záviš was executed in front of Hluboká castle.

At the end of the 13th century, a “confluence” of people occurred at Kutná Hora, when rich deposits of silver ore were discovered. The number of inhabitants of the city rose sharply. With the aid of Italian experts, Wenceslas II put a new coin into circulation – the “Prague Penny.” The penny was minted at the mint in Kutná Hora until 1547. To support the development of mining, Wenceslas II issued a Mining Code (Ius regale montanorum) in 1300. The wealth of the Kutná Hora mines enabled Wenceslas to extend the kingdom to include Chebsko and territory north of the Ore Mountains.

He also obtained the Polish crown and his son Wenceslas tried to take over the vacated the Hungarian throne. However, the Premyslids failed to attain the succession following the extinct Arpad family line. 

Wenceslas III came to the throne after the death of his father in 1305. A year later he was murdered in Olomouc when he was preparing to go to Poland to protect the Polish crown. His death concluded over four hundred years of government by the Premyslid family on the Bohemian throne.

After the death of Wenceslas III, several kings supplanted each other as the head of state, but none of them could consolidate their position. A portion of the nobility and the abbots, who were dissatisfied with the reign of Jindřich Korutanský, concocted a coup. They deposed the king with the agreement of Emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg. The emperor consented to the marriage of his son John to Elizabeth (Eliška), the as yet unmarried sister of the last Premyslid king. Thus John of Luxemburg became the king of Bohemia. (1310–1346).

The nobility forced inauguration charters on the new king, in which the sovereign undertook to respect and observe their rights and privileges. They guarded these so vigilantly that John of Luxemburg gradually gave up on implementing an internal policy and used Bohemia solely as a hinterland for dynastic and imperial interests. His major influence on international events is borne out by the fact that in Europe at that time it held true that “without the Bohemian king nobody can settle their business.”

He sent his firstborn son – the future Emperor Charles IV – to be educated at the royal court in France.  Charles became margrave of Moravia while his father still reigned and then also became king of Rome. His father also voted for him as king of Bohemia. At this time, John of Luxemburg was already completely blind, but this did not prevent him from participating in the Battle of Crécy on the side of the French king in 1346. This battle, which was fought at the beginning of the so-called Hundred Years War ended in a major victory for the English.  John of Luxemburg was among those killed in the battle. His son Charles (1346–1378) was also injured in the battle, but fortunately for the land of the Bohemian crown he was not seriously hurt.

Charles IV was already an experienced politician upon his accession to the throne. In 1344, he negotiated the elevation of the Prague bishopric to an archbishopric with Pope Clement VI, who had been his teacher in France. The last bishop Ernest (Arnošt) of Pardubice thus became the first archbishop. On 7 April 1348, the oldest university in Central Europe was established – today’s Charles University. It was founded as a university for scholars from all over the empire, so it had a preponderance of foreign nations in its administration.  Charles IV authorised the construction of Prague’s New Town and the Charles Bridge linking Prague’s Old Town to Malá Strana (“the Lesser Quarter”). He also began the reconstruction of St. Vitus’ Cathedral and built a number of castles. The most famous of these is Karlštejn, named after its founder.

The current appearance of the Crown of St. Wenceslas, one of the most important pieces of the Bohemian Crown Jewels, stems from the reign of Charles IV.

In 1355 Charles IV was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, the highest-ranking secular title. A year later he issued a Golden Bull for the Empire. This stated that a simple majority of electors was all that was needed to elect the Roman king, and that the Bohemian sovereign was first among these electors. Moreover, in comparison with the other secular electorates, the Czech throne was hereditary even on the distaff side.  Therefore, even the daughter of the sovereign could succeed to the Bohemian throne.

Charles IV strived to prevent tension and strife with the nobility.  He also knew how to make concessions.  When he formulated a state legal code, the Maiestas Carolina, in the 1350s, which the nobility saw as an attack on their privileges, Charles IV preferred to declare that he had burned the manuscript. The Church was a source of support for his reign. Thanks to his backing, its influence and property gradually increased.

Charles married four times in his life.  He entered into politically motivated weddings with a view to making territorial gains or consolidating his international standing. Charles IV wrote his own Latin autobiography Vita Caroli. Because of his contribution to Czech statehood and his significance in Czech history, he has been given the soubriquet of “Father of the Country.”

It was not easy for Wenceslas IV (1378–1419) to emerge from the shadow of his father’s successful reign. The international situation was not too good for him either. A papal schism divided Europe. One pope was based in Rome, and another was in the French city of Avignon. Both these men and their supporters wrangled with each other over who should be recognised as pope in Europe.

In Bohemia, the dispute led to a rift between the Church and the monarch. The general vicar of Archbishop John of Jenštejn, John of Pomuk, foiled Wenceslas’s plans to establish a new bishopric. The king had hoped thereby to weaken the position of his antagonist the archbishop of Prague. On the king’s orders John of Pomuk was arrested and tortured.  His body was thrown off Charles Bridge into the Vltava River.

A tense relationship prevailed between the king and the upper nobility. The discontented nobles formed a united body and detained the king on several occasions. Wenceslas’s allies came primarily from the ranks of the lower nobility and townspeople.

The Czech lands were affected by an economic depression under the reign of Wenceslas IV. Highwaymen and plague epidemics racked the country, while private wars raged. The Church, which was supposed to supervise the observance of God’s commandments, focused on attaining positions of power and accumulating property.  Clergymen had long been performing jobs in the royal administration and instead of money they received a church office as settlement. Church ceremonies were performed for them by a poor cleric without means.  Criticism of the Church grew stronger for its deviation from its original principles, not just in Bohemia, but all over Europe. Critics considered a return to the original ideals of the Church to be the remedy to this situation.  They demanded that the Church renounce secular power and extensive property, which of course it didn’t do.

Master Jan Hus, a teacher at Prague University, preached at the Bethlehem Chapel. For him the bible was the greatest paradigm for living and the highest authority. He promoted the idea of a poor church. Coming closer to the perfect world of God was supposed to be the purpose of earthly endeavour. According to him and his followers, the disintegration of contemporary life in the country was indicative of the imminent arrival of the Anti-Christ. The German teachers at Prague University did not agree with Hus’s opinions. They apparently complained to the Pope himself about the alleged Czech heretics. Angry at the damage done to the reputation of the kingdom abroad, Wenceslas IV took retaliatory measures. By way of the Decree of Kutná Hora in 1409, he put control of the university into the hands of the Hus faction. He changed the rules of voting so that the Bohemian nation received three votes as opposed to one joint vote for all foreign nations. This resulted in a deep rift leading to the departure of German teachers and students to other imperial universities.

The king initially supported Hus, but Hus’s criticism of the selling of indulgences and the worsening reputation of a kingdom where the king apparently stayed his hand over a heretic changed the situation.  The pope declared an interdict (i.e. a ban on church ceremonies – funerals, weddings, christenings, etc.) on Prague for as long as Jan Hus resided there.

Part of the Church tried to resolve problems (primarily consisting of a schism) with the aid of councils.

And this was timely, because in the second decade of the century, Europe had no fewer than three popes wrangling among themselves. Jan Hus went to the Council of Constance, which had been called by the king’s brother Sigismund Luxemburg, in order to defend the rightness of the Bohemian remedy for the Church.  His efforts were in vain. He did not convince the Church dignitaries, and he refused to renounce his opinions. On 6 July 1415 he was burned to death at Constance. Today, this date is commemorated as a national state holiday of the Czech Republic. The delegates at the council managed to end the papal schism.

Of course, the outcome of the council failed to calm the situation in Bohemia. On the contrary, the unrest grew in strength.  People went to extremes to show off their piousness. Pilgrimages took place and masses were held in “the mountains.” People were convinced that the end of a corrupted world was nigh. Faithful Christians could only attain salvation in a quintet of Bohemian cities – Žatec, Pilsen, Klatovy, Louny and Slaný – and in the aforementioned mountains.

On 30 July 1419. Prague citizens led by the preacher Jan Želivský, threw councilors out of the New Town Hall and killed them. The New Town defenestration began the Hussite revolution/movement, which placed Bohemia at the fulcrum of European events for several decades.  When it ended, the Catholic Church gave up on preserving the single faith in its sphere of influence.

In the spring of 1420, the Hussites founded their own city – Tábor. They strived to realize their idea of a socially just and equal society here.

Sigismund, whose claim to the throne was not recognized, tried to conquer the kingdom through strength of arms. He organized several crusades, but without success. At an assembly in Časlav in 1421, a collective twenty-member body was elected, which governed in place of the deposed Sigismund. This body comprised eight burghers, seven members of the lower nobility and five lords. The Hussite programme became the so-called Four Prague Articles – freedom for spreading the Word of God, receiving communion of consecrated bread and wine at mass (sub utraque specie), a ban on secular power for priests, and the punishment of mortal sins.

The greatest Hussite commander was Jan Žižka of Trocnov, the creator of defensive tactics based on using wagon fortifications. For the type of fighting waged at that time, a wagon fortification was practically an insurmountable obstacle for a knight’s charge.

The Hussite movement had already divided into several strands during Žižka’s lifetime – the Praguers, Orphans (although they were only called this after Žižka’s death) and the Taborites. The leading Taborite figure became the priest Prokop Holý, also called Procopius the Great.  Under his leadership, the Hussite forces won battles at Ústí nad Labem in 1426 and at Tachov in 1427. The prepared battle at Domažlice in 1431 did not even happen because the crusader troops fled when the Hussite forces roared the chorale “Ktož sú boží bojovníci” (“Ye Who Are Warriors of God”) in unison before the start of the battle when they were in full view.

During the first phase of the revolution, the Hussites focused on defending against external attacks.  In the second phase, they themselves began to launch offensives.  They not only headed for the other lands of the Bohemian Crown (which besides Bohemia also comprised Moravia and Silesia, as well as Upper and Lower Lusatia) but also went to Slovakia, German areas of the Empire and even reached the Baltic in the service of the Polish king.

The Catholic Church was then happier to stake its hopes on diplomacy rather than brute force. Consequently, it began negotiations with the Hussites at the Council of Basle. The Hussites’ radical wing wanted to make the creed of sub utraque specie an obligation for all inhabitants of the kingdom regardless of the casualties, fatigue and exhaustion ensuing from long wars. In an effort to weaken the Catholics, they laid siege to the Catholic bastion of Pilsen, but the city held firm.

They themselves were defeated by a coalition of moderate Hussites and Czech Catholics at the battle of Lipany in 1434. The cause of the defeat was not the numerical superiority of the coalition attackers, but a military trick – by pretending to flee the battlefield, the coalition tempted the radicals into launching an ill-considered foray out of their wagon fortifications.  The subsequent counterattack and the rolling over of the open wagon fortifications resulted in their defeat.

In 1436, the so-called Compactata, an agreement with the Council of Basle, was declared. For the kingdom of Bohemia and the Moravian margraviate, taking the host from a chalice was permitted and the other three Prague articles were allowed in a diluted form. For the first time in history, the Catholic Church reconciled itself to two faiths on a territory it controlled. Hussitism foreshadowed the European Reformation and it was a step forward for religious freedom. It made the Bohemian military art famous and Czech warriors were in demand in many armies.

At that time, the fortified wagon arranged in an appropriate place could not be vanquished by military means.  It was only in danger of being destroyed while being moved, if its crew could not set it up and close it off in time. Its importance didn’t wane until the development of cannons.

Hussitism resulted in major property transfers. The richest class – the German burghers – disappeared from the cities.  Assets that had originally been Church assets were stripped by nobles and cities regardless of whether they professed to follow the Ultraquist or Catholic faith. The political influence of the Church also declined. It lost its representation in the estates assembly. After many years of waiting, Sigismund eventually became king, but he had to confirm the given situation in order to take charge of government.

In 1452, George of Poděbrady was elected governor of the Bohemian diet.  He was a member of a Bohemian aristocratic family and a moderate Hussite who had fought on the winning side at the Battle of Lipany.   In 1458 he was elected king by the estates of the nobility following the death of King Ladislaus (Ladislav Pohrobek). He struggled with the label of being the “Hussite heretic” ruler, because he reigned in a kingdom where parity between both the Ultraquist and Catholic faiths was embedded.   Pope Pius II exploited the fact that the Compactata had been approved by a council and not the pope and so he declared it null and void.

George of Poděbrady faced up to the threat of international isolation and the subsequent restoration of the sole Catholic faith through diplomatic negotiations.  He proposed the creation of a peaceful union of European monarchs with its own legislative and judicial bodies (e.g. in a manner similar to today’s UN). A mission from the Bohemian king travelled to the courts of European sovereigns in the years 1464–1466, but unfortunately it was not a success.

Moreover, George of Poděbrady had to deal with a deteriorating domestic situation, because Czech Catholics allied themselves with the Gruneberg (Zelená Hora) alliance and rose up against him.   The state faced an external threat from the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, who hankered after the Bohemian throne. In this situation, George of Poděbrady concluded a succession agreement towards the end of his life with the Jagiellon family of Polish kings.

After the death of George of Poděbrady in 1471, a Polish prince, the Catholic Vladislav Jagiellon (1471–1516), was actually elected king. From the outset he had to fight for the Czech lands with Matthias Corvinus. While Corvinus ruled in Moravia, Upper and Lower Lusatia and Silesia, Vladislav only reigned in Bohemia. The break-up of the state was a real threat, but because Corvinus died without any legitimate male heirs, Vladislav re-established his rule in the neighbouring lands and even gained the Hungarian crown. He also moved the royal court from Prague to Hungary.

Growing tension between the Ultraquists and Catholics in Bohemia culminated in the events called the second defenestration of Prague in 1483. This happened when the Ultraquists anticipated a prepared Catholic takeover.  They occupied the town halls in Prague and removed the pro-Catholic town councillors. The killed the alderman of one of the town halls and threw him out of a window.  They “merely” threw the rest into jail.  At an estates assembly held in Kutná Hora in 1485 a religious settlement was concluded. Even Czech Catholics recognized the Compactata as a basic state law. This thereby established the tolerance and coexistence of two religious denominations in one land.

The turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought with it a dispute between the cities and the nobility over economic privileges, political representation and the jurisdiction of the towns. The aristocracy began conducting business in areas that infringed upon earlier town privileges (particularly in the brewing industry). The treaty of St. Wenceslas concluded at the estates assembly in 1517 was meant to end the discord. This established the principle of the right to one’s own jurisdiction, i.e. burghers were judged by city courts while justice for the nobles was administered in an estates court. The voting right of cities at the estates assembly was recognized and, last but not least, all the markets in the cities were declared to be free.

In 1526 at a battle near Mohacs, the forces of the Bohemian and Hungarian king Louis Jagiellon clashed with the army of the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  After losing the battle Louis drowned in a river while trying to escape. The danger of Turkish expansion affected not only the Czech lands for several centuries, but also impacted on the whole of Christian Europe. The Turks first laid siege to Vienna as early as in 1529. In the imperial city of Wittenberg, Martin Luther made his demand for Church reforms in 1517. The Reformation movement began in Europe and it gave rise to a wave of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.

In this restless period, the Bohemian estates elected a new sovereign.  Out of several candidates, they chose a member of a powerful family – the Hapsburg Ferdinand I (1526–1564), who was the husband of Anna Jagiellon. Even he had to sign an electoral capitulation in which he undertook to uphold and respect the privileges of the estates.

In the 16th century, the Hapsburgs not only controlled Central Europe, but Ferdinand’s brother Charles ruled in Spain from 1516, which had grown rich from extensive overseas colonies. In 1519, Charles was elected as king of Rome and he was made emperor in 1530. With the accession of Ferdinand Hapsburg, the Czech lands became part of a large combined state, which, besides them, principally comprised Austria and Hungary as well.

The Czech lands continued to participate in major international politics.  However, unlike the preceding periods, they did not do so as the originator of these politics but as part of a greater whole. With a few short-lived exceptions, the sovereign’s court moved permanently to Vienna from Prague, which led to a decline in its significance.

As defenders of the Catholic faith, the Hapsburgs focused on religious wars with Protestants. At the same time as war was being waged in the empire, the Bohemian estates also revolted against Ferdinand in the years 1546–1547. The uprising, however, was not supported by the countries adjacent to the Bohemian state, and the fate of the resistance was decided following the defeat of its main ally, the Duke of Saxony. The royal cities were punished the most.

Religious wars in the empire did not end with the victory of the Catholic side. By entrenching the principle of “cuis regio, eius religio” (“Whose region it is, his religion it is”), the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 legalised the profession of a protestant faith.  Religion was governed by the faith of the ruler, and the population had to follow him in this faith. This signified a defeat for the Hapsburgs, who had fought for a Catholic empire.

In 1556, Charles V stood down and Ferdinand I became the emperor. The Peace of Augsburg did not apply in the kingdom of Bohemia, however.  Besides the Compactata of permitted Catholic and Ultraquist churches, Lutherans and Czech Brethren also operated illegally within the kingdom.

The Catholic Church did not intend to reconcile itself to losing its influence in Europe. At the Council of Trent, it declared its goal of re-Catholicisation and the restoration of its status. In 1561, the post of Archbishop of Prague was occupied for the first time since the Hussite era by Brus of Mohelnice.  Czech Lutherans, Ultraquists, and the Bohemian Brethren agreed on a profession of faith in the so-called Bohemian Confession. This was supposed to ensure religious freedom and allow non-Catholic churches to have their own administration. In 1575, they submitted this to Maxmilian II (1564–1576). The sovereign did not have much room for manoeuvre in a situation where he needed the state assembly to approve a new tax and the election of his son Rudolph as King of Bohemia. Despite this, he only acknowledged the Bohemian Confession verbally without it being binding, but he never confirmed it in writing.  The assembly sanctioned his requests.

By relocating the court from Vienna to Prague Emperor Rudolph II. (1576–1611) returned the lustre to Prague for a time as well as its importance as a capital city. Bohemia became the centre of his empire. Rudolph became renowned primarily as a patron, collector, and sponsor of astronomy, alchemy and astrology.  But he was also known as an eccentric, who alternated between fits of madness and deep apathy.

Rudolph’s empire was under threat from the Turks.  Hungarian magnates exploited this situation and entered into an alliance with them against the Hapsburgs.  After one of the defeats that followed, the Hungarians won religious and political freedom through the Treaty of Vienna. Despite the fact that Rudolph was defeated, he refused to sign the treaty or to recognize its validity. Eventually, this was done by his brother the Emperor Matthias. The sickly Rudolph systematically suspected his brother of angling for the throne, and this is what eventually happened.

By boycotting the Treaty of Vienna, Rudolf set Matthias as well as the Hungarian, Austrian and Moravian estates against himself. They all rebelled against him in 1608. However, the Bohemian estates’ representatives did not rise up on the side of the rebels and Matthias had to come to an agreement with his brother.  Rudolph II was forced to recognize the Peace of Vienna and to surrender the government of Hungary, Moravia and the Austrian lands to Matthias.  He was left with Bohemia, Upper and Lower Lusatia.  The Bohemian estates skilfully exploited the very weak position of the monarch and threatened him with the outbreak of a rebellion.

On 9 July 1609, Rudolf II preferred to issue his famous Rudolphine Letter of Majesty, in which he stated that nobody could be forced into Catholicism or any other faith. He confirmed the Bohemian Confession of 1575 and made reference to the nobility, the royal cities and serfs. He guaranteed freedom of religion regardless of the status of the individual. Thirty defenders of the faith were elected, comprising ten from each estate – the nobility, knights and the cities.

In an effort to exclude his hated brother from succeeding him, the dissatisfied Rudolph attempted to reverse the situation. He used the assistance of his relative, the Bishop of Passau, and let Passau forces invade Bohemia.  Of course, this only gave rise to disapproval and outrage in the country.  He was forced to also vacate the Bohemian throne, which was occupied by Matthias (who reigned from 1611 to 1619).

Neither Matthias nor his brothers had any offspring. The successor to the monarchy in Central Europe and therefore also king of the lands of the Bohemian Crown was supposed to be a member of one of the Hapsburg branches – the Styrian line or the Spanish line. A family agreement designated Ferdinand of Styria as successor. He was only accepted as Bohemian king by the estates assemblies, not elected. Although he pledged to observe the estates’ freedoms in his oath, including Rudolph’s Letter of Majesty, he had no intention of keeping his promise.

The Catholic faction in the kingdom heightened tensions. In 1617, the authorities in the Benedictine demesne closed an evangelical church in Broumov. In the town of Hrob, a non-Catholic church was even torn down on the archiepiscopal estate. Both occurrences were indisputable breaches of the religious freedom guaranteed by Rudolph’s Letter of Majesty, and they signified the implementation of the imperial principle of “he who rules, his creed reigns,” which was invalid in the Czech lands.  The non-Catholic estates complained in vain to Emperor Matthias.

Even despite a ban by the rule, they congregated in Prague.  On 23 May 1618, an estates delegation led by Jindřich Matyáš Thurn set off for Prague Castle. The nobles accused the governor of breaching the estates’ freedoms. Arriving in the role of jury, they confirmed the accusation and as a punishment they threw Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice, Vilém Slavata and the scribe Fabricia out of a window into the castle moat.  Luckily for those thrown out the window, this did not result in any fatalities.

This third defenestration of Prague unleashed the Thirty Years War in Europe. In the course of this conflict, the population in the Czech lands declined by a third. Religious freedom disappeared and the only permitted faith was the Catholic religion. Non-Catholics had to choose between emigration or abandoning their faith. Many chose to depart the country. Confiscations were carried out to an extent that had not been seen until then. The disaffected estates elected a thirty-member government (with ten members from each estate) in place of Ferdinand II.  In June 1619 a general assembly of the estates of the lands of the Bohemian Crown gathered and reformed the state as a confederation of countries. It expressly declared that Ferdinand had been deposed from the throne. It elected Frederick of the Palatinate (Fridrich Falcký) as the new king (1619–1620). Frederick was a professed Calvinist who had married the daughter of the English King James.

Unlike the Czech estates, Ferdinand II (1620–1637) succeeded in ensuring that he got help from his allies. On 8 November 1620, the decisive battle for the uprising took place at White Mountain (Bílá Hora) near Prague.  It lasted two hours and the poorly paid and demoralized estates’ army lost the battle. Frederick of the Palatinate escaped from Prague shortly after receiving news of the defeat.  Because of his short reign, he was given the derisory nickname of the Winter King. The Battle of White Mountain went down in Czech national history as the beginning of a “dark period” involving the decline of the Czech nation.

Ferdinand II applied the principle that all rights were forfeited as a result of the deplorable rebellion and the decision as to who would be admitted back into the fold depended solely on his merciful discretion.  On 21 June 1621, 27 leaders of the uprising were executed on the Old Town Square in Prague – 3 lords, 7 knights and 17 burghers. Frederick of the Palatinate lost his elector’s vote, which was transferred to a Bavarian duke who was an ally of Ferdinand II.

The accession of the Catholic faction was disquieting for the Protestant part of Europe. Consequently in 1625, an alliance was established between England, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Lower Saxony principalities against the Hapsburgs. They were supported by France, Transylvania and the Ottoman Empire. Albrecht von Wallenstein (Albrecht z Valdštejna), the general of the imperial forces managed to build an army and to defeat the emperor’s adversaries. He displayed the same talent when it came to the art of accumulating material assets and money. He had become immensely wealthy during the state bankruptcy of 1623, which he himself had helped precipitate.

In 1629 Ferdinand overwhelmingly defeated the first anti-Hapsburg coalition. Encouraged by his success, he attempted to implement the restitution of the property of the Catholic Church back to the situation that had existed before 1555. This only gave rise to a continuation of the war. In 1627 and 1628 he issued a Renewed Ordinance of the Land for Bohemia and Moravia.  This was a document of crucial significance, which adjusted the distribution of power in the state. The Renewed Ordinance of the Land entrenched the hereditary right of the Hapsburgs to succession.  The estates assembly lost the right to elect a king. All that remained to them was a very limited power to initiate legislation. After two hundred years, the ecclesiastical estate could once again sit in the assembly. The cities lost most of their rights. The only permitted religion was Catholicism and German was given rights equal to those accorded to Czech.

The Thirty Years War was continued by King Gustavus Adolphus (Gustavus II) of Sweden. The forces of his ally – Saxony – captured Prague in 1631. For a moment hopes revived among émigrés that they would be able to return to their homeland.  Saxony, however, concluded a separate peace in 1635. Naturally it didn’t do this for nothing, as it gained Lower and Upper Lusatia in the process.

The Hapsburgs could not revel in their victory over the Swedes for long. France, who was concerned about the excessive expansion of the Hapsburg monarchy, entered into a coalition with the Netherlands and Sweden in 1635. Swedish forces returned to Bohemia and Moravia. In 1645, the imperial army suffered a defeat in one of the bloodiest battles of the war at Jankau (Jankov) in Central Bohemia. During a final onslaught, the Swedes captured Prague’s Malá Strana (“Lesser Quarter”), Hradčany and Prague Castle in an effort to improve their position in peace negotiations. Nevertheless, the rest of the city was successfully defended thanks to the resident population. Peace negotiations took place in the Westphalian towns of Münster and Osnabrück. France and Sweden gained the most from the peace, while the sovereignty of the Netherlands was recognized for many decades. The Hapsburgs consolidated their position in Central Europe. For Czech émigrés, it meant the end of any hope of returning to their homeland. The most famous of these, John Amos Comenius – the last bishop of the Unity of Brethren and an important pedagogue, philosopher and writer – died in 1670, probably in the Dutch city of Naarden.

The Thirty Years War ended with the devastation of the Czech lands. Up to one third of the population is estimated to have been lost. This was linked with a tightening of the servitude of serfs and high corvée dues, whereby serfs had to work free of charge for the benefit of their lord.   Because of the increased obligations, insurrections broke out in 1680, 1717 and 1738. In defence of their ancient rights, peasants from the Chodsko region living in the vicinity of Domažlice also rose up against their manorial nobility in the years 1692–1695. The uprising was suppressed, their old rights were definitively annulled, and the leader of the rebellion, Jan Sladký Kozina, ended up on the gallows.

The Jesuits exerted major efforts during the re-Catholicisation of the country, which the Hapsburgs placed great stress on. The order in Bohemia was active from as early as the second half of the sixteenth century. In 1622 they took control of Charles University. The conversion to Catholicism was controlled with the aid of annual confessional lists sent to Prague to the proconsulate. Catholicism was also consolidated by the baroque concept of religion, which was meant to impress with its splendour and ostentation. One example of this was the spectacular celebrations in 1729 during the canonisation of John of Pomuk (Jan Nepomucký). He became the patron saint of the Czech lands, confessors, millers and raftsmen. His is not just venerated at home, but also throughout Europe and the world.

A period of calm did not come after the end of the Thirty Years War. The land, which was slowly healing its wounds after being exhausted by the war, was threatened by the Turks, who conquered nearly all of Hungary. In 1683, after 150 years, they laid siege to Vienna for the second time with a large army. Imperial princes and the Polish king John III Sobieski came to the aid of the Hapsburgs.  A long Hapsburg army offensive followed after the defeat of the Turks in Vienna.
The monarchy waged wars against France and the “Sun King” Louis XIV. The growth in war expenditures led to a higher tax burden on the population.

When the Spanish branch of the Hapsburgs died out in 1700, the great empires laid claim to the throne (both the French Bourbons and the Central European Hapsburgs). The idea of the unification of France and Spain as one entity led to the creation of an anti-French coalition with the participation of Great Britain, the Netherlands and the imperial princes. The sudden death of Emperor Joseph I in 1711 meant that only one living male remained in the Hapsburg dynasty – the future emperor Charles VI. Great Britain became frightened of the unification of the two empires and the subsequent strengthening of the Hapsburgs on the continent. Remaining loyal to the principle of preserving the balance of power, Britain abandoned its existing ally and contributed to ending the wars through the conclusion of a peace treaty in Utrecht and Rastatt. A Bourbon took the throne in Spain and the Hapsburgs were compensated with Spanish territories in Italy and what is now Belgium.

From the very beginning of his reign, Charles VI (1711–1740) strived to resolve the situation that would arise were he to die without a male descendant. The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 declared the monarchy to be indivisible. It also stipulated the order of succession in the male and female lines of the family.  Charles devoted a great amount of effort to having this recognised and accepted in all of the Hapsburg lands as well as on the international political stage. By the time of his death, the Pragmatic Sanction was recognised by all the important European powers, but only after many concessions had been granted.  All the same, Maria Theresa eventually had to defend her claims through the force of arms in the War of the Austrian Succession. The Pragmatic Sanction was the basis for legislation in the Hapsburg monarchy until 1918.

When the male line of the Hapsburgs actually died off in 1740, Maria Theresa (1740–1780), the daughter of Charles VI, came to the throne. She took the Tuscan duke Francis of Lorraine as her husband. In the same year, the recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction proved to be worthless when the Prussian king Frederick II invaded Silesia, the richest land of the monarchy. The Elector of Bavaria Karl Albrecht, the king of Saxony-Poland, and the Prussian king entered into an anti-Hapsburg alliance. They were supported by Spain and France. The Bohemian estates elected the Bavarian Karl Albrecht as King of Bohemia. He was also given the title of emperor. Only the Hungarians and the ally Great Britain remained loyal to Maria Theresa.

The wars were ended by the peace concluded at Dresden and Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen).  Prussia gained most of Silesia and Glatz.  The demands of its other allies were not met. Maria Theresa remained Queen of Bohemia and her husband Francis of Lorraine became Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1756, Prussian forces once again invaded Bohemia. In contrast with the previous war, a radical change occurred in the make-up of the coalitions. The Bohemian noble Wenzel Anton Kaunitz, the state chancellor, negotiated an alliance with France and Russia. An isolated Prussia sought assistance from Great Britain. Frederick II was saved from an absolute catastrophe by the accession of the Russian tsar Peter III, who was a great admirer of the Prussian king and his country.  Maria Theresa also failed to win back Silesia in this war.

In reaction to the lost wars, Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II (1780–1790) strived to raise the standard of the monarchy. Enlightenment reforms were intended to make the state administration more efficient, to improve the collection of taxes, and to support the development of the economy. Centralisation was one of the instruments of the Enlightenment reforms. First the Czech lands were united with the monarchy exclusively through the figure of the monarch. After the Battle of White Mountain, a separate Bohemian kingdom and a self-contained Moravian margraviate had always existed, but this now involved a dynastic union. In 1749 one common body for the Czech and Austrian lands was established. The reform of the state administration went hand in hand with tax reform. In 1781, Joseph II issued a patent on the abolition of serfdom, because serfdom and corvée activity inhibited economic development. Serfs could now change residence without the consent of the nobility, they could send their children off to study, and could marry who they wished.  In the same year, he issued a tolerance patent allowing one to profess another Christian faith besides Catholicism. Nevertheless, this only concerned tolerance, not equality between denominations. Compulsory school attendance was introduced, and the first learned societies were established. With fiscal and urbarial patents, Joseph II introduced other reforms improving the position of country people.

After his death Leopold II (1790–1792) had to repeal these under pressure from the nobility. In the popular classes, Joseph II cultivated the image of being a “peasant” emperor who worked in favour of the people.

In 1789, the French bourgeois revolution erupted in France, and a republic replaced the monarchy in this country.  The Hapsburgs could in no way reconcile themselves to the ideas that threatened their order. Besides reasons arising out of power politics, they were also related to the French king: (Marie Antoinette, the wife of the last pre-Revolution French king Louis XVI, was the daughter of Maria Theresa and the sister of two Hapsburg emperors Joseph II and Leopold II.)

In 1792, the first anti-French coalition was formed between Russia, Prussia and Great Britain. The Hapsburgs waged wars with a frequent lack of success.  Coalitions were formed and then subsequently disintegrated, but France remained unbeaten.  Then when Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine, a league of German states, in 1806 the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the title of Holy Roman Emperor came to an end.  The empire had already only existed formally by then anyway.  The Hapsburg Francis II  (1792–1835) did not remain without a title. He had at least prudently declared himself the Emperor of Austria in 1804.

The Czech lands also got to see the face of war at close quarters.  Napoleon enjoyed one of his greatest military successes at Austerlitz (Slavkov) near the city of Brno.

On 2 December 1805, in a clash called the “Battle of the Three Emperors” he defeated combined Austrian and Russian forces.  Of course, Austria didn’t just lose out on the battlefield.  The huge costs of the war led to a state bankruptcy in 1811.

The defeated Austria became France’s ally when the Austrian ambassador in Paris, Prince Metternich, arranged Napoleon’s marriage to the daughter of the Austrian Emperor Francis.  

After Napoleon’s catastrophic campaign in Russia in 1812 Austria switched over to the side of Napoleon’s enemies. In the battle of the nations at Leipzig in October 1813, it was already fighting on the side of the anti-Napoleon alliance.

The Congress of Vienna (September 1814 – June 1815) concluded a peace that saw the Bourbons returning to France and the establishment of the so-called Holy Alliance of European powers.  The aim of this was to maintain the status quo in Europe, with possible military interventions against revolutionary movements.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars engendered an increase in national feelings, but the borders of the European states created by complex developments did not pay any regard to national consciousness.  Italy and Germany were fragmented into many states.  Conversely, a large number of nations resided in Austria (comprising Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Czechs, and Slovaks).  In both cases, this was the basis for further conflicts.

The Czech nation also had to undergo a revival. The situation was difficult not only because of the fact that it was necessary to make up the ground it had lost on other nations, but also because at the close of the 18th century Czech was perceived as merely being the language of the common people. A demanding task faced the national revivalists at the start of the 19th century: to revive the Czech language, which until then was losing out when it came to competing with German. It was necessary to create a scientific nomenclature and an intellectual class to support Czech culture, science, art and industry.

Slavic solidarity, primarily with Russia, was a buttress of support for the revivalists, as was historicism – the commemoration of great moments in Czech history. Gradually, promoting the cultural needs of the Czech nation switched to its political demands. For example, this included things such as making the status of Czech equal to that of German, constitutional recognition and consolidating the unity of the lands of the Bohemian Crown or introducing local autonomy, etc.

The ossified system of the Holy Alliance, which rejected any reforms and ignored demands for the liberalization and democratisation of society ended in 1848 with the outbreak of revolutions all over Europe. In one year, Palermo, Naples, Paris, Milan, Prague, Vienna and all of Hungary revolted. In Germany a provisional parliament convened with a demand for the unification of Germany.  It decided between two concepts of unification – that of a lesser Germany or a greater Germany, which also concerned the interests of the Czech nation.

In 1848, Chancellor Metternich had to resign in Austria. A month later the first Austrian constitution was proclaimed, which was known as the so-called April Constitution. Austria was engulfed by an insurrection – in Vienna, in the Hungarian lands, and in the Austrian parts of Italy. The monarchy was eventually saved by the army and its generals – Radetzky in Italy, Windischgrätz in Prague, and Jelacic in Hungary.

A parliament elected on the basis of an electoral census met in Vienna and then transferred to the Moravian town of Kroměříz (Kremsier) because of the Viennese revolution. Deputies representing the Slavic nations resisted the demands of the German liberals, who called for the incorporation of Austria into Germany within the concept of a Greater Germany.

The Czech deputies František Palacký and František Ladislav Rieger advocated a policy of Austroslavism and of a strong and independent Austria which, in terms of its nations, was equitably organized and federalised.

They feared that in the event of Austria being incorporated into a unified Germany that the Czech nation would dissolve in a “German sea.”

On 2 December 1848, after the biggest wave of revolution had subsided, Ferdinand I (known in Bohemia as Ferdinand Dobrotivý – “Ferdinand the Benign”) abdicated. The feebleminded emperor was succeeded by Franz Joseph I, who was not encumbered by the “inappropriate” promises made at the time of the revolutions. The new sovereign had his forces disperse the imperial parliament in Kroměříž along with the prepared constitution. In December 1851, a decision by the emperor suspended the constitution. All that remained recognised from the revolution of 1848 was the equality of people before the law, the abolition of the corvée, religious freedom, and local autonomy within a limited extent. The 1850s are known as the years of Bach’s Absolutism after the minister Alexander Bach, the main exponent of absolutist government. This brought a restriction of political rights, the centralisation of polity and a shift towards the Catholic Church through the conclusion of an international concordat with the Vatican in 1855. On the other hand, the state strived to support and develop industry and trade.

The regime was forced to make reforms by a military debacle in northern Italy. It lost because it did not have enough military might to prevent the gradual unification of Italy. Defeats at Magenta and Solferino as well as the catastrophic state of the regime’s finances forced the representatives of state power to invite representatives of the bourgeoisie into the decision-making process. Austria finally changed from being an absolutist monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.  However, the February constitution was proclaimed in the same way as both previous octroy constitutions, i.e. it was not adopted by elected members of parliament.  It brought about a renewal of political life in Austria.

An imperial council of two chambers was established – an upper lords’ chamber and a lower chamber of deputies. The nations of the monarchy got the chance to promote their own interests. The Czech national programme was to attain national equality and civil rights, as well as to gain extensive autonomy.

Austria continually endeavoured to promote a greater German solution through German unification, which led to rivalry with Prussia and logically resulted in both countries going to war with each other culminating in the Battle of Sadova near Hradec Králové (Koniggratz) in 1866, which was won by the Prussians. Besides its international impact, such as Austria’s withdrawal from Italy and Germany, losing the war also had internal political repercussions.  The so-called Austro-Hungarian settlement was reached, resulting in the country being divided into the Austrian Cisleithania and the Hungarian Transleithania, with the Germans having the decisive say in one part and the Hungarians having it in the other.  Both parts were united under the figure of the sovereign with military, foreign-policy and financial matters being a common sphere of concern.  The December constitution of 1867 preserved the strong status of the monarch – sacrosanct, inviolable and not answerable to anyone, with the right to issue provisional decrees when the imperial council was not in session. At first, there was no universal or equal right to vote. Universal male suffrage was only applied for the first time in elections to the chamber of deputies in 1907.

The Austro-Hungarian settlement ignored Czech demands. The reaction to this involved huge gatherings of people at significant sites in Czech history – Říp, Vítkov, and Blaník.

Czech representatives agreed on the so-called Fundamental Articles with the Austrian government in 1871. This project involved a Czech-Austrian settlement, but one which had stronger ties than those that existed between Hungary and Austria. It increased the authority of the Czech estates assembly.  A state government was supposed to have been established and the kingdom divided into Czech and German parts.  The plan provoked resistance among Germans and discontent among Hungarians. The governing cabinet fell and the Czech-Austrian settlement went with it. The failure of negotiations led to Czech opposition parties continuing in passive opposition, because they refused to participate in the work of the state assembly and the imperial council.

The passive policy ended in 1878, when the parties recognized that they would gain more through participation in decision-making than through mere passivity. A new approach of moderate concessions from the state was derogatorily called the “breadcrumb policy.”  The unfortunate statement had been made by František Ladislav Rieger, who had wanted to highlight the benefit and gains of an active policy from Czech parties.  For example, the Prague University was divided into the Czech Charles University and the German Ferdinand University. A language decree was issued, which allowed the use of Czech when communicating with the authorities, etc.

The originally unified Czech political representation divided into two strands – the more conservative Old Czechs and the more radical Young Czechs. The Old Czechs tried to push through the last attempt at a Czech-Austrian settlement, the so-called “Punctation” (punktace), in 1890. This was not successful due to furious resistance from the Young Czechs and a lack of interest from the public.

The relationship between the Czechs and Germans deteriorated over time. The Germans comprised around one third of the population in Bohemia and Moravia.  In certain areas, primarily in the border regions (the so-called Sudetenland), they even formed a homogeneous majority. In the second half of the 19th century, Czechs closed the gap on Germans in terms of culture and industry.  They were also more numerous.  Czechs wanted to retain the indivisibility of the country and to establish the use of the Czech language, both in dealings between citizens and authorities, and also between the administrative authorities themselves.

Germans, on the other hand, strived for the creation of an enclosed German territory in Bohemia and the division of all state bodies into Czech and German parts whilst retaining German as the official language. Conflicts arose out of the mutually incompatible demands of both parties. After Bohemian Germans boycotted work in the estates assembly, which exacerbated the country’s financial difficulties, its self-administration was suspended by the imperial “St. Anne’s” Patents in 1913. The running of the country was taken over by a caretaker administrative commission, which was created by unconstitutional means.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Emperor Francis Joseph I was faced with the question as to who his successor would be. His son, the crown prince Rudolph, committed suicide with his lover and the succession passed to the Emperor’s nephew Francis Ferdinand d’Este (also often known as Franz Ferdinand in English). He chose the Konopiště Chateau as his family seat.

As a passionate hunter, he accumulated a huge collection of his hunting trophies in this place. Nevertheless, because of the dynastic irregularity of his marriage to Sophie von Chotkova, who was only a countess, he had to relinquish the succession right of his children. In 1914, he left with his wife for an Austro-Hungarian army exercise in Sarajevo.

Austro-Hungary got involved in the Balkans after it was deprived of the possibility of influencing events in Germany and Italy. As early as 1878, it militarily occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina, and it annexed it in 1908.

In Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, the married couple both became victims of an assassination organised by a group of Bosnian Serbs (citizens of the Austro-Hungarian state) and the Serbian Black Hand organisation. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, first hit Sophie, whom he hadn’t even wanted to kill, with a badly aimed shot (he didn’t know how to shoot).  A second shot accidentally hit the successor to the throne.  Both of them later died of their injuries. 

After giving an ultimatum, Austria attacked Serbia, where the trail of the secret Black Hand organization led. This started the First World War because Austria was backed up by its ally Germany, along with Turkey and Bulgaria.  On the other hand, the states of the so-called Triple Entente – Russia, France and Great Britain – as well as other countries came to the aid of Serbia. Parliament was closed right at the start of the War and the army leadership gained an influence in decision-making within the state. At the same time, civil and political rights were restricted.

The commanding officers as well as ordinary people originally expected it to be a quick war. These hopes soon crumbled. Nobody was prepared either materially or psychologically for a protracted, exhausting and debilitating trench war.

The Austro-Hungarian army, in which Czechs naturally also served, fought primarily on the Eastern Front against Russia and at the front in Italy. It did not defeat Serbia (which was several times smaller than Austro-Hungary) until its second campaign with the aid of Germany and Bulgaria.

In 1914, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the renowned sociologist and professor of philosophy at Prague’s Charles University left Bohemia and went into exile.

Together with his collaborators, the Czech Edvard Beneš and the Slovak Milan Rastislav Štefánik, T. G. Masaryk began to write the first chapters of the Czechoslovak foreign resistance.  

Tomáš G. Masaryk established and led the Czechoslovak National Council abroad, and this organized its own forces from compatriots living abroad or from military captives and deserters from the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian army. These people risked facing the death penalty for treason in the event that they were captured.

Czechoslovak troops were deployed at the front in France, Italy and above all in Russia. In this country (which was shaken by civil war after the Bolshevik seizure of power), Czechoslovak Legions, numbering several tens of thousands of men, controlled the entire trans-Siberian arterial railway. They were transferred to the Western Front in France, because Bolshevik Russia concluded a separate peace with Germany and Austro-Hungary in March 1918. The legions prevented the transfer of German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war back to their armies from Siberia. These captives, released from Russian internment, were missed by German generals during the last offensives on the Western front.

It was primarily thanks to the legions and their successful military performance with the Czechoslovak National Council which won international recognition for the Czechoslovak state. It was founded on the idea of Czechosklovakism – one nation with two Czech and Slovak branches.

At home the situation was more difficult than it was abroad. Supply problems and economic difficulties increased. Initially, all the important Czech political parties maintained their loyalty towards the state. And when they didn’t, Austro-Hungary did not hesitate to resort to harsh punishments.  The Czech politicians Karel Kramář and Alois Rašín were sentenced to death for treason. Their lives were saved at the last moment by the death of Emperor Francis Joseph I, who had not managed to confirm the sentence. The succeeding emperor Charles I (also known as Karl I) granted them clemency and they could both participate in politics after parliament convened in 1917. 

Austrian Germans strived to transform Austria into an unequivocally German state. Vienna became increasingly dependent on its stronger ally Germany. The feelers Charles I put out with regard to the conclusion of a separate peace with the Entente powers ended in an embarrassing scandal for which the Austrian foreign minister was to blame, which resulted in an even greater alignment with Germany.

In the war years, the Czech political representatives created a common political body – the National Committee. The individual parties were represented on this according to the election results of 1911. On 28 October 1918, after the publication of a note from the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Julius Andrássy on Austria’s willingness to negotiate an armistice, the National Committee declared an independent Czechoslovak Republic.

Emperor Charles tried to save the empire with a federalization project, but he did not come up with this until October 1918, when he could no longer prevent the disintegration of the monarchy. In view of the fact that he did not want to countenance a civil war, he preferred to allow the break-up of the state and the establishment of new succession countries. The state holiday of 28 October commemorates the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak state.

The declaration of the establishment of the state did not mean the automatic assumption of power on the entire territory. Czech Germans living in the border areas of the state, known as the Sudetenland, did not want to lose their position as the ruling nation. Referring to the right of self-determination for nations, they declared several independent provinces, which were joined to the Austrian Republic.  After negotiations between Czech and German politicians fell through, the borderlands were seized by incipient Czechoslovak armed forces.

At the peace conference in Versailles, the victors also decided on Czechoslovakia’s borders. Defining the borders of all the succession states was complicated for historical, ethnic, economic and strategic military reasons. In the Czech lands, the historic borders with minor changes were applied in favour of Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovak state power was not established immediately in Slovakia, which had been part of the Hungarian kingdom for centuries.  Hungary, the state succeeding the Hungarian kingdom, did not want to surrender part of its territory or population in favour of the new state. Czechoslovak military units were obliged to put down Hungarian resistance, including a communist attempt to set up a Hungarian Soviet Republic. The Slovak nation was able to develop incomparably better and to a greater extent in Czechoslovakia than it could have before 1918.

On 29 February 1920, the National Assembly adopted the Czechoslovak constitution. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected president. His election in the next three presidential elections was acknowledgement of his merits in establishing the state. The protection of minorities was already stipulated in the peace treaties of Versailles. In view of the multinational makeup of the population, this was confirmed in the constitution of Czechoslovakia and in a language law, which was adopted along with the constitution.

Czechoslovakia based its foreign policy on its ally France, the strongest European state after the First World War. Three neighbouring states – Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania – responded to the last Austrian Emperor Charles I’s effort to assume power in Hungary by creating the so-called Little Entente defence alliance. Just like its main ally France, Czechoslovakia also concluded a treaty of alliance with the Soviet Union.

This happened in 1935, when Adolf Hitler had already been ruling in neighbouring Germany for two years. A hostile Germany represented a deadly threat to Czechoslovakia.  Consequently it began preparing for its defence in the second half of the 1930s. It built border fortifications according to France’s example. But an effective defence was made more difficult not only by the length of the common borders with Germany and the geographical shape of the state, but also by the large German minority, an overwhelming proportion of whom inclined towards Nazism.  They were represented by the Nazi and totalitarian Sudeten German Party led by Konrad Heinlein.

In negotiations with the Czechoslovak government on regulating the status of the German minority in Czechoslovakia, this party proceeded according to Adolf Hitler’s instructions with the principal aim of not coming to an agreement and thereby increasing international tensions in regard to the status of Germans in the republic.

Great Britain and France, paralysed by the experiences of the First World War and conscious of their own lack of preparedness for war, decided on a policy of making concessions to Germany. Great Britain, bound by a treaty of alliance with France, sent Lord Runciman on a mission to Prague.  In his final report, he inclined towards the Sudeten German side.

Munich 1938

On 15 September 1938, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went and met with Hitler in Berchtesgaden. Together with the French government, he exerted pressure on the Czechoslovak administration to meet Hitler’s demands, i.e. to cede territories with populations that were more than 50% German to Germany.

The Czechoslovak government capitulated under pressure and accepted the conditions. But the population did not intend to reconcile itself to the capitulation and wanted to defend their republic.  The cabinet submitted its resignation and a new government was assembled. On 22 September 1938, at a second meeting with Chamberlain, Hitler demanded the fulfilment of his other demands, which included satisfying the territorial claims of Hungary and Poland. The Czechoslovak government rejected these and declared a general mobilization. Hitler publicly issued a threat of war against Czechoslovakia. An armed uprising subsequently erupted in the Sudetenland, which was organised by followers of Konrad Heinlein and supported by Germany. The Czechoslovak army and security forces successfully intervened against this rising.

At the suggestion of the fascist state of Italy, the four great powers – German, Italy, Great Britain and France – met for a conference in Munich on 29 September 1938. They agreed on a solution to the crisis, which involved Czechoslovakia surrendering the desired territory.  It itself had not been invited to the negotiations.  The government and President Beneš did not want to risk waging a war without allies against a superior force with the label of being a warmonger. Consequently, they agreed to the Munich Diktat. In November 1938, the Viennese Arbitration resulted in Hungary gaining southern Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ukraine, while Poland won part of Cieszyn and parts of northern Slovakia. Upon returning home, Neville Chamberlain naively boasted that “I believe it is peace for our time.”

The ceding of territory without a fight brought huge disenchantment, disillusionment and a political shift to the right in Czechoslovakia. The state was affected by a loss of industry, the severance of transport connections, and a flood of refugees (because 150,000 people had to leave the Sudetenland.  These were not just Czechs, but also democratic-thinking Germans and Jews, who didn’t expect anything good from Germany).

The new borders were absolutely indefensible in military terms and so Czechoslovakia was wholly dependent on the capriciousness of Germany.  On 5 October 1938, under pressure from this powerful neighbour, President Edvard Beneš resigned from his post and emigrated shortly afterwards. Emil Hácha was chosen as the new president.

The state’s polity was changed. Andrej Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party pushed through wider autonomy for Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ukraine also attained the same status. Hlinka’s party enforced a de facto one-party government at variance with the previous 20 years of democratic practice. In the Czech lands, where a multitude of political parties had existed in the First Republic, the parties merged into two entities – the governing Party of National Unity (Strana národní jednotky) and the opposition National Labour Party (Národní strana práce).

On 14 March 1939, the Slovak parliament declared an independent Slovak state. Germany, which had prepared the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, contributed to this with the pressure it applied. Slovakia was formally an independent state, which was internationally recognized, but was in fact a satellite of Germany. On 14 March 1939 President Emil Hácha left for negotiations in Berlin with his Foreign Minister František Chvalkovský. With pressure and threats, Hitler attained their consent to a German occupation. While heavy snow fell, German units invaded across the borders of the truncated state, which were less than six months old. Those of the allied statesmen who believed that the surrender of Czechoslovak territory fulfilled what was really Hitler’s last demand were deeply mistaken. Poland was to be the next victim of German aggression within a few months.

The German Occupation

Hitler issued a decree on establishing a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. A protectorate government worked under German administration and supervision, and Emil Hácha continued as president.

During large demonstrations held on 28 October 1939, on the anniversary of the establishment of the independent state, several participants were either killed or badly injured as a result of German intervention. The funeral of one of the demonstrators – the medical student Jan Opletal – turned into another anti-German demonstration.  The Germans reacted by closing all Czech universities on 17 November 1939 and by executing nine student and sending 1200 students to concentration camps.

Today, this date is commemorated as a state holiday known as the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.

The breakout of the Second World War was welcomed by the resistance movement, which was striving for the restoration of pre-War Czechoslovakia.  Only a complete defeat of Germany could liberate the nation from the Nazi occupation.

The resistance was divided into domestic and foreign sections. Many groups and movements operated in the domestic resistance – Obrana Národa, (“National Defence”), petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme (“We Shall Remain Faithful Petition Committee”), Politické ústředí (the “Political Centre”) Rada tří (the “Council of Three”), the communist resistance, etc. Participation in the resistance was punished by death or, at best, by being sent to a concentration camp.

Even the prime minister of the protectorate government General Alois Eliáš joined the domestic underground movement, and he was executed by the Germans for his work in the resistance. The Nazis used the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) against the illegal movement.  After the war, this was declared a criminal organization by the Nuremberg tribunal.

The German terror increased even further after the arrival of Reinhard Heydrich, who took the post of acting Reich Protector.

On 27 May 1942, a Czechoslovak parachutist mission from Great Britain assassinated him in cooperation with the local resistance. In response to the assassination, the Nazi’s increased their terror once again by burning and destroying the villages of Lidice and Ležáky.

From the beginning of the occupation people fled from Czechoslovakia so that they could join the fight for the restoration of the republic. The fight against Nazism both at home (e.g. the Heydrich assassination) and abroad helped in the effort to restore Czechoslovakia with the borders it had in 1937. The position of the government abroad was harder by virtue of the fact that the truncation, break-up and occupation of Czechoslovakia had occurred before the war. Even so they gained international recognition as the valid representatives of Czechoslovakia, they got the French and the British to revoke their signing of the Munich Agreement and, last but not least, they achieved the restoration of Czechoslovakia. After 1941, the Czechoslovak Communist Party became increasingly involved in the work of both branches of the national resistance (foreign and domestic).  Its foreign leadership was based in Moscow.

In Slovakia, which was fighting on the German side, the national democratic and communist resistance joined forces and created a supreme body – the Slovak National Council.

On 29 August 1944, the so-called Slovak National Uprising broke out.  Its exponents fell in with Czechoslovakia. A mobilisation into the Czechoslovak army was declared on the territory of the insurrection. It resisted superior German forces for two months.  Afterwards the fight continued in the mountains, but the uprising was eventually suppressed.

President Beneš, who had a decisive say in the formation of Czechoslovak foreign policy, was aware of the growing influence of the USSR on post-War events. In 1943, he concluded an alliance treaty with the Soviet Union.

Prague rebelled in May 1945 and the German army surrendered to the insurrectionists on the understanding that they would allow it to depart freely.  The Red Army arrived in Prague on 9 May 1945 and clashed in battle with the last fanatical German divisions. Czechoslovakia was mostly liberated by the Soviet Union, but western Bohemia was freed by the American army.

The events of Munich, the time of the Protectorate and the German terrorisation of the population during the war caused general hatred among Czechs towards Germans. As regards the issue of the resettlement of the German population away from Czechoslovakia, there was general unanimity and conviction that it was essential for this measure to be implemented.  In the initial phase in the months after the war, the displacement of the German population took place in an unrestrained manner during a period of so-called “wild expulsions.” The manner of the resettlement provoked criticism among the country’s Western allies. The resettlement of the German minorities from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary was officially approved at a meeting of the allies in Potsdam in 1945.

An organised resettlement took place in the years 1946–1947 and a total of up to three million people ended up leaving Czechoslovakia.

The Post-War Period

At the end of the War and following liberation, the anticipated political shift to the left arrived. It was not possible to restore the Czechoslovakia of 1937. The Munich betrayal, the years of occupation and the contribution of the Soviet Union to victory in the War strengthened the sympathy of the Czechoslovak population for the Communist Party.  Calls rang out for left-wing reforms, not only in the social and economic sphere, but also in terms of a different polity. Slovakia succeeded in getting special status in the republic, and its own bodies of executive and legislative power. All of this only lasted for a transitional period.

For the first time, the Communist Party shared in the work of the Czechoslovak government. The main post-war task was the reconstruction of the country, which had been devastated by the War. Competition between political parties was restricted by a ban on re-establishing pre-War right-wing parties, which had been accused of collaborating with the Germans. All the permitted parties were grouped in a National Front and they were all governing parties.

The Communist Party won elections in 1946 on a national scale. Further elections were supposed to be held two years later. The Communist Party, however, endeavoured to gain complete power. By installing their own followers in important positions, they infiltrated the armed forces and security bodies of the state. Not even the other governing parties were safe from infiltration by communist agents.

February 1948 Communist Coup

In February 1948, a group of democratic ministers from three parties submitted their resignation in protest against the communists strengthening their position in the security apparatus.

The communists exploited the situation to seize power in a formally legal manner in the guise of reconstructing the government. To support themselves, they established their own bodies and committees of the national front, which carried out an illegal purge of political opponents of the communists. They installed their own agents in the leadership of the other parties. Subsequent elections were only elections in name, because only one candidate ballot was permitted and this was compiled by the Communist Party.

After taking power, the communists initiated political trials of their political opponents, democratically oriented soldiers, Zionists, and even people from their own ranks. Death sentences were handed down, as were long sentences in concentration camps, where, for example, uranium was mined for the Soviet Union.

An iron curtain literally descended along the southern and western borders of Czechoslovakia with Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany, which separated the totalitarian world from the democratic world.  Czechoslovakia was part of the Soviet Empire, as a vassal state. The Soviet Union reacted with force to any attempt at defection (in the German Democratic Republic in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968). According to the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet Union had the right to defend the socialist system in any state of the Soviet Bloc regardless of the sovereignty of the given country.

On 21 August 1968, forces from five Warsaw Pact countries (the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria) invaded Czechoslovakia with the aim of ending the so-called Prague Spring, which was an attempt at reforming the communist system.

The interventionists hauled the representatives of the Czechoslovak state and the Communist Party to Moscow, where, with the exception of František Kriegl, they all signed the Moscow Protocol, in which they agreed to Soviet forces “temporarily” staying on the territory of the Czechoslovak Republic.  This “temporary” stay was to last 21 years. The occupation resulted in dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries and it also caused great material damage. Some reformist politicians played a sad role, when their work helped re-establish a pro-Soviet totalitarian regime after the invasion. Two students, Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc, burned themselves to death in Prague in protest at the onset of apathy in society.

All that remained of the hopes of 1968 was the federalization of Czechoslovakia, which comprised Czech and Slovak parts. Of course, there wasn’t any chance of any decision-making on national bodies under communist totalitarianism, where everything was essentially decided upon by the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The establishment that took power after the Warsaw Pact invasion remained at the helm for 21 years. The Communist Party underwent a purge of its unreliable and wayward members. People who made the regime uncomfortable were locked up and otherwise persecuted, but unlike the 1950s no death sentences were meted out.

The opposition group gathered around the Charter 77 movement, who spoke out for the defence and observance of human rights.  The state itself had undertaken to observe these at the Helsinki Conference, but naturally didn’t do so. The most important figure of the Charter 77 movement was Václav Havel.

The fate of the Communist Bloc was firmly tied to the development of the Soviet Union. After the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 and the growing economic problems of the entire Soviet Bloc the position of the empire began to wobble.

On 17 November 1989, the regime harshly intervened against demonstrations organized by students on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the closure of Czech schools by the Nazis. People came out on the streets in protest and they started demonstrations and strikes.

The communists relinquished political power during the so-called Velvet Revolution. The regime had exhausted itself and didn’t have the strength to engage in a power struggle with the whole of society. Political parties were reinstated and the first free elections were organized in 1990. Václav Havel became president.

The Czech and Slovak political representatives were unsuccessful in finding a suitable bilateral model for the coexistence of the Czech and Slovak nations.  This resulted in the organised and orderly break-up of the joint state.

Separate Czech and Slovak Republics have existed since 1 January 1993.  Integration with the European community and European security structures became an objective for both states.

The Czech Republic was accepted as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on 12 March 1999. On this day, the Czech foreign minister together with his Polish and Hungarian colleagues received instruments of ratification from the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on their countries’ accession to NATO in the city of Independence in the American state of Missouri.  The Czech Republic is not just a formal member of NATO or the UN. Its units have participated in missions to Iraq, Croatia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and many other states.

An affiliation agreement between the Czech Republic and the European Community was concluded on 4 October 1993. This took effect on 1 February 1995.  The process of convergence with the European community culminated with the Czech Republic becoming a member of the European Union along with nine other states on 1 May 2004.