The Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a country spiked with the victories and tragedies brought on by a Communist government and post-Communist reconstruction. Set against some of Europe’s most magnificent architecture, the country has a mix of shadows and fogs, eclectic energy and rebirth, of turbulent past and promising future. It is after all, the birth place of Bohemian, a term usually used to depict an unconventional person. It is interesting to note that although there is a Bohemia, its citizens were not often called Bohemians. In fact, the term Bohemian first caught attention in France around 15th century to describe Gypsies who came from Bohemia (Rybacek 225). But it was not used to describe a Bohemia inhabitant per se.
Before the Czech Republic came into reality, it was part of Czechoslovakia. Situated in Central Europe, with Germany, Poland, and Austria fringing it, Czechoslovakia had three regions- Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia (Rybacek 224-225). Back in the Middle Ages, Bohemia was a known European state (Pounds 400). Bohemia, a plateau, is also where the current capital Prague is located (224). On the other hand, Moravia and Silesia are lowlands and mountainous regions, respectively (224-225). Descendents of the now Czech Republic are said to come from two Celtic groups- the Boii and the Cotini (225). So how did these groups settle in the Czech Republic?
Although the exact date of the arrival of Celt groups is Czechoslovakia is undetermined, history accounts that by 6 century A.D., the groups had already settled in the country (Pounds 406). As stated earlier, Bohemia was a prominent European state. With Moravia, the two were part of the great Moravian empire in the 9th century which was then ruled with the Slavs (406). Later on the Moravian empire was shattered. This happened in 10th century when the Magyars of Hungary crushed the Slavic tribes. With an increased clout, the Czechs of Bohemia began ruling over the Slavic state (406). But before that, two Greek missionaries – St. Cyril and St. Methodius had already influenced the people to become Christians. The conversion has resulted in the country being a predominantly Roman Catholic nation. Bohemia, back then, had strong allies with the Holy Roman Empire even though Germans had started to flock the country. Following the declaration of Bohemia as a kingdom in 13th century, Charles IV became the King of Bohemia as well as the Emperor of the Roman Empire (406). By this time, Prague had become a very important city in Europe. However, this golden age ended. Not only did Bohemia lose its independence but was subjected to Communist government by late 40s, following the end of World War II. With more than 3 million Sudeten-German people inhabiting Czechoslovakia, the country soon was split into two- an independent Slovak state and a Germany protectorate, which comprised Bohemia and Moravia (230).
Under the command of Alexander Dub?ek, Czechoslovakia endured 18 months of liberalization, known as the Prague Spring (Rybacek 230). This was part of a plan to recreate communism in the country. Dub?ek, the first Slovak to become leader of the Communist group, replaced Antonin Novotny, who was extremely unpopular with the people due to his regime ways (Pounds 408). Dub?ek and the new government tried to instil changes such as the abolition of press censorship and a promise to create a constitution that would ensure the freedom of each individual (408-409). The elimination of censorship was a first for a communist state. It may have been that even though the government was a communist one, the leaders, Dubcek included, saw that the only way to let people feel that their government is doing its best to preside over a country, is to allow compromises. This was part of liberal communism. As a political ideology, communism posits that a peaceful society would only be achieved if the working class or proletariat were to dominate. Communists believe that the problem of society is connected with capitalism. Thus, if the few, affluent people were to be overridden by a mass proletariat, it would result to a society with no problems. However, communism comes with a cost. In a communist setting, the communist party establishes absolute power over the government so they can eliminate all opposite parties and seize control of the radio and the press. This was what happened to Czechoslovakia. After the coup d’état in 1948, the country fell into communism.
Dub?ek may have been liberal with his ideas, but before he could even continue his reign, he was compelled to resign when Soviet troops started to occupy Czechoslovakia (409). The Soviets feared that implementing such changes may do damage to them in the long run, threatening the Soviet bloc. Plans for reform efforts for Czechoslovakia vanished into thin air. Checks, particularly scholars and journalists, started to show their contempt for what had become of the country. In short, Prague Spring failed before it could even bloom.
With the Soviet troop invasion, Czechoslovakia fell into an oppressive Communist state. In 1977, a movement called Charter 77 was born (Rybacek 230). One of the movement’s leaders was Vaclav Havel (230). The movement was created following the trial of a band called Plastic People, which the government had arrested (Welch 2003). Charter 77 started as a petition for the regime to follow the Final Act of the 1975 Helsinki Agreement which agreed to keep civil liberties (2003).
Havel was a writer, specifically fiction (Welch 2003). However, as Czechoslovakia plunged into a dire communist period, Havel started writing essays and lecturing on the topic of European politics, particularly the ethical value and responsibility that comes with it (2003). Havel’s ideas may have been shaped by his country’s condition. Havel’s works dealt with the individual’s responsibility in ensuring that that world human live in is of excellent condition. Again, this is something that everyone longs for but in the case of Havel, it was more of a strong hunger for. He used the power of words to express his thoughts, his desire for reforms. During the period of normalization, thousands of people left the country (2003). Working against the Soviets and communism, Havel was considered a nonconformist and was barred to continue his writing (2003). But this only made Havel more aggressive in his battle. In 1975, he sent a letter to then president Gustav Husak bluntly telling the damages communism had done and would continue doing so for Czechoslovakia (2003). What Havel had done was completely stupid and brave. Doing something like that in a Communist country was pointing the gun to one’s head. It was suicidal. In the letter, Havel had brusquely informed Husak what inhabitants of Czechoslovakia would have wanted to say, if they had the power and courage. To some, it may be chutzpah but for probably the remaining Czechs in the county that had suffered for so long, this was heroism. This is the making of a true leader, someone who is not afraid to say what he wants to say; to do this not to come out as a better person but to simply say the truth. In an interview, Havel once said that he did that to challenge everyone (2003). With his letter, he had opened a stream of emotions, ideas which may serve as impetus for the much needed change Czechoslovakia had needed. Evidently, Havel went to jail for five years (2003). But the damage was done. He had opened a floodgate.
When Havel was released, he was quite frail but the spirit of change was still there. By 1985, Mikhael Gorbachev had become the premier of the Soviet Union (Jordan and Litwack 879). Introducing glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), Gorbachev ushered in the end of communism in Czechoslovakia. With it came demonstrations, mostly in Prague (Spielvogel 887). The government continued to curb the rallies but were futile. Finally, in November 1989, as many as 500,000 protestors converged in Prague. This was later to be called the Velvet Revolution, after the popularity of the Velvet Band, which inspired the group The Plastic People of the Universe (Welch 2003). The Plastic People trial was the one that sparked the creation of Charter 77 in 1977 (2003). The demonstrations continued until December when the government, barely holding on to its power, had crumpled (887). With Husak out of the way, Havel was appointed to lead the country (887). Hazel spent the next few years touring Europe to introduce a new call of government for Czechoslovakia. Then on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia due to inability to settle their differences (887). Havel became the first president of the Czech Republic (887).
Currently, Vaclav Klaus is the president of the Czech Republic. He was one a finance minister for Czechoslovakia (Klaus 2006). An economist, it is not surprising that Klaus has had advocated for economic reforms such as introducing foreign trade and privatization of businesses (2006). While Havel had planted the seeds, Klaus is not only nourishing them but had started to plant more. And his efforts had paid off. In countries with liberalized prices, Czech Republic had the lowest inflation rate (2006). The country was also able to defy the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when the country did not agree to the devaluation rate IMF had earlier supported (2006). The Czech Republic is probably one of the more stable countries post Communism in Europe. The country has yet to adopt euro as its currency, a move that may be appropriate for now given the global economic crisis.
Klaus, the economist, is on the right track. While Havel led the country with inspiring words and bravery, Klaus is guiding the nation with the goal of an economic transformation. And that is what makes the Czech Republic an interesting country. Its transformation had been slow, if not painstakingly slow but the determination is there. It is also rather fortunate that the first president of the Czech Republic was a writer for he knew exactly what to say to a confused and also agitated nation. In his own way, Havel was preparing the nation for the next level. He was building up their confidence so it would be easier for the succeeding leader to help them become stable in terms of economy, politics and social. As luck turned one, the country’s next leader was an economist. This may finally be the Czech Republic’s time to shine.
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