The End of Czechoslovakia

Václav Klaus
Václav Klaus; drawing by David Levine


The Velvet Revolution and those who received most credit for it were almost too successful for their own good. The Civic Forum among the Czechs and the Public Against Violence among the Slovaks emerged from the ordeal of November–December 1989 with unrivaled prestige and honor. It did not seem to matter that the former all-Communist government was replaced by a new government with a considerable number of Communists. It hardly counted that the Civic Forum and Public Against Violence were less than a month old, had no semblance of organization, and were mainly composed of intellectuals without experience in government or business. It was a time to celebrate and rejoice.

But the problems of the country would not wait. Most urgent were the need for a democratic constitution to take the place of the Communist constitution, attention to the festering antagonism between Czechs and Slovaks, a new economic policy, and in general a sense of where the country was going. The revolution had been too much of a surprise to permit the victors to plan and prepare for the next stage. The Civic Forum and the Public Against Violence were so heterogeneous in their political makeup and so haphazard organizationally that they could agree on little else than getting rid of the Communist stranglehold.

The result was that most problems were put on hold until free elections could be held six months later in June 1990. In his first public address as president in January 1990, Václav Havel did not exaggerate the problems which the country faced:

Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nations is not being used sensibly. Entire branches of industry are producing goods which are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need. A state which calls itself a workers’ state humiliates and exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little energy we have available. A country that once could be proud of the educational level of its citizens spends so little on education that it ranks today as seventy-second in the world. We have polluted our soil, our rivers and forests, bequeathed to us by our ancestors, and we have today the most contaminated environment in Europe. Adult people in our country die earlier than in most other European countries.

After this and more, Havel told of he kind of republic that he dreamed of:

I dream of a republic independent, free, and democratic, of a republic economically prosperous and yet socially just, in short, of a humane republic which serves the individual and which therefore holds the hope that the individual will serve it in turn. Of a republic of wellrounded people, because without such it is impossible to solve any of our problems, human, economic, ecological, social, or political.1

Unfortunately, Havel could provide little more than dreams. Czechs…

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