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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Historical development

Czech Republic

1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.1Historical development

Last update: 7 February 2023

The existence of the Czech State dates back to the early Middle Ages. The Czech lands became a kingdom in the 13th century and its significance reached a peak in the 14th century under the rule of Charles IV, the Czech king and Roman emperor. He established a university in the capital, Prague, in 1348 which was the first institution of higher education north of the Alps. After 1620 the Czech lands became part of the Austrian and, after 1867, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After its demise in 1918, Czechoslovakia was established uniting the Czech territory and that part of Hungary inhabited by Slovaks and Ruthenians whose language was similar. In the 20s and 30s Czechoslovakia belonged to the ten most developed countries in the world with its efficient industry and high standards of education. After Hitler's occupation of the country in 1938, Czechoslovakia was split into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak state. It was restored after the war ended in 1945, but its easternmost part, Trans Carpathian Ukraine, was annexed by the Soviet Union.

The events leading to World War II and the war itself strengthened the leftist orientation of a significant part of the population. The nationalisation of mines, key industries, banks and insurance companies in October 1945 accounted for more than 60 % of the economy. The Communist party won the 1946 parliamentary elections in Bohemia, giving rise to a government crisis in 1948 when they seized power. This resulted in a change of regime and brought the country under Soviet influence. The entire economy was nationalised and, to a great extent, run to meet the needs of the Soviet bloc. The state administration became entirely centralised and de facto subject to the Communist party. Marxism-Leninism became the only official ideology penetrating all levels of education, as well as other areas of life and society. The liberalisation of the regime in the late 1960s was short lived and was followed by 20 years of relative – though distorted – economic prosperity accompanied by an ideological miasma.

The end of 1989 saw the fall of the regime. Free parliamentary elections in June 1990 confirmed the course of democratic development. The unitary state was federalised and changed its name to the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. Rapid and radical transition from a centrally administered economy to a market economy was less acceptable for Slovakia. This process was accompanied by the crystallisation of political entities in both countries; in Slovakia often marked by efforts to achieve national independence. After the 1992 election in which parties with incompatible policies won in the two parts of the federation, the split of the Czechoslovak state and the emergence of two independent states – the Czech Republic (Czechia) and Slovakia – was inevitable (taking place on 1 January 1993). The Constitution of the Czech Republic was passed on 16 December 1992.

The State administration was relatively highly centralised. The central administration was in certain cases delegated to 78 district authorities. The basic territorial self-government units were and are municipalities, which have assumed some transferred administrative competences. In 1997 the process of decentralisation started. In December 1997, 14 higher territorial self-government units – regions – were established with effect from 1 January 2000. Regions undertook their responsibilities on the day of the elections to the regional councils, which took place progressively from 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2003. The activities of district authorities were terminated by 31 December 2002 and their administrative responsibilities were transferred to regions or municipalities.

Political development is marked by efforts to achieve both formal and actual integration of the country into European structures. In 1993, Czechia became a member of UNESCO, a member of the Council of Europe, and it gained membership of the OECD in 1995. In 1998 the Czech Parliament approved the Czechia's NATO membership. The Europe Agreement establishing an association between the Czech Republic and the European Community and in January the Czech Republic applied for membership came into force on 1 February 1995. In March 1998 membership negotiations started and they were completed at the Copenhagen summit in 2002. The Accession Treaty was signed on 6 April 2003 and ratified by referendum in June 2003 (this was the first referendum in the history of Czechia). Czechia became a member of the European Union on 1 May 2004.