Formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the independent state of Czechoslovakia was first established on 28 October 1918. Inheriting the major part of the industrial capacity of Austro-Hungary, the new nation became the only state in the region in which parliamentary democracy flourished.
However, from 1933 the minority ‘Sudeten’ German population increasingly agitated for incorporation into Hitler’s Reich. The Munich Crisis of September 1938 resulted in Britain and France weakly acquiesing to the German occupation of the ‘Sudetenland’. This area comprised one third of all Czechoslovak territory and much of it’s strong border defences. In March 1939 the rest of Czechoslovakia was also annexed by Germany, with Slovakia becoming a pro-German independent state and the Czech portion becoming the German protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia.
The German occupation was overthrown by a national uprising and Allied troops in the Spring of 1945. Immediately, over three million Germans were expelled as collaborators. The new middle-of-the-road socialist goverment was replaced by a rigorous and intimidating Communist regime following ‘elections’ in May 1948. In May 1958 Czechoslovakia signed the Warsaw Pact defence treaty. In January 1968 the liberal Slovak Alexander Dubcek took over as Communist Party leader and set about rejuvenating the stagnating Czech economy and society. A federal constitution was introduced in 1968. On 20-21 August 1968, Czechoslovakia was invaded by almost a quarter of a million Warsaw Pact troops and Dubcek was later replaced by a Soviet-style hardliner.
In late November 1989, the Communist regime was suddenly brought down by mass demonstrations and strikes, after similar events in East Germany earlier that month. Following free elections, a federal coalition government was elected. The country was renamed the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR). The new government chose to pursue a ‘fast’ conversion to a market economy. During the transition period, the Slovaks appeared to suffer more than the Czechs, and this resulted in divergent political and economic policies. A hastily negotiated ‘velvet divorce’ was arranged between the two republics, with effect from 1 January 1993, whereby Slovakia and the Czech Republic became independent states. The Warsaw Pact organisation was dissolved in March 1991. The Czech Republic became a probationary member of NATO in July 1997 and a full member on 12 March 1999.