Czech Republic, republic comprising the historical regions of Bohemia and Moravia and part of Silesia in central Europe, bounded on the north by Poland, on the east by Slovakia, on the south by Austria, and on the west and north by Germany. Formerly part of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia emerged as independent republics on January 1, 1993. The Czech Republic has an area of 78,864 sq km (30,450 sq mi). Prague (Czech Praha) is its capital and largest city.
Land and Resources
The Czech Republic rests on elevated tablelands, known as the Bohemian Plateau, which stretch west to the German border and east to Slovakia. Mountains, including the Bohemian, Sudeten, and Carpathian ranges, rise along the plateau's edges, primarily to the north and east. The Bohemian Forest forms the southwest border with Germany. The central part of the plateau consists primarily of rolling hills, farmland, and fertile river beds. The republic's primary rivers include the Elbe, Vltava, Morava, and Oder. The country's highest point is Snč"ka, which rises 1602 m (5256 ft) in the Sudeten Mountains. The lowest point is the Elbe, which at the border with Germany is 117 m (384 ft) above sea level.
The interior plateau areas of the republic have a primarily continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. The mountainous areas endure harsher winters and receive heavy rainfall. The southern areas of the republic near the border with Austria have hot summers and milder winters. In Prague the average temperature range is -5° to 0° C (23° to 31° F) in January and 13° to 23° C (55° to 73° F) in July. In Brno the average range in January is -5° to 1° C (24° to 34° F) and in July 14° to 25° C (57° to 77° F). Precipitation is somewhat less than areas of western Europe, and much of it falls during summer in the form of thundershowers. Average annual precipitation is about 410 mm (about 16 in) in Prague and about 550 mm (about 22 in) in Brno.
Plants and Animals
Spruce and fir trees are most common in the republic's forests, particularly at higher elevations, while mixed forests of oak, ash, and maple are characteristic in lower zones. The uncultivated lowlands are covered mostly with clover, reeds, and broom grass.
Wildlife is becoming scarce because of pollution and deforestation, but wolf, brown bear, wild boar, wildcat, white eagle, chamois, and fox are found in the mountainous Carpathian region.
Brown coal and lignite are the most common mineral resources of the Czech Republic. Much of it is used to generate electricity or in the country's metallurgical industry. Small amounts of hard coal are also present, as well as sizable deposits of uranium. Mercury, antimony, tin, lead, zinc, and iron ore are found in parts of the country.
The most fertile soil is found in the low plains and rolling hills of the Bohemian Basin in north central Bohemia, and in the Moravian Lowlands. About one-third of the country is forest, much of it on mountain slopes. Coniferous trees are the most abundant and are the primary source of lumber, although deciduous trees such as oak, beech, and birch are also found.
Czechs, or Bohemians, constitute 81 percent of the population of the Czech Republic. Moravians, the next largest ethnic group, constitute 13 percent, Slovaks 3 percent, and about 3 percent of the population is made up by other ethnic groups, including Poles, Germans, Silesians, Gypsies, and Hungarians.
The 1994 estimated population of the Czech Republic was 10,408,280, giving the country an overall population density of about 132 persons per sq km (about 342 per sq mi). Population growth has been slow since the 1960s, with an estimated growth rate in the mid-1990s of about 0.2 percent a year. Most people reside in urban areas.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is a major cultural and economic center in Europe, with a population (1991) of 1,212,010. Other major Czech cities include Brno, an industrial city with a long cultural tradition (387,986); Ostrava, a center for metallurgical industries (327,553); Plzeń, noted for its breweries (173,129); and Olomouc, a trade and industrial center (105,690).
Language and Religion
The republic's official language is Czech, which is closely related to Slovak and belongs to the Western Slavic subgroup of the Indo-European family of languages. Moraviana transitional language between Czech and Slovak and comprising a group of dialectsis also spoken, along with German, Hungarian, and Romany. See Czech Language.
About 40 percent of the population profess atheism. Of those adhering to a religion, the largest segment is Roman Catholic, representing about 39 percent of the population. Some 5 percent are Protestant, and 3 percent are Eastern Orthodox. About 13 percent report following other religions, primarily nondenominational Christianity.
Germanic, Jewish, and Czech cultures were combined through centuries of history into what is now the Czech Republic. What resulted was a rich and diverse culture with distinct art, music, and literature. The new republic's president, Václav Havel, was a famed playwright and leader in the Czech art world before becoming involved in government. Poet Jaroslav Seifert won the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1984. See Czech Literature.
The Czech Republic retained the largest libraries and document and treasure collections from the former Czechoslovakia. In particular, the National Museum and its library, the library of the Charles University, and the library of the Czech Republic all have extensive collections. In addition, the Premonstratensian Monastery of Strahov in Prague is well known for its collection of notable documents and treasures.
Education in the Czech Republic is compulsory for children ages 6 to 16, and almost all children attend kindergarten between the ages of 3 and 6. Although secondary education, during which students receive more specialized training, is optional, a majority of Czech students opt to study beyond elementary school. In the early 1990s more than 325,700 students annually attended nearly 7000 preprimary schools, and more than 1.1 million students were enrolled in 4100 elementary schools. About 587,100 students attended nearly 1700 grammar, vocational, or apprentice-training secondary schools. Virtually all adults are literate.
The Czech Republic has 23 institutes of higher learning; among them are Charles University in Prague, which was founded in 1348 and is one of the most famous universities in Europe, Palacký University (1576) in Olomouc; and Masaryk University (1919). In the early 1990s about 114,200 students were enrolled in higher education each year.
The Czech Republic has been one of the most successful countries in making the transition from central economic planning under Communist rule to a market economy. The former Czechoslovakia was more industrialized than most of the Communist bloc. Soon after the collapse of Communism, a privatization plan was initiated that allowed private citizens to buy discounted coupons that later could be exchanged for stocks in privatized companies. By the mid-1990s about 80 percent of the country's firms had privatized or announced a strategy to do so. Inflation, initially high as the country turned to a market economy, is being curbed. Gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to be increasing in the mid-1990s after a relatively short period of decline. Unemployment has remained lower than in other countries making the transition from a Communist economy. Difficulties remain, however, including disruptions caused by the separation from Slovakia in 1993 and problems stemming from environmental pollution.
Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing
While Czech citizens can now own their own land, many farms remain in the hands of the state or cooperatives. A law promulgated by the former Czechoslovakia government returned to the original owners up to 150 hectares (about 371 acres) of any agricultural land seized during the Communist period. Agriculture, along with forestry and fishing, accounts for about 9 percent of the workforce. Principal crops in the early 1990s, with annual production in metric tons, were sugar beets (4.1 million), wheat (3.9 million), barley (2.7 million), potatoes (2.1 million), rye (393,000), maize (137,000), and flax (50,000). The Czech Republic is a major beer producer, and about 9.4 million metric tons of hops are harvested annually. Farmers also raise a significant amount of livestock, including cattle (2.5 million annually), pigs (4.6 million), sheep (254,000), and poultry (28 million).
About one-third of the country is forested, and forestry is a significant component of the economy. Production in the early 1990s totaled 9.9 million cu m (about 348 million cu ft) annually, almost 90 percent of which were coniferous trees. This level is declining, in part because forests have been damaged by air pollution. About 20,300 metric tons of fish are caught annually, principally carp.
The primary mineral extracted in the Czech Republic is coal. Large deposits of brown coal, the main domestic source of energy, are found near Chomutov, Most, Karlovy Vary, Teplice, andCeské Budčjovice. About 68.1 million metric tons were mined annually in the early 1990s. Hard coal, of which annual extraction totaled 18.5 million metric tons, is found near Ostrava, Plzeń, and Kladno. During the same period, about 552,000 barrels of oil were produced annually.
Prior to World War II (1939-1945), the region now encompassed by the Czech Republic was a producer of light industrial goods, including textiles, footwear, porcelain, and glass. During the Communist period heavy industry was emphasized, primarily metallurgy. The region became a producer of steel, machinery and transportation equipment, and weapons. During the early 1990s some inefficient industries closed, and traditional industries began to resume importance. Annual production included 444 million sq m (about 4.8 billion sq ft) of woven fabrics, 1.9 billion liters (490 million gallons) of beer, 12.4 million metric tons of crude steel and pig iron, and 556,000 metric tons of paper.
Commerce and Foreign Trade
The Czech Republic's trade with former Communist countries continues to decline while trade with members of the European Union is increasing. The annual value of exports in the early 1990s was estimated at $12.6 billion, and import value was estimated at $12.4 billion. Leading export commodities were manufactured goods, machinery and transportation equipment, chemicals, fuels, minerals, and metals. Primary imports were machinery and transportation equipment, fuels and lubricants, manufactured goods, raw materials, chemicals, and agricultural products. The chief markets for exports were Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Italy, France, the United States, and Great Britain; principal sources of imports were Slovakia, republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Germany, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Hungary, Great Britain, and Italy.
The Czech Republic was granted membership in the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development following separation from Slovakia.
Currency and Banking
The Czech unit of currency is the koruna (Czech for "crown"), consisting of 100 haleru (25.9 koruny equal U.S.$1; 1995). The Czech Republic and Slovakia had agreed to maintain a common currency when they separated, but the two countries began using separate currencies within one month, an indication of the tensions between the two republics. The independent Czech National Bank issues the currency and acts as banking regulator. Beginning in the early 1990s banks were decentralized and private banks began to operate; nearly 50 banks now have operations in the country.
In the early 1990s the Czech Republic had an installed electricity-generating capacity of about 16.5 million kilowatts, and annual production of about 62.2 billion kilowatt-hours. Thermal plants fueled by coal produced 77 percent of electricity in the early 1990s, nuclear plants about 20 percent, and the remainder came from hydroelectric facilities. In an effort to decrease air pollution from the burning of coal, the Czech government has accelerated construction of nuclear facilities.
In the mid-1990s the Czech Republic had about 9000 km (about 5600 mi) of railroad track, about one-quarter of which was electrified. The country had about 55,560 km (about 23,520 mi) of roads, including 393 km (244 mi) of expressway. Navigable waterways include the Elbe River and its tributary, the Vltava River, which connect the country to the North Sea. The Oder River provides a water transportation outlet to the Baltic Sea. Czech Airlines is the major international carrier, and principal airports are located in Prague, Brno, and Olomouc.
Broadcasting is under the supervision of the independent Board for Radio and Television. The main stations, Czech Television and Czech Radio, are public corporations; in addition, an independent commercial television station has begun operation and licenses have been issued to some 44 private radio stations. In the early 1990s some 2.9 million radios and 3.2 million televisions were in licensed use. The Czech Republic has 55 daily newspapers with a combined circulation of about 6 million. The largest are Mladá fronta dnes (Youth Front Today), Rudé právo (Red Right), Svobodné slovo (Free Word), and Práce (Labor), all published in Prague.
In November 1989, mass demonstrations led to the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. The country's new leaders subsequently began to restore democratic political institutions and to revive democratic traditions from the period between World Wars I and II; free elections were held in June 1990. However, conflicting views among Czechs and Slovaks over the proper role of the federal and republic governments prevented the adoption of a new constitution, and leaders of the Czech and Slovak republics negotiated to form two separate nations on January 1, 1993. The constitution of the Czech Republic, adopted in late 1992, declared the country to be a parliamentary democracy.
The Czech head of state is the president, who is elected by parliament for a term of five years. The first president, Václav Havel, was elected in January 1993; Havel had previously served as the president of Czechoslovakia between December 1989 and July 1992. The government is headed by the prime minister, appointed by the president. The president, with the assistance of the prime minister, also appoints the 17 members of the cabinet.
The Czech Republic's constitution stipulates that the legislature is to consist of two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. However, only the Chamber of Deputies existed as of mid-1995, and political controversy surrounded the delay in creating the Senate and in dividing the country into regions (another constitutional requirement). The Chamber of Deputies consists of 200 members, each of whom is popularly elected to a four-year term. When created, the Senate is to consist of 81 members popularly elected to six-year terms. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 1996. All adults aged 18 and older are eligible to vote, and voter turnout has been high in both the parliamentary and local elections.
The highest judicial body in the Czech Republic is the Supreme Court. There is also a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Administrative Court, and high, regional, and district courts. The president appoints the 15 judges of the Constitutional Court to ten-year terms, subject to approval by the Senate.
Administrative reform abolished the regional-level governments in 1990, and the new regions had not yet been created by mid-1995. There are 75 administrative districts in the Czech Republic. City, town, and villages have their own governments and budgets, but continue to be dependent on federal funding.
Over 100 political parties were registered in Czechoslovakia after the collapse of Communist rule in 1989, and 40 parties participated in the 1992 elections. Subsequently, 12 were represented in the federal legislature, while 8 were represented in the Czech National Council (which became the Czech Republic's legislature after the breakup of the federation). The strongest group, the Civic Democratic party, won 29.7 percent of the vote, in coalition with the Christian Democratic party. The former Communist party, renamed the Left Bloc, received the second largest proportion of the vote (14.1 percent). The Czechoslovak Social Democratic party, the Republican party, the Christian Democratic Union, the Liberal Social Union, the Movement for the Self-Government of Moravia and Silesia, and the Civic Democratic Alliance were also represented in the Czech parliament.
Health and Welfare
The state continues to provide social welfare for many citizens. However, some public child care facilities have been shut down due to lack of funds, while others have been closed by factories. While some Czech citizens are able to visit private doctors, most still rely on state-supported medical clinics.
The Czechoslovakian armed forces were divided into separate Czech and Slovak forces after the republics separated. The Czech government planned to reduce the size of the force to 65,000 by the mid-1990s. In 1994 the armed forces consisted of an army of 41,400, an air force of 35,000, and 9000 paramilitary troops consisting of border guards and internal security troops. Military service is compulsory for men 18 and over and lasts for 12 months.
The Czechs, a branch of the Western Slavs, were converted to Christianity in the 9th century AD and founded the kingdom of Bohemia shortly after the year 900. In the 14th century, Bohemia achieved great political and cultural prominence under King Charles I (also known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV), who reigned from 1347 to 1378. The Czech lands were later convulsed by the great Hussite Reformation. Based on the teachings of Bohemian religious reformer John Huss (also spelled Jan Hus), who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415, the Hussite Reformation attacked both the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the privileged position of the German inhabitants, who had been immigrating into the country since the 11th century. Conditions worsened when the German-Roman Catholic Habsburg dynasty of Austria was elected to the Bohemian throne in 1526. The Czechs rebelled against it in 1618 and were defeated in 1620. For the next three centuries, both Bohemia and Moravia were vigorously reconverted to Roman Catholicism, Germanized, and reduced to mere provinces in the Habsburg Empire.
During World War I (1914-1918) Czech nationalist leaders Tomá G. Masaryk and Eduard Bene formed a provisional government for a Czecho-Slovak republic with the support of Slovak leaders, including Milantefánik, and Allied powers. The republic of Czechoslovakia was established at Prague immediately after the war, on October 18, 1918. The new republic included the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia, part of Silesia, and Slovakia.
Between the two world wars, Czechoslovakian democracy flourished. It was one of the most prosperous and industrialized nations in eastern Europe, but Germany's territorial expansionism under Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler quickly quelled all prospects for the nation. In 1938 British, French, and Italian foreign ministers allowed Germany to take over the Czech region of Sudetenland, while Hungary and Poland claimed other portions. The Nazis invaded and occupied the remaining parts of the former country, establishing a protectorate in Bohemia and Moravia.
Hitler's demise and the end of World War II in 1945 resulted in the resurrection of most of Czechoslovakia, with the exception of a small area in the east (Ruthenia) that was taken over by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The Communist party won 38 percent of the votes in the 1946 elections. Two years later the party gained control of the country. When liberal reforms by party leader Alexander Dubcek threatened the repressive policies of the Communists in the late 1960s, the governments of the USSR and other Eastern European countries sent troops into the country. The invasion in August 1968 crushed the reforms, which were known as the "Prague Spring." (For more information on the history of Czechoslovakia, see Czechoslovakia.)
As the pace of political change quickened in the USSR and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Communist hardliners proved unable to hold back the tide of reform. In November 1989, in response to massive demonstrations, party leaders stepped down, and the government began negotiating with an opposition group, Civic Forum, led by the Czech writer Václav Havel. In December a new government took office with a Slovak, MarianCalfa, as prime minister. Alexander Dubcek was elected chairman of the Federal Assembly, which then chose Havel as president of Czechoslovakia. In April 1990 the Federal Assembly agreed to rename the country the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, in order to appease Slovaks who wanted the name to reflect equality between the republics. In the June 1990 electionsthe nation's first free elections since 1946voters gave Civic Forum and its allies large majorities in both houses of parliament. Havel was then reelected to a two-year term. He asked Calfa, a former Communist, to head the coalition government as prime minister.
Free-market reforms introduced during the next two years tended to benefit the Czech republic more than Slovakia. This, and greater Slovak desire for autonomy, led to problems in the federal government. The question of how much authority the federal government should have, relative to that of the governments of the two republics, became a burning political issue. The Federal Assembly's attempts at reaching a compromise failed, and election results in June 1992 reflected the growing split between the two republics. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, led by Slovak nationalist leader Vladimír Meciar, and the Civic Democratic party, led by Czech Václav Klaus, emerged as the parties with the two largest representations in the Assembly. As Slovakia moved toward independence, Slovak deputies in parliament blocked Havel's bid for a second presidential term, and he stepped down in July. It soon became clear that no form of federal government could satisfy the desires of the two republics, despite polls that showed a majority of the country's citizens opposed a breakup.
Throughout the fall of 1992 Czechs and Slovaks negotiated all the details for disbanding the federal government. On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia emerged as separate independent nations. Later that month the Chamber of Deputies elected Havel as the republic's first president. Václav Klaus, formerly finance minister, heads the center-right coalition government as prime minister. The government of the Czech Republic has continued to take aggressive steps toward a market-based economy, and is seeking full membership in the European Union (currently it is an associate member). In early 1994 the Czech government signed the Partnership for Peace agreement with Western nations, as a precursor to eventually becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).