Causes of the Break-Up of Czechoslovakia

The new world order, followed by the post-Cold War era (Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to present) has developed to a rather stable state. Contemporary Europe, the plural ethnicity region, on one hand, Ishiyama et. al., (1998: 2) argued that military force or “violence follows ethnic tensions as night follows day.” It is therefore, naturally de facto defined as “dissensus and pregnant with conflict” (Ishiyama et. al., 1998: 2). On the contrary, different in ethnicity and ideologies do not inevitably translate into violent political action (Fearon et. al., 1996: 715-735), for instance: the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 underwent peacefully with no bloody ethnic conflict involved between the Czechs and Slovaks. Stated succinctly, Czechoslovakia was regarded by many observers as a stabilising element in Central Europe, and many people hoped that it would become a model for the democratic transformation of multinational post-communist state.

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Structural violence, moreover, is another form of force, which means the social arrangements that place individuals and populations in a harmful way, Farmer et. al., (2006: 49) described the social arrangements are ‘structural’ is mainly due to the embedded political and economic organisation of the social world. The subtle but oftentimes invisible force plays a vital role on the disintegration of the nation. Particularly from Czechoslovakia’s perspective, the differences of the factors such as: the level of economic development, social, structure, culture, political organisation and traditions, along with the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the population, would have an immense impact on the way in which the communist system and the country were set up. (Welchik, 1991: 1) The ostensible contradiction on military force in Czechoslovakia, and the existence of structural violence have led this essay to endeavour whether force (military and/ or structural) is/ are the main means that the nation covers the same geographic areas as the state. The structure of the essay aims to evaluate the above mentioned statement by analysing the Velvet revolution and structural force such as: different in value orientations and political ideologies, imbalanced division in powers, and role of the political elites.

Prior to laying the argument any further, brief historical facts behind Czechoslovakia needs to be mentioned. Czechoslovakia was created with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I, the philosophy of greater unity and a single nation for the sake of economic development and political stability were proposed, hence the integration. Moreover, the integration was characterised by major discontinuities. Czech and Slovak leaders faced many of the same challenges “including the formation of a new state, its occupation and dismemberment in the WWII, and the imposition of a communist system, that confronted other states in the region” Prucha (1995: 40). Viewed from Slovak’s perspective, it was an independent country that never existed till the end of WWI, and was pulled from Hungary, which ruled those lands for centuries, by Czechs due to relatively close ethnic similarities of both nations, on the basis of panslavic movement, very popular among Czechs. Welchik (1990: 316). In terms of its population, it was evenly shared by Czechs and Slovaks, each made up to approximately fifty per cent of the initial population, and rest of the population were German, Hungarian, and Polish etc. In spite of the ethnic complexity, in the early 1920s, Czechoslovakia was identified as an island of stability in central Europe, to which its credit abroad was greatly enhanced.

After 1989, due to Czechoslovakia’s political habitual moderation and the fact that no bloody ethnic conflict had arisen between Czechs and Slovaks in the past, it was regarded by many observers as a “stabilising element in Central Europe, and many people hoped that it would become a model for the democratic transformation.” Musil (1995: 1). The widespread set of peaceful protests which became widely known as “Velvet Revolution” occurred in autumn 1989, and eventually led to the disintegration. Moreover, the dissolution was undoubtedly a surprise for many people because two nations share many similarities, for example: linguistic, cultural and historical background. Wilde (2013) summarised three main factors that caused the revolution in 1989: Gunpoint cement of communism had gone, newly democratic Czechoslovakia came to discuss the new constitution, and emergence of discussion on the new constitution and how to government. The Velvet revolution, a result of fall of communism in Eastern Europe, is extremely significant as it highlights a remarkable distinctive result of the disintegrations in Eastern Europe – Czechoslovakia experienced the disintegration with no bloody ethnic conflict and new states formed without the need for welfare; whereas the bloodshed of Yugoslavia made a stark contrast because the state collapsed into welfare and ethnic cleansing. To conclude briefly, the breakaway of the Soviet Union and the Velvet Revolution are two factors that led to the disintegration. In this case, military force and violence, in Czechoslovakia, were not the main means that had integrated nor disintegrated the state.

The break-up of the Czechoslovak federation reflected the influence of many factors. Different in conceptions and opinions concerning the division of powers between Czech and Slovak political institutions are highly accountable for the disintegration. Musil (1995: 2) argued regardless of the extra efforts by politicians in the interwar period (1918-1938) and partly after World War II: “The idea of a common Czechoslovak state did not put down deep roots in Slovak soil”. Indeed, the abstract, yet tangible force – structural violence such as: different structural (level of economic development) and psychological (ideologies), division in powers between Czech and Slovak political institution, and the actions of the political leaders of two nations, can be attributed to the disintegration.

Different in level of economic development led to a paternalistic attitude, which continued to exist since the integration of Czechoslovakia. To explain further, Czech was relatively stronger and more active in economic and cultural progress, whilst from Slovaks’ perspective, the junior partner was expecting an ‘equal’ relationship, with regard to economic and cultural development – “underestimated, discriminated against and underused in state administration and generally handicapped by the Czechs” as KrejcI?iI? (1990: 225) described. Indeed, some Slovaks believed Slovakia to some extent was exploited by its more developed partner, meanwhile the Czechs, held a thought that the Czech Republic’s economic growth would have had a better performance without being obstructed by Slovakia because an excessive transfer of resources was required.

Although Ishiyama et. al., (1998: 41) argued the lack of aggressive hostility between the two communities is an apparent evidence to support the statement that structure force/ violence between Czechs and Slovaks were merely existent. It is, however, obvious that such ill-considered misunderstanding underpinned the roots of the tensions between the two communities. Purcha (1995: 41) explained the already fragile concept of a unitary Czechoslovakia was “eroded by the attitudes of mutual distrust”. Because of the lack of opportunities and willingness to address to the misperceptions and misinterpretations, it gradually became stereotypes, and led to the dissolution. Prihodo (1995: 130) explained the importance of the role of stereotypes “the dissolution in 1993 was not provoked by external force, so it (the importance of these stereotypes) may be greater than it seems at first glance.”

Apart from different in structural perspective, the reasons for the break-up of Czechoslovakia must be sought in the principles of the development of the modern nation, i.e. “a (rising) separate national awareness of Czechs and Slovaks” Rychlik (1995: 97)