A closer look at the division of Czechoslovakia

This week we take a look at some more reasons for the demise of the Czechoslovak state. We examine in more detail some of the specifics which led to the Velvet Divorce almost 10 years ago:

After the fall of communism new political parties developed quickly in Czechoslovakia, but became divided along regional lines. The result of this was that two almost completely segmented party systems developed. The separation meant that there were very few parties that linked Czechs and Slovaks across the republic, other then the communists.

The results of the 1990 elections further reinforced the political divide between Czechs and Slovaks. The Civic Forum won a majority in the Czech lands based on a platform of economic and democratic reforms, where as the Public Against Violence won the most seats in Slovakia on an election platform that called on redefining the Czech-Slovak relationship. It was decided by both parties that the next step should be the adoption of a new constitution.

Due to a dead-lock that resulted after both the Czechs and Slovaks prepared two different constitutions, the dissident leadership in Czechoslovakia wound up accepting the legitimacy of the communist constitution.

The major problem with the adoption of the communist constitution was that it was designed to function specifically under the communist and thus a one party system, not under one of liberal democracy. Operating with a constitution that was not originally set up to facilitate democratic decision making, particularly in an ethnically divided society, political leaders lacked the capacity to deal with unusual political events or problems. A major blow to the common state of Czechoslovakia was the lack of a new constitution which both people - especially the Slovaks - demanded.

The most significant impact of adopting the communist constitution was that it featured the sweeping minority veto. This veto banned majority voting for extraordinary as well as a broad range of ordinary legislation. This made it impossible for the majority Czech representatives to override the votes of their Slovak counterparts, even though Slovaks constituted only 1/3 of the population of Czechoslovakia.

Furthermore, this veto gave exceptional powers to the Slovak nationalist parties. Although these parties obtained less the 15% of the votes in the elections, the veto cultivated a gridlock in any attempts to negotiate the Czech-Slovak relationship.

While tensions increased in Slovakia, Czechs continued to focus on the economic and democratic transition rather then the Czech-Slovak relationship. The inability on the part of many Czechs to recognise Slovak grievances within the common state further led to the split.

Here we can see that there were a number of factors which contributed to the demise of Czechoslovakia. The lack of cross cultural political parties, the adoption of the communist constitution, and the power of the minority veto all compounded to frustrate the negotiation process. It would seem that the only thing that could be agreed on during the negotiation process was the split of Czechoslovakia.