Reflections on the split of Czechoslovakia, ten years on

With just a few days to go now till the tenth anniversary of the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, many people in both countries have been reflecting on just what brought about the demise of the federal republic the two nations had shared since its foundation in 1918.

In the 1992 elections the two republics went in completely different directions. The Civic Democrats, headed by Vaclav Klaus, won the elections in the Czech lands and Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) won in Slovakia. Mr Meciar's election platform concerning the future of Czechoslovakia was vague. It combined mutually exclusive demands for sovereignty, international recognition for Slovakia, and the maintenance of a common state with the Czechs. Mr Meciar's rise to power in Slovakia was based on the fact that he was for both separation and for the continuation of the Czechoslovakia, two positions which were totally impossible to hold in tandem.

Petr Pithart is now the chairman of the Czech senate, and is the Christian Democrats candidate to succeed Vaclav Havel as president. In the period 1990 to 1992, however, Mr Pithart was the head of the Czech National Assembly. Here is what he has to say about Mr Meciar and his motives:

"I communicated with Vladimir Meciar, at one time we were both prime ministers and I have to say it was tragic because we couldn't find a common ground. He was not a partner you could take seriously, you couldn't take him for his word, he changed his positions on issues all the time, and believed only the latest versions of what he said. I can't understand it. Of course Vladimir Meciar made it easier for those on both the Czech and Slovak sides to split up the state, by insisting on terms that could never be met. Whatever motive he might have had, he ensured that the state would have to break up. An absolutely inconsistent personality with inconsistent demands."

You might imagine that if the state of Czechoslovakia was to be destroyed the majority of people must have supported it. That was not the case. Polls repeatedly showed that Czechs and Slovaks were in favour of maintaining the federation of their two nations. In fact, a poll conducted just before the critical elections of June 1992 showed that 64 percent of respondents in the Czech Republic and 72 percent of those in Slovakia categorised mutual relations as very good or rather good. Public opinion then was against the separation of Czechoslovakia.

It was the political elite in both parts of Czechoslovakia which played the leading role in the country's dissolution. It could be said that the prime mover was Vladimir Meciar, who made constantly increasing demands, putting the continued existence of Czechoslovakia in jeopardy. On the Czech side, the reluctance of Vaclav Klaus to give in to demands made by Slovak politicians - in order to maintain the transformation process to a market economy - further contributed to the split. Both politicians stuck to their own goals throughout the negotiation process and as a result gained political power through the break-up of Czechoslovakia.

Even though opposition parties in the Federal Assembly were against the break-up of the state they could do nothing to prevent it. In the end, despite the absence of a referendum or any kind of national consensus, the Czechoslovak state ceased to exist at the beginning of January, 1993.

And you can find more information and reports about the peaceful break-up of Czechoslovakia here on our website.