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Velvet Divorce

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Title: Velvet Divorce  
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Velvet Divorce

Part of a series on the
History of Czechoslovakia
Origins 1918
First Republic 1918–1938
2nd Republic / Occupation 1938–1945
Third Republic 1945–1948
Communist era 1948–1989
Velvet Revolution 1989–1992
Dissolution 1993

The Dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which took effect on 1 January 1993, was an event that saw the self-determined separation of the federal state of Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, entities which had arisen respectively as the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic in 1969 within the framework of Czechoslovak federalisation, became immediate subjects of international law in 1993.

It is sometimes known as the Velvet Divorce, a reference to the bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989 that led to the end of the rule of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the formation of a democratic government.


Czechoslovakia was created with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I. In 1917, a meeting took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the future Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and other Czech and Slovak representatives signed the Pittsburgh Agreement which promised a common state consisting of two equal nations, Slovakia and Czechia. Soon after, the philosophy of Edvard Beneš pushed for greater unity and a single nation.

Some Slovaks were not in favour of this change, and in March 1939, with the pressure from Hitler, the First Slovak Republic was created. Occupation by the Soviet Union after World War II oversaw their reunification into the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

In 1968, the Constitutional Law of Federation reinstated an official federal structure (of the 1917 type), but during the "Normalization period" in the 1970s, Gustáv Husák (although a Slovak himself) returned most of the control to Prague. This approach encouraged a regrowth of separatism after the fall of communism.


By 1991, the Czech Republic's GDP per capita was some 20% higher than Slovakia's, but its long-run GDP growth was lower. Transfer payments from the Czech budget to Slovakia, which had been the rule in the past, were stopped in January 1991.

Many Czechs and Slovaks desired the continued existence of a federal Czechoslovakia. Some major Slovak parties, however, advocated a looser form of co-existence and the Slovak National Party complete independence and sovereignty. In the next years, political parties re-emerged, but Czech parties had little or no presence in Slovakia, and vice versa. In order to have a functional state, the government demanded continued control from Prague, while Slovaks continued to ask for decentralization.[1]

In 1992, the Czech Republic elected Václav Klaus and others who demanded either an even tighter federation ("viable federation") or two independent states. Vladimír Mečiar and other leading Slovak politicians of the day wanted a kind of confederation. The two sides opened frequent and intense negotiations in June. On 17 July, the Slovak parliament adopted the Declaration of independence of the Slovak nation. Six days later, Klaus and Meciar agreed to dissolve Czechoslovakia at a meeting in Bratislava. Czechoslovak president Václav Havel resigned rather than oversee the dissolution which he had opposed; in a September 1992 poll, only 37% of Slovaks and 36% of Czechs favoured dissolution.[2]

The goal of negotiations switched to achieving a peaceful division. On 13 November, the Federal Assembly passed Constitution Act 541 which settled the division of property between the Czech lands and Slovakia.[3] With Constitution Act 542, passed on 25 November, they agreed to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia as of 31 December 1992.[3]

The separation occurred without violence, and was thus said to be "velvet", much like the "Velvet revolution" which preceded it, which was accomplished through massive peaceful demonstrations and actions. In contrast, other post-communist break-ups (such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) involved violent conflict.

Reasons for the division

Many different reasons are given for the split of Czechoslovakia, but debates around the reason for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia centre around inevitability versus events that occurred between the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the end of the joined state in 1992.[4]

The people who argue inevitability point to the stereotypes between the two nations, problems with the shared state during communism, the success of the communist state in Czech lands and its failure in the Slovak lands which still resulted in the adoption of communism, because the Czechs had a bigger say in the running of the state than Slovakians, and the 1968 constitution that had a minority veto.[5]

The people who argue events between 1989 and 1992 point to international factors such as the breakaway of the Soviet satellite nations, the lack of unified media between the Czech and Slovak republic, and most importantly the actions of the political leaders of the two nations.[6]

Legal aspects

National symbols

Since the Coat of arms of Czechoslovakia was a composition of historic geographic areas forming the country, each republic simply kept its own symbol – the Czechs the lion and the Slovaks the double cross. The same principle was applied to the two-part bilingual Czechoslovak national anthem that comprised two separate pieces of music, the Czech stanza Kde domov můj? and the Slovak stanza Nad Tatrou sa blýska. Disputes occurred only with respect to the Czechoslovak national flag. During the 1992 negotiations about the details of dissolution of Czechoslovakia, on demand made by Vladimír Mečiar and Václav Klaus, a clause forbidding use of state symbols of Czechoslovakia by successor states was inserted into the Constitutional Law about the Dissolution of Czechoslovakia.[7]

From 1990 to 1992, the red and white Flag of Bohemia (differing from the Polish flag only by proportion of the colours) officially served as the flag of the Czech Republic. Eventually, after a search for new symbols, the Czech Republic unilaterally decided to ignore the constitutional law on dissolution of Czechoslovakia (article 3 of law 542/1992 says the "Czech republic and Slovak republic shall not use national symbols of Czech and Slovak Federative republic after its dissolution.") and to keep the Czechoslovak flag with an altered meaning.[8]


The national territory was divided along the existing internal borders. Nevertheless, the border was not clearly defined at some points and, in some areas, the border cut across streets, access roads and communities that had co-existed for centuries. The most serious issues occurred around area ‘U Sabotů’ and ‘Sidonia’, but the newly born countries were able to solve the difficulties via mutual negotiations, financial compensation and, finally, an international treaty covering the border modifications.[9] People living or owning property in the border area, however, did not stop experiencing practical problems until both new countries entered the Schengen Agreement Area, after which the borders became less significant.

Division of national property

Most federal assets were divided in a ratio of 2 to 1 (the approximate ratio between the Czech and Slovak population within Czechoslovakia), including army equipment, rail and airliner infrastructure. Some minor disputes (e.g. about gold reserves stored in Prague, federal know-how valuation) lasted for a few years after dissolution.

Currency division

Initially the old Czechoslovak currency, the Czechoslovak koruna, was still used in both countries. Fears of economic loss on the Czech side caused the two states to adopt two national currencies as early as 8 February 1993. At the beginning, the currencies had an equal exchange rate, but later on, for most of the time, the value of the Slovak koruna was lower than that of the Czech koruna (up to ca. 30%, in 2004 around 25–27%). Since 2 August 1993, the two currencies were distinguished by different stamps first affixed to and then printed on the old (Czechoslovak koruna) banknotes.[10]

On 1 January 2009 Slovakia adopted the Euro as its currency, and the €2 commemorative coin for 2009, Slovakia's first one, featured the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in remembrance of the common struggle of the Czechoslovakian people for democracy.[11] By the virtue of fate, the welcoming speech on the behalf of the European Union on the occasion of Slovakia's entry to the Eurozone was delivered by Mirek Topolánek, the prime minister of the then EU presiding country, the Czech Republic, naturally in his native language while other guest speakers used English. The Czech Republic continues to use the Czech koruna, or crown.

International law

Neither the Czech Republic nor Slovakia sought recognition as the sole successor state to Czechoslovakia. This can be contrasted to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, where the Russian Federation was recognized as successor state to not only the RSFSR but the USSR itself. Therefore, Czechoslovakia's membership in the UN ceased upon dissolution of the country, but on 19 January 1993 the Czech and Slovak Republics were admitted to the UN as new and separate states.

With respect to other international treaties the Czechs and Slovaks agreed to honour the treaty obligations of Czechoslovakia. The Slovaks transmitted a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 19 May 1993 expressing their intent to remain a party to all treaties signed and ratified by Czechoslovakia, and to ratify those treaties signed but not ratified before dissolution of Czechoslovakia. This letter acknowledged that under international law all treaties signed and ratified by Czechoslovakia would remain in force. For example, both countries are recognized as signatories of the Antarctic Treaty from the date Czechoslovakia signed the agreement back in 1962.

Both the Czech and Slovak Republics have ratified the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties. However, it was not a factor in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia since it did not enter into force until 1996.



The dissolution had some negative impact on the two economies, especially in 1993, as traditional links needed to accommodate the bureaucracy of international trade were severed, but the impact was considerably less than expected by many people.

Many Czechs hoped that dissolution would quickly start an era of high economic growth in the Czech Republic (without the need to "sponsor the less developed Slovakia"). Similarly others looked forward to a stand-alone, unexploited Slovakia which might become a new "economic tiger". The Czech state is markedly more prosperous than the Slovak and the Slovak GDP level is still lower than that of the Czech Republic. The growth of the Slovak GDP, however, has been consistently higher than the Czech one since 1994 and the margin between the two states is closing. Furthermore, Slovakia has overtaken the Czech Republic in terms of economic reforms aimed at approaching the economic conditions of the West.

One of the outcomes so far has been the acceptance of Slovakia into the Euro Area in 2009, which the Czech Republic still does not fully qualify for (on account of the missing reforms, some of which are required for accession). While the wealth of the Czech Rep. remains higher than that of Slovakia in many respects, Czech development is continually hindered by what may be described as a lack of resolve towards mending the persisting shortcomings of the domestic economy (in addition to the discussed reforms, this includes e.g. long-term fiscal irresponsibility or a failure to take steps to improve the low domestic labour productivity).


Slovak legislation allowed dual citizenship until 2010 when Slovakia abolished the possibility of dual citizenship.[12] Only a handful of people have exercised this right; however, the significance of this is lessened by both nations' membership in the EU as the freedom of movement for workers policy guarantees EU citizens the right to work and live anywhere in the Union. In the case of movement between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, this policy took effect from 2004.

People of both countries were allowed to cross the border without a passport and were allowed to work anywhere without the need to obtain an official permit. Border checks were completely removed on 21 December 2007 when both countries joined the Schengen Agreement.

Under the current European regulations, citizens of either country are entitled to the diplomatic protection of any other EU country and, therefore, the Czech and Slovak Republics have been considering merging their embassies together with nations of the Visegrád Group in order to reduce costs.[13]

Roma people

One of the problems not solved during dissolution was the question of a large number of Roma living in the Czech Republic, who were born and officially registered in today's Slovakia. Most of them did not re-register their official place of stay during the months before dissolution, and so the question of their citizenship was left open. The 1992 Czech Nationality Act allowed a grant of automatic citizenship only to those born on Czech territory. For others, the right to citizenship required proof of a five-year period of residence, an "unobjectionable" criminal record, significant fees and a complicated bureaucratic process; this reportedly excluded a rather large percentage of Roma.[14]

The Slovak government did not want to grant citizenship to non-residents. Significant numbers of Roma living in Czech orphanages did not have their legal status clarified, and were released from care as adult non-citizens without any right to work or live in the Czech Republic.[15] Under pressure from the European Union, the Czech government made amendments to its nationality law in 1999 and 2003 which effectively solved the problem; however, compensation has not been provided to those rendered stateless in 1992.[14]

Language contacts

In the former Czechoslovakia, the first television channel (see Mass media in Communist Czechoslovakia) was a federal one and the Czech and Slovak languages were used in equal ratios in the TV news there, although foreign films and TV series were almost exclusively dubbed into Czech, for example. This (and the fact that both languages are very similar) made almost all people of both nations passively bilingual, i.e., they were able to understand but not necessarily speak the other language. After the dissolution in 1990s the new TV channels in the Czech Republic practically stopped using Slovak, and young Czech people now have a much lower understanding of the Slovak language. Also, the number of Slovak-language books and newspapers sold in the Czech Republic dropped drastically. The Czech TV news, however, started to reintroduce Slovak-language coverage from Slovakia and Slovak TV (STV2) rebroadcasts the Czech TV newscast Události ČT daily, ten minutes after midnight.

On Slovak state TV, it is common to have daily at least one newscast from the Czech Republic in prime time news. Furthermore, many TV programmes on Slovak TV channels are still dubbed into Czech, some films in cinemas are subtitled in Czech and there are far more Czech-language books and periodicals on the market than before the dissolution. The major boost for the language interchange has come from private TV channel providers like CS Link (Czech Republic) and Sky Link (Slovakia) that offer Slovak channels in the Czech Republic and vice versa. Additionally, several channels, regardless of their national origin, offer programs both in Czech and Slovak (CSFilm, TV Barrandov) or even mix like TV Nova's Nova Sport coverage of the English Premier League. New impulses to mutual contacts coming via TV are also common shows like the Intelligence Test of Nations, Czechoslovakia's Got Talent[16] broadcast by PRIMA and TV JOJ, and Czecho-Slovak SuperStar, the latter being the first international edition of the Pop Idol song contest broadcast by TV Nova and Markíza, which also organized a joint version of MasterChef in 2012. Also, the New Year's Eve Program for 2009 was prepared and broadcast jointly by ČT and STV and for 2010 by the Czech TV PRIMA and the Slovak TV JOJ, this time even including the singing of the Czechoslovak national anthem.

Young Slovak people still have the same knowledge (if not better) of the Czech language as their predecessors. Even today, in Slovakia, Czech may be used automatically in all judicial proceedings, plus all documents written in Czech are acknowledged by Slovak authorities, and vice versa. Further, the Slovak Official Language Act passed in 2009 did reconfirm the right of Czechs to use their language in all official communication when dealing with Slovak authorities (however, the Act explicitly limited the use of Czech in Slovakia only to persons with Czech as their mother tongue). The same is true about using the Slovak language in the Czech Republic owing to the Administration Procedure Act of 2004.[17] Gustáv Slamečka, Slovak citizen who was the Czech transport minister (2009 - 2010), used the Slovak language exclusively in his official communication.

The upward trend in the language contacts demonstrates that Czechs and Slovaks do not regard each other as foreigners. The interview surveys from 2010 showed that the majority of the population of Prague (Czechs) still considers the division of the country a mistake;[18] similarly, the general representative survey in Slovakia (from 2008)[19] showed that society is still divided in opinion on the dissolution: 47% favouring the dissolution, while 44% considering it as a mistake.

For the language comparison see differences between Slovak and Czech languages.


At the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 1993 in Falun, Sweden, the ski jumping team competed as a combined Czech Republic-Slovakia team in the team large hill event, winning a silver. The team had been selected prior to the dissolution. Jaroslav Sakala won two medals in the individual hill events for the Czech Republic at those games along with his silver in the team event.

The official break-up occurred right in the middle of the 1993 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, which also took place in Sweden. The team representing Czechoslovakia was called "Czech-Slovak" starting on 1 January.

In their qualifying section for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the Czechoslovakia national football team competed under the name RCS which stood for "Representation of Czechs and Slovaks". It was after this that the teams were then officially split up into Czech Republic and Slovakia. The team failed to qualify after they could only draw their final match against Belgium, a match they needed to win to qualify.

The mutual encounters between national teams especially in ice hockey, traditionally the successful sport, and soccer, where Czechs and Slovaks compete against each other regularly in the World and European Championship Qualifications is followed by the majority of the population, and the number of players and coaches active in the other republic is endless. Several sports did or do feature a common league, and the discussions about having a common soccer or ice hockey league continue.[20] For example, Martin Lipták, a Slovak handball coach led successfully the Czech national team in EHF 2010 Handball European Championship in Austria.[21] A Slovak Team under his coaching, Tatran Prešov, won the Czech national league in 2008 and 2009.[22] A Czech ice hockey trainer Vladimír Vůjtek led the Slovak national team to winning silver medals at 2012 IIHF World Championship, having beaten the Czech ice hockey team in the semifinals.


The two successor states continued to use the country code +42 until 28 February 1997, when this was replaced by two separate codes: +420 for the Czech Republic and +421 for Slovakia. Since then, telephone calls between the two countries have required international dialing.


After a transition period of roughly four years, during which the relations between the states could be characterized as a "post-divorce trauma", the present relations between Czechs and Slovaks, as many people point out, are probably better than they have ever been.

No movement to re-unite Czechoslovakia has appeared and no political party advocates it in its program. Political influences between the countries are minimal, but social democrats tend to cooperate very closely on regional and European topics in recent years. Furthermore, it has become customary that the elected presidents pay their first and last official foreign visits during their term to the other republic of the former Czechoslovakia. Appointed foreign ministers tend to follow this unwritten rule. On 29 October 2012, in order to commemorate Czechoslovakia's declaration of independence, which falls on 28 October, the Czech and the Slovak governments held for the first time a joint cabinet meeting in the communities of Trenčín and Uherské Hradiště in the vicinity of the common border.[23]

Also, peace keeping troops stationed in former Yugoslavia were put under a joint command on several occasions. For example, since 2002 till July 2005, the Czech Armed Forces formed together with Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic a joint Czech-Slovak KFOR battalion in Kosovo that contributed to the Multinational Brigade CENTRE.[24] Trade relationships were re-established and stabilized, and the Czech Republic continues to be Slovakia's most important business partner. After a short interruption, Slovakia's resorts in the Carpathian mountains are again the target of a growing number of Czech tourists.

Following the death of the last Czechoslovak president Václav Havel on 18 December 2011, both the Czech and the Slovak Republics observed the day of national mourning. During the funeral mass in Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral prayers were recited in an equal ratio in the Czech and the Slovak Language.

See also



  • Innes, Abby (2001), Czechoslovakia: The Short Goodbye (New Haven: Yale University Press).
  • Rupnik, Jacques (2001), "Divorce à l’amiable ou guerre de sécession? (Tchécoslovaquie-Yougoslavie)," Transeuropéennes no. 19/20.
  • Wehrlé, Frédéric (1994), Le Divorce Tchéco-Slovaque: Vie et mort de la Tchécoslovaquie 1918–1992 (Paris: L’Harmattan).
  • Paal Sigurd Hilde, "Slovak Nationalism and the Break-Up of Czechoslovakia." Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Jun. 1999): 647–665.


External links

  • (Czech) Constitutional changes from Velvet revolution until dissolution, detailed overview
  • Krejčí, Oskar: "Geopolitics of the Central European Region. The view from Prague and Bratislava" Bratislava: Veda, 2005. 494 p. (Free download)
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