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The Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovakia until January 1993. With a rich cultural
heritage, the Czech Republic has strong traditions in folk music and theatre.
It was also the birthplace
of classical composers such as Dvorak and writers like Kafka.
Nowadays tourists flock to savour Czech architectural treasures which include some
of the finest Baroque, Art Nouveau and Cubist buildings on the continent. The hot
springs of Karlovy Vary and other spas are also an attraction to many.
The country became an EU member in May 2004, a development almost impossible to
imagine just 16 years before. Communist rule had lasted since the late 1940s. The
Prague Spring of 1968, when Alexander Dubcek tried to bring in liberal reforms,
was crushed by Soviet tanks.
In 1989, as the curtain was coming down on Communism in the Kremlin, the dissident
playwright Vaclav Havel spearheaded the country's velvet revolution and became the
first president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia.
An era ended in February 2003 when his presidency ended. It had been interrupted for only a few months
at the time of the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Mr Havel saw the ghost of former Soviet military influence exorcized in 1999 when
the republic was granted full membership of Nato. He left office having led it to
the threshold of the EU. His old rival and successor as president, Vaclav Klaus,
oversaw the country's accession to the union.
The Czech Republic has not steered clear of controversy in international relations
The firing up of the Temelin nuclear power plant sparked a major row with Austria
in 2000 while the republic's refusal to revoke the post-war Benes decrees which
sanctioned the expulsion of over two and a half million ethnic Germans and Hungarians
has strained relations with neighbours.
The Czech Republic's central
European landscape is dominated by the Bohemian Massif, which rises to heights of
3,000 ft (900m) above sea level. This ring of mountains encircles a large elevated
basin, the Bohemian Plateau. The principal rivers are the Elbe and the Vltava.
Probably about the 5th century A.D., Slavic tribes from the Vistula basin settled
in the region of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. The Czechs founded the kingdom of
Bohemia and the Premyslide dynasty, which ruled Bohemia and Moravia from the 10th
to the 16th century. One of the Bohemian kings, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor,
made Prague an imperial capital and a centre of Latin scholarship. The Hussite movement
founded by Jan Hus (1369?–1415) linked the Slavs to the Reformation and revived
Czech nationalism, previously under German domination. A Hapsburg, Ferdinand I,
ascended the throne in 1526. The Czechs rebelled in 1618, precipitating the Thirty
Years War (1618–1648). Defeated in 1620, they were ruled for the next 300 years
as part of the Austrian empire. Full independence from the Hapsburgs was not achieved
until the end of World War I, following
the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
A union of the Czech lands and Slovakia was proclaimed in Prague on 14 November,
1918, and the Czech nation became one of the two component parts of the newly formed
Czechoslovakian state. In March 1939, German troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and
Czech Bohemia and Moravia became German protectorates for the duration of World
War II. The former government returned in April 1945 when the war ended and the
country's pre-1938 boundaries were restored. When elections were held in 1946, Communists
became the dominant political party and gained control of the Czechoslovakian government
in 1948. Thereafter, the former democracy was turned into a Soviet-style state.
Nearly 42 years of Communist rule ended with the nearly bloodless “velvet revolution”
in 1989. Václav Havel, a leading playwright and dissident, was elected president
of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Havel, imprisoned twice by the Communist regime and his
plays banned, became an international symbol for human rights, democracy, and peaceful
dissent. The return of democratic political reform saw a strong Slovak nationalist
movement emerge by the end of 1991,
which sought independence for Slovakia. When the general elections of June 1992
failed to resolve the continuing coexistence of the two republics within the federation,
Czech and Slovak political leaders agreed to separate their states into two fully
independent nations. On i January, 1993, the Czechoslovakian federation was dissolved
and two separate independent countries were established - the Czech Republic and
Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999.
President Václav Havel left office in Feuary. 2003, after 13 years as president.
Over the years, Havel lost some of his immense popularity with the Czechs, who became
disenchanted with his failings as a political leader. But internationally Havel
has remained a towering figure of moral authority and courage. In March, Vaclav
Klaus became the Czech Republic's second president. A conservative economist, he
and Havel often clashed. In May 2004, the Czech Republic joined the EU. In April
2005, Jiri Paroubek became the third prime minister appointed in nine months.
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