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Archaeological evidence of prehistoric human settlements have been found in many areas of the Czech Republic. After various and sundry prehistoric fish, neanderthals, and Celtic and Germanic tribes had lived in the area on and off, it was finally settled by Slavic tribes around the end of the 5th century. The beginnings of Czech history are shrouded in mystery and legend. It is known that the Great Moravian Empire was the first real state on Czech territory, though nobody today is sure exactly where it was. After its fall in the tenth century, Prague became the center of a new independent state - just as the prophetess Libuse had said it would o, so many long years before.
During the reign of the Przemyslid dynasty which Libuse and her husband Przemysl founded, the Czech state gradually grew in strength and succeeded in preserving its sovereignty despite formal vassal ties to the Holy Roman Empire.
The kingdom of Bohemia reached the height of its power and prestige during reign of the Luxembourg Dynasty, which succeeded the Przemysls by marriage in the 14th century. The reign of Charles IV was a Golden Age in Czech history. The end of this period, however, brought economic and political strife to the area as protestant Hussites - inspired by the ideas of the religious reformer Jan Hus - battled it out with crusaders sent by the Catholic Church in the 15th century.
Eventually - and after much bloodletting - an agreement between Hussite Bohemia and the Catholic Church was finally reached. Relative calm predominated during the reign of George of Podebrady, a Czech noble, in the 15th century, and during the reign of the Polish Jagellon Dynasty. The Austrian Habsburgs captured the Bohemian throne in the 16th century when the Jagellon line died out. Few people at that time would have guessed that the Lands of the Bohemian Crown would be a part of the Austrian Empire for 400 long and somber years, until until the Treaty of Versailles would make temporary order out of the chaos of World War I around 1918. (But we are getting ahead of ourselves.)
Habsburg rule of the Czech lands was mostly repressive and harsh. A highpoint of this dark time was the rule of the lackadaisical Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II.
But the disastrous (for the Czechs) Battle of the White Mountain, the Thirty Years' War, and the Counter-Reformation followed his reign, and the Czech language and Czech culture were suppressed, and the country experienced a deep economic decline.
Things finally started to get better with the Enlightenment reforms of Maria Theresa and her son, the "Good Emperor" Josef II at the end of 18th century. Unfortunately, these same reforms also let to the Germanization of the country. It wasn't long before the Czechs (and most of the other nationalities in the collosal Habsburg Empire) started feeling resentful about this, and making a stink about each nation's right to self-determination. Although the "Czech National Revival" (Narodni obrozeni) movement aspired at first only to a reintroduction of the use of the Czech language and the revival of Czech culture, it soon began to strive for political emancipation as well.
In the years during World War I, Czech politics became more radical, with most Czechs finally agreeing that they wanted independence from Austria-Hungary. On the even of Austria-Hungary's defeat in World War I, an independent state of Czechs and Slovaks was declared in Prague on October 28, 1918.
The country was led by President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and the First Republic (as the inter-war period is known in the Czech Republic) was a hectic period of transformation (much like the current period). It was a boom time for Czech business and culture. The arts, literature, industry and trade flourished, and the Czech Republic was member of an exclusive club - it was one of the ten richest nations in the world. Unfortunately, this bliss was not to last.
The Munich Conference of 1938 and the subsequent Nazi German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia were disastrous for the Czech lands. About the only thing to emerge from the war unscathed were the country's beautiful old buildings, for the Czech lands were hardly bombed at all during the war.
After World War II, the restored Czechoslovak Republic fell under the Soviet sphere of influence. Czechoslovak communists staged a successful and bloodles coup in 1948, and were staunch Stalinists well into the 1950s - even after Kruschev's denunciation of the hard-line leader. A grassroots attempt to reform and humanize the Communist system, known as the Prague Spring, failed miserably when Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. The government that was installed after the invasion was one of the most hard-line in all the region, and the period of "normalization" that followed the invasion in the 1970's and 1980's was very hard on the people of Czechoslovakia.
Mass protests and demonstrations by the Czechoslovak people known as the "Velvet Revolution" led to the bloodless overthrow of the Communist regime in November, 1989. The dissident and playwright, Vaclav Havel, was elected president.
Six months after the country's first regular nationwide elections in more than 40 years - on January 1, 1993 - the Czechoslovak state was peacefully divided into independent Czech and Slovak Republics due to "irreconcilable differences." The two countries endured a period of strained relations, especially between former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and Czech President Vaclav Havel. Under Meciar Slovakia chose to look eastward, aligning itself with Moscow, while the Czech Republic of today set itself up to join NATO and has strived to become a member of the European Union and other western political and economic structures.
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