Europe

Czech Republic country profile

  • 8 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
Map of the Czech Republic

Part of Czechoslovakia until the "velvet divorce" in January 1993, the Czech Republic has a robust democratic tradition, a highly-developed economy, and a rich cultural heritage.

It emerged from over 40 years of Communist rule in 1990, and was the first former Eastern Bloc state to acquire the status of a developed economy. It joined the European Union in 2004.

Communist rule had lasted since 1948, when the restored pre-war democratic system was overthrown in a Soviet-backed coup. The "Prague Spring" of 1968, when Communist leader Alexander Dubcek tried to bring in liberal reforms, was crushed by Warsaw Pact tanks.

In 1989, as the curtain was coming down on communism in the Kremlin, the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel emerged as the figurehead of the country's "velvet revolution" and became the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia.

FACTS

Czech Republic

Capital: Prague

  • Population 10.6 million

  • Area 78,866 sq km (30,450 sq miles)

  • Major language Czech

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 75 years (men), 81 years (women)

  • Currency koruna

Getty Images

LEADERS

President: Milos Zeman

Image copyright Getty Images

Former prime minister Milos Zeman won the first direct Czech presidential election in January 2013, beating conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg by a margin of 55% to 45%.

Unlike his predecessor, the notoriously euro-sceptic Vaclav Klaus, Mr Zeman describes himself as a euro-federalist and has advocated closer European integration, though he believes that the Czech Republic should take its time over joining the euro.

Like Mr Klaus, Mr Zeman thrives on confrontation and has not hesitated to exercise his presidential authority, even when this has meant entering into conflict with the Czech government.

Prime Minister: Bohuslav Sobotka

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Social Democratic party leader Bohuslav Sobotka was formally appointed as prime minister by President Zeman in January 2014, almost three months after an early election in October 2013 that was triggered by the fall of the centre-right government led by Petr Necas in June.

On his appointment, Mr Sobotka pledged to end the political gridlock that had paralysed policy making for seven months and revive economic growth following the country's longest recession on record.

He promised to boost the economy by reversing what he has described as the former centre-right government's "deadly spiral" of austerity measures.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

Private radio and TV stations provide stiff competition for their public rivals.

Public broadcaster Ceska Televize (CT) operates two TV networks and a 24-hour news channel. Public radio, Cesky Rozhlas (CRo), operates three national networks and local services.

Leading private TV channels Nova and Prima are foreign-owned and broadcast nationally. There are scores of privately-owned radio stations, including market leaders Impuls and Frekvence 1. BBC World Service is available on FM in many cities and towns.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Czech and Czechoslovak history:

1918 - Republic of Czechoslovakia proclaimed. Tomas Masaryk elected president.

1935 - Masaryk succeeded as president by Edvard Benes.

1939 - Nazi invasion of Czech Lands which become a German protectorate. Slovakia is proclaimed an independent state under profascist leader Jozef Tiso.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prague is one of the most-visited European capitals

1940 - Benes establishes government in exile in London.

1945 - Soviet troops enter Prague. Benes returns and issues decrees which lay the foundation for the expulsion of over two and a half million Sudeten Germans and more than half a million ethnic Hungarians.

1946 - Czechoslovak Communist Party (CPCz) leader Klement Gottwald becomes prime minister in power-sharing government following national elections.

1968 - 'Prague Spring' under reform-minded leader Alexandr Dubcek is crushed when Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops invade.

1969 - Gustav Husak replaces Dubcek as Communist Party leader.

1975 - Husak becomes president.

1977 - A group of dissidents including playwright Vaclav Havel publish Charter 77 calling for restoration of civil and political rights.

1989 - Massive protests on the streets of Prague force the resignation of the hard-line Communist Party leadership in what is dubbed "the velvet revolution." Federal Assembly abolishes Communists' constitutional hold on power. Vaclav Havel elected president.

1990 - Country renamed Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. First free elections since 1946.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Vaclav Havel with Alexandr Dubcek in Prague in 1990

1991 - Soviet forces complete withdrawal.

1993 - Czechoslovakia completes "velvet divorce" which results in two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Vaclav Havel elected president of the Czech Republic.

1996 - Vaclav Klaus reappointed as prime minister in a minority coalition government following the Czech Republic's first general election since independence.

1998 - Havel re-elected president for a further five years.

1999 - Czech Republic becomes full member of Nato.

2004 - Czech Republic is one of 10 new nations to join the EU.

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