Czech Republic profile - Overview

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.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The belfry of St Nicholas church has a sinister history - it was used by the secret police in Communist times to keep an eye on Prague

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.

An era ended in February 2003 when he stepped down as president. It had been interrupted for only a few months at the time of the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Mr Havel becoming first president of the former.

Mr Havel saw the ghost of former Soviet military influence exorcised in 1999 when the country 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 accession to the union, despite harbouring strong reservations over the benefits of EU membership.

However, the Czech Republic never set a target date for adopting the euro, and the eurozone crisis that erupted in 2009 did little to boost Czech support for the single currency.

A quarter of a century on from the Velvet Revolution of 1989, some critics question whether the ideals promoted by Mr Havel and his fellow dissident reformers have retained their validity, while others ask if the country has come to take its freedoms and its membership of international organisations such as the EU for granted.

In addition to its developed industrial economy, the Czech Republic now attracts tourists to some of the finest Baroque, Art Nouveau and Cubist buildings in Europe.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prague's fine architecture is a major tourist attraction