The History of Czechoslovakia: The history behind the self-determined split of the federal state of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia

The Velvet Revolution (1989)

On 17 November 1989, the communist police violently broke up a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration, brutally beating many student participants. In the following days, Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Václav Havel. Intentionally eschewing the label "party", a word given a negative connotation during the previous regime, Civic Forum quickly gained the support of millions of Czechs, as did its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence.

In response to the collapse of other Warsaw Pact governments and the increasing street protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced on 28 November that it would relinquish power and dismantle the one-party state. Two days later, the legislature formally deleted the sections of the Constitution giving the Communists a monopoly of power.  Barbed wire and other obstructions were removed from the border with West Germany and Austria in early December. On 10 December, President Gustáv Husák appointed the first largely non-communist government in Czechoslovakia since 1948, and resigned. Alexander Dubček was elected speaker of the federal parliament on 28 December and Václav Havel the President of Czechoslovakia on 29 December 1989.

The astonishing quickness of these events was in part due to the unpopularity of the communist regime and changes in the policies of its Soviet guarantor as well as to the rapid, effective organisation of these public initiatives into a viable opposition. The result was the end of 41 years of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent dismantling of the planned economy and conversion to a parliamentary republic. Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party all but collapsed. Its leaders, Husák and party chief Miloš Jakeš, resigned in December 1989, and Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia on 29 December.

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