A brief insight into Czech history

Prague the capital and largest city of Czech Republic that lies in central Europe has its borders with Germany, Austria,. Slovakia and Poland. As the largest city, Prague, is located in central Bohemia region, situated on both sides of the river Vltava. After the Velvet Revolution in November 1989 and fall of Communism, Prague has become a popular tourist destination,strengthening Prague’s economy. Since than tourism has changed into a major source of trade and employment not just in the city of Prague.

A Celtic tribe called the Boii occupied the region of today’s Czech Republic about 400 BC and gave it the name Bohemia. It is believed that the Slavic tribes moved into this area during the seventh century. The real independence of the Czechs came with the Premyslid dynasty in eight century. The foundation of Prague is connected with myth that Libuse declared from the hilltop of Vysehrad that City of Prague, whose splendor will reach to the stars, would be created nearby. In the ninth century two Greek monks were sent from the Byzantine Emperor to the Czech land, who had designed a Cyrillic script for the Slavic tongue. In the tenth century there was peace under the rule of human Prince Wenceslas. In that time Bohemia rose to the heights of political dominance in Central Europe. After Wenceslas’ death, he was murdered by his brother Boleslav, the country fought Germans for 14 years. The Premyslid dynasty came to an unexpected end in the early fourteenth century, after many disagreements and lost fights with Habsburgs.

After that demographic nature changed a lot. German clerics occupy top positions in the Church and German merchant’s gave life to the towns. Since than new methods and administration applied. John of Luxembourg, 14-year old son of the Holy Roman Emperor Vaclav I, was elected as a King of Bohemia.While John was successfully dealing in diplomatic circles, Prague gained a town hall and became a dominant center of Bohemia.

John’s son Charles IV was elected as the Holy Roman Emperor in in 1346 and brought to Bohemia the stability. He spoke several languages fluently and had been educated at French court. Charles asked Swabian architect Peter Parler to built Charles Bridge and to work on St.Vitus Cathedral. In 1348 was established first Europe’s university by Charles and New Town had been founded.

During the reign of Wenceslas IV the Archbishop of Prague ordered the burning of all Protestant books and writings especially those of the English reformer John Wicliffe. The Rector of Prague’s university Jan Hus took up the campaign against Church corruption, but his arguments were declared heretical. Under pressure of the Church he was forced to move out of the Prague. In November 1414, Hus was invited by Sigmund, King of Hungary, to appear before the General Council at Constance. In good faith Hus accepted the offer and was promptly sent in jail straight upon arrival. He refused to acknowledge to the Council that what he preached was false and on his forty-sixth birthday, 6 July 1415, Hus was burnt at the stake. A few weeks later hundreds of people sent a protest letter to the Council of Constance declaring their intention to defend Hus’s name. The Czechs were united behind a powerful moral cause. They had a brilliant general Jan Zizka. Even women fought and died during the Hussite wars alongside men.

After Jagellon King Ludvik, who run away from the Turks at the Battle of Mohacs, the Estates of Bohemis selected Austrian Habsburg Duke Ferdinand I as King of Bohemia in 1526. In 1583 Rudolf II moved his court to Prague from Vienna and for the first time in 200 years Prague became the center of an empire. Rudolf was fascinated with alchemy and astrology which brought Tycho Brahe or Johannes Kepler to Prague. Wars and disagreements with Turks continued and Hubsburgs relied on the military and financial support of the Protestant Estates while Rudolf was hiding in Prague Castle. On 8 November 1620 the Roman Catholic League met with Protestants of Transilvania at the Battle of White Mountain. This time the Protestants lost and Czechs were under Habsburg Absolutism by 1918.

In eighteenth century under the reign of Maria Theresa the new wave of Germanisation in school and government came mainly into Prague. Joseph II nationalized the education system and in 1775 the peasants had been revolting and a spate of health and other reforms meant that they could now get married without masters’ permission. The only sad thing about it was that everything happened in German Language. Czech language got slowly into the church, schools and books, theater anyway. The Czechs demanded the same rights for their language in school and government. New Emperor Franz Josef declared all the Habsburgs territories to be one entity ruled from the Imperial Parliament in Vienna. In the second half of 19th century the Czech country grew in all ways: brewing, sugar production, metalworking, mining, textiles, so as Czech culture.

Important evens for Czechs happened in 1918 when Masaryk declared “the Habsburg dynasty unworthy of leading our nation” and the provisional National Committee agreed upon a republican constitution. On 28 October 1918 the Habsburg Government sent a note to American president Wilson about Czechoslovak gained independence. The country didn’t suffer almost any destruction during the war, president Masaryk was internationally respected diplomat and the whole nation bloomed into a liberal democracy. Prague and Suddeten near German border had the biggest concentration of German population, about 23%. They had their own spectrum of political parties and were permitted their own schools and universities. Period between World Wars is known as The First Republic.

During Nazi occupation Jan Masaryk, son of Tomas Masaryk, and E. Benes form a provisional Czechoslovak government in exile. Czechsolovalia was to be liberated by the Soviets, and General Eisenhower ordered his troops to pull back. General Patton was willing to ignore the order and sent a delegation to the leaders of the Prague uprising asking for an official request for American troops to liberate the capital. The communist leaders refused. Although communist power was not consolidated until 1948m the country had found itself inside the Soviet sphere of influence. After the war the Jewish population of Czechoslovakia was destroyed, about 300,000 had died. Most of them were sent to the “model” Theresienstadt ghetto 64km north of Prague were they died or were transported to other concentration camps. It used to be one of the oldest Jewish community in Europe. The community had been walled into a ghetto in the Old Town. Before the occupation the Jews had dominated most of Prague’s culture life.

The Soviet and Czech communists were related to each other as war heroes and won the elections in 1946. Klement Gottwald became Prime minister of a communist-led coalition. The first and popular move of the government was when they expelled over two million Germans from Bohemia. In 1948 elections communists won again. President Benes capitulated and agreed an all communist government. Klement Gottwald now became Czechoslovakia’s first “Working Class President”. In fifties there were lots of trails of innocent people who were put to prison without any proper reason, they usually confessed under torture or were even executed. The country was under fear and lunacy.

Another hope in the country came on 5 January 1968 when an alliance of disaffected Slovak communists and reformists in the party replaced president A.Novotny with the reformist Slovak communist Alexander Dubcek. He rehabilitated political prisoners and rejected press censorship. The Soviet leader L. Breznev failed to influence the Czechoslovak leader. The Prague Spring came to its end when on 20 August 1968 nearly half a million Warsaw Pact troops entered the country, took over the Castle and abducted Dubcek and his closest supporters to Moscow. Thousands of people came in the streets to force the troops to turn back, radio station and newspapers encouraged Czechs to refuse to any assistance or information to the occupiers. The resistance prevent nothing and in April next year Dubcek was removed in favor of Gustav Husak who was eager to push Moscow’s normalization.

A student called Jan Palach burnt himself on 16 January 1969 in Wenseslas Square on the protest of political situation. He died four days later and crowds of mourners stretched over the town on day of his funeral meeting at Old Town Square where his coffin had been brought to the Tyn Church.

A new ere of communism had begun. This time without brutal mass arrests, tortures and show trails. People were asked to spy on people and their neighbor’s and ask them awkward questions. Most of time the punishment meant loosing job and being forced to do manual work. People with higher education in good job positions and intellectuals ended up in the streets as sweepers or window cleaners. In December 1977 a group led by Vaclav Havel issued a statement demanding that the Czechoslovak authorities observe human rights obligations and specifically those contained in the Helsinki Agreement of 1975, which the government had signed.

In the autumn 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe began to break. The Czechoslovak government seemed firmly set until 17 November. When police violently broke up a demonstration on Narodni trida commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the closure of the universities by the Nazis, a rumor, picked up by Reuters news agency, said that a demonstrator had been killed. Another demonstration was called to protest against police brutality. Two days later 200,000 people gathered in Prague demanding resignation of the government. This time the demonstrations had been broadcast on TV. The Civic Forum led by Vaclav Havel addressed the masses in Wenceslas Square where 250,000 people assembled there the next day to support. On the evening of 22 November, communist party General Secretary Milos Jakes resigned being followed by the whole Polibruto and the government. During these days Havel, Dubcek and the others addressed to more than 500,000 crowds. Coalition from mainly Civic forum took power from December 27 with Vaclav Havel as a president. Havel’s co-revolutionary Rita Klimova called it Velvet Revolution.

The issues of economic transformations and the relationship between Czech and Slovak became appalling challenges. The Civic Democratic Party’s Vaclav Klaus, the no-nonsense free marketeer and economic disciple of Margaret Thacher, was voted into power. The Slovak calls for independence grew. One of first President’s acts was to abandon the arms trade. The intentions took the heart out of the economy in central Slovakia, where the arms industry was based.

The two countries peacefully parted ways on 1 January 1993 with Vaclav Havel as a president of Czech Republic. Under Klaus leadership Czech Republic produced massive economic changes. Foreign investors and businesses quickly capitalized on huge opportunities for profit and development. The Czechs were among the first on the list of East European countries to be selected in NATO and European Union. In 1997 Klaus shocked the nation by stepping down and a caretaker government was formed by the July 1998 election. Social Democrat Zeman was elected Prime Minister, his leftists took charge of the cabinet and Klaus’s conservatives were given control of parliament.