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39 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

The Break-Up of Czechoslovakia: The Impact of Party Development on the Separation of the State

1996 – Abby Innes


When Czechoslovakia separated into two independent republics on January 1, 1993, it was hailed as the "velvet divorce." Relief that a European "ethnic" conflict had been resolved without physical aggression was apparently so deep as to have blunted curiosity about the real issues underlying the conflict. This paper looks back into the file and, in particular, explores the impact of party political developments on efforts to mediate some form of constitutional compromise. The analysis is not intended as an account of the separation (which would necessarily delve deep into historical, cultural, and economic questions). The more specific aim is to consider the issues and institutional pressures that dominated party development between 1989 and 1993, and to evaluate their contribution to the split. The article concludes that the profoundly unpopular decision to separate the country emanated from irreconcilable views on the correct "transition" path rather than a deeply rooted nationalism on either side. Moreover, both Czech and Slovak electorates were, to a striking degree, "held hostage" to party choices of economic policy and a common state, presented as mutually exclusive possibilities.