The Velvet Revolution, unlike most revolutionary movements, did not turn into bloody battle. The event was a peaceful movement that resulted in the liberation of a country called Czechoslovakia, which does not exist anymore. The land that this country once occupied is split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the two countries that were formed after the revolution. Before the event took place, there is quite an eventful history for what had once been the country of separation and unification.
Czechoslovakia was formed after World War I in 1918. The country was the result of combining the Czech-speaking regions Bohemia and Moravia with Slovakia, and all of these areas had been parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But soon after the formation of the country, unrest grew among the Slovaks, who are against the administration dominated by Czechs. In Germany, Adolf Hitler was getting too much power and influence, and he encouraged the ethnic conflicts in Czechoslovakia in order to govern the country once it is in disarray. According to the Munich agreement held in 1938, Hitler has annexed the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany. However, Hitler was more ambitious and wanted to invade and take full control of the country. It is also crucial to note that a few regions of Czechoslovakia were occupied by Poland and Hungary as well. Hitler divided the nation into three regions in 1939, and Czechoslovakia became Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia again. He made Bohemia and Moravia as provinces of Germany while the Slovak region was declared a separate republic that is under the control of Germany. Many Slovaks were either inclined to this move or had no choice but to follow.
During World War II, the Czechs raised a mutiny against the rule of the Nazis, but it was eventually suppressed by the German government. However, the Soviet Union came to the aid of the Czechs, and after a long and arduous battle in the country, the Nazis had to withdraw. Under the supervision of the Soviet Union, a new government was formed under President Edward Benes. Because of the Soviet Union’s influence, the country became partially under the control of the USSR. After a conflict with communists, Benes resigned and was replaced by Emil Hacha, who led the country to become an absolute Communist regime much to the dissent of people.
In 1968, a politician named Alexander Dubcek became the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia. Dubcek implemented policies of liberalization and improved the country’s relations with non-Communist nations. This period in Czech history is known as the Prague Spring, which lasted from January 5 to August 21, 1968. Threatened by the mass protest by the Czech government and its people, the Soviet Union, along with the members of the Warsaw Pact, invaded the country and re-established the communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
The anti-communism sentiments intensified among the people during the rule of the Soviets. Those who opposed the Soviet regime formed a movement named Charter-77 that was established in 1977. On November 17, 1989, a large march of students took place in Bratislava. November 17 was also International Student’s Day, a holiday that was created to honor the students who were sent to concentration camps or killed by the Nazi regime.
The following days after the November 17 protests, the country witnessed an overwhelming involvement of students in peaceful or non-violent demonstrations in Prague against the Soviet government. This movement without any bloodshed is known as the Velvet Revolution. The name for the revolution was coined by Rita Klimova, the English translator for the protesters. Klimova will then go on to become Czechoslovakia’s ambassador for the United States.
The movement grew in numbers and strength gradually, and the overwhelming protests made the government exit the office on December 10, 1989. A new election took place on December 29 of the same year, and the person who was elected by the Czechs to become the president of the country was Vaclav Havel, a famous playwright and leader of the anti-communist movement.
Eventually, the demand for a new Slovak country was too strong to ignore by the Czechs. In 1992, Havel resigned from office, saying that he cannot bear to witness the separation. On January 1, 1993, Slovakia became a sovereign nation. Its neighboring country under Czech rule assumed the name Czech Republic. Interestingly, the separation was peaceful like the Velvet revolution, and because of the non-violent situation, the split of Czechoslovakia into two countries become known as the Velvet Divorce. In 2004, both countries became members of the European Union.