The Idiots Guide to Everything: The Velvet Divorce (The Break Up of Czechoslovakia)

Posted on October 9, 2012


A Peaceful Divorce.

The Velvet Divorce: The Break Up of Czechoslovakia


                As the year turned from 1992 to 1993, the country known as Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, splitting into its 2 entities, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was coined the ‘Velvet Divorce’, which referenced the previous Velvet Revolution of 1989, when Czechoslovakia ended its decades long Soviet satellite state status and left communism to the rubbish bin of history. The term ‘velvet’ is supposed to indicate the peaceful bloodless nature of the revolution and subsequent divorce.

Czechoslovakia was born with the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the climax of World War 1. The Czechs and the Slovaks have much in common, with a very similar language and a shared history of frequent oppression under the Hapsburgs, by the Austrians and the Hungarians respectively. There are many cultural differences as well, but the two still voluntarily decided to unite as a single country. World War Two saw the country split, with Hitler pressuring the Slovaks into declaring an independent Slovak Republic. With the post-World War Two global division east and west, Czechoslovakia became occupied by the Soviet Union. Initially it comprised of 2 republics, the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic, but this swiftly became the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and communism lasted in the country until the aforementioned Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Capitalism and Democracy were embraced, and the first real elections in 40 years were held in 1990. The push for capitalism however had the impact of the dividing the 2 communities, as the Czech GDP was around 20% higher than that of the Slovaks. The new capitalist system meant that the sharing of funds and subsidising of Slovakia was no more. In order to function as a viable state, the government demanded greater control from Prague, another situation that increased the Slovak desire to decentralization. Even so, there was no great public desire for separation, and even as far as September 1992 only 37% of Slovaks and 36% of Czechs favoured the idea.

Despite this last of public support, the 2 political entities went ahead with the idea and the split was negotiated peacefully in 1992. The independence declaration of Slovakia is a very unusual one, as they gained independence despite the majority of the country not wanting it, the polar opposite of such communities as the Basque and the Kurds. Some minor disputes came up directly after independence, such as the building of a border on an open trade zone, but these were easily managed. Ironically, the trade border was brought down within 10 years, as both countries joined the EU.

The Velvet Divorce is unique in post-Soviet Europe, as being one of the few former Socialist countries to split without a single drop of blood being shed.