Czech Republic

History of the Czech Republic

Brief history of the Czech Republic summarized

A brief tour of the history of the Czech Republic, a European country, in a summarized way.

The first Czechs

Starting from the year 400 BC, the current Czech Republic was inhabited by a Celtic race. The Romans called them the Boii and gave their name to Bohemia. Around the year 100 AD a Germanic people called the Marcomanni conquered the area. The Romans traded with the Marcomanni and sometimes fought with them, but they never conquered this part of the world.

In the 6th century a Slavic people entered what is now the Czech Republic. According to legend, a man named Cech led them. However, for centuries they were just a collection of tribes, not a single united people.

However, in the 9th century a people called the Moravians from the border of the Czech Republic and Slovakia created an empire in Central Europe. It was called the Great Moravian Empire and included what is now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and parts of Germany and Poland.

German missionaries began to convert the people of the empire to Christianity. So the ruler Ratislav (846-870) asked the Byzantine emperor to send missionaries. He sent Saint Methodius and Saint Cyril.

Wenceslas inherited the throne of Bohemia (Czech Republic) in the year 921 when he was 14 years old. When he came of age he tried to convert his people to Christianity. However, the people led by his brother Boleslav opposed him. In 929 Wenceslaus was assassinated.

He was later canonized (declared a saint). Furthermore, the march of Christianity could not be stopped and soon the whole of Bohemia was converted. The Moravian Empire reached its height under the Svatopluk (871-894). However, in the year 896 a fierce people from the east called the Magyars invaded the country. They conquered Slovakia, but the Czechs remained independent.

The Czechs in the Middle Ages

Furthermore, the different tribes of today’s Czech Republic were gradually united under the Premyslid dynasty. However, the Germans overshadowed them. In the year 950 Bohemia became part of the Holy Roman Empire. What was this empire? The Christian writer Augustine claimed that God created the Roman Empire for the good of mankind.

He said that there should be an empire led by an emperor, just as there was a church led by the Pope. In the early 9th century, a man named Charlemagne conquered most of Western and Central Europe. He claimed that he was the successor of the ancient Roman emperors (although his empire did not include Rome).

After his death, his empire was divided into three parts. The eastern part eventually became Germany. However, the ruler of the eastern past kept the title of emperor. Over time, his kingdom became known as the Holy Roman Empire. However, it soon became a patchwork of states and the emperor had little power.

The Czechs resisted any interference by the emperors in their internal affairs. In the 13th century, Bohemia (Czech Republic) prospered. Silver and gold were discovered and mining became a major industry. German settlers, artisans, farmers, and miners were encouraged to come and live in Bohemia. Towns and trade flourished.

The Premyslid dynasty ended in 1306 when Vaclav III was assassinated. Finally the Czech nobles offered the throne to John of Luxemburg, husband of Vaclav’s sister. The 14th century was a golden age for the Czechs. John, who ruled until 1346, spent most of his time abroad, but his son Charles or Karel IV was a great ruler.

Under him, Bohemia became rich and powerful. In 1355 he was elected Holy Roman Emperor. In 1356 he issued a golden bull confirming that the Holy Roman Empire was a community of sovereign states and not a single empire. Charles introduced more efficient farming methods from France.

This, along with its gold and silver mines, made Bohemia prosperous. Charles built many new public buildings and under his direction the arts flourished. Furthermore, in 1348 Charles founded a university in Prague – the first in Central Europe.

The Hussites

At the end of the 14th century the church was very rich and powerful. It had also fallen into disrepute. The church had split and there were two popes, both claiming to be the ‘true’ pope. Some people began to demand reforms. In England, John Wycliffe criticized some of the church’s practices and beliefs. His teaching spread to the University of Prague.

At the head of the reformers was Jan Hus. At first the king was willing to support the Hussites for political reasons. However, the University of Prague was founded not only for Czech students from all over the Holy Roman Empire. They were divided into four groups called nations: Saxons, Bavarians, Poles, and Czechs.

Each had the same voting rights. However, in 1409 Vaclav IV changed the system. He decreed that in the future the Czech nation would have 3 votes and the other nations would have one each. In protest, the German students and teachers left.

However, Vaclav IV changed sides in 1412 when he was offered a percentage of the money from the sales of papal indulgences (an indulgence was a document; if you bought one, your sins were forgiven). The Hussites disapproved of this practice and separated from the king.

In 1412 Hus and his supporters were expelled from the University of Prague and excommunicated. Then they became wandering preachers. Eventually Hus was called to the Council of Constance to answer the charges of heresy. The Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, promised him safe conduct.

However, Hus was burned to death in July 1415. The Czechs were horrified, and many of the practices of the Czech church were later reformed. Some priests were expelled from their parishes. However, in 1419 King Vaclav agreed to reinstate him. This sparked a rebellion. Hus’s supporters threw their enemies out of the windows of a building.

The Pope preached a ‘crusade’ against ‘heretics’. However, the Czechs defeated them in battle. Under the leadership of their leader, Jan Zizka, they went out to meet the “crusaders.” The Hussites surrounded themselves with heavy wooden carts for protection. The women fought alongside the men and used adapted agricultural tools as weapons. Using these unorthodox methods, they crushed the “Crusaders” at the Battle of Vitkov.

Meanwhile, the Hussites had divided into two groups. The most radical wing founded a new city called Tabor. They were known as Taborites. The Taborites not only criticized the church, they attacked all wealth and privilege. No wonder they were very unpopular with the upper class.

The more moderate wing of the Hussites wanted only religious changes, not social ones. They were called Utraquists. At first the Taborites and the Utraquists were forced to unite to fight against the Catholics. The Bohemian Diet (parliament) devised the Four Articles of Prague, which was to be a compromise. However, the unit did not last long.

In 1431 the Catholic ‘crusaders’ were crushed in a battle near Domazlice. Later, the Catholic Church realized that it had to resort to diplomacy. In 1433 they made peace with the Utraquists. The Taborites refused to stop fighting and as a result the Utraquists turned against them (wealthy Czechs feared the Taborites because they opposed the existing social order).

Together, Utraquists and Catholics crushed the Taborites at the battle of Lipany in 1434. Afterwards, the church of Bohemia (Czech Republic) remained a moderate Hussite church.

In the 15th century, Bohemia, like the rest of Central Europe, faced a growing threat from Turkey. Meanwhile, Bohemia had a succession of weak rulers, and the Czech nobility grew more powerful at the expense of the king and the cities.

The Czechs under Habsburg rule

However, in 1526 a Habsburg became Ferdinand I. (The Habsburgs were a powerful family that ruled several European states). The Habsburgs restored a strong central government. However, Ferdinand was a Catholic. He was at first forced to accept the Hussite Church in Bohemia, but in 1546-47 he joined in a war against the Protestants in Germany.

Many Czechs rebelled, but the rebellion failed. Many prominent Czech Protestants were later executed. In addition, Ferdinand invited the Jesuits to Bohemia to try to convert his people to Catholicism.

However, he had to tread carefully to avoid alienating his Czech subjects. His son Rudolf II was even more tolerant and privately said that he was neither Catholic nor Protestant, but a Christian. He was also a patron of the arts and learning and Czech culture flourished under him.

However, in 1611 he abdicated in favor of his brother Matthias. In 1617 Matthias named his faithfully Catholic cousin Ferdinand as heir. The result was a rebellion of the Protestant nobles. Other countries, both Catholic and Protestant, took sides and as a result Europe was plunged into a terrible war: the Thirty Years’ War.

It started in 1618 when rebels threw Catholic nobles out of a window in Prague – the so-called defenestration of Prague. However, the Czech Protestants were crushed at the Battle of Bila Hora (White Mountain) in 1620.

Subsequently, several Protestant noblemen were executed and their property confiscated. In 1627 a new constitution was imposed. The powers of the Czech Diet (parliament) were reduced and Roman Catholicism became the only recognized religion.

Meanwhile, the Czechs suffered terribly during the war. In 1632 Protestant Saxons took Bohemia, but Catholic forces soon recaptured it. Then, for 13 years, from 1635 to 1648, the two sides, Protestant and Catholic, fought for Bohemia.

When the war finally ended in 1648, Bohemia was devastated and its population was greatly reduced. Later, Bohemia was a predominantly Catholic state. After the war, the properties of Protestant landowners were confiscated (much of this confiscated land was given to Catholic Germans).

The Habsburg rulers had a lot of power and the Diet little. The Czechs became part of an empire that included Austria and Hungary. Czech culture suffered.

However, Czech fortunes revived in the mid-18th century. From 1740 Maria Theresa was empress of Austro-Hungary. She was more sympathetic to the Czechs than previous rulers. However, Bohemia was involved in the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748. French soldiers occupied Prague in 1741-1742 and the Prussians in 1744.

Also, in 1757, the Prussians defeated the Austrians in a battle in Prague during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). In 1773 the empress banned the Jesuits, but in 1781 her successor introduced religious toleration.

XIX century

At the beginning of the 19th century, Czech industry grew rapidly. The textile industry experienced a great boom. The sugar industry and an iron industry also prospered. Meanwhile, interest in Czech culture and history grew.

Among the leading minds of the 19th century were Josef Dobrovsky (1753-1829), a linguist, and Frantisek Palacky, a historian. Also, during the 19th century the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote operas, concertos and symphonies.

Nationalism and the ideas of the French Revolution became increasingly important during the 19th century and in 1848 they erupted into revolution. It was ignited by a revolution in France in February, which was followed by revolutions in other parts of Europe. Alarmed by the unrest sweeping Europe, the Austrian Emperor backed down at first.

He promised his people constitutional changes. In June a Slavic congress was held in Prague. At that time, Czech radicals erected barricades in the streets of Prague. The army withdrew but used the artillery to bombard Prague. The city surrendered. Soon the revolutions in the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed.

However, in 1859 Austria was defeated in a war with France. In 1866 the Austrians suffered another defeat in a war against Prussia. After these humiliations, the Dual Monarchy was created in 1867. Austria and Hungary became independent states with a monarch.

However, the Czechs were not granted autonomy and nationalism and demands for independence grew. Meanwhile, industrialization continued in what is now the Czech Republic. Coal mining boomed. So did an engineering industry. The textile industry also flourished.

First World War

In 1914 the Czechs were reluctant to fight for the Austrians and the Magyars. They were also reluctant to fight the Russians (fellow Slavs). On the Eastern Front, thousands surrendered to the Russians rather than fight them.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a university professor named Tomas Masaryk formed an organization called the Czech Committee Abroad. (It later changed its name to the Czech National Committee.) In November 1915, his organization called for the independence of Bohemia and Slovakia.

On June 29, 1918, France recognized the Committee as the provisional government of Czechoslovakia. It was recognized by Great Britain on August 9, by the United States on September 18, and by Italy on October 3. By then, Austria -Hungary was collapsing.

On October 14, Masaryk delivered to US President Wilson the declaration of independence from Czechoslovakia (later called the Declaration of Washington). On October 28, 1918, an independent Czechoslovak Republic was declared in Prague.

Meanwhile, in 1916, some Czech POWs agreed to join the French Foreign Legion and fight against the Austrians. In 1917 a separate Czech Army was formed in Russia. However, in November 1917 the communists staged a revolution.

Russia was involved in a civil war. The Czech soldiers were eager to go home, but on May 20, 1918, the communists demanded that they disarm. They refused and had to fight the Russian communists to get back home.


The new state of Czechoslovakia was the only industrialized state in Eastern Europe. It also proved to be the only successful democracy. Its first president was Masaryk. He resigned in 1935.

During the interwar period, Czechoslovakia produced the great writer Franz Kafka. Other writers included Jaroslav Hasek and Karel Capek, who first used the word robot for a mechanical man in their work RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

However, the new republic faces the problem that it contains large national minorities. On October 29, 1918, the Germans from North and West Bohemia declared their independence. However, the wartime allies were afraid to join Austria.

French and Italian troops were sent to the German areas and became part of Czechoslovakia again, but the German minorities’ desire for independence posed a problem for the future.

Meanwhile, after 1929, Czechoslovakia suffered from economic depression. In 1933, industrial production fell to only 60% of its prewar level. Unemployment skyrocketed to almost a third of the workforce. However, after 1935 the Czech economy slowly recovered.

However, in the late 1930s, the main issue was the Germans living in the Sudetenland. They formed a breakaway party, the Sudeten German Party, and in 1935 60% of Germans living in the area voted for them. After the annexation of Austria in March 1938, Hitler turned his attention to Czechoslovakia.

Konrad Henlein, head of the Sudeten German Party, demanded full autonomy. In May, German soldiers began to move towards the border. The Czech government ordered a partial mobilization. Henlein now demanded that the Sudetenland join Germany.

Shamefully, Britain and France were unwilling to fight to defend Czechoslovakia. On September 15, Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister met with Hitler at Berchtesgaden. He later met Hitler at Bad Godesberg in an attempt to “appease” him.

On September 23, the Czech army was fully mobilized. Unfortunately, on September 30, Chamberlain and the French Prime Minister met with Hitler in Munich and agreed to all his demands. The Czechs had no choice but to agree.

President Benes resigned on October 5. He left Czechoslovakia on October 22. Then, on March 15, the Germans occupied the rest of the Czech lands. Slovakia became a separate country and a German satellite.

Finally, on July 21, 1940, the British government recognized Benes as the leader of a provisional Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Also in 1941 Reinhard Heydrich was appointed ‘Reichs Protector’ or ruler of the Czech lands. A wave of executions followed. Heydrich also began to deport Jews to concentration camps.

However, on May 27, 1942, Heydrich was assassinated by Czech agents who had parachuted into the country. The Germans carried out a terrible revenge. They burned the villages of Lidice and Lezaky and killed all the men. Women and children were deported.

On October 6, 1944, Czech soldiers fighting alongside the Russian army crossed the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. On April 4, 1945, President Benes formed a provisional government in Kosice. It was made up of socialists, social democrats and communists.

Finally, on May 5, the people of Prague rose in revolt. They fought against the Germans until May 9, when the Russian army reached the city. After World War II, the Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia.

Communist Czechoslovakia

Also, the communists began to take over Czechoslovakia. Although Benes was president, the Communists held the key posts of Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Interior Minister. They also controlled the unions. In the elections held in May 1946, the Communists obtained 40% of the votes and became the largest party.

In early 1948, the communist minister of the interior began purging the police of ‘unreliable’ officers and replacing them with communists. In February 1948, the non-communist members of the cabinet resigned in protest, hoping that President Benes would remove the communist prime minister Klement Gottwald.

However, the communists organized mass demonstrations and the Russian army began to build up along the Hungarian border. Prime Minister Gottwald then demanded that President Benes appoint a new cabinet of communists, which he did.

On May 9, Parliament approved a new constitution giving the communist party a “leading role.” Benes refused to sign it and resigned. Gottwald replaced him as president. Meanwhile, a liberal politician named Jan Masaryk was assassinated.

The communists wasted no time in creating a totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. Industry was nationalized and in the 1950s agriculture was collectivized. At first the communists arrested their opponents. Then they turned against their own people.

In the early 1950s, the communist party was “purged.” Members were executed or imprisoned. In 1953, after Stalin’s death, Czechoslovakia was hit by demonstrations and strikes. The army was sent to suppress them. Czechoslovakia remained a Stalinist society.

However, in the 1960s there was a slight “thaw”. Censorship was relaxed and restrictions on foreign travel were relaxed. As a result, criticism of the regime grew and reached a crescendo in 1968. In January 1968, a Slovak named Alexander Dubcek became First Secretary of the Communist Party.

During the so-called Prague Spring of 1968, he introduced a more liberal regime. It was sometimes called “socialism with a human face.” Censorship ended and people openly criticized the communist party. However, the Russians were horrified and determined to end liberalization.

Finally, on the night of August 20-21, 1968, Russian forces and those of other Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring had come to an end. A long period of repression followed. On January 16, 1969, a student named Jan Palach (1948-1969) poured gasoline on himself and set it alight in Wenceslas Square in Prague.

He died in hospital on January 19, 1969. Despite his valiant protests, the repression continued. However, the demand for human rights in Czechoslovakia will not die. In 1977 a group of people formed Charter 77 to protest human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, in 1969, Czechoslovakia became the first country in the world to make seat belt use compulsory.

In 1978 Vladimir Remek became the first Czech in space.

In 1989 the communist tyranny in Czechoslovakia collapsed. On November 17, the police attacked a student demonstration. Events unfolded rapidly. On November 19, human rights activists formed the Civic Forum.

On November 20, large demonstrations were held. More followed in the next few days. On November 24, the government resigned, but the demonstrations continued. On November 27, a two-hour strike was held.

Finally, the communist party agreed to end one party rule. They also promised to form a coalition government. However, on December 3 it turned out that the Communists dominated the coalition. The people were not satisfied and organized more demonstrations. Finally, on December 10, a new government was formed.

This time the communists were a minority. On December 29, the Federal Assembly elected Vaclav Havel President of Czechoslovakia. Multi-party elections were held in June 1990 and the process of turning Czechoslovakia into a market economy began.

Czech Republic

The Velvet Revolution was followed by the Velvet Divorce. The Czechs and the Slovaks were two very different people with different histories. In June 1992, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia won the elections and pushed for the independence of Slovakia.

The Czechs and Slovaks quickly reached an agreement and on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia separated into two states, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The first President of the Czech Republic was Vaclav Havel. In 1999 the Czech Republic joined NATO. In 2004 it joined the EU.

XXI century

Like the rest of Europe, the Czech Republic suffered in the 2009 recession. However, the Czech Republic soon recovered. In 2016, Czechia became the official short name of the country.

The Czech Republic is a prosperous country. It stands out for the manufacture of machines, paper, glass, steel and ceramics. It is also famous for beer. Today, the population of the Czech Republic is 10.6 million.

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