Background Notes: Czechoslovakia

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Feb 15, 19902/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: Europe Country: Czechoslovakia (former) Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] [Please note: This Background Note should be used for historical purposes only, as the country of Czechoslovakia has undergone dramatic changes since 1990] Official Name: Czechoslovak Socialist Republic


Area: 127,896 sq. km. (49,381 sq. mi.); about the size of New York. Cities: Capital-Prague (pop. 1.2 million). Other cities-Bratislava (413,000), Brno (385,000), Ostrava (327,000), Kosice (220,000), Plzen (Pilsen-175,000). Terrain: Rolling area in wet, low mountains to the north and south, hills in the center, rugged mountains in the east. Climate: Temperate.
Nationality: Noun and adjective-Czechoslovak(s). Population (1988): 15.6 million. Annual growth rate: 0.25%. Ethnic groups: Czech (64%), Slovak (31%), Hungarian, Polish, Ukrainian, German. Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish. Languages: Czech, Slovak, Hungarian. Education: Literacy-99%. Health: Life expectancy-males-67.5 yrs; females-75 yrs. Work force (7.8 million): Agriculture-14%. Industry, construction, and commerce-64%. Services and government-22%.
Type: socialist republic. Independence: Czechoslovak state established 1918. Constitution: July 11, 1960 (being redrafted during 1990). Branches: Executive-president (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative-bicameral Federal Assembly. Judicial-Supreme Court (1960), Constitutional Court (1968). Political parties: With free parliamentary elections set for 1990, many new parties are emerging to challenge the Czechoslovak Communist Party for power. Suffrage: Universal over 18. Administrative subdivisions: Two semiautonomous "republics"- Czech Socialist Republic (Bohemia, Moravia), Slovak Socialist Republic (Slovakia); 10 administrative districts and 2 city administrations. Defense: 7% of 1987 state budget. Flag: A blue triangle extending the length of the staff side, with its apex toward the center, a white band on the upper half of the remaining space, and a red band on the lower half.
GNP (1987): $107 billion. Annual growth rate (1987 est.): 2.6%. Per capita income (1987): $6,900. Natural resources: Coal, coke, timber, lignite, uranium, magnesite. Agriculture (7% of GNP): Products-wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, potatoes, sugar beets, hogs, cattle, horses. Industry (60% of GNP): Types-iron and steel, machinery and equipment, cement, sheet glass, motor vehicles, armaments, chemicals, ceramics, wood, paper products. Trade (1987): Exports-$8.4 billion: machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, raw materials, consumer goods. Imports-$8.4 billion: machinery, equipment, raw materials, consumer goods. Partners- Austria, Bulgaria, East Germany, West Germany, Hungary, Romania, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia. Exchange rates (January 1990): 38 crowns=U.S. $1.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and its specialized agencies, Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), Warsaw Pact.


Czechoslovakia borders on Poland and East Germany to the north, the Soviet Union to the east, Hungary and Austria to the south, and West Germany to the west. Czechoslovakia's three principal regions are Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. Bohemia, the westernmost region, is politically and economically the most important part of the country. Its largest city, Prague, is Czechoslovakia's capital. The landscape consists of rolling plains, hills, and plateaus surrounded by low mountains to the north, west, and south. Moravia, the central region, has important coal and steel industries in the north and agricultural areas in the south. It is bordered on the north by mountains and generally has more hills than Bohemia. Bohemia and Moravia make up the historic Czech lands, now forming the Czech Republic. Slovakia, in the east, has rugged mountains in the central and northern part and lowlands in the south that are important for agriculture. Traditionally less developed politically, economically, and culturally, Slovakia has become more important since Czechoslovakia's independence; it now forms the country's second republic. Before World War II, Czechoslovakia encompassed a fourth region, Ruthenia, in the Transcarpathian Ukraine. The Soviet Union annexed that section after the war under a treaty between Prague and Moscow. The climate in most of Bohemia and Moravia is temperate. Lush springs and pleasant autumns alternate with cool summers (average July highs-lows: 740-580F) and cold, overcast winters (average January highs-lows: 340-250F). Slovakia is characterized by wider extremes-warmer summers in the south and colder, more severe winters in the mountains in the north. Precipitation in Prague is low-about 51 centimeters (20 in.) annually.


The 15.6 million people of Czechoslovakia include about 65% Czechs and 30% Slovaks. Although the Slovaks are a nationality distinct from the Czechs, most favor working with the Czechs in a common federal state with extensive autonomy for Slovakia. Other ethnic groups include about 600,000 Hungarians in Slovakia, smaller numbers of Ukrainians, Germans, and Poles, and about 250,000 gypsies, the fastest growing ethnic element in the population, who live mainly in Slovakia. Although the government has a regulatory role in religious organizations, laws promulgating religious freedom were passed in late 1989. The major denominations and estimated memberships are the Roman Catholic Church (10.5 million), the Czechoslovak Hussite Church (400,000), the Slovak Lutheran (Evangelical) Church (400,000), the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (265,000), the Greek Catholic Church (450,000), and the Eastern Orthodox Church (150,000). About 10,000 Jews remain of the prewar population of 360,000.


The Czechs lost their national independence to Austria in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain and, for the next 300 years, were ruled by the Austrian monarchy. With the collapse of the monarchy at the end of World War I, an independent country of Czechoslovakia was formed with the assistance of President Woodrow Wilson. The Slovaks, ruled by the Hungarians for 1,000 years, joined in the common country with the Czechs. The Slovaks were not at the same level of economic and technological development as the Czechs, but the freedom and opportunity found in the new Czechoslovak Republic enabled them to make rapid strides toward overcoming these differences. Although Czechoslovakia was the only East European country that remained an effective parliamentary democracy throughout 1918-38, it was plagued with minority problems, the most important stemming from the country's large German population. Constituting more than 22% of the population and largely concentrated in the Bohemian and Moravian border regions (the Sudetenland), this minority was encouraged to reject Czech-German reconciliation in the new Czechoslovak country by nationalistic elements urged on in large part by Nazi Germany. Internal and external pressures culminated in September 1938, when, at Munich, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom acceded to Nazi pressure and agreed to force Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. Fulfilling Hitler's aggressive designs on all of Czechoslovakia, Germany invaded what remained of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, established a German "protectorate," and created a puppet state out of Slovakia. With the support of Slovak communists, Slovak democratic forces engineered a revolt in the summer of 1944. It failed because of German military action and the Soviet refusal to intervene or to permit more than token U.S. and British help (including a U.S. Air Force airlift of supplies and an Office of Strategic Services mission). Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia and Moravia and much of Bohemia, including Prague, were overrun in the winter and spring of 1944-45. U.S. forces liberated the city of Plzen and most of western Bohemia in May 1945. In Prague, a civilian uprising against the German garrison had taken place in early May 1945. Following Germany's surrender, some 2.5 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia. From May 1945 until the spring elections of 1946, the country was ruled by a coalition government that included Communist Party members. The democratic elements, led by President Eduard Benes, hoped the Soviet Union would allow Czechoslovakia freedom to choose its own form of government, and aspired to a Czechoslovakia that would act as a bridge between East and West. This objective was sustained by Czechoslovakia's highly developed economy, its strong democratic traditions, and its readiness to accept considerable socialization of the economic system. The Communist Party, however, which won 38% of the vote in the 1946 election, held most of the key positions and gradually managed to neutralize or silence anticommunist forces. Although the Benes government initially hoped to participate in the Marshall Plan, it was forced by Moscow to back out. Under the cover of superficial legality, the communists seized power in February 1948. After extensive purges modeled on the Stalinist pattern in other East European states, the Communist Party tried 14 of its former leaders in November 1952 and sentenced 11 to death. For more than a decade thereafter, the Czechoslovak communist leadership was characterized by its stability of tenure under the leadership of party chief Antonin Novotny. The 1968 Soviet Invasion The communist leadership allowed only a little relaxation in the early 1960s. However, in the mid- 1960s, discontent arose within the ranks of the Communist Party Central Committee because of the slow pace of economic reform, resistance to cultural liberalization, and the desire of Slovaks within the leadership for a larger share of the country's investment resources. The discontent culminated with the removal of Novotny from party leadership in January 1968 and from the presidency of the republic in March. He was replaced as party leader by a longtime, Soviet-educated party activist of Slovak origin, Alexander Dubcek, and as president by Gen. Ludvik Svoboda, a military hero of both world wars. In addition to Novotny, many other orthodox communists were subsequently forced from party and government positions. After January 1968, the Dubcek leadership began practical steps toward political, economic, and social reforms that promised a better life for the Czechoslovak people. In addition, it called for politico-military changes in the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact and Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA). The leadership affirmed its loyalty to socialism and the Warsaw Pact but also expressed the desire to improve relations with all countries of the world regardless of their social systems. A program adopted in April 1968 set guidelines for a modern, humanistic-socialist democracy that would guarantee freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and travel; insulate the government from the Communist Party; create independent courts; introduce multiple-choice, secret-ballot elections; and effect economic reforms. After 20 years of little participation, the public gradually began to take an interest in the government and leadership. Dubcek became a popular national figure and the first Czechoslovak communist leader to enjoy broad public support. Internal reforms and foreign policy statements of the Dubcek leadership created great concern among some of the other Warsaw Pact communist governments and parties. On the night of August 20, 1968, Soviet, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, and East German troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak Party and Government immediately declared that the invading troops had not been invited into the country and that their invasion was in violation of socialist principles, international law, and the UN Charter. The principal Czechoslovak leaders were forcibly and secretly taken to the Soviet Union. Under obvious Soviet duress, the Czechoslovaks engaged in a series of negotiations at Moscow on August 23-26, again on October 2-3, and finally at Prague on October 16. On that day, Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin, acting on behalf of all the invading countries, and Czechoslovak Premier Oldrich Cernik signed a treaty that provided for the "temporary" stationing of an unspecified number of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia. In November, the troops of the other countries and some of the Soviet forces were withdrawn. In addition to accepting the "legalization" of stationing Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovak leaders were forced to censor the media and to curb virtually all of the reforms that Dubcek had promoted. Dubcek was removed as party First Secretary on April 17, 1969, and was replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak. Later, Dubcek and many allies within the party were stripped of their other party positions in a purge of the Communist Party that lasted until 1971 and that reduced party membership by almost one-third. By October 27, 1969, the Soviets had achieved their basic objectives: the Czechoslovak liberalization movement was dismantled; elements of the orthodox Communist Party were back in control; and Soviet troops remained stationed in Czechoslovakia. On that date, General Secretary Husak, Prime Minister Cernik, and President Svoboda signed a joint communique with the Soviets at Moscow that justified the invasion, accepted the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty, avowed that stationing Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia was essential to the security of Czechoslovakia's western borders, and opened the way for the further integration of Czechoslovakia's economy with that of the Soviet Union. This relationship was further formalized in a 20-year Soviet- Czechoslovak Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed on May 6, 1970. In May 1975, Gustav Husak replaced the ailing Svoboda as president, retaining at the same time his position as Communist Party General Secretary. Milos Jakes, who presided over the purge of party members after the 1968 invasion, succeeded Husak as party general secretary in December 1987.


In November 1989, student protests of police brutality ushered in a period of rapid changes that culminated, by year's end, in a new, noncommunist government and the election of dissident playwright Vaclav Havel as president. The new government ended the Communist Party's leading role in political life, eliminated restrictions on travel abroad, and passed legislation guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience. All political prisoners were freed, and work began in earnest on democratic political reform. After Husak had consolidated the "normalization" of the post- 1968 period, Czecholslovaks generally had retreated from political life. The roots of 1989's Civic Forum movement that effected the "gentle revolution" can be found in human rights activism. On January 1, 1977, more than 250 people signed a manifesto called Charter 77 criticizing the government for failure to implement human rights provisions of documents it had signed, among which are the constitution; the International Covenants on Political and Civil and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although not organized in any real sense, Charter 77 constituted something of a citizens' initiative aimed at inducing the Czechoslovak Government to observe its formal obligations to respect the human rights of its citizens. To stifle opposition, Husak subjected Charter 77 signatories and other "dissident" groups to periodic harassment and persecution. This included both judicial and nonjudicial measures, ranging from loss of job or denial of educational opportunities for children to detention, trial, and imprisonment. The government also induced or forced human rights activists into exile abroad and deprived them of their citizenship. In October 1979, the government staged a "subversion" trial of six leading activists of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted as a warning to other "dissidents." As political tension in neighboring Poland mounted during 1980-81, the government, perhaps fearing a "spillover" effect, became increasingly repressive in its treatment of Charter 77 and other activists. In March 1987, government efforts to neutralize the Jazz Section of the Czech Musicians' Union, which sought to promote freedom of cultural expression, resulted in the trial of several of the section's leaders after months of detention. Despite persecution, Charter 77 had grown to at least 1,500 signatories in 1989. More important, the charter had become only one of many independent initiatives critical of the government. These new groups helped launch a series of peaceful demonstrations by thousands of citizens in Prague in late 1988 and early 1989 that drew worldwide attention and a strong government response. The regime forcibly dispersed a series of demonstrations in January 1989 and subsequently imprisoned several prominent human rights activists, including Havel who served 4 months in prison on charges of incitement. In the events of November 1989, these disparate groups united to become Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Civic Forum quickly gained the support of millions of Czechs, as did its Slovak counterpart, Public Without Violence. Faced with overwhelming repudiation by the population, the Communist Party all but collapsed. Its leaders, Husak and party chief Milos Jakes, resigned in December 1989.


A coalition government in which the Communist Party has a minority of ministerial portfolios was formed in December 1989. The government is drafting a new constitution to replace the one promulgated on July 11, 1960. A 1968 law revised some sections to establish more equitable representation between Czechs and Slovaks in federal bodies and in economic development. The law canceled the historic preferential treatment of Czech lands by increasing the autonomy of national (Czech and Slovak) organizations in the formation, administration, and operation of the economy. In practice, however, exercise of political power resembles a unitary system more than a federal one. In Czechoslovakia, a distinction is made between the federal government and the national government. Czechoslovakia has two national governments-the Czech and the Slovak-and one federal government for the entire country. The bicameral Federal Assembly, which was reconstituted from a unicameral legislature on January 1, 1969, is nominally the highest organ of state authority. The Chamber of the
consists of 200 deputies elected by districts based on population; the Chamber of the Nations consists of 150 deputies, of whom 75 are elected by the Czech National Council and 75 by the Slovak National Council. The two bodies are bridged by the chairman of the Federal Assembly and two deputies who chair the chambers. The consent of both chambers is required to pass a law. The number of majority votes needed to pass a bill depends on the kind of bill under consideration and on the chamber voting. The election law of July 1971 lengthened the terms of the deputies from 4 to 5 years. Legislative reforms under way in 1990 are likely to produce parliamentary representation similar to Western democracies. Until that time, the Chamber of the
will continue to represent the National Front, a coalition of political parties and mass organizations controlled by the Communist Party. Apart from the Czechoslovak and the Slovak communist parties, four others are, in theory, noncommunist. In the second chamber, the Chamber of Nations, members currently are selected by the National Councils, the legislative bodies of the Czech and Slovak Republics. Administrative and executive powers are vested in the cabinet and the president of the republic. The president is elected by the Federal Assembly for a 5-year term. With the approval of the Federal Assembly, the president appoints a cabinet including a prime minister as head of government. The country's highest court is the Supreme Court, elected by and responsible to the Federal Assembly. The lower courts are elected by the districts and counties. In 1990, Czechoslovakia will reform its judicial system to introduce Western-style legal rights for individuals.
Principal Government Officials
President-Vaclav Havel Prime Minister-Marian Calfa Deputy Prime Ministers-Valtr Komarek, Jan Carnogursky, Vladimir Dlouhy Ministers Foreign Affairs-Jiri Dienstbier National Defense-Gen. Miloslav Vacek Finance-Vaclav Klaus Foreign Trade-Andrej Barcak Interior-Richard Sacher Premier, Czech Socialist Republic-Frantisek Pitra Premier, Slovak Socialist Republic-Milan Cic Ambassador to the United States-Rita Klimova Czechoslovakia maintains an embassy in the United States at 3900 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel. 202-363-- 6315).


A major overhaul of Czechoslovak defense forces is underway in 1990. At the end of 1989, regular forces totaled about 200,000 and included: -- The army, with 145,000 members organized into 5 tank divisions, 5 motorized rifle divisions, 1 airborne regiment, and 1 artillery division; and -- The air force, with 55,000 members organized into air defense, and a tactical air army, each with two air divisions. -- Border guard and interior guards, with 35,000 members, and the people's militia, with 120,000 members. Compulsory military training for men required service of 2 years in the army, 3 years in the air force, or 27 months in the border and interior guards. As a charter member of the Warsaw Pact (May 1955), Czechoslovak forces are subject to the command and direction of the Warsaw Pact commander, always a Soviet officer. At the end of 1989, about 80,000 Soviet troops, including 5,000 air force personnel, were stationed in Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovak-Soviet discussions on Soviet troop withdrawals began in January 1990.


Czechoslovakia has a developed, but gradually deteriorating, industrialized economy. Its strong industrial tradition dates to the period when Bohemia and Moravia were the industrial heartland of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, this heritage is an asset and a liability. Czechoslovakia has a well-educated population and a developed transport system, but much of its plant and equipment, inadequately modernized in almost 40 years of communist rule, is among the oldest in Europe. The country's centrally planned economy is tightly linked with the Soviet Union and other East European countries, although the coalition government challenged traditional ties with its East Bloc neighbors at the January 1990 CEMA conference in Sofia. The economy is characterized by low growth, low technological sophistication, and structural imbalances caused by inappropriate investment decisions over the last 40 years. Czechoslovakia is deficient in energy resources and many raw materials. Its major natural resources are coal (brown and hard), timber, and uranium. Its main agricultural products include sugar beets, fodder roots, potatoes, wheat, and hops. Principal industries are heavy and general machine-building, iron and steel production, metalworking, chemicals, electronics, transport equipment, textiles, glass, beer brewing, china, ceramics, and pharmaceuticals. The gross national product (GNP) was approximately $107 billion in 1987, amounting to about $6,900 per capita. GNP grew steadily during the early and mid-1970s, stagnated during the years 1978-82, and resumed modest growth of about 2.5%-3% a year in 1983. At the time of the 1948 communist takeover, Czechoslovakia had a balanced economy and one of the higher levels of industrialization in Europe. In 1948, the government began to stress heavy industry over agriculture and consumer goods and services. Many basic industries and foreign trade, as well as all domestic wholesale trade, had been nationalized before the communists took power. Nationalization of most retail trade was completed in 1950-51. Exceptions to private ownership in these sectors are negligible and consist mainly a few artisans. Collectivization of agriculture began in 1949. Today, all but about 7%-8% of the agricultural land is in the "socialist sector," either in state farms or in state-run cooperatives. Heavy industry received major economic support during the 1950s, but waste and inefficient use of resources resulted from the adaptation of centralized planning techniques to the complex industrial sector. Although the labor force was traditionally skilled and efficient, inadequate incentives for labor and management contributed to a high labor turnover, low productivity, and unsatisfactory quality. Economic failures reached a critical stage in 1963. A period of de-Stalinization and economic reform was launched during 1963-67. Proposed reforms involved decentralized decisionmaking, including greater freedom for managers to set prices, production levels, investments, and wages. The new mechanisms were invoked with insufficient preparation and failed to receive support from some important elements in the Communist Party and from many economic officials and planners. Inflationary pressures began to develop, and wholesale prices were permitted to rise rapidly in 1967. Firms were making substantial profit without having to improve productivity or quality of output. Hope for more wide-ranging economic reform came with Dubcek's rise in January 1968. Under his leadership, Czechoslovakia could not immediately come to grips with inflationary forces, much less begin the immense task of correcting the economy's basic problems-overconcentration on heavy industry, low productivity, lack of modern equipment, and inferior quality. Any opportunity the Dubcek leadership might have had to place economic reform on a sounder footing was cut short by the 1968 invasion, which brought renewed strains on the balance of payments. Although industrial production improved during the immediate period after the invasion, inflationary panic-buying continued, and worker productivity fell as demoralization spread. Price increases and wage controls implemented under Husak's leadership reduced inflationary pressures and, to some extent, increased productivity. Unfulfilled targets in housing construction and inadequate supplies of fuels and power continued. High rates of absenteeism continued to reveal the attitude of workers. The economy grew during the 1970s but stagnated between 1978 and 1982. The Czechoslovak approach to its economic problems has been to continue to uphold central planning. After a 3-year (1978-80) experiment involving about 15% of the economy, in January 1981 the regime introduced a "Set of Measures" to improve management of the production process. Its general goals were to improve export performance and the quality of production, with particular emphasis on economizing on labor, materials, and energy. The new measures, in addition to reinforcing central planning and controls, included a system of rewards and penalties intended to distinguish the performance of enterprises and workers. Ideological campaigns were maintained to diminish apathy and aversion to the incentive system. The leadership later acknowledged that the "Set of Measures" failed to stimulate exports, achieve efficiency, or promote technological innovation. The economy grew after 1982, achieving annual average output growth of more than 3% in 1983-85. Imports from the West were curtailed, exports boosted, and hard currency debt reduced substantially. New investment was made in electronics, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals, and these sectors were industry leaders by 1986. But the economy remains troubled by central planning and stifling bureaucracy, which produced low exports and productivity, and overreliance on the Soviet Union and other CEMA countries as sources of raw materials and as markets for goods. A recent decline in imports from the Soviet Union and problems in trade with some other CEMA members, caused in part by their unwillingness to accept poor-quality products, may foreshadow a gradual change in the pattern of trade. Economic reform is the greatest hurdle facing the post-1989 government. Although sweeping structural changes that would increase the role of market forces are being prepared, introduction of those changes is proceeding slowly and cautiously. About 80% of Czechoslovakia's trade is with other communist countries. The Soviet Union alone accounts for about 45% of Czechoslovak trade and supplies the country with almost all of its oil, natural gas and iron ore, as well as many other key raw materials. To secure these resources, Czechoslovakia is investing large amounts in natural gas, and iron ore extraction projects in the U.S.S.R. In return, Czechoslovakia supplies machines and other industrial products to the U.S.S.R. After the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia's major trading partners are East Germany, Hungary, and Poland. Among Western countries, Austria, West Germany, and Switzerland account for the largest share. In 1987, U.S. imports from Czechoslovakia totaled $86 million, and U.S. exports totaled $47 million at the official rate of exchange. Post-1989 Czechoslovakia had made expanded trade with the West an explicit policy in an effort to join the global economy. Austrian and West German firms already have increased activities in Czechoslovakia, and U.S. businesses have revived their interest. The government has justified itself largely by its efforts to improve the material welfare of the population. The standard of living is difficult to measure, but it is certainly high in comparison to other Eastern bloc countries. Unemployment has been virtually nonexistent, the result of inefficient use of labor. About 7.8 million people, or half the population, are employed. Women make up about 47% of the labor force. Workers receive ample fringe benefits and an extensive social security program. Food and consumer goods, although by no means abundant, are in good supply, and the level of automobile ownership is the highest in Eastern Europe. In January 1990, the government introduced a series of legislative changes designed to increase enterprise autonomy, efficiency and productivity. These changes could improve economic performance, but government experts agree that more substantial reform on private property, currency, investment, and financial institutions is needed.


The foreign policy of Czechoslovakia had, until 1989, followed that of the Soviet Union, the result of the Soviet presence in Czechoslovakia, and the country's economic and military ties to the Soviet bloc. Since the beginning of 1990, Czechoslovakia has sought to carve a niche as a small power serving as a bridge among its neighbors. Czechoslovakia is a member of the United Nations and participates in its specialized agencies. It also is a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Czechoslovakia maintains diplomatic relations with more than 100 countries, of which 63 have permanent representation in Prague.


President Woodrow Wilson and the United States played a major role in the establishment of the state of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918. President Wilson's 14 Points, including the right of ethnic groups to form their own states, were the basis for the Czechs and Slovaks joining to form the Czechoslovak state. Tomas Masaryk, the father of the state and its first president, visited the United States during World War I and worked with U.S. officials in developing the basis of the new country. He used the U.S. Constitution as a model for the first Czechoslovak Constitution. Since before the founding of the Czechoslovak state, the U.S. Government and people have maintained a friendly and sympathetic attitude toward the Czech and Slovak people. Millions of Americans have their roots in the Czech lands and Slovakia, and a large community in the United States has strong cultural and family ties with Czechoslovakia. After World War II and the return of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, normal relations were continued until 1948, when the communists seized power. Relations cooled rapidly. The Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 further complicated U.S.-Czechoslovak relations. The United States referred the matter to the UN Security Council as a violation of the UN Charter. In a report to Congress, Secretary of State William P. Rogers condemned the invasion as an infringement of Czechoslovakia's sovereignty and stressed that improvement in East-West relations must be based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, political independence, and the territorial integrity of each European state, regardless of its political or social system. Despite cool relations, both sides decided in the fall of 1972 on limited steps aimed at solving some problems. Negotiations were begun on a consular convention, a trade agreement, an accord on financial issues dating back to World War II, an exchanges agreement, and an accord to open consulates in Bratislava and Chicago. The discussions failed to produce results. The 1980s saw modest improvement in U.S.-Czechoslovak relations at the official level. In 1982, agreement was reached to resolve outstanding financial issues, including compensation from Czechoslovakia for the U.S. citizens and corporations whose properties were nationalized after World War II and the delivery to Czechoslovakia of its share of the gold recovered from Germany and other countries by the Allies at the end of the war. The gold was in the custody of a tripartite (United States, United Kingdom, and France) commission established by international agreement to allocate the pool of recovered gold among the countries from which gold was stolen by the Nazis. The United States blocked the gold identified by the commission for delivery to Czechoslovakia pending a settlement of the nationalization claims. Another lengthy negotiation was concluded in 1986 when the United States and Czechoslovakia signed the first exchanges between the two countries. The agreement provides for exchanges in culture, education, science, technology, and other fields. In addition, the U.S.-Czechoslovak Consular Convention, signed in 1973, was finally brought into force by an exchange of instruments of ratification in October 1987. With the "gentle revolution" of 1989, bilateral relations have improved markedly. Dissidents once sustained by U.S. encouragement and human rights policies reached high levels of government. In 1990, both governments are moving rapidly to forge close ties. U.S.-Czechoslovak trade, hindered by Czechoslovakia's failure to qualify for most-favored-nation tariff status and its trade orientation toward the Soviet Union and other CEMA countries, was stagnant until the events of 1989. Of $47 million in U.S. exports to Czechoslovakia in 1987, cattle hides and fertilizers accounted for almost half. The United States purchased $11 million in glassware from Czechoslovakia in 1987. Other leading imports included leather footwear, hops and beer, and small tractors. In 1990, as part of the general development of warmer relations, prospects for improved trade relations and mutual economic cooperation increased rapidly.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-Shirley Temple Black Deputy Chief of Mission-Theodore E. Russell Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs-Clifford G. Bond Press and Cultural Affairs Officer (USIA)-Thomas Hull Economic Affairs Officer-Harvey D. Lampert Commercial Officer-Janet G. Speck Consul-Richele Keller Defense Attache-Col. Edwin Motyka Administrative Officer-Steven J. White The U.S. Embassy is located at Trziste 15, Prague (tel. 536641/8).


Climate and clothing: The climate is most pleasant during May-August; smog and dampness prevail in November-March. Bring rainwear and lightweight or heavy woolens depending on the season. Customs and currency: U.S. citizens must have visas. Tourist visas, valid for one entry, usually can be obtained within 2 weeks. Visas require the tourist, upon entry, to purchase 30 West German marks (about $17 at the exchange rate of early 1990) a day in Czechoslovak crowns. Crowns may not be imported or exported. Health: No unusual health precautions need be taken in Prague; however, visitors coming from areas where yellow fever or cholera are endemic must have proper inoculations. Tapwater is usually safe. Bring any needed medications. Telecommunications: Telephone and cable service is adequate. Czechoslovakia is six standard time zones ahead of eastern standard time. Because of higher Czechoslovak rates, phone calls to the United States should be made collect, if possible. Transportation: Czechoslovakia has a wide network of bus, rail, and air services. Prague has a subway and streetcars, and trolley buses serve cities and suburbs. Taxis and rental cars are available. Main roads are adequate. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Editorial Division -- Washington, D.C.-- February 1990 Editor: Jim Pinkelman. Department of State Publication 7758 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. (###)