History of Prague

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The Czech Republic is a Central European country (consisting of the historical regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia), which has been inhabited since the earliest days of human settlement in Europe.

It was in the fifth century AD that the forefathers of its present inhabitants settled in the region and around the year 868 AD that Prince Borivoj of the Premyslid family became ruler - his dynasty laying the foundation of the Czech state. In around 870 AD, Prague Castle was built atop a hill overlooking the Vltava river.

Perhaps the most famous early ruler was the Catholic Duke Wenceslas I (c903-935 AD), who became the Patron Saint of Bohemia but who is more well known today as the subject of a Christmas carol.

With the death of Wenceslas III in 1306, the Premyslid dynasty was succeeded in 1310 by the House of Luxemburg and in 1346, Charles IV became the Czech King. Being Holy Roman Emperor, Charles made Prague his capital, building many great buildings including St Vitus Cathedral and Hradcany Castle, as well as establishing Charles University - the first University in Central Europe. After Charles' death, came the Hussite Wars which meant 15 years of religious conflict.

In 1526, the Hapsburg dynasty succeeded to the throne but this only resulted in further conflicts such as the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) with the result that an estimated third of the country's population died and there was a decline in the usage and spread of the Czech language.

However, in the period 1784-1848, there was - despite the efforts of the Hapsburgs - a revival of the Czech nation: the language was standardised, the Industrial Revolution arrived and many great Czech leaders emerged including Frantisek Palacky.

After the Great War in Europe in 1918, the Allies were persuaded to declare a new state of Czechoslovakia comprising Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia. However, under the Munich Agreement in 1938, the British and other European powers agreed to the annexation of Czech territories by the Germans under Adolf Hitler. After the Nazi domination during the Second World War (1939-1945), the Czechs then found themselves under Communist control as Soviet troops swept into the country in May 1945.

Elections were held in 1946 with the communists winning 38% of the vote, and in 1948 they seized power under Klement Gottwald with the support of the Soviet Union, virtually eliminating all opposition. All land and industry was nationalised with the aim of making Czechoslovakia a supplier of heavy industrial equipment and arms to the Eastern Bloc.

Unhappy with the depressed state of the country, a new Communist party was formed under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek who tried to establish 'socialism with a human face' in what is now known as the 'Prague Spring'. In August 1968 however, the Soviet Union and its allies invaded the country resulting in an even more depressed state which lasted for a further 21 years - economic reforms were reversed and over 1/2 million Party members were expelled.

After the momentous events of late 1989 within the Soviet Bloc, police violence against a legal student demonstration in Prague in November that year (the masakr, as it became known) heralded the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. On 28th December, Mr Dubcek became Chairman of the Federal Assembly, and the next day, Vaclav Havel, a leading Czech writer and playwright, became President. A coalition government was formed in June 1990 and, after three years of debate and argument with the main Slovak parties, Parliament gave the required 3/5 majority to terminate the Federation. On the 1st January 1993, the Czech and Slovak Republics went their separate ways.

Serious difficulties were encountered by the new state of the Czech Republic, highlighted by political and financial corruption and economic insecurity, resulting in the resignation of Vaclav Klaus as Prime Minister in November 1997.

A parliamentary election in June 1998 was inconclusive but under the current Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who brokered a deal with opposition parties, the Czech Republic acceded to NATO in March 1999, and is undertaking negotiations with the European Union with the aim of becoming a Full Member in 2003 when it is expected that all conditions for membership will have been met. The country is also a member of other major international organisations including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

Despite a decline in his popularity from the heady days of the early 1990's, (due in some measure to his marriage to a younger woman and his amnesty decisions), Vaclav Havel continues as President having been re-elected by one vote for a further 5-year term in January 1998.