The Czech Republic has one of the most developed and industrialized economies in Central and Eastern Europe. Its strong industrial tradition dates to the 19th century, when Bohemia and Moravia were the industrial heartland of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Czech Republic has a well-educated population and a well-developed infrastructure. .
The principal industries are motor vehicles, machine-building, iron and steel production, metalworking, chemicals, electronics, transportation equipment, textiles, glass, brewing, china, ceramics, and pharmaceuticals. The main agricultural products are sugar beets, fodder roots, potatoes, wheat, and hops. As a small, open economy in the heart of Europe, economic growth is strongly influenced by demand for Czech exports and flows of foreign direct investment (FDI).
At the time of the 1948 communist takeover, Czechoslovakia had a balanced economy and one of the higher levels of industrialization on the continent. In 1948, however, the government began to stress heavy industry over agricultural and consumer goods and services. Many basic industries and foreign trade, as well as domestic wholesale trade, had been nationalized before the communists took power. Nationalization of most of the retail trade was completed in 1950-51.
Heavy industry received major economic support during the 1950s, but central planning resulted in waste and inefficient use of industrial resources. Although the labor force was generally skilled and efficient, inadequate incentives for labor and management contributed to high labor turnover, low productivity, and poor product quality. Economic failures reached a critical stage in the 1960s, after which various reform measures were sought with no satisfactory results.
Hope for wide-ranging economic reform came with Alexander Dubcek's rise in January 1968. Despite renewed efforts, however, Czechoslovakia could not come to grips with inflationary forces, much less begin the immense task of correcting the economy's basic problems.
The economy saw growth during the 1970s but then stagnated between 1978-82. Attempts at revitalizing it in the 1980s with management and worker incentive programs were largely unsuccessful. The economy grew after 1982, achieving an annual average output growth of more than 3% between 1983-85. Imports from the West were curtailed, exports boosted, and hard currency debt reduced substantially. New investment was made in the electronic, chemical, and pharmaceutical sectors, which were industry leaders in Eastern Europe in the mid-1980s.
The "Velvet Revolution" in 1989 offered a chance for profound and sustained economic reform. Signs of economic resurgence began to appear in the wake of the shock therapy that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) labeled the "big bang" of January 1991. Since then, astute economic management has led to the elimination of price controls, large inflows of foreign investment, increasing domestic consumption and industrial production, and a stable exchange rate. Exports to former communist economic bloc markets shifted to Western Europe. Despite a general trend over the last 10 years toward rising budget deficits, the Czech Government's domestic and foreign indebtedness remains relatively low.
The Czech koruna (crown) became fully convertible for most business purposes in late 1995. Following a currency crisis and recession in 1998-99, the crown exchange rate was allowed to float. Recently, strong capital inflows have resulted in a steady increase in the value of the crown against the euro and the dollar. The strong crown has helped to keep inflation low. In 2004, inflation was about 2.8%, mainly due to increases in value added tax rates and higher fuel costs, and dropped to 1.9% in 2005. It hovered around 2.5% in 2006. The Ministry of Finance reported an inflation rate of 2.8% for 2007 and 6.3% for all of 2008, due to one-off tax changes and an increase in energy and food prices; however, this trend reversed in 2009, resulting in an inflation rate of 1.0%. The Czech Statistical Office reported an inflation rate of 1.5% in 2010.
The Czech Republic is gradually reducing its dependence on highly polluting low-grade brown coal as a source of energy, in part because of European Union (EU) environmental requirements. The government has offered investment incentives in order to enhance the Czech Republic's natural advantages, thereby attracting foreign partners and stimulating the economy. Formerly state-owned banks have all been privatized into the hands of west European banks and oversight by the central bank has improved. The telecommunications infrastructure has been upgraded and the sector is privatized. The Czech Republic has made significant progress toward creating a stable and attractive climate for investment, although continuing reports of corruption are troubling to investors.
Its success allowed the Czech Republic to become the first post-communist country to receive an investment-grade credit rating by international credit institutions. Successive Czech governments have welcomed U.S. investment in addition to the strong economic influence of Western Europe and increasing investment from Asian auto manufacturers. According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the inflow of FDI fell from CZK 110 billion (roughly U.S. $5.7 billion) in 2008 to CZK 52 billion (roughly U.S. $2.7 billion) in 2009, mainly due to the economic slowdown. The inflow of FDI rebounded to CZK 117 billion (roughly U.S. $6.2 billion) during the first three quarters of 2010. By U.S. Embassy estimates, the United States is among the top five investors in the Czech Republic since the revolution.
The Czech Republic boasts a flourishing consumer production sector. In the early 1990s most state-owned industries were privatized through a voucher privatization system. Every citizen was given the opportunity to buy, for a moderate price, a book of vouchers that he or she could exchange for shares in state-owned companies. State ownership of businesses was estimated to be about 97% under communism. The non-private sector is less than 20% today.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs released data in March 2011 showing that unemployment in the Czech Republic fell to 9.6% in February 2011, down from 9.7% in January (and down from a peak of 9.9% in February 2010). The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs uses a different methodology than the EU, which releases its figures for the 27 EU member states several weeks later. According to the EU, the EUROSTAT harmonized unemployment rate for the Czech Republic was 7.9% in January 2011, up from 7.8% in December 2010. Rates of unemployment are higher in the coal and steel producing regions of Northern Moravia and Northern Bohemia, and among less-skilled and older workers.
After experiencing robust growth of around 6% from 2005-2007, the Czech Republic felt the impact of the global economic slowdown in 2009. The economy contracted in real terms by 4.1% in 2009 as the country's main export markets fell into recession, leading to a significant drop in external demand. Though unemployment figures still hover under 10%, 2010 saw an economic rebound for the country as export orders of industrial goods to Western Europe increased, and real GDP growth was reported as 2.2% by the Czech Statistical Office. Real GDP growth estimates for 2011 range from 1.6% to 2.8%, depending on assumptions regarding growth in the neighboring economies and the impact of government austerity measures. The Czech financial system remained relatively healthy during the global economic slowdown, and the Czech Republic is reportedly one of only a handful of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries not to have had to recapitalize its banking system. The Czech Government had brought its budget deficit well within the 3% Maastricht criteria for euro adoption, reaching 0.6% of GDP in 2007 and 1.4% in 2008. Following the economic slowdown, however, and the resulting significant drop in tax revenues, the budget deficit reached 4.8% of GDP in 2010, down from 5.8% in 2009. The Czech Government has yet to set a target date for euro adoption, and Prime Minister Necas stated in December 2010 that the Czech Republic was better served by maintaining its national currency, the Czech crown, for the time being.
The Czech Republic became a European Union member on May 1, 2004. Most barriers to trade in industrial goods with the EU fell in the course of the accession process. The process of accession had a positive impact on reform in the Czech Republic, and new EU directives and regulations continue to shape the business environment. Free trade in services and agricultural goods, as well as stronger regulation and rising labor costs, has meant tougher competition for Czech producers. Future levels of EU structural funding and agricultural supports were key issues in the accession negotiations. Even before accession, policy set in Brussels had a strong influence on Czech domestic and foreign policy, particularly in the area of trade.
Challenges include transforming the economy from a strong reliance on manufacturing (especially the auto sector) toward a more diversified knowledge-based economy, reforming public procurement, increasing transparency, and reforming the pension and health care systems.
Nominal GDP (2010 est.): $262.8 billion.
GDP per capita (2010 est.): $25,600.
Annual GDP growth rate (2010, Czech Statistical Office): 2.2%.
Natural resources: Coal, coke, timber, lignite, uranium, magnesite.
Agriculture: Products--wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, hops, potatoes, sugar beets, fruit, hogs, cattle, horses, poultry.
Industry: Types--motor vehicles, machinery and equipment, iron, steel, cement, sheet glass, armaments, chemicals, ceramics, wood, paper products, and footwear.
Trade (2010 est.): Exports--$136.3 billion: motor vehicles, machinery, iron, steel, chemicals, raw materials, consumer goods. Imports--$129.3 billion (est.). Trading partners--Germany (31.9%), Slovakia, Poland, France, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, U.K., China, United States.
Central Europe, southeast of Germany
49 45 N, 15 30 E
total: 78,866 sq km
land: 77,276 sq km
water: 1,590 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly smaller than South Carolina
total: 1,881 km
border countries: Austria 362 km, Germany 646 km, Poland 658 km, Slovakia 215 km
0 km (landlocked)
temperate; cool summers; cold, cloudy, humid winters
Bohemia in the west consists of rolling plains, hills, and plateaus surrounded by low mountains; Moravia in the east consists of very hilly country
lowest point: Elbe River 115 m
highest point: Snezka 1,602 m
hard coal, soft coal, kaolin, clay, graphite, timber
arable land: 41%
permanent crops: 2%
permanent pastures: 11%
forests and woodland: 34%
other: 12% (1993 est.)
240 sq km (1993 est.)
Environment - current issues:
air and water pollution in areas of northwest Bohemia and in northern Moravia around Ostrava present health risks; acid rain damaging forests
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note:
landlocked; strategically located astride some of oldest and most significant land routes in Europe; Moravian Gate is a traditional military corridor between the North European Plain and the Danube in central Europe.
The President of the
Czech Republic is Vaclav Klaus. He was re-elected on February 15, 2008 and sworn into office on March 7, 2008. As formal head of state, the president is granted specific powers such as the right to nominate Constitutional Court judges, dissolve parliament under certain conditions, and enact a veto on legislation. Presidents are elected by the parliament for 5-year terms.
The legislature is bicameral, with a Chamber of Deputies (200 seats) and a Senate (81 seats). With the split of the former Czechoslovakia, the powers and responsibilities of the now-defunct federal parliament were transferred to the Czech National Council, which renamed itself the Chamber of Deputies. Chamber delegates are elected from 14 regions--including the capital, Prague--for 4-year terms, on the basis of proportional representation. The Czech Senate is patterned after the U.S. Senate and was first elected in 1996; its members serve for 6-year terms with one-third being elected every 2 years.
The country's highest court of appeal is the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court, which rules on constitutional issues, is appointed by the president. Its members serve 10-year terms.
The June 2-3, 2006 general election resulted in the Chamber of Deputies' 200 seats being evenly divided 100-100 between three center-right parties and two parties on the left, with neither side able to form a majority government. The impasse led to months of protracted negotiations during which Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek formed a three-party coalition of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), and the Greens (SZ). On March 24, 2009, the coalition government lost a vote of no-confidence, and resigned 2 days later. A new interim, technocratic government was sworn in on May 8, 2009, and Jan Fischer, who had been serving as the head of the Czech Statistical Office, was named Prime Minister.
Parliamentary elections were held in May 2010. Although the CSSD lost 18 seats, the election results made it the largest party in the Parliament. However, a center-right coalition was formed of the established ODS, the formerly local Prague party Public Affairs (VV), and the newly formed TOP 09. Former Labor Minister Petr Necas of ODS was named Prime Minister.
The Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004, and held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from January 1 to June 30, 2009.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Petr Necas
Foreign Minister--Karel Schwarzenberg
Ambassador-designate to the U.S.--Petr Gandalovic
The Czech Republic maintains an embassy at 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008, (tel. 202-274-9101).
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: The Czech Republic was established January 1, 1993 (former Czechoslovak state established 1918).
Constitution: Signed December 16, 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--Chamber of Deputies, Senate. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court.
Political parties (June 2006 election): Civic Democratic Party (ODS), 81 seats; Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), 74 seats; Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), 26 seats; Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak Peoples Party (KDU-CSL), 13 seats; Green Party (SZ), 6 seats.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: Two regions--Bohemia and Moravia; 13 administrative districts and Prague.
Back to Top
The Czech Republic was the western part of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. Formed into a common state after World War I (October 28, 1918), the Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks remained united for almost 75 years. On January 1, 1993, the two republics split to form two separate states.
The Czechs lost their national independence to the Hapsburgs Empire 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, the independent country of Czechoslovakia was formed, encouraged by, among others, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
Despite cultural differences, the Slovaks shared with the Czechs similar aspirations for independence from the Hapsburg state and voluntarily united with the Czechs. For historical reasons, Slovaks were not at the same level of economic and technological development as the Czechs, but the freedom and opportunity found in Czechoslovakia enabled them to make strides toward overcoming these inequalities. However, the gap never was fully bridged, and the discrepancy played a continuing role throughout the 75 years of the union.
Although Czechoslovakia was the only east European country to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it was plagued with minority problems, the most important of which concerned the country's large German population. Constituting more than 22% of the interwar state's population and largely concentrated in the Bohemian and Moravian border regions (the Sudetenland), members of this minority, including some who were sympathetic to Nazi Germany, undermined the new Czechoslovak state. Internal and external pressures culminated in September 1938, when France and the United Kingdom yielded to Nazi pressures at Munich 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, establishing a German "protectorate." By this time, Slovakia had already declared independence and had become a puppet state of the Germans.
At the close of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and much of Bohemia, including Prague. In May 1945, U.S. forces liberated the city of Plzen and most of western Bohemia. A civilian uprising against the German garrison took place in Prague in May 1945. Following Germany's surrender, some 2.9 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia with Allied approval under the Benes Decrees.
Reunited after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks set national elections for the spring of 1946. The democratic elements, led by President Eduard Benes, hoped the Soviet Union would allow Czechoslovakia the freedom to choose its own form of government and aspired to a Czechoslovakia that would act as a bridge between East and West. The Czechoslovak Communist Party, which won 38% of the vote, held most of the key positions in the government and gradually managed to neutralize or silence the anti-communist forces. Although the communist-led government initially intended to participate in the Marshall Plan, it was forced by Moscow to back out. Under the cover of superficial legality, the Communist Party 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 political structure was characterized by the orthodoxy of the leadership of party chief Antonin Novotny.
The 1968 Soviet Invasion
The communist leadership allowed token reforms in the early 1960s, but discontent arose within the ranks of the Communist Party central committee, stemming from dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the economic reforms, resistance to cultural liberalization, and the desire of the Slovaks within the leadership for greater autonomy for their republic. This discontent expressed itself with the removal of Novotny from party leadership in January 1968 and from the presidency in March. He was replaced as party leader by a Slovak, Alexander Dubcek.
After January 1968, the Dubcek leadership took practical steps toward political, social, and economic reforms. In addition, it called for politico-military changes in the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact and Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. 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, among other things, freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel; a program that, in Dubcek's words, would give socialism "a human face." After 20 years of little public participation, the population gradually started to take interest in the government, and Dubcek became a truly popular national figure.
The internal reforms and foreign policy statements of the Dubcek leadership created great concern among some other Warsaw Pact governments. On the night of August 20, 1968, Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, and Polish troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak Government immediately declared that the troops had not been invited into the country and that their invasion was a violation of socialist principles, international law, and the UN Charter.
The principal Czechoslovak reformers were forcibly and secretly taken to the Soviet Union. Under obvious Soviet duress, they were compelled to sign a treaty that provided for the "temporary stationing" of an unspecified number of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia. Dubcek was removed as party First Secretary on April 17, 1969, and replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak. Later, Dubcek and many of his allies within the party were stripped of their party positions in a purge that lasted until 1971 and reduced party membership by almost one-third.
The 1970s and 1980s became known as the period of "normalization," in which the apologists for the 1968 Soviet invasion prevented, as best they could, any opposition to their conservative regime. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. The population, cowed by the "normalization," was quiet.
At the time of the communist takeover, Czechoslovakia had a balanced economy and one of the higher levels of industrialization on the continent. In 1948, however, the government began to stress heavy industry over agricultural and consumer goods and services. Many basic industries and foreign trade, as well as domestic wholesale trade, had been nationalized before the communists took power. Nationalization of most of the retail trade was completed in 1950-51.
Heavy industry received major economic support during the 1950s, but central planning resulted in waste and inefficient use of industrial resources. Although the labor force was traditionally skilled and efficient, inadequate incentives for labor and management contributed to high labor turnover, low productivity, and poor product quality. Economic failures reached a critical stage in the 1960s, after which various reform measures were sought with no satisfactory results.
Hope for wideranging economic reform came with Alexander Dubcek's rise in January 1968. Despite renewed efforts, however, Czechoslovakia could not come to grips with inflationary forces, much less begin the immense task of correcting the economy's basic problems.
The economy saw growth during the 1970s but then stagnated between 1978-82. Attempts at revitalizing it in the 1980s with management and worker incentive programs were largely unsuccessful. The economy grew after 1982, achieving an annual average output growth of more than 3% between 1983-85. Imports from the West were curtailed, exports boosted, and hard currency debt reduced substantially. New investment was made in the electronic, chemical, and pharmaceutical sectors, which were industry leaders in eastern Europe in the mid-1980s.
The Velvet Revolution
The roots of the 1989 Civic Forum movement that came to power during the "Velvet Revolution" lie in human rights activism. On January 1, 1977, more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called the Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of documents it had signed, including the state's own constitution; international covenants on political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights; and the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although not organized in any real sense, the signatories of Charter 77 constituted a citizens' initiative aimed at inducing the Czechoslovak Government to observe formal obligations to respect the human rights of its citizens.
On November 17, 1989, the communist police violently broke up a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration, brutally beating many student participants. In the days which followed, Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel. Intentionally eschewing the label "party," a word given a negative connotation during the previous regime, Civic Forum quickly gained the support of millions of Czechs, as did its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence.
Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party all but collapsed. Its leaders, Husak and party chief Milos Jakes, resigned in December 1989, and Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia on December 29. The astonishing quickness of these events was in part due to the unpopularity of the communist regime and changes in the policies of its Soviet guarantor as well as to the rapid, effective organization of these public initiatives into a viable opposition.
A coalition government, in which the Communist Party had a minority of ministerial positions, was formed in December 1989. The first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1946 took place in June 1990 without incident and with more than 95% of the population voting. As anticipated, Civic Forum and Public Against Violence won landslide victories in their respective republics and gained a comfortable majority in the federal Parliament. The Parliament undertook substantial steps toward securing the democratic evolution of Czechoslovakia. It successfully moved toward fair local elections in November 1990, ensuring fundamental change at the county and town level.
Civic Forum found, however, that although it had successfully completed its primary objective--the overthrow of the communist regime--it was ineffectual as a governing party. The demise of Civic Forum was viewed by most as necessary and inevitable.
By the end of 1990, unofficial parliamentary "clubs" had evolved with distinct political agendas. Most influential was the Civic Democratic Party, headed by Vaclav Klaus who later became Prime Minister. Other notable parties that came to the fore after the split were the Czech Social Democratic Party, Civic Movement, and Civic Democratic Alliance.
By 1992, Slovak calls for greater autonomy effectively blocked the daily functioning of the federal government. In the election of June 1992, Klaus's Civic Democratic Party won handily in the Czech lands on a platform of economic reform. Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia emerged as the leading party in Slovakia, basing its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy. Federalists, like Havel, were unable to contain the trend toward the split. In July 1992, President Havel resigned. In the latter half of 1992, Klaus and Meciar hammered out an agreement that the two republics would go their separate ways by the end of the year.
Members of the federal parliament, divided along national lines, barely cooperated enough to pass the law officially separating the two nations. The law was passed on December 27, 1992. On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia were simultaneously and peacefully founded.
Relationships between the two states, despite occasional disputes about the division of federal property and governing of the border have been peaceful. Both states attained immediate recognition from the U.S. and their European neighbors.
The majority of the 10.5 million inhabitants of the Czech Republic are ethnically and linguistically Czech (94%). Other ethnic groups include Germans, Roma, Japanese, and Poles. Laws establishing religious freedom were passed shortly after the revolution of 1989, lifting oppressive regulations enacted by the former communist regime. Major denominations and their estimated percentage populations are Roman Catholic (39%) and Protestant (3%). A large percentage of the Czech population claim to be atheists (40%), and 16% describe themselves as uncertain. The Jewish community numbers a few thousand today; a synagogue in Prague memorializes the names of more than 80,000 Czechoslovak Jews who perished in World War II.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Czech(s).
Population (2009 est.): 10.5 million.
Annual population growth rate: 0.1%.
Ethnic groups: Czech (94% or 9.6 million); Slovak (193,000); Roma (200,000); Silesian (11,000); Polish (52,000); German (39,000); Ukrainian (22,000); and Vietnamese (40,000).
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant.
Health: Life expectancy--males 73.34 yrs., females 79.7 yrs.
Work force (5.23 million, International Monetary Fund est.): Industry, construction, and commerce--40%; government and other services--56%; agriculture--4%.