Often referred to as the First Republic, the first Czechoslovak state existed from 1918 to 1938. After 1933, Czechoslovakia remained the only de facto functioning democracy in Central Europe. To a large extent, democracy was held together by the country's first president, the beloved Tomáš Masaryk.
The Munich Agreement was signed in Munich by Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy. The four powers agreed to the annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia, where more than three million people, mainly ethnic Germans, lived. Most of Europe celebrated the Munich Agreement, which was presented as a way to prevent a major war on the continent. Adolf Hitler announced it was his last territorial claim in Europe. The slogan "About us, without us!" summarizes the feelings of the people of Czechoslovakia.
The Communist regime seized power and incorporated the country into the Soviet Bloc in 1948. Censorship was applied, and the secret police investigated and suppressed any sort of resistance. Citizens were guaranteed some social security, while basic human rights and freedoms were violated. The regime's terrorizing was the worst until the mid-1950s, but it lasted throughout the occupation. The vast majority of the economy was nationalized.
Events known as the Prague Spring culminated after liberalization in the '60s. Influential politicians spoke about the concept of so-called socialism with a human face, attempting to relax the regime and speed up the democratization process. This intention was not met with understanding on the Soviet side. The reform movement was defeated by military intervention by the Warsaw Pact states on August 21, 1968. Czechoslovakia remained occupied by the Soviet army until 1991.
The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, with approximately 500,000 troops and 2,000 tanks, successfully stopped the Prague Spring liberalization reforms and strengthened the authority of the Communist Party. The next years were known as the period of Normalization. The invasion was followed by a wave of emigration, largely of highly qualified people.
The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communists included students and older dissidents. The result was the end of 41 years of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia, followed by conversion to a democratic republic.
The self-determined split of the federal republic of Czechoslovakia created two independent countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Slovak National Party sought complete independence and sovereignty. Czechoslovakia was the only former Eastern Bloc state that had an entirely peaceful breakup, hence the event’s unofficial name, the Velvet Divorce. The first president elected was dissident Václav Havel.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland became the first former Soviet Bloc states to join NATO in 1999. By joining NATO, the Czech Republic achieved one of its top foreign policy goals of ensuring its external security and became an integral part of the political-military alliance.
The largest enlargement of the European Union occurred in 2004, with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia joining. Being a part of the European Economic Area ensures the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Accession to the Schengen area followed in 2007. The euro has not yet been adopted.
From 1993 to 2008, Czech presidents were elected by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. In 2013, Miloš Zeman became the first directly elected president of the Czech Republic, elected by the public in two rounds. The term lasts five years, and the president cannot be elected more than twice consecutively.
The two largest demonstrations of the post-revolutionary period took place against the second government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Both protests were organized by the Million Moments for Democracy Association. Andrej Babiš became the subject of an investigation and a lawsuit by the European Commission as well as criticism of anti-corruption organizations for possible conflicts of interest. Over 200,000 people participated in the protests.