Politics of the Czech Republic and Slovakia
The breakup of Czechoslovakia into two independent republics was due in large part to long-standing political imbalances between Czechs and Slovaks. Historically, Czechs have exercised greater political and economic power than the Slovaks.
After all, the seat of the government of Czechoslovakia rested in Prague, and the Czechs have long garnered greater international recognition. Czech President Vaclav Havel is a world-famous dissident and playwright. The people of Slovakia had, for many years felt slighted by the more visible and powerful Czechs. In their country’s former incarnation, many Slovaks felt that they were not getting a fair shake. Certain cultural issues also exacerbated the disagreements between the two federations prior to their separation. Czechs tend to be more urbane and agnostic, while Slovaks are considered more provincial and religious. One thing is certain, though: the division occurred peacefully. After the revolution of 1989, the Czechs and Slovaks chose different paths of political and economic reform. The Czech leadership advocated a fast transformation to a market economy, while the Slovak government wanted more gradual change.
Both countries are governed via parliamentary democracy. A president acts as head of state with a prime minister and a cabinet. Both parliaments are bicameral, each with an upper and lower house.
The Czech Republic has enjoyed greater political stability since the breakup of the two countries. Vaclav Havel was elected president in 1990 and held office until 1992, when he made it clear that he would not continue to directly oversee the breakup of the former Czechoslovakia.
The Czech parliament then re-elected him after the split was completed. Vladimir Klaus, an economist by training, was appointed Prime Minister. Put in charge of restoring the economy, he was instrumental in implementing the “shock therapy” version of economic transformation. The Czech’s adherence to economic conservatism has yielded positive effects. Unemployment remains low, especially when compared to Slovakia and other neighboring countries, and the accumulation of foreign debt has been severely curtailed.
Slovakia cannot match the economic successes of the Czech Republic. Since the beginning of 1993, the government has struggled to maintain both economic and political stability. The Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar, has demonstrated little proficiency for either stimulating the economy or keeping his foot out of his mouth. He is a proponent of the slow course to economic reform, which means that the Slovaks have seen little sign of the better lives that they were promised after the conversion to a market-driven economy.