On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia separated peacefully into two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
It is also known as the Velvet Divorce, a reference to the bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989 that led to the end of the rule of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the formation of a democratic government.
When the communist regime fell in 1989, ČSFR (Česká a Slovenská Federativní Republika) was established, yet again composed of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic and governed by the Federal Assembly. The newly-elected president Václav Havel was strongly against any breakup.
In fact, the majority of the population at the time was also against such an idea. In a country-wide poll from 1992, only 37% Czechs and 36% of Slovaks favored division and dissolution.
The Geographical Background
At the beginning of 1918, Slovakia existed only as a region of Hungary that contained the majority of a people with what was called Slovak ethnicity. Czech was then made up of the two regions of Bohemia to the west and Moravia to the east. With the fall of the Austro Hungarian Empire, Hungary was basically cut to pieces along ethnic lines and the ethnic region of Slovaks joined with the Czech regions to become on October 28th, 1918, Czechoslovakia.
The actual Slovakian border was not defined until the Treaty of Trianon in 1921. The new Czech border also incorporated previously ethnic German-speaking areas of Silesia (north-east Czech) and the Sudetenland (west Czech).
By 1992 the Civic Forum had split into smaller parties that reflected their politics and nationwide parliamentary elections were held in June of that year. The result of those elections was that the Czech Federation dominated by the ODS and Václav Klaus was moving to the right whilst the Slovak Federation was moving left under the HZDS and Vladimir Mečiar. Nobody had a majority so Václav Klaus became the person to find a way forward. He has always said that he entered into negotiations in good faith but found a Slovak Federation that was clearly focused on separation with a desire for it’s own National Bank, Armed Forces and Foreign Policy.
The End Comes Quickly
In the mind of Václav Klaus this was a straightforward decision. Splitting from the smaller, poorer, politically opposite part of the country made sense. By July 17th only a month after the elections the Slovak Assembly voted for Independence and on the 23rd the Czech negotiators ratified it with the border defined as more or less what was present in 1918. President Václav Havel, powerless to prevent it, resigned in protest saying that he would not preside over the split although he was elected first President of the Czech Republic. There was no referendum. It was a smooth transition and hence, the Velvet Divorce.