March 29, 1990. Czechoslovakia and a Matter of a Hyphen

When the Czecho-Slovak Republic was established in 1918 it was spelled with the hyphen, but in 1921 the government renamed the country Czechoslovakia.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the country was known as the Czechoslovak Republic (from the end of World War II to 1960) and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (from 1960 until the fall of communism nearly three decades later).

Following the Velvet Revolution and the collapse of communist rule at the end of 1989, the country initially moved towards reinstating its hyphen-less interwar name: “Czechoslovakia” or “the Czechoslovak Republic”.

But Slovaks rejected the solution on the grounds it gave more importance to the Czechs and, calling for greater equality within the federation, demanded the hyphen be reinstated.

The “Great Hyphen Debate” erupted in Czechoslovakia’s Parliament on March 29, 1990.

Deputies rejected various proposals for a name to replace the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in the post-communist era.

Slovak insistence on their national identity being enshrined in a hyphenated form of Czecho-Slovakia led to 12 hours of discussion and backroom discussion before the final formula was agreed.

The president, Vaclav Havel, had warned deputies that the country would become a laughing stock unless it quickly resolved the Great Hyphen Debate.

On March 29, 1990, the Parliament approved the new name of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic in the Czech version (Československá federativní republika) and the Czech – Slovak Federal Republic in the Slovak version (Česko-slovenská federatívna republika).

The fragile agreement was brushed away less than a month later, on April 20, with the Czechoslovak parliament renaming the country “the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic”.

This ridiculous dispute led to growing tensions between the two nations which had been dampened for decades by the totalitarianism of the communist regime. The war for the dash was the first step in the partition of Czechoslovakia which took place less than three years later.

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