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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents


Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment

Modern housing in Czechoslovakia

THE CZECHOSLOVAK SOCIALIST REPUBLIC of the 1980s provided any number of contrasts with the Czechoslovak Republic (the First Republic), the multinational Central European state formed in 1918 from the dismantled Austro-Hungarian Empire. Large communities of ethnic minorities, some with strong irredentist leanings (like the Sudeten Germans), were a major force in the First Republic's social and political life. As a result of the expulsion of most of the Germans after World War II and the ceding of Carpatho-Ukraine to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia had become predominantly a nation of Czechs and Slovaks, with small minorities of Germans, Hungarians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Even though Czechoslovakia's ethnic makeup was simplified, the division between Czechs and Slovaks remained a potent social and political force. During the 1950s and 1960s, planners had put intensive efforts into redressing the economic imbalance between the Czech lands and Slovakia. Although many of the glaring economic disparities between the two were gone by the 1970s, social and political differences persisted.

Interwar society in Czechoslovakia was a complex amalgam of large landholders, farmers, tenants, landless laborers, and specialists (herders, smiths, teachers, clerics, and local officials) in the countryside and of many major entrepreneurs, a large industrial proletariat, hundreds of thousands of small-scale manufacturers, a diverse intelligentsia, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and craftsmen in the city. Nevertheless, extremes of wealth and poverty then typical in so much of Eastern Europe were largely absent.

Because of the post-World War II nationalization of industry (affecting not only large enterprises but nearly half a million handicraft and small-scale industries as well) and collectivization of agriculture, private ownership virtually became a thing of the past in communist Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia's much-simplified contemporary social spectrum is made up of collective farmers, workers, the intelligentsia, the communist party elite, and a few private farmers and tradesmen.

The reform movement of the late 1960s, popularly dubbed the "Prague Spring," was an effort mainly by the Czechs (with some Slovak support) to restructure Marxist-Leninist socialism in a way more suitable to their respective historical, cultural, and economic circumstances. "Normalization," the official label for the government's efforts to stamp out the remnants of this "counterrevolutionary" movement, was essentially a series of carrot-and-stick measures: far-reaching purges of those who might have been active in the reform era or remotely dissident in the 1970s, coupled with a concerted effort to placate the majority of the populace with relative material prosperity. In the 1980s, the emphasis remained on stifling dissent while trying to prevent further economic deterioration.

Data as of August 1987