Tell anyone born before the 1980s that you are going to Slovakia, and the chances are you’ll find yourself in a conversation about Czechoslovakia. That country no longer exists, but what happened to bring about 1993’s Velvet Divorce? The story isn’t quite as complicated as we come to expect from countries that decide to split up.
What was the “Velvet Divorce”?
The first thing to understand is that Czechs and Slovaks don’t actually share that much history. The two nations have common roots, but history has seen them develop separately, spending much of the last millennium dealing with the oppressive policies of larger powers. The Czechs fought against Germanic culture, while the Slovaks had their hands full with Hungary. The Magyarisation of Slovakia was far more intense than the Germanisation of Czechia, and thus the Slovak culture faced a tougher struggle to develop and establish itself.
Czechoslovakia was established in 1918 and dissolved in 1993, meaning Czechs and Slovaks only have a combined 75 years of history as a single state. Communism kept much of the disagreement under wraps, but the Velvet Revolution and installation of democracy made a split somewhat inevitable.
The Slovaks wanted a decentralised Czechoslovakia, while the Czechs were happy with the entire state being governed from Prague. The bickering went back and forth and back and forth until elections were held in 1992, with the Czech and Slovak winners deciding it was in everyone’s best interests to split up. Did they bother to ask anyone if they wanted this? Of course not.
So Czechoslovakia split up because Czech and Slovak politicians couldn’t decide on what they wanted Czechoslovakia to look like. That is the Velvet Divorce in a nutshell.