Although mankind can be traced back many hundreds of thousands of years in the region we now know as the Czech Republic it was the arrival of the Boii, a Celtic tribe, around the 3rd Century BC that put the region on the map. Their name is believed to be the origin of the name Bohemia.
The Celts were driven out by two German tribes, the Quadi and Marcomanni and by the 9th Century the Great Moravian Empire consisting of the states of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and surrounding areas was created.
A Magyar invasion in 906 led to the fall of the Moravian Empire and Bohemia emerged as part of the Přemyslid Dynasty. One of this dynasty’s early rulers, Prince Wenceslas (of Good King Wenseslasfame), was murdered by his brother Boleslav in 935. Under Boleslav Bohemia became part of the Holy Roman Empire and the power of Bohemia reached its peak under the reign of Charles IV (Holy Roman Emperor) in the 14th Century.
In the late 14th Century a preacher called Jan Hus became a rallying point for a reformation movement, the Hussites, who took on the Holy Roman Empire only to be beaten in 1434 at Lipany. Nevertheless the movement had gained momentum and a new King of Bohemia, George of Podĕbrady a moderate Hussite brought the reforming spirit as well as a new religious tolerance. This tolerance was not shared by Rome and in 1471 King George was killed in battle.
After a brief period under the Jagiellonian Dynasty, the Czech lands passed to the Austrian Hapsburgs in 1526. Although the ensuing years were a golden age, an anti-Hapsburg rebellion in 1618 led to the so called Thirty Years War. The war ended in 1638 with the Peace of Westphalia. With Bohemia devastated the lands reverted back into the hands of Catholic noble families and the Hapsburgs strengthened their hold on the country introducing German as the official language.
By the 1800s there was the sign of an emergence of Czech culture and a determination for independence. An uprising in June 1848 in Prague was defeated but by this time the Hapsburgs were in decline and it was only a matter of time. The Czech language was increasingly used and Czech culture thrived in the late 1800s under a new Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The turning point came in 1916 when Tomáš Masaryk established the Czechoslovak National Council with Edvard Beneš. On 28th October 1918, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed at the end of World War One the independent Republic of Czechoslovakia was declared; Tomáš Masaryk became its first president.
Keeping Czechs, Slovaks and a large number of Germans happy within the new state was difficult and political instability increased. The rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933 empowered the German minority in the so called Sudetenland and in September 1938 Sudetenland was signed over to the Nazis in the now infamous Munich Agreement. But Hitler wanted more and in March 1939 his troops marched into Bohemia. The country spent the rest of the Second World War under Nazi control until, in May 1945, the Red Army liberated Prague.
In the first general election after the war, in 1946, the Communist Party (KSČ) took the most votes and its leader Klement Gottwald became Prime Minister. By 1948 the Communist Party had seized power in the so called ‘Victorious February’. This led to greater Stalinisation which in turn brought nationalisation, collectivism and mass industrialisation.
In the 1960s a reform movement within the Communist Party gained strength and in 1968 a new First Secretary, Alexander Dubček, declared a wish to build “socialism with a human face”. The suppression of what is now called the ‘Prague Spring’ came when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia on 21st August 1968. Dubček was replaced by a hard liner, Gustáv Husák and all dissent was suppressed.
Never people to be held back, by 1977 the so called Charter 77 led by dissidents such as Václav Havel became a rallying point. The Velvet Revolution followed in the autumn of 1989 when a general strike brought down the Communist government.
The first elections under a free multi-party and democratic election since the fall of the communists took place on 8th and 9th June 1990. A hastily put together party, the Civic Forum won 124 seats of the 200 seat parliament. Václav Havel became the first president of the new democratic republic.
Historic tensions between the Czechs and Slovaks were quick to surface and the broad church that was Civic Forum split into two parties, a left wing Civic Movement and a right wing Civic Democratic Party (ODA). The political split made it easier for the Slovaks to split from the Czech lands and on 1st January 1993 the velvet Divorce, as it became, known led to the two new states.
The centre-right Civic Democratic Party (ODA) had won the 1992 election and went on to be the largest party in 1996. Václav Havel went on to become the President of the new Czech Republic and served out his two constitutionally allowed terms, standing down in 2003. Václav Klaus of the ODA replaced him and will stand down in 2013 having completed his two terms.
The other major force to emerge in 1992 was the centre-left Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) who went on to win the 1998 and 2002 elections. The Communists never went entirely away and today the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) retain around 26 seats in the 200 seat Chamber of Deputies.
The 2006 election saw the ODA become the largest party with 80 seats, but it took months to form a coalition government which eventually included the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Greens (SZ). On 24th March 2009 the coalition lost a vote of confidence and a technocrat government was sworn in until fresh elections could be held in 2010.
The ODA dropped to second place behind the Social Democrats in 2010 but were able to forge another coalition government with two new parties, TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV). As austerity measures have been imposed upon the Czech Republic by the European Union (which it joined in 2004) so the government has become increasingly unpopular. The ODA has also had a challenging time with both its coalition partners and in October 2012 the Civic Democrats did badly in Senate (upper house) elections. The Social Democrats did especially well in the same elections and opinion polls suggest that the ČSSD will easily win the general election slated for 2014.
The President is elected by Parliament for a five year term, although in 2013 that will change to a popular vote.
The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate with 81 members elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms, one-third of whom are elected every two years. The Chamber of Deputies has 200 members elected by popular vote to serve four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places the Czech Republic at joint 47th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 55 (where 100 is least corrupt).