12
The Politics of Transition and
the Break-Up of
Czechoslovakia

SHARON L. WOLCHIK

The break-up of the Czechoslovak federation reflected the influence of many factors. The roots of the tensions between Czechs and Slovaks go back to the earlier history of the two groups and the differing nature of economic and national development that each experienced as part of separate, larger political units. They also reflect the different impact of communism on each region, particularly in the economic sphere, and the much harsher impact of the move to the market in Slovakia that resulted from the fact that most of Slovakia's industrialization occurred during the communist era. As the pages to follow illustrate, political factors also contributed. Important as the factors noted above were as conditioning factors, the end of the Czechoslovak state was a political decision that was shaped in critical ways by the structure of the political system and the decisions of political leaders and citizens. These in turn reflected the impact of the economic, social and psychological transitions that followed the end of communist rule, as well as the particular characteristics of a political system that was in transition. As others in this volume, as well as some of my earlier writings,1 have discussed the impact of historical factors and of other aspects of the transition, this essay will focus on the role that transition politics played in increasing the political salience of ethnicity and bringing on the demise of the federation.

One of the more important aspects of political life in post-communist Czechoslovakia was the fact that the political system was very much in flux. Although Czechoslovakia had many of the preconditions necessary for establishing and maintaining a stable democratic system that were lacking in other post-communist states at the outset of the post-communist period, political life nonetheless shared, and continues to share in the Czech

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