14
The international context

JACQUES RUPNIK

Since its inception in 1918 the main turning points in the history of the Czechoslovak state have coincided or been, to a large extent, shaped by external factors. However, the break-up of the Czechoslovak federation in 1992 was brought about from within, although it was influenced by the international environment and has serious regional and international implications.

All the famous 'eights' which punctuate the history of Czechoslovakia were directly brought about by major shifts in the international environment. The foundation of the Czechoslovak state in 1918 was a result of the collapse of the Habsburg empire and the spread of Western influence in Central and Eastern Europe. The collapse of that state in 1938 occurred under the combined effects of the failure of the Western security guarantee and of Germany's Drang nach Osten. The 1948 communist takeover was the by-product of the country's insertion into the Soviet bloc. The crushing of the Prague Spring of 1968 was the clearest and most brutal confirmation of the postwar status quo and of the partition of Europe. The fall of communism (the so-called 'velvet revolution') was to a large extent part of the break-up of the Soviet empire and the tail-end of a chain reaction which swept Central and Eastern Europe in the autumn of 1989.

The external weakness of the Czechoslovak state was an important stress factor in the relationship between Czechs and Slovaks. It strengthened Czech tendencies to centralize, thus exacerbating the dissatisfaction of the Slovaks who, in the words of Skalnik Leff, 'compensated for an unequal balance of power within the state by alignment with foreign allies… Slovak nationalism has thus appeared to Czech opinion, successively, as the cat's paw of Magyar irredentism, German imperialism, and Soviet hegemony; the perception of Slovak opportunism in such cases has put additional stress on Czech-Slovak relations.1

Although it has been argued post-factum that the division of Czechoslovakia came about as a result of the shaping of a new Central European

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