Dictionary of East European History since 1945

By Joseph Held | Go to book overview

were to replace the authoritarian ones. They were not representing specific social strata as genuine political parties do in the West, and therefore they had great difficulty in governing their countries when they eventually came into power.

Most leaders of the Civic Forum and the Public against Violence were greatly surprised at the speed with which the communist system collapsed. Suddenly it was proven beyond a doubt that only brute Soviet force had kept the communist regimes in power, and once this force was made inactive by Michail Gorbachev, the leaders had nowhere to turn for support. Milos Jakes (see Jakes, Milos) resigned together with his cabinet. The privileged position of the Communist party and its nomenklatura ended. The first noncommunist government in more than four decades came into existence. Vaclav Havel (see Havel, Vaclav), a spokesman for Charter 77, and a prominent playwright, was elected president of the republic in December 1989. The Velvet Revolution, inducing no violence on the part of the opposition to the communist regime, was accomplished!

The name of the government was that of the Government of National Understanding. It found its task so enormous that it was almost impossible to accomplish. It had to restore a pluralistic, multiparty democracy, create a new market economy, and restore the country's traditional Western cultural orientation. It also had to begin to assess the enormous environmental damage left behind by an insane policy of industrialization at any price. Its tasks were complicated by the revival of traditional Slovak nationalism whose advocates were now demanding not only autonomy for Slovakia, but also the establishment of an independent Slovak national state. Almost immediately, the Communist party lost most of its members, and other political parties proliferated. The official trade unions, nothing more than the instruments of the Communist party, were also disbanded, and most of the membership disappeared. By February 1990, twenty-nine political parties were competing for public attention. They were all gearing up for the coming elections to be held in June.

In the elections, the Public Against Violence-Civic Forum formed a coalition, and they received 50 percent of the votes cast for the House of Nations (the upper house of parliament) and 53.2 percent of the votes cast for the House of the Peoples (the lower chamber). The Communist party won 13 percent of the total votes cast, which corresponded to about the actual numbers of the apparatchiki and the state bureaucracy.


Bibliography

Peche Jiri, "Czech-Slovak Conflict Threatens State Unity," Radio Free Europe Research Report. 1. 1 ( January 3, 1992), pp. 83-86; Rothschild Joseph, The Return to Diversity. ( Oxford, 1992).

Collapse of Communism. The Husak-regime could probably have trudged along for a while longer after the cataclysmic changes that occurred in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. While in Poland and Hungary the reform communists negotiated the transition from a one-patty dictatorship to a multi-party democracy,

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