Defining the Sovereign Community: The Czech and Slovak Republics

Defining the Sovereign Community: The Czech and Slovak Republics

Defining the Sovereign Community: The Czech and Slovak Republics

Defining the Sovereign Community: The Czech and Slovak Republics


Though they shared a state for most of the twentieth century, when the Czechs and Slovaks split in 1993 they founded their new states on different definitions of sovereignty. The Czech Constitution employs a civic model, founding the state in the name of "the citizens of the Czech Republic," while the Slovak Constitution uses the more exclusive ethnic model and speaks in the voice of "the Slovak Nation."

"Defining the Sovereign Community" asks two central questions. First, why did the two states define sovereignty so differently? Second, what impact have these choices had on individual and minority rights and participation in the two states? Nadya Nedelsky examines how the Czechs and Slovaks understood nationhood over the course of a century and a half and finds that their views have been remarkably resilient over time.

These enduring perspectives on nationhood shaped how the two states defined sovereignty after the Velvet Revolution, which in turn strongly affected the status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and the Roma minority in the Czech Republic. Neither state has secured civic equality, but the nature of the discrimination against minorities differs. Using the civic definition of sovereignty offers stronger support for civil and minority rights than an ethnic model does. Nedelsky's conclusions challenge much analysis of the region, which tends to explain ethnic politics by focusing on postcommunist factors, especially the role of opportunistic political leaders. "Defining the Sovereign Community" instead examines the undervalued historical roots of political culture and the role of current constitutional definitions of sovereignty. Looking ahead, Nedelsky offers crucial evidence that nationalism may remain strong in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, even in the face of democratization and EU integration, and is an important threat to both.


In the autumn of 1992, Czech and Slovak leaders decided to bring their two nations’ near-century of common statehood to an end. They had been negotiating new terms of union since shortly after the Velvet Revolution overthrew the Czechoslovak Communist regime in late 1989 and were frustrated by differences on crucial issues, such as the direction and speed of economic reform. No disagreement, however, was more fundamental than that concerning the source of the new state’s sovereignty and the political arrangement that it would produce. Czech leaders argued that sovereignty’s proper source is the “free and equal citizen” and that the new state should be a federation with a strong central government representing a “federal people” (i.e., a nation of citizens), while Slovak leaders held that sovereignty issues from the ethnic nation, requiring a confederation of two sovereign states. Even before the two sides formally announced that their differences were irreconcilable, the Slovak republic-level parliament passed a Declaration of National Sovereignty, and once the decision to separate was final (resulting in the Velvet Divorce) the two nations founded new states based on their respective understandings of sovereign community. the Czech Constitution thus employs the civic model, founding the state in name of, “we, the citizens of the Czech Republic in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia,” while its Slovak counterpart uses the ethnic model, and speaks in the voice of “we, the Slovak nation.”

This book asks two central questions. the first is, to what extent are the post-Communist Czech civic and Slovak ethnic understandings of nationhood rooted in political culture? and second, what are their implications for . . .

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