A BRIEF PRIMER:
I - THE CZECH REPUBLIC
The Czech Republic (Česká republika),short form Česko, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country borders Poland to the northeast, Germany to the west and northwest, Austria to the south and Slovak Republic to the east.
The capital and largest city is Prague (Czech: Praha). The country is composed of the historic regions of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as parts of Silesia. The Czech Republic has been a member of NATO since 1999 and of the European Union since 2004. From 1 January 2009 to 1 July 2009, the Czech Republic held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Czech lands fell under Habsburg rule, later becoming part of the Austrian Empire and Austria–Hungary. The independent Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I.
After the Munich Agreement, German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the consequent disillusion with the Western response and gratitude for the liberation of the major portion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, the Communist party won A plurality (38%) in the 1946 elections. In a 1948 coup d'état, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state.
In 1968, the increasing dissatisfaction culminated in attempts to reform the communist regime. The events, known as the Prague Spring of 1968, ended with an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (with the exception of Romania); the troops remained in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the communist regime collapsed.
On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.
The Czech Republic is a pluralist multi-party parliamentary representative democracy. President Václav Klaus (photo in the strip above) is the current head of state. The Prime Minister is the head of government (currently Jan Fischer). The Parliament has two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. It is also a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe and the Visegrád Group.
The Czech Republic made economic reforms such as fast privatizations. Annual gross domestic product growth has recently been around 6%. The country is the first former member of the Comecon to achieve the status of a developed country (2006), according to the World Bank. The Czech Republic also ranks top among the former Comecon countries in the Human Development Index.
II - PRAGUE
Prague (Czech: Praha) is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic.
Situated on the River Vltava [the Moldau] in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural, and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years.
For many decades during the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus was also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.
Today, the city proper is home to more than 1.2 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 1.9 million.
Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Nicknames for Prague have included "the mother of cities" (Praga mater urbium, or "Praha matka měst" in Czech), "city of a hundred spires" and "the golden city".
[I find it one of the world's most beautiful cities, still full of Old World charm, like Vienna and Budapest, the two other great cities of the once mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire.]
The area of Prague has been settled since Paleolithic times. The city became the seat of the dukes and later kings of Bohemia. Under emperor Otto II the city became a bishopric in 973. Until Prague was elevated to archbishopric in 1344, it was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Mainz. It was an important seat for trading where merchants from all of Europe settled, including many Jews.
In 1257, Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter) was founded in Prague on a place of an older village in the future Hradčany area. occupied by Germans mostly. The new district was on the opposite bank of the Staré Město ("Old Town"), which had a borough status and was defended by a line of walls and fortifications.
The city flourished during the 14th century reign of the king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV of the new Luxembourg dynasty. He ordered the building of the New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to the Old Town. The Charles Bridge was erected to connect the new district to Malá Strana.
Monuments by Charles include the Saint Vitus Cathedral, the oldest gothic cathedral in central Europe, which is actually inside the Castle, and the Charles University. The latter is the oldest university in central Europe.
Prague was then the third-largest city in Europe. Under Charles, Prague was, from 1355, the actual capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and its rank was elevated to that of archbishopric (1344). It had a mint, and German and Italian merchants, as well as bankers, were present in the city.
During the reign of King Wenceslas IV (1378–1419), Jan Hus, a theologian and lector at the Charles University, preached in Prague. In 1402, he began giving sermons in the Bethlehem Chapel. Inspired by John Wycliffe, these sermons focused on reforming the Church.
Having become too dangerous for the political and religious establishment, Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance, put on trial for heresy, and burned in Konstanz in 1415.
Four years later Prague experienced its First Defenestration (the act of throwing someone out the window as a political protest - in this case, the city's councillors out the window of the New Town Hall), when the people rebelled under the command of the Prague priest Jan Želivský. Hus' death, coupled with Czech proto-nationalism and proto-Protestantism, had spurred the so-called Hussite Wars. In 1420, peasant rebels, led by the general Jan Žižka, along with Hussite troops from Prague, defeated the Bohemian King Sigismund, in the Battle of Vítkov Hill.
In the following two centuries, Prague strengthened its role as a merchant city. Many noteworthy Gothic buildings were erected, including the Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle.
In 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia was handed over to the House of Habsburg: the fervent Catholicism of its members was to bring them into conflict in Bohemia, and then in Prague, where Protestant ideas were at the time having increasing success.
These problems were not preeminent under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, elected King of Bohemia in 1576, who chose Prague as his home. He lived in Prague Castle where his court saw invitations to astrologers and magicians, but also scientists, musicians, and artists. Rudolf was an art lover too and Prague became the capital of European culture.
This was a prosperous period for the city: famous people living there in that age include the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johann Kepler, the painter Arcimboldo, the alchemists Edward Kelley and John Dee, the poetess Elizabeth Jane Weston, and others.
In 1618, the famous Second Defenestration of Prague provoked the Thirty Years' War, a particularly harsh period for Prague and Bohemia. Ferdinand II of Habsburg was deposed, and his place as King of Bohemia taken by Frederick V, Elector Palatine; however the Czech army under him was crushed in the Battle of White Mountain (1620) not far from the city. Following this in 1621 was an execution of 27 Czech lords (involved in the Battle of White Mountain) in Old Town Square and an exiling of many others. The city suffered subsequently during the war under Saxon (1631) and Swedish (1648) occupation.
Prague began a steady decline which reduced the population from the 60,000 it had had in the years before the war to 20,000. In the second half of the 17th century Prague's population began to grow again. Jews had been in Prague since the end of the 10th century and, by 1708, they accounted for about a quarter of Prague’s population.
In 1689, a great fire devastated Prague, but this spurred a renovation and a rebuilding of the city. In 1713–1714, a major outbreak of plague hit Prague one last time. The economic rise continued through the 18th century, and the city in 1771 had 80,000 inhabitants. Many of these were rich merchants who, together with noblemen of German, Spanish and even Italian origin, enriched the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens, creating a Baroque style renowned throughout the world.
The Industrial Revolution had a strong effect in Prague, as factories could take advantage of the coal mines and ironworks of the nearby region.
The revolutions that shocked all Europe around 1848 touched Prague too, but they were fiercely suppressed. In the following years the Czech nationalist movement (opposed to another nationalist party, the German one) began its rise, until it gained the majority in the Town Council in 1861. Prague had German-speaking near-majority in 1848, but by 1880 the German population decreased to 14% (42,000), and by 1910 to 6.7% (37,000), due to a massive increase of the city's overall population caused by the influx of Czechs from the rest of Bohemia and Moravia and also due to the assimilation of some Germans.
At the beginning of the 20th century Czech lands were the most productive part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with 80% of Empire's industrial production and some Czech politics began with attempts to separate it from Habsburg empire.
World War I ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Czechoslovakia. Prague was chosen as its capital and Prague Castle as the seat of president (Tomáš Masaryk). At this time Prague was a true European capital with highly developed industry. By 1930, the population had risen to 850,000.
Hitler ordered the German army to enter Prague on 15 March 1939 and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.
For most of its history Prague had been a multiethnic city with important Czech, German, and (mostly Czech- and/ or German-speaking) Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during World War II, most Jews either fled the city or were killed in the Holocaust.
At the end of the war Prague suffered several bombing raids by the U.S. Air Force. Over 1000 people were killed and hundreds of buildings, factories and historical landmarks were destroyed (however the damage was small compared to the total destruction of many other cities in that time).
Once the outcome of the war was decided and it was known that Germany would surrender to the allies, Prague revolted against the Nazi occupants on 5 May 1945 two days before Germany capitulated, on May 7. Four days later the Soviet army entered the city. The majority of German population either fled or was expelled in the aftermath of the war andw Prague fell under the militayr na dpolitcal control of the Soviet Union.
In 1967, the new secretary of the Communist Party, Alexander Dubček, proclaimed a new deal in his city's and country's life, starting the short-lived season of "socialism with a human face". It was the Prague Spring, which aimed at the renovation of institutions in a democratic way. The Soviet Union and its allies reacted with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the capital in August 1968 by tanks, suppressing any futher dissent.
In 1989, after riot police beat back a peaceful student demonstration, the Velvet Revolution crowded the streets of Prague and the Czechoslovak capital benefited greatly from the new mood.
In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic. In the late 1990s Prague again became an important cultural centre of Europe and was notably influenced by globalization.
In 2002 Prague suffered from widespread floods that damaged buildings and also its underground transport system.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has become one of Europe's (and the world's) most popular tourist destinations. It is the sixth most-visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.
Prague suffered considerably less damage during World War II than some other major cities in the region, allowing most of its historic architecture to stay true to form.
It contains one of the world's most pristine and varied collections of architecture, from Art Nouveau to Baroque, Renaissance, Cubist, Gothic, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/25/2009 7:22 PM]