[Elster, Jon (1995), Transition, constitution-making and separation in Czechoslovakia, European Journal of Sociology/Archives Europennes de Sociologie 36 (1):105-134]

[ Books | Articles | Reviews | Index | The main menu ]

Transition, constitution-making and separation in Czechoslovakia

Jon Elster

[start of page 105]

IN ONE PERSPECTIVE, the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, as it was called at the time of its dissolution (1) , was a failure. The country did not manage to give itself a new constitution, or to keep together as one nation-state. In another perspective, the development of the country is a success story. Unlike Yugoslavia and the USSR, the Czechoslovak federation broke up through peaceful negotiations. Not only was there no violence; there was not even a threat of violence. In this article I try to analyze the chain of events that begins with the fall of the Communist regime in November 1989 and ends in the fall of 1992, when the two successor states were created.

It is important to state my limitations. I do not know the language (2) . If only for that reason, I can make no claim to scholarly knowledge of the country and its history. In fact, my knowledge is thin even given what is accessible in languages that I do read. The chronological narrative offered below is based on a small number of written

[end of page 105, start of page 106]

sources (3), supplemented by what I learned in interviews with Czech and Slovak politicians and scholars. However, I do hope that I got the basic facts right. The more analytical parts of the article, especially the final section, are of course constrained by these limitations. I do not believe, however, that a fine-grained knowledge is indispensable for sketching and tentatively assessing some explanatory hypotheses. Also, I hope that my knowledge of similar processes in other countries in the region (4) and of constitution-making at other times and places (5) - can to some extent compensate for my lack of familiarity with Czechoslovakia (6) .

I shall proceed as follows. In Section I, I provide a very selective survey of the history of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1989, organized to make sense of what happened after 1989. In Section II, I cover events between the events of November 17 1989 that triggered the downfall of the regime to the first free elections in June 1990. In Section III, I consider the dual efforts of writing a new constitution and of keeping the country together during the two years for which the first parliament was elected. In Section IV, I discuss how the elections of June 1992 created a political situation in which the break-up of the country, from possible and plausible, became probable and inevitable. In Section V, I briefly explain some aspects of the constitution-making in the two new republics. In the final Section VI, I adopt a more systematic perspective, surveying a number of explanations that have been offered for the break-up of the country and commenting briefly on their validity.

[end of page 106, start of page 107]

I. 1918-1989

The Czechoslovakia that emerged after the end of World War I was an artificial creation. Although both Slovakia and the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) were parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire and had similar languages, they had very different historical trajectories. Whereas the Czech lands belonged to the Austrian part of the empire, Slovakia had for a thousand years been under Hungarian domination. In 1918, the Czech lands were much more advanced economically. About two thirds of the population were engaged in the secondary and tertiary sectors, whereas in Slovakia two thirds were employed in the primary Sector. Also, religion had a much stronger place in Slovakia. Altogether, Slovakia was a traditional society, based on the respect for hierarchy and authority, a country that unlike the Czech lands had not yet undergone the traumas of modernization. Of the 13.4 million inhabitants counted in the 1921 census, about 3.5 million lived in Slovakia, including a Hungarian minority of 700,000. There was also a large German minority (about 3.2 million), mainly concentrated in the Czech lands. In 1989 the Czech lands had a population of about ten million and relatively few minority members, virtually all Germans having been deported after 1945. Slovakia contained about 5 million, including an Hungarian minority of about 600, 000.

Under the constitution of 1920, the country was organized as a unitary state without any federal elements. The (predominantly Czech) political leaders believed that only by 'assimilating the Slovaks under a common umbrella of "Czechoslovakism" could they be safeguarded from Hungarian clutches' (7) ; at the same time, they feared that recognition of Slovak autonomy could set a precedent for similar demands by the German minority. Parliament, elected by the proportional method, was bicameral. President Thomas Masaryk, although elected by the parliament and endowed with limited formal powers, had exceptionally large de facto powers, due to his prestige as founder of the new state. All three elements - proportionality, bicameralism, indirect election of the president - were incorporated in the new Czech constitution of 1992, often with explicit reference to the First Republic.

The history of the Republic from its creation to 1989 is punctuated by four dates: 1938, 1945, 1948 and 1968. Until 1938, Czechoslovakia was a prosperous, democratic country. In terms of industrial production it was one of the ten largest powers in the world. It was the only country

[end of page 107, start of page 108]

in what later became Communist Eastern Europe that had a real history (and memory!) of democratic self-government. After Munich, the Czech lands became a German protectorate (and de facto part of the German Reich), whereas Slovakia in 1939 was organized as a formally independent state. Although in reality wartime Slovakia was little more than a Nazi puppet, the period still retains symbolic significance for many Slovaks as a first exercise in state-building. In current Slovak celebrations of their wartime regime, it is not always easy to see whether what is celebrated is the independence of the regime or its ideology.

The Third Republic (the Second Republic lasted from October 1938 to March 1939) was founded in 1945. The first parliament was elected to write a new constitution, which was adopted in May 1948, three months after the Communist coup d'État of February 25. The details of that constitution have little interest today, except with regard to the system of 'asymmetric federalism' that was adopted. In addition to the federal parliament and government, Slovakia had its own parliament (National Council) and government; no such arrangement existed in the Czech lands (8) . A similar asymmetry existed within the Communist party. There was a Slovak Communist party, a Czechoslovak Communist Party - but no Czech Communist Party. Although intended as a concession to Slovak nationalism, the creation of these asymmetrical structures turned out to have the same effect as many other political concessions, whetting the appetite for independence rather than satisfying it (9).

The first consequences appeared in 1968, with the Prague Spring. It is often said that the Slovaks, in this period, put 'federation before democracy'. Although that claim remains controversial, it seems true that 'the impetus for federalization was almost exclusively Slovak' (10) . In the new constitution that took force on January 1 1969, the federal structure of the republic was asserted in two ways. On the one hand, the asymmetry was eliminated by the creation of a Czech National Council. On the other hand, and more crucially, the federal assembly was made bi-cameral, with an upper house (House of Nations) divided into two-equal size Czech and Slovak sections. Ordinary legislation needed a simple majority in each of the two houses. In some cases, designated in the constitution, legislation required a simple majority in the lower house (House of the People) and in each section of the upper house;

[end of page 108, start of page 109]

constitutional changes needed three fifths majorities in the same three instances. This implied that one fifth of deputies to the upper house could (if concentrated in one section) block all constitutional changes. Although elaborated before the Soviet invasion in August 1968, the new constitution was passed after the invasion and with Soviet approval. In this connection two claims have been made. First, in the absence of the invasion the creation of a federal structure would have led, sooner rather than later, to Slovak secession. Second, the temporal coincidence of the invasion and the adoption of the new constitution was widely interpreted as a sign of Soviet imposition of the constitution. In this perspective, the Soviets approved the constitution only because they saw it as a useful tool for a policy of divide-and-conquer. For many Czechs, this aspect of the origin of the 1968 constitution severely reduced its legitimacy.

Within the strict Communist framework imposed by the Soviets, the constitution was, of course, a mere sham. Neither the principle of the sovereignty of parliament nor that of a separation of powers has any reality when the Party has all real authority. The federal structure was also a mere caricature, as shown by the fact that the Czech and Slovak National Councils regularly passed identically worded legislation (11) . In any case, most of the concessions to federalism were taken away by a new constitutional reform in 1970. Yet the federal framework mattered profoundly - after 1989, when it was used to promote, and sometimes to block, new legislation. The 1968 Czechoslovak constitution may be a unique example of a text that came into life only after death - after the abolition of the regime whose affairs it was supposed to regulate. I shall return to this question shortly.

After the Soviet repression, the reformers within the Communist party-predominantly Czech - were dismissed. Among the people who took their place were a disproportionate number of Slovaks, including the new Party Secretary Gustav Husak. Thus in addition to the largely symbolic victory of federalism, the Slovaks gained participation in power. As part of the 'reward' for their comparative loyalty in 1968 was a disproportionate investment in Slovakia, they also gained some economic advantage, at least in the short run.

[end of page 109, start of page 110]

II. November 1989 - June 1990

The proximate cause of the downfall of Communism in Czechoslovakia was the brutal repression of student demonstrators on November 17 1989, followed by a wave of mass protests that ultimately also reached the factories. The more remote cause was the series of regime transformations in Poland, Hungary and East Germany that, besides serving as a model and an inspiration, had the crucial effect of signaling that the Soviet Union was not going to intervene. The actual transition was effectuated through the vehicle of the Round Table Talks between the regime and the opposition (12) . Actually, there was not one Round Table, but two. More or less simultaneously with the discussions between the regime and Civic Forum in Prague, regime officials and members of Public Against Violence (the Slovak counterpart of Civic Forum) were meeting in Bratislava. The outcome of both discussions was the formation of coalition governments. The Slovak Communists managed, however, to maintain a stronger position in Slovakia than their counterparts in Prague. Many negotiators from the opposition now reproach themselves for having been too timid in pushing for change and for having chosen compromise rather than confrontation. Also, the Bratislava leadership, unlike the Central Committee in Prague, was not personally compromised during the November demonstrations. The Slovak Communist Party got rid of the worst people, and was able to maintain not only its organizational structure but also its property (the Slovak ex-Communists are today the richest party in Slovakia). Later, the Slovak Communists in the Federal Parliament played a consistently obstructive role, as 'constitution-wreckers' and 'federation-wreckers'.

The Central Committee leaders in Prague were more completely and more rapidly demoralized. As in Poland and Hungary, not only the party leaders but the opposition as well were surprised by the sudden collapse of the regime. The only obstacles to radical and swift reform came from Civic Forum itself. Havel and his associates deliberately pulled their punches-asked for less than they could get-in three crucial respects: in their insistence on the principle of legal continuity, in their respect for Slovak sovereignty, and in their choice of electoral system. I shall address these issues in turn.

[end of 110, start of 111]

The first problem the reformers faced was how to implement their reforms. The decision was made at the Round Table to work with the existing parliament, purified of its most obnoxious members. Between one third and one half of the deputies either resigned or were forced to step down, and were replaced by members of Civic Forum and of the satellite parties of the Communist party, which had carried out an internal house-cleaning in the days following November 17. Some Communist deputies were also replaced by other Communists. The replacement was carried out within strictly legal forms, using as a precedent the procedure by which the reformers had been forced out of parliament after the 1968 invasion (13). This is one application of the principle of legal continuity.

A more important application arose out of the fact, explained earlier, that the reformers found themselves saddled with a constitutional framework that gave strong veto powers to the Slovak minority in parliament. A Slovak group of 31 members of the upper house - representing one fifth of that house and two fifteenths of the population in the country as a whole (14) - could block any constitutional change. This perverse situation was the outcome of a triply favorable treatment of the Slovaks. First, they had equal numbers of representatives in the upper house with the numerically larger Czechs. Second, a majority was required in each of the two sections of that house, not in the house voting as one. Third, constitutional changes required a qualified majority. Combining the first and the second or the first and the third of these principles would have been well within the range of normal constitutional procedures. It was the combination of all three principles - in fact, of the second and the third-that gave unusually large powers to the Slovaks.

In this situation, Civic Forum might have been justified in rapidly pushing through a constitutional bill to change the mode of voting in parliament. They could have appealed both to substance and process: to the exorbitant nature of the Slovak veto and to the illegitimacy of the 1968 constitution. Although some Czech politicians made moves in this

[end of page 111, start of page 112]

direction (15) , they were met with strong Slovak opposition. As an overriding goal of the leaders of the Civic Forum was to avoid any actions that might cause or perpetuate social division, no further steps were taken.

The problem might perhaps have been defused at an earlier stage. In the first time after November 17, Civic Forum was quite active in Slovakia. In the Civic Forum headquarters in Latema Magica (Prague) there was a map of Czechoslovakia with the geographical distribution of the Civic Forum committee, showing that Civic Forum was active also in Slovakia, except for Bratislava, which was dominated by Public Against Violence. Many parts of Slovakia outside Bratislava felt greater affinity with the Czechs, and did not want to be ruled from Bratislava. However, Civic Forum deliberately dismantled its organization in Slovakia, recommending that its Slovak members join Public Against Violence. 'In this way the chance... for unified political management of the reform process in the entire country disappeared' (16) .

Consider next the decision to adopt a system of proportional representation in the first elections. In December 1989 and January 1990 the issue of proportional versus majoritarian (majority or plurality voting in single-member districts) systems was much debated among Havel and his political associates. In addition to the influence of precedents (the First Republic had used PR whereas voting under Communism was majoritarian), Havel was, at that time, animated by two distinct desires. On the one hand, he did not want to exploit the dominant position of Civic Forum so that the movement would gather all seats in parliament. It was clear, however that with majority voting Civic Forum would have swept the elections, as Solidarity had done for the elections to the Polish Senate in June 1989 when they got all deputies but one. By contrast, proportional elections would allow for the representation of other political tendencies too, including the Communists (17) . On the other hand, Havel was at that time notoriously opposed to the party system (18) . He wanted an electoral method

[end of page 112, start of page 113]

that would allow for the selection of independent candidates. The method which does that par excellence is, of course, the majority system. Although systems exist - notably that of the 'single transferable vote' (19) - which permit the simultaneous satisfaction of both Havel's desires, there is no evidence that any of them were contemplated at the time. In the PR system that was eventually adopted the voters were allowed to modify the order in which the candidates were listed on the ballot, but they nevertheless had to choose from the party list.

The remarkable fact is that in the end the decision to adopt proportional voting was taken by the very group - Civic Forum - which had everything to gain from adopting majority voting and which, moreover, had the power to impose that system. One of Havel's close associates remarks that 'this decision will be seen either as the glory or the weakness of the November revolution: we were winners that accepted a degree of self-limitation'. From the positive (as distinct from normative) point of view, the episode offers an important counter-example to the proposition that political movements favor the electoral systems that favor them (20) .

The decision to adopt proportional voting was taken in a way that had a curious and possibly momentous side effect. When the electoral system was discussed in a meeting between Havel and some of his associates, it became clear that they were close to persuading him to adopt proportional representation. To clinch the matter, one of them added that the decision was not a definitive one: they could always change the system later. It was in that experimental spirit that the idea of having the first parliament elected for two years rather than four first came up. This was an idea that Havel appreciated on other grounds too. He had been reluctant to serve as president for four years, and this proposal would allow him to serve for two years only. Many believe today that it was a mistake to think that the new federal constitution could be written in two years. One centrally placed politician also said so

[end of page 113, start of page 114]

at the time: the constitution can be written in three months or in ten years, but not in two years. Although he did not advocate the idea of pushing through the constitution immediately, while a window of opportunity still existed, he did oppose the two-year parliament. Although there were other centrally placed actors who shared his opinion, the two-year option won out. The argument Havel made in public - distinct from what initially may have swayed him - was that a parliament elected in 1990 would mainly reflect the rejection of the old regime and not allow the expression of pluralism.

In summary and in retrospect, there were three features of the 'velvet revolution' that cast their shadow on the first democratically elected legislature and help explain the failure to adopt a new constitution and to keep the country together. First, the reshaping of the political system left a strong Communist presence. This came about partly by accident (in Slovakia), partly by a deliberate decision to adopt an electoral system that would allow for a Communist presence in the new parliament. Second, there was a lack of understanding of the fetters that the 1968 constitution would impose on the reform process, and/or a lack of willingness to remove them. Third, the decision to elect the first, constitution-making assembly for two years was unfortunate, partly because valuable time would be taken up by campaigning before the next elections, and partly because the compression of the time horizon carried a risk of political overheating. These are, to repeat, retrospective judgments, which do not carry any implication that 'mistakes' were made at the time.

III. June 1990 - June 1992

The June 1990 elections created a federal parliament dominated by Civic Forum and Public Against Violence: 170 seats out of 300, with the Communists and the Christian Democratic Union achieving respectively 47 and 40 seats and three small parties 12-16 seats each. However, Public Against Violence did not get a majority (and a fortiori not a three fifths majority) of the seats in the Slovak section of the upper house.

The political process during the first parliamentary period was dominated by two tasks. On the one hand, there was a massive and largely successful effort to create the legal and institutional framework for a market economy, and to transfer state property to individual owners. On the other hand, there was a protracted struggle to define the division of powers between the federation and the two constituent

[end of page 114, start of page 115]

republics. Although the original idea had been to resolve this issue as part of the general process of establishing a new constitution, it soon became clear that the Slovaks wanted an immediate solution (RFE 7.12.1990). Tripartite talks between the federal government and the governments of the two republics took place from August to December 1990, culminating on December 12 with the adoption by the Federal Assembly of a constitutional amendment on power-sharing (RFE 21.12.1990). The amendment went quite far in meeting Slovak demands, including a somewhat absurd provision that the governorship of the Central Bank would alternate annually between a Czech and a Slovak (21) . Yet it soon became clear that it did not go far enough.

Before discussing these later developments, we should note that the tactics adopted in the amendment struggle probably had an impact on what happened later. Two events were crucial. First, in a meeting on December 6 1990 with the Czech leaders, Vladimir Meciar and other Slovak leaders declared that if the Czech proposals for changing the amendment were adopted, the Slovak National Council would declare the supremacy of Slovak law over federal legislation. Second, perhaps more fatefully, the Czech Prime Minister Petr Pithart decided - 'pointlessly', according to one observer-participant (22) - to reveal this threat in a speech to a right-wing political club, which then pressured the Czech government to prepare emergency measures to cope with any dangers to the unity of the country. From the Slovak point of view, this speech could be interpreted (or at least presented) as evidence that the Czechs wanted to split the federation. From the Czech point of view, Pithart's revelation - and the subsequent failure to get all the Czech proposals adopted - showed Meciar to be a successful blackmailer. The position of Pithart, who had already been criticized as too friendly to the Slovaks, was undermined.

To understand the escalating conflicts over the nature of the federation, it is important to know the options that were being debated, e.g. by considering the alternatives presented in the opinion polls. In June 1990, the alternatives were:
- Common state, with large powers vested in central government;
- Common state, with large powers vested in Czech and Slovak governments;
[end of page 115, start of page 116]

- Confederation;
- Two completely independent states.
In the summer of 1992, the alternatives were:
- Unitary state, with one government and one parliament for all of Czechoslovakia;
- Federation composed of the Czech Republic and Slovakia;
- Federation composed of more than two republics;
- Confederation;
- Separation (two completely independent states).

In the concluding Section, I indicate the proportions of respondents favoring the various alternatives. There, I also explain the meaning of the option 'Federation composed of more than two republics'. For present purposes, the main point is to observe a gradual shift in the alternatives that were held up against each other. Initially, the debate concerned the division of powers between the federal and the national governments. Next, the main opposition was between a federation (as defined for instance by the December 12 amendment) and a more loosely structured confederation. Finally, the idea of confederation was progressively diluted so that in the end it became almost indistinguishable from the creation of two independent states.

I shall not attempt to give a blow-by-blow account of this process, but only sketch the main mechanisms that propelled it forward (23) . Some of these were rooted in Czech-Slovak relations. There was a strong element of Slovak brinkmanship, embodied in Vladimir Meciar. After Pithart had made Meciar's threat public, he was locked into an aggressive position from which he could not back down. Also, in the perceptions of many Czechs there was little difference between Slovak nationalism and Slovak separatism, a suspicion that easily became self-fulfilling. Other mechanisms were linked to intra-Slovak relations, as Meciar for electoral purposes had to demarcate himself from his Slovak rivals. The separatist position was already occupied by the Slovak National Party. The federative position was occupied by Jan Carnogursky and his Christian Democratic Party, although with the curious twist that in their program the federation was supposed to last only ten years, until the time when the Czech and Slovak Republics could enter the European Union as two separate entities (24) . The only

[end of page 116, start of page 117]

position left to Meciar was the confederative one. He found that a strategy with great appeal was to pay lip service to the idea of keeping the country together while at the same time demanding Slovak independence in more and more domains. Thus before the elections of June 1992 he proposed the adoption of a Slovak constitution before the federal one, the election of a Slovak president, the creation of a Slovak Central Bank (with emission rights in the common currency!), and even an independent foreign service.

At the constitutional level, the most notable achievement was the adoption in 1991 of a federal bill of rights. There was a conspicuous failure, however, to adopt a new federal constitution. The nature of the federation or confederation was the main stumbling block. There was also failure to reach agreement on the relations between government, parliament and the president. A 'little constitution' regulating these relations was submitted to the Federal Assembly in the spring of 1992, but failed by two Slovak votes in the upper house.

The role of President Havel in the constitution-making process was complex, and possibly counterproductive (25). Many close observers explained his behavior in terms of his background as a playwright. According to one, Havel lived in 'dramatic time', not understanding that parliamentary politics takes place in 'epic time'. He wanted long periods to be condensed into short, dramatic moments. According to another, Havel saw himself as an actor, acting in a play written by himself. He had no feeling of being subject to constraints. By the time he understood how normal politics worked, valuable time had been lost. The same observers emphasized that Havel's overall contribution to the Czechoslovak transition was immensely positive, and that, moreover, his positive achievements stemmed from the same character traits that in other situations made him an obstacle to conflict resolution. Sometimes, disregard for consequences has good consequences; sometimes, not.

[end of page 117, start of page 118]

When organizing a number of top-level meetings about constitutional reform, Havel initially invited only the presidents and vice-presidents of the three parliaments, neglecting the party leaders. When he finally came to understand that the parties would have to play a crucial role, valuable time had, once again, been lost. His relations with Alexander Dubcek, president of the Federal Assembly, were not good. Dubcek may have been somewhat envious, feeling that he was being reduced to a sideshow; or perhaps he simply was not up to the task.

Havel's direct constitutional initiatives invariably failed, largely because of bad tactical judgment. He repeatedly asked parliament to increase the powers of the presidency. His constitutional draft of March 5 1991, for instance, gave the president the right to declare a state of emergency, to dissolve parliament, and to call referendums. Apparently, he did not understand that such proposals, coming from the very office whose powers were to be enhanced, were likely to meet with suspicion (26) . He repeated the same proposals in a televised speech on November 17 1991. Between these two proposals for constitutionalizing the presidential right to call referendums, Havel had also tried to push a bill on referendum on separation through the federal assembly. A petition was organized that gathered almost 2.5 million signatures, largely from the Czech lands, and there were big demonstrations in Prague to put pressure on parliament. Whether or not Havel actually called the demonstrations himself - a point on which observers disagree - they probably had the effect of strengthening resistance in parliament to the bill. It failed when most Slovak and virtually all communist deputies voted against it.

IV. The break-up

During the two years of the first democratic parliament, it became clear that the mood of the country was changing. In the Czech lands, right wing market reformers were emerging as the strongest force. In Slovakia, left wing forces - if that phrase can be used as an umbrella term for the separatist, populist and communist parties - became increasingly strong. The liberal center that had been at the core of the 1989 revolution was losing force. To some extent, these changes were already reflected in the composition of parliament. On February 23

[end of page 118, start of page 119]

1991, Civic Forum split into two groups, the Conservative Civic Democratic Party (headed by Vaclav Klaus) and the liberal Civic Movement. Several smaller groups also left Civic Forum to set up their own parties. The disintegration of Public Against Violence began on March 5 1991, when Meciar founded his own political party, later named Movement for a Democratic Slovakia.

The extent of the swing, as revealed in the elections of June 5-6 1992, nevertheless came as a surprise to most observers. Basically the liberal-centrist postcommunist elite was wiped out. As that elite was the only political force with a strong commitment to a genuine federation, centrifugal forces now came to dominate the scene. Their motivation and interaction are further described in Section VI below. Here, I shall only give a brief chronological story of events.

In the drama culminating in the creation of two independent states on January 1 1993, the two main actors were Klaus and Meciar, undisputed winners of the elections, with Havel in an ambiguous supporting role. An early sign of what was to come occurred when Havel offered Klaus the position of federal Prime Minister and Klaus preferred to accept the premiership of the Czech Republic (27). On July 3, the day after the three governments were formed, the newly elected federal assembly voted not to re-elect Havel as president of the country. (Essentially he was defeated by the Slovak section in the upper house). On July I 7, the Slovak National Council overwhelmingly approved the Slovak Republic's declaration of sovereignty. Minutes later, Havel resigned from the presidency, effective July 20. This was simply an act of dotting the i's and crossing the t's: the federation was dead, and Havel wanted to have nothing more to do with it. On July 22 and 23 Klaus and Meciar agreed on ending the federation. Although Meciar later (in August) appeared to have second thoughts, the Czechs remained firm.

What remained to be determined were the procedural means of attaining this end and the 'divorce settlement' - the division of the common assets. Under the existing constitution, secession of one republic required a referendum among the citizens of that republic. Neither Meciar nor Klaus wanted to follow this course. Instead, they asked the Federal Assembly to adopt a constitutional law that, in addition to the referendum, would provide other and (from their perspective) safer means to secession. When the bill failed by a small margin, a surprise motion to prepare a Czech-Slovak Union was tabled

[end of page 119, start of page 120]

and accepted. The proposal - which received the vast support of the deputies from Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia - was probably made only to undermine the bargaining position of Klaus in the upcoming division of the common assets (RFE 16.10.1992).

Klaus, in fact, wanted the split to happen as soon as possible. He was afraid that Western investors, whose interest in the Czech economy had already started to wane as a result of uncertainty over the future of the federation, might flee the country. Although he could have declared a unilateral secession, he wanted the split to occur in a constitutionally acceptable manner, both to appear as 'clean' in the eyes of the West and to prevent Slovakia from blaming him for the break-up. Meciar, on his side, was in no hurry. As long as the federation lasted, Slovakia could retain its share of the federal budget and postpone the economic losses that separation would entail. In this perspective, the proposal of a Czech-Slovak Union was simply a procrastinating move, intended to induce Klaus to make a favorable offer on the division of the assets in exchange for Slovak acceptance of a rapid dissolution.

On November 25 1992 the Federal Assembly adopted a bill to dissolve the federation, in spite of claims by the opposition that the country could be split only on the basis of a referendum (28) . In the weeks preceding this vote, Klaus and Meciar had prepared a number of agreements on the division of the common assets and the future relations between the two states. It was clear to everybody that the break-up was imminent, and would happen in a reasonably orderly way regardless of what the Federal Assembly decided. It was also clear that at this stage a referendum could not serve any purpose. Hence a sufficient number of opposition deputies decided to forego their opposition to the bill the third time it was submitted to the assembly.

V. The Czech and Slovak constitutions

During the period of the first democratic parliament, commissions had been at work drafting constitutions for the Czech and the Slovak republic, in parallel with the drafting of the federal constitution. The work of the Czech commission remained at the stage of an unpublished draft, and was never submitted to parliament (29) . It had little influence

[end of page 120, start of page 130]

on the constitution that was adopted on December i6 1992. In contrast, the Slovak constitution that was adopted on September 1 1992 was the last document in a series of evolving texts, the first of which dates from 1990. This continuity led, among other things, the Slovaks to retain the Federal bill of rights in their constitution. The Czech constitution refers to the bill, for reasons indicated below, but does not give it full constitutional force.

The Slovak constitution 'owed much to [the earlier] proposals; but even more of the constitution's provisions were based on the winning party's own conceptions' (RFE 30.10.1992). Reading the constitution, it seems to owe even more to the need to put something together in a hurry. It is a clumsily formulated document, with a number of ambiguities and technical flaws (30) . The most unusual (and unusually vague) provision is Art. 106, which allows parliament to recall the President with a 3/5 majority (the same needed to elect him) for 'conduct aimed to destroy the democratic and constitutional regime'. In March 1994, pro-Meciar deputies wanted to use the provision to remove President Kovac from office for no other reason than his criticism of Meciar (RFE 1.4.1994). Parliament is thus placed in the strange role of having power to elect and remove both executives, the prime minister and the president. Although vulnerable to parliament, the president can dismiss the prime minister on his own initiative, not only when the government fails to retain the confidence of parliament. (This seems at least to be the most plausible interpretation of the ambiguous Art. 102 (f).)

Not knowing much of what went on behind the scenes, I am not able to trace specific provisions in the Slovak constitution back to the ideas or interests of its creators. It is possible to say a bit more about the making of the Czech constitution. It was, above all, the work of Vaclav Klaus (some people in his entourage call it 'The Führer's constitution'). According to one source, he told the drafters to base themselves on the 1920 constitution and only make the minimal adjustments that were necessary. According to another, he told them that a constitution could be written over a week-end, and then proceeded to do so himself. But the constitution was also a result of compromise. It needed 121 votes to be passed, but the Klaus coalition had only 105 members. An additional 12 votes from the Moravian party were obtained by means of vague promises to do something for

[end of page 121, start of page 122]

Moravia. Votes of former communists and social democrats were obtained by including a reference to the bill of rights, which has a strong emphasis on social and economic rights.

At the level of overt argument, references to the constitution of the First Republic were used both to justify specific provisions (the creation of a senate, PR in elections to the lower house, 1/3 quorum, 3/5 majority for constitutional amendments) and to exclude others (the constructive vote of no confidence). In reality, other reasons may have been just as decisive. Klaus wanted a simple majority for amending the constitution, understandably enough as his party had more than a half but less than three fifths of the deputies. When formulating this demand he had no hope that it would be accepted, yet it gave him something to give up in exchange for concessions on other issues (31) . The actual reason why parliament did not accept the constructive vote of no confidence certainly had something to do with the fact that this mechanism leads to a weakening of parliament vis-à-vis government. The creation of the senate may owe less to the precedent of the First Republic than to the mundane facts that I now go on to describe (32) .

In general, unicameral constituent assemblies tend to create unicameral constitutions; bicameral assemblies to create bicameral constitutions (33). The unicameral Czech assembly created a bicameral constitution, for reasons well stated by Jiri Pehe:

In December 1992 the Czech parliament adopted a constitution providing for the creation of a two-chamber Czech parliament. The upper chamber - the Senate - was to be made up entirely of Czech deputies from the Federal Assembly after the dissolution of the federation. The parliament's decision to create the Senate was widely seen - particularly by the media - as an incentive offered to Federal Assembly deputies to pass a constitutional law abolishing the federation; it was argued that without such an incentive, deputies of the federal parliament, fearing the loss of their mandates, would reject the law - a development that could torpedo efforts to dissolve Czechoslovakia peacefully (RFE 12.11.1993).

If the origin of the Czech Senate was mundane, the continuation of the story is downright sordid. As Pehe goes on to say: 'after the abolition of the federation, the Czech parliament changed its mind'. According to many observers, he writes: 'what had really prompted many deputies to change their minds was the realization that, if not given new political roles in the Senate, most former Federal Assembly deputies - their political rivals - would disappear from the media spotlight, which would then automatically be focused on the deputies of the existing Czech parliament'. At the time of writing (February 1995), the Senate still has

[end of page 122, start page 123]

not been constituted, nor elections scheduled. The lower house has been carrying out its duties, in accordance with the constitution.

Generally speaking, it is rare for constitutions to be designed as a function of the private interests of the constitution-makers. Although Charles Beard claimed that the American constitution of 1787 reflected the personal economic interests of the framers, more recent studies have shown that the interests of their constituencies were more important (34). The making and implementation of the Czech constitution stands out in this respect, as an example of blatantly self-serving constitutional design. In addition to the stratagems described above, one may cite the unusually strong immunity that the Czech framers granted themselves, requiring the consent of parliament before criminal prosecution of deputies on any matter whatsoever. 'If the respective chamber declines its consent, criminal proceedings are rendered impossible forever' (Art. 27.4). Not content with this protection, in the spring of 1993 parliament 'adopted an amendment to the customs law that made it mandatory for deputies to declare imported goods, but barred customs officials from searching deputies' personal belongings, including suitcases' (RFE 12.11.1993) (35). When Havel refused to sign the law, parliament did not use its right to override his veto.

Less is known about the constitutional bargaining over the presidency (36). After Havel's resignation from the federal presidency, it was reported that he might accept the presidency of the Czech republic if that office was vested with more than symbolic powers (37). In addition to direct elections of the president (RFE 31.7.1992), he reportedly wanted a strong presidential veto and no requirement of a counter-signature. None of these wishes were fulfilled. If we compare the power of the presidencies in the ex-Communist countries, as measured by an

[end of page 123, start of page 124]

index based on their formal attributions, that of the Czech presidency falls in the lower half (38) . It is well known, however, that the real power of the president may deviate from the formal attributions, either because of accumulated traditions (39) or because of the personality of the office holder. For both reasons, Havel's real power is probably greater than is measured by the formal index. The tradition from the First Republic according to which 'the Castle' - i.e. the President - is heavily involved with foreign policy still lives on. Needless to say, Havel's personal stature also enhances his influence. One may conjecture that one reason why the formal powers of the presidency are relatively weak is that the framers anticipated these effects.

VI. Explaining the break-up
In this concluding Section, I return to the question of the break-up of Czechoslovakia into two independent states, to supplement the narrative of Section IV with a more analytical perspective. I shall survey and evaluate six different explanations that have been put forward to account for the break-up (40).

1. A two-member federation is inherently unstable.
It is very hard if not impossible to identify durable federations with only two member republics. Norway and Sweden between 1814 and 1905 do not count, because the two countries had very few common matters to regulate. Belgium does not count, because with Brussels the Belgian federation has three members. It is not difficult to see why a stable federation needs at least three members. Suppose that in a two-state federation, the two states are of roughly equal size. This yields a potential for endless deadlock and struggle. Suppose on the contrary that one state is substantially greater than the other. If the federal structure is organized on the parity principle, the larger state will resent it. If it is organized on the proportionality principle, the smaller will resent it. On any of these three assumptions, the federation is perma-

[end of page 124, start of page 125]

nently vulnerable. An external shock can easily make it unravel; and sooner or later such a shock will occur.

The argument may also be presented the other way around. With three or more member states, there is the possibility of shifting alliances and coalitions, so that all states will get their way some of the time. Note that the argument presupposes a sufficient amount of cross-cutting interests, so that different coalitions are formed on different issues. If that condition does not hold, we are in reality back to the two-state case. This observation explains the failure of the idea that was discussed in Czechoslovak political circles in 1991-92, viz. to create a three-state federation of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. There was even talk of creating a total of five or seven republics. (These proposals were behind the inclusion of 'Federation with more than two republics' as an alternative in the 1992 poll). The idea came to nothing, probably because it was clear that on all important issues these smaller republics would align themselves so as to reconstitute the Czech-Slovak divide. Moravia and Slovakia, for instance, had hardly any substantive interests in common.

2. Long-standing hostility between Czechs and Slovaks caused the federation to break up (41).
Some argue that given the cultural and political animosity between the two peoples, a divorce was inevitable. Now, it is true that after talking to Czechs and Slovaks and reading the literature on 'the national question' in Czechoslovakia, one can easily write down a long list of mutual recriminations and resentments (42). During the First Republic, the Slovaks resented the fact that they were badly under-represented in the administration and in the army. The Czechs on their side resented the fact that they were subsidizing Slovak development, and perhaps even more that the Slovaks failed to be properly grateful for the assistance. The Slovaks, needless to say, perceived this attitude as patronizing and condescending. More generally, the Slovaks resented what they perceived, not inaccurately, to be a Czech perception of themselves as crude, backward and uncultured (43). For their own part,

[end of page 125, start of page 126]

they perceived the sophisticated Czech mode of life as a threat to religion and 'family values'.

Later, Czech resentment was nurtured by the fact that on two successive occasions the Slovaks were perceived as allying themselves with the oppressor. During World War II, the Slovaks created a fascist state that collaborated closely with Nazi Germany. After 1968, they were rewarded by the Communist party for their relative moderation during the Prague spring. In the first case, the Czechs felt that they suffered more than the Slovaks; in the second that the Slovaks, through their participation in the apparatus of repression, were actually instruments of their suffering. Moreover, the Czechs felt that these episodes were not simply a thing of the past. The celebration of the wartime state showed that the Slovaks had not overcome their fascist leanings; also, the greater Slovak resistance to 'lustration' (exposure of officials and informers from the Communist period) showed that they did not really want to leave Communism behind themselves.

Yet these are cultural clichés that need to be approached with caution. The question is whether these attitudes were widespread and, especially, whether the resentments were deeply felt. It would be easy to come up with a similar list characterizing relations between Yankees and Southerners, and yet nobody would argue that secession is imminent or inevitable in the United States. As far as I can see, there is little or no evidence of visceral hatred between the Czech and Slovak peoples. I was told, although I have no data to support the claim, that Czech-Slovak intermarriage is quite common. The 'velvet divorce' itself was remarkably peaceful. In a poll from April 1994, Slovaks ranked the Czech republic in first place as 'the state or group of states with which your country should align itself most closely'. Czechs ranked Slovakia third, after the European Union and Germany (RFE 8.7.1994). Although it is tempting to infer from the role of ethnic conflicts in the breakdown of the Yugoslav federation that similar forces must have been at work in Czechoslovakia, the inference would almost certainly be fallacious (44).

3. The breakdown of other ex-Communist federations created a model for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
To see how this explanation differs from the preceding one, we may compare two models:

[end of page 126, start of page 127]


       Abolition of Communism
   |		  |		|
   |		  |		|
USSR		Yugosl.		Cz.Sl.
breaks		breaks		breaks
up		up		up

  Abolition of Communism
  |		  |		
  |		  |
USSR		Yugosl. ------>	Cz.Sl.
breaks		breaks		breaks
up		up		up
             	|               ^
             	|               |

Model A represents the idea of a common causal mechanism in the breakdown of the Soviet, Yugoslav and Czechoslovak federations (45). According to one common variant of this model, Communism had ruthlessly suppressed any expression of cultural, ethnic, linguistic or religious conflicts. As soon as 'the lid came off', the accumulated tensions, inevitably, exploded, leading to the fragmentation of the artificially created federations. While this picture may be valid for parts of the USSR, notably the Baltic states, I do not believe it holds for Yugoslavia, where clever manipulation by opportunistic leaders counts for much more than secular ethnic hatred. Be this as it may, I have already indicated that I feel quite confident that the picture does not apply to Czechoslovakia.

Model B suggests that when the Soviet and Yugoslav federations started to disintegrate, for whatever reason, ideas of dividing Czechoslovakia emerged that otherwise would not have. Once separation became conceivable, it soon became inevitable. External events may have lent consistence and plausibility to ideas that might otherwise have been dismissed as pipe dreams. Vaclav Zak (personal communication) observes that the independence of the Baltic states had a profound impact on the political elite in Slovakia. Also, the idea of a 'state treaty' between the Czech and Slovak Republics was perceived as analogous to the 'Union of Independent states' in the former USSR.

4. Separation was everybody's second preference.
This explanation (or a related one discussed below) aims at dissolving the apparent paradox of a separation that takes place even though only a small minority in each republic preferred it over an arrangement that would allow the country to remain united. One might of course argue that separation was carried out by Klaus and Meciar against the wishes of their populations. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that these

[end of page 127, start of page 128]

leaders are very sensitive to popular moods, and in any case they do not seem to have suffered electorally from their initiative. To this one might respond that the counter-separatist preferences were not very intense, i.e. that the voters simply did not care enough about the issue to punish their leaders for going against their wishes. It is true that by 1992 most people cared more about how the economy was doing than about the survival of the federation (46) and that there was a general lack of civic participation (47) . Hence the leaders could push the separation through without encountering much resistance. (Why the leaders would want to do that is the topic of the next two explanations). While plausible, these arguments can be supplemented by a more fine-grained analysis of voter preferences.

In June 1990, the percentage distribution of preferences was as follows (source RFE 5.10.1990):

Throughout Czech Slovak Czechoslovakia Republic Republic Common state with large powers vested in central government 33 42 16 Common state with large powers vested in Czech and Slovak gov- ernments 34 30 41 Confederation 21 16 30 Two completely independent states 6 5 8 In the summer of 1992 (after the elections), the constellation was as follows (source: RFE 30.10.1992): Czech Republic Slovak Republic Unitary state with one government and one parliament for country 38% 14% Federation of Czech Republic and Slovakia 19% 27% Federation of more than two republics 18% 8% Confederation 3% 30% Split-up 8% 16%

In the first poll, separation is by far the least popular of all options in both republics. (Perhaps at this stage it was in fact little more than a pipe dream). In the second poll, a different pattern has emerged. Now, the Czechs favoring separation are more numerous than those favoring confederation, which is the alternative attracting the largest proportion of Slovaks. Conversely, the Slovaks favoring separation are more numerous than those favoring a strong unitary state, which is the alternative attracting the largest proportion of Czechs.

Consider now the following three theoretically grounded propositions.

(a) When there is an option that is everybody's second preference, there is a tendency for that option to be realized. Marx observed that when there is a struggle between two royal contenders, the only solution they can agree on may be a republican form of government (48). When ex-colonial nations with tribal divisions have to choose an official language, the language of the former colonial power may be the least divisive solution. Because this second-best principle does not take account of the intensity of preferences it cannot be asserted as an invariable rule, but it does offer a convenient focal point in situations where the possibility of misrepresenting one's preferences makes it hard to communicate their intensity with much credibility.

(b) By extension, an option that each party (or a majority within each party) prefers over the other party's most preferred option may come to acquire a salience by virtue of which it emerges as the solution to the conflict.

( c) By a further extension, an option that in each group is top-ranked by more people than those who have as their first preference the alternative that is most frequently top-ranked in the other group may also emerge as a salient point (49) .

In the 1992 polls, the separation option had the properties described in (c). If those properties do in fact constitute a focal point, the distribution of preferences may help explain the lack of strong popular opposition to separation. Because of the speculative nature of proposition (c), I do not attach a high degree of confidence to this expla-

[end of page 129, start of page 130]

nation. Yet some variant of this story may capture important aspects of the situation. Perhaps the Czechs preferred a no-subsidy federation to separation, and separation to federation with subsidies, with the Slovaks ranking these alternatives in the opposite order. In that case, proposition (a) would offer a plausible explanation of popular acquiescence in separation.

5. The country split over the issue of market reforms.
According to this explanation, the Czechs wanted separation to speed up the market reforms and the Slovaks wanted separation to slow them down. The first part of the argument, as stated by Jan Obrman, goes as follows. After the elections of 1992, the 'distribution of seats between right-of-center parties and left-of-center and nationalist parties in the Federal Assembly would make maintaining the rapid pace of economic reform next to impossible in the medium to long term. Because economic reform is ... Klaus' first priority, it is undoubtedly in his interest to abandon the deadlocked federal center by initiating Czechoslovakia's disintegration' (RFE 10.7.1992). The second part of the argument asserts that Slovaks welcomed separation as a means of insulating themselves from the hardships of market reform; or, perhaps more accurately, that Meciar could play on fears of hardships to justify the break-up. As in other post-Communist countries, resistance to reform may have been due to myopia and to a lack of understanding that in the long run prosperity depended on reform (50) .

The two parts of the argument are obviously in some tension. For both to be true, the pace of reform in a united post-1992 Czechoslovakia would have to be slow enough to frustrate the Czechs and fast enough to frustrate the Slovaks. My impression is that there is more to the second part of the argument than to the first. At this point, we may note that the 1968 federal constitution gives veto power to the Czechs no less than to the Slovaks. Because Klaus could easily muster the required number of votes in the Czech section of the upper house of the federal assembly, the impressive reforms achieved in 1990-1992 were, for all practical purposes, irreversible. The question is obviously whether there were further indispensable reforms that had to be carried out and that would have been blocked by the Slovaks in the federal assembly. Although it is hard to know what Klaus thought at the time, the most plausible answer, judging from what he did later, is that he could have pursued his policies within the federation. No major institutional reforms have

[end of page 130, start of page 131]

been carried out in the Czech Republic. In fact, the very low rate of unemployment in the country is mainly due to the slow and cautious pace of reform, delaying the restructuring and dismantling of inefficient enterprises (RFE 22.7.1994).

6. The Czechs did not wish to go on subsidizing Slovakia.
According to this explanation, the country broke up because the Czechs were getting fed up with the combination of Slovak demands for Czech subsidies and Slovak nationalism. A typical report, which I heard echoed in many individual conversations, is the following: 'On September 19 [1991] Czech PM Petr Pithart said that the Czech government would propose that the system whereby the Czech Republic subsidizes the economically weaker Slovak republic be abandoned in 1992. He emphasized that "helping a weaker partner" would have been continued to be accepted by the Czech side as a matter of course, but that such assistance was becoming impractical [sic] as calls for independence intensified in Czechoslovakia' (RFE 11.10.1991). Psychologically, the situation was perceived as similar to that of a parent whose rebellious child is constantly coming home to ask for money, trying to have his cake and eat it too.

There can be no doubt that such ideas played a role on the Czech side. For Klaus himself, the Slovaks as a permanent irritant may have been more salient than the Slovaks as an obstacle to reform. The Slovak side of the question is more complicated. The initial impetus to separation did, after all, came from the Slovaks who, if the Czech perception is correct, had the most to lose from it. It is not unknown for the more prosperous region of a country to opt for secession, but Slovakia presents the opposite picture, a 'reverse Katanga' (51) . Why did they insist on this (allegedly) self-destructive course?

The obvious explanation is that they were threatening with secession in order to improve their share both of power and of the federal budget. But this answer raises two further questions. First, what would the Czechs have to lose by secession? One response is that for most practical purposes, Prague represented Czechoslovakia on the international scene. The prestige and bargaining power of a country being linked to its size,

[end of page 131, start of page 132]

a Czech republic would count for less than a Czechoslovak federation. The Czechs, in fact, wanted to speak both for themselves and for the Slovaks (an attitude, by the way, that greatly infuriated the Slovaks). Another response, further discussed below, is that the Czechs might even lose in material terms.

Second, how could the Slovak threat be made credible? After all, the threat 'Your money or my life' is not one that is frequently heard on the streets. (It might be made successfully, though, by the rebellious child referred to above). One general reply to this question is that if a negotiator can with some plausibility rephrase the threat as a warning, he may get away with it (52) . (Another reply, relying on perceptions of fairness, is considered below). If a trade union leader tells the manager that he will be unable to control his members unless they get what he demands, this is formally a warning rather than a threat. Although the manager may suspect that the leader can in fact influence his members, he also has to take account of the possibility that the latter may in fact be as intransigent as the leader makes them out to be. Specifically, the leader may have deliberately raised the expectations of his members in order to be able to say, truthfully, that he cannot control them. Similar strategies may be exploited by a nationalist leader, referring with regret to separatist elements that need to be bought off with influence or money. Although I have no specific evidence that Meciar adopted this strategy, I was told in general terms that some of his actions fall under this rubric.

Some deny, however, the premise of Czech subsidies to Slovakia. In an opinion poll from September 1991, both Czech and Slovak citizens agreed (about two thirds of the respondents in each republic) on the normative statement that 'One republic ought not to have to pay for the other'. When asked the factual question whether 'The present system favors Czechs', only 12 % of the Czechs agreed as against 67 % of the Slovaks (RFE 31.1.1992). The Slovaks, in fact, believed that they were being exploited by the Czechs rather than the other way around. Now exploitation and subsidization are not the same thing. Subsidies are a zero-sum operation: the subsidizer loses what the subsidized gains. In exploitation, though, both parties can gain compared to a situation in which they do not interact at all (53) . The situation is exploitative if the division of gains from cooperation is, in some appropriate sense, unfair and unjust.

[end of page 132, start of page 133]

Although I have met Slovaks who say that their country was a net subsidizer of the Czech lands, this claim appears implausible (54). The question of an unfair division of the gains from federation is more complicated. An ironical aspect of this issue is that many Slovaks now complain of being saddled with the unproductive industries that were bestowed on them as a favor after 1968. A related aspect is the often-made claim that Slovakia suffered because of the idealistic decision of Havel and his foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier to cut down on the Slovak arms industry, so as not to appear as a provider of weapons to international terrorism. (For the factual accuracy of this claim see RFE 24.9.1993). Also, Slovaks regularly claim that all foreign investment passed through Prague and that the Czechs were unwilling to share it with the Slovaks.

If on balance it turned out that the Czechs gained a lot and the Slovaks only a little by Czech-Slovak economic cooperation, the Slovaks would have a strong case. As far as I know, the calculation has not been made. My guess is that if it was made, that is not how it would come out. Conceivably the Czechs might even appear as net losers, in the sense that their subsidies to Slovakia would exceed their gains from the cooperation. But the actual numbers are irrelevant for the explanatory issues that concern me here and in which only perceptions and beliefs matter. My strong conjecture is that all Czechs believed that Slovaks gained from the federation and that most Czechs believed that they would be better off without the Slovaks. I also conjecture that many Slovaks thought they were being unfairly treated, but that only a few thought they would actually be better off on their own.

Now, if you believe you are being exploited, you will first try to change the terms of trade. If that effort fails, you may want to bring the exploitative relationship to an end even if that will imply a loss in material terms. If the exploitation is seen as compounded by patronizing and condescending attitudes, your willingness to take a loss will be even greater. If you can persuade the opponent that you are willing to take a loss for the sake of maintaining self-respect, you may not have to take the loss because the threat of secession now becomes credible. Whether you can persuade him without actually carrying out the threat is a different matter. A trade union leader might not hesitate to call a strike that would hurt his members, if he thought the sacrifice might provide credibility in later negotiations. A country, by contrast, cannot break up

[end of page 133, start of page 134]

more than once: the credibility obtained by secession would have no further use.

Overall assessment. The putative explanations I have cited are obviously quite different. Partly they operate at different levels, and partly they appeal to different kinds of mechanisms and motivations. As stated, they are all compatible with each other, and I believe that most of them do in fact have a purchase on the events.

Explanations (1) and (2) are structural, aiming at identifying ultimate background causes, rather than triggering factors. I have argued that the first is valid, the second probably less so.

Explanations (3) and (4) appeal to the proximate normative and cognitive conditions that facilitated the break-up. The view of other dissolving federations served as a cognitive model. The pattern of popular preferences may explain the lack of resistance to the aggressive leadership initiatives.

Explanations (5) and (6) aim at accounting for those initiatives, which served as triggering causes of the break-up. I believe that the most valid parts of those explanations are Slovak resistance to the fast pace of economic reform and Czech resistance to subsidizing Slovakia.

The play of personalities obviously also mattered: Havel's disregard of tactical matters; Meciar's brinkmanship and pride; Klaus' single-minded obsession with markets. Although perhaps the most important factors, they are also the most intangible ones.

[end of page 134]


In addition to the written materials cited below this article is based on interviews with Vaclav Benda, Jiri Boguszak, Martin Butora, Zora Butorova, Jan Carnogursky, Vojtech Cepl, Pavol Demes, Lubomir Fogas, Zdenek Jicinsiky, Peter Kresak, Petr Pithart, Pavel Rychetsky, Frantisek Samalik, Jan Sokol, Milan Sutovec, Jan Urban, Ernest Valko, Peter Zajac, and Vaclav Zak. (Here and later names are spelled without diacritical signs). Most of the interviews took place in June 1993 and Septemher 1994. I am grateful to all who took the time to meet with me. Above all I am indebted to Jirina Siklova for allowing me into her circle of friends so that I could meet some of the others. For comments on an earlier draft of this article I would like to thank Vojtech Cepl, Aanund Hylland, David Laitin, Bernard Manin, Claus Offe, Adam Przeworski, Herman Schwartz, Jan Sokol, Eric Stein, Ernest Valko, and Vaclav Zak; I should also state what I owe to David Franklin, who played a crucial role in establishing my first contacts in Czechoslovakia in January 1991. I would like to acknowledge the support of the IRIS project and of the Center for the Study of Constitutionalism in Eastern Europe at the University of Chicago Law School. In particular, I have learned immensely from many discussions with Stephen Holmes and Wiktor Osiatynski.

(1) To avoid burdening the text with this long name, however, I shall use 'Czechoslovakia' to refer to the country before the break-up.

(2) Or languages: although Czechs and Slovaks understand each other without difficulty, the two languages are different enough to create a potential for conflict, notably in the organization of the state-owned media.

(3) I rely heavily on the articles in the weekly survey published by Radio Free Europe from 1989 to the present. Up to the end of 1991 this publication was called 'Report on Eastern Europe', from 1992 onwards 'RFE/RL Research Report'. In the ten I refer simply to RFE followed by the date. I should also acknowledge my debt to a valuable book by Carol SKALNIK LEFF, National Conflict in Czechoslovakia (Princeton University Press, 1988). Excellent surveys of constitutional developments from 1920 to 1993 are found in Zdenek JICINSKY and Vladimir MIKULE, Das Ende der Tschechoslovakei 1992 in verfasungsrechtlicker Sicht, Parts I and II (Köln: Bundesinstitut für ostwissenschaftliche und internationale Studien, 1944). A useful collection of essays about the end of Czechoslovakia is Rüdiger KIPKE and Karel VODICKA, Abschied von der Tschechoslovakei (Köln: Nottbeck, 1993).

(4) Constitution-making in Eastern Europe: Rebuilding the boat in the open sea, Public Administration 71 (1993), 169-217.

(5) I have studied the constitution-making process at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia (1787) and the first French Assemblée Constituante (1789-91) in my: Argumenter et négocier dans deux assemblées constituantes, Revue Francaise de Science Politique, 44 (1994), 187-256.

(6) A final proviso: my interviews, as well as comments on an earlier draft of this article, show that many participants and close observers disagree not only on matters of interpretation, but also on the facts to be interpreted. The historical record has not yet been established. Sometimes I have had to trust my intuitions, which are obviously fallible, about which account sounded more plausible.

(7) Leff, National Conflicts, p.136.

(8) Later, I argue that a federation with two member states is an anomaly; even more so, a federation with only one member!

(9) Leff, National Conflict, p.98 ff; Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution (New York: Doubleday, 1955), 176-77.

(10) Leff, id., p. 124.

(11) It is significant in this connection that because of what was perceived as the 'rightwing opportunism' of the Czechs, the USSR vetoed the establishment of a Czech Communist Party.

(12) See the essays in J. ELSTER (ed.), The Round Table Talks in Eastern Europe, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. In this volume, M. Calda deals in detail with the Round Table Talks in Czechoslovakia.

(13) One notorious Communist even used this fact to object to the replacement (Zdenek JICINSKY, Ceshoslovensky Parlament v Polistopadvoem Vyvoji [Prague: AFGH, 1993), p.62).

(14) Using the constituency of one Slovak member as the unit, a Czech member of the House of Nations represented two units and the House of Nations as a whole 225 units. 30 Slovak deputies equal two fifteenths of that total. In itself, this proportion is not remarkable. For instance, a tiny proportion of the American electorate (the voters in the thirteen least populous states) could in theory block any constitutional change. The voters in the smal states do not, however, have any cornmon interests (apart from their interest in maintaining their disproportionate power) that would make such a constellation likely.

(15) Vaclav ZAK, The velvet breakup (unpublished manuscript, 1994).

(16) ZAK, id.

(17) As in Poland-but unlike Hungary (and there they were proven wrong) the Communists in Czechoslovalllia preferred proportional representation. Puzzlingly, however, part of the opposition to the majority system was due to fears that it would favor the Communists. They were the only well-organized political movement in the country, and some thought that for this reason they might be able to exploit the majority system. I can see no valid reason for this fear, which was probably due mainly to lack of understanding of the properties of the various electoral systems.

(18) Later, with more experience of the political system, he changed his mind. Perhaps one could say that nobody had played the Blum to his de Gaulle, another notorious adversary of the party system. In November 1942 and then again in March 1943, Leon Blum (in prison) wrote to de Gaulle (in London) to wam him against the idea that the resistance movement could substitute for a regular parry system. After the liberation, the parties would have to assume their normal place in any democracy (Jean LACOUTURE, Léon Blum, Paris: Seuil, 1977, p. 486 ff.). De Gaulle got the message (Jean LACOUTURE, De Gaulle, vol.1, Paris: Seuil, 1990, p.705).

(19) For a survey see Aanund HYLLAND, Proportional representation without party lists, in Raino MALNES and Arild UNDERDAL (eds), Rationality and Institutions (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1991).

(20) For two Polish counter-examples, see my 'Constitution-making in Eastem Europe', p. 207-8. Next time around, however, Havel was somewhat less non-partisan. In his electoral bill for the 1992 elections, he proposed to divide the country into small electoral districts in which voters would cast their ballots for individual candidates rather than for a party ticket. The proposal was turned down by the Federal Assembly, partly because of a suspicion that it 'was designed to ensure the reelection of the leading figures of the "velvet revolution" '(RFE 14.2.1992).

(21) It is a commonplace in the economic theory of Central Banks (i) that to carry out their task properly they need to be independent of the government, and (ii) that a long tenure for the Governor is a necessary condition for independence. See Alex CUKIERMAN, Central Bank Stratgy, Credibility, and Independence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).

(22) Zak, op. cit. (Cak was Vice President of the Czech National Council at the time).

(23) For a fuller discussion, see Eric STEIN, Post-Communist constitution-making, New Europe Law Review I (1993), 421-75 and, especially, his forthcoming book on the breakup of Czechoslovakia.

(24) Meciar's demand for a confederation within which each republic would have virtually all the attributes of an independent state was one of the strange ideas launched in this period. Another was Carnogursky's idea of the 'federation for ten years'. In my interviews with Slovak politicians who advocated this proposal, I regularly asked the following question 'Suppose that in a marriage, one spouse announces to the other that he or she will seek a divorce in ten years. Don't you think that marriage would collapse immediately? And wouldn't the same psychological mechanism of anticipating and immediately consuming the announced divorce hold for the proposal of a federation that is to end in ten years?' I never got an answer that I could understand. A third convoluted idea that originated in Slovakia was the proposal of a 'state treaty' between the two republics (RFE 7.6.1991), a procedure that might have required the momentarv dissolution of the federation shortly followed by its reemergence on the basis of an agreement between the two states.

(25) For an assessment, see Jan OBRMAN, President Havel's diminishing political influence, RFE 13.3.1992.

(26) For a discussion of such 'reactive devaluation' see Lee Ross, Reactive devaluation and other barriers to dispute resolution, forthcoming from W.W. NORTON in K. ARROW et al. (eds), Barriers to the Negotiated Resolution of Conflicts.

(27) For a detailed account of the post-electoral negotiations, see Karel VODICKA, Koalitionsabsprache: Wir teilen den Staat!, i KIPKE and VODICKA (eds), Abschied von der Tschechoslovakei.

(28) 'Ironically, most of the parties advocating a referendum, in particular the Czech and Slovak Communists and the Slovak Christian Democrats, had blocked the holding of a referendum in November 1991, when, as Havel remarked, "the referendum still made sense"' (RFE 19.11.1992).

(29) Jicinsky and Mikule, Das Ende der Tschechos1ovakes, Part I, p. 25.

(30) See Jicinsicy and Mikule, id., Part II for a detailed discussion; also Pavel MATES, The new Slovak constitution, RFE 30.10.1992 and, especially, Pavel HOLLÄNDER, The new Slovak constitution: A critique, East European Constitutional Review, Fall 1992.

(31) Jicinsky and Mikule, ibid., Part I, p. 26.

(32) See also Vojtech CEPL and David FRANKLIN, Senate, anyone?, East Euroean Constitutional Review, Spring 1993.

(33) See my 'Constitution-making in Eastern Europe', 183, 212.

(34) Charles BEARD, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, reprinted with a new Introduction by Forrest MCDONALD (New York: The Free Press, 1986), is the classical statement of the view that the framers were moved by their personal self-interest. R.A. McGUIRE, Constitution making: A rational choice model of the Federal Convention of 1787, American Journal of Political Science, 32 (1988), 483-522 finds that the economic interests of the constituencies of the various delegates have more power to explain voting patterns at the convention than the economic interests of the framers themselves, although the latter are not negligible.

(35) The supporters of the law argued that this provision would prevent the executive branch from harassing lawmakers. In this particular case, the harassing would not amount too much. We know from other countries, though, that harassment of lawmakers by the Internal Revenue Service can be an effective punishment and, presumably, an effective threat. The issue of how to insulate lawmakers from such pressures without encouraging unlawful behavior would be worth studying.

(36) For some general comments on this issue, see my: Bargaining over the presidency, East European Constitutional Review, Fall I993/Winter 1994.

(37) Similarly, but more successfully the first president of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk, oblected to a draft of the 1920 constitution which would have created a merely ceremonial presidency.

(38) James McGREGOR, The presidency in East Central Europe, RFE 14.1.1994

(39) See for instance the chart in Maurice DUVERGER, A new political system model: Semi-presidential government, in Arendt LIJPHART (ed.), Parliamentary versus Presidential Government (Oxford University Press, 1992), p.147.

(40) Another list of causes, most of them of a cultural nature, is provided by Vodicka, Koalitionsabsprache: Wir teilen den Staat!

(41) For a brief statement of this explanation, see Eric STEIN, Musings at the grave of a federation, in Essays in Honor of Henry G. Schermers, vol.3 (The Hague. Kluwer, 1994), 641-49. A fuller statement is made in Stein's forthcoming book on the break-up of Czechoslovakia.

(42) See Petr PRIHODA, Tschecken und Slowaken: Sozialpsychologische Aspekte ihres Zusammenlebens, in Kipke and Vodicka, Absehied von der Tschechoslovakei.

(43) On these issues, see Leff, National Conflict in Czechoslovakia, Ch. 5: Political cultures and mutual betrayal.

(44) See also, note 51 below for another unwarranted analogy between the break-up of the Yugoslav and Czechoslovak federations.

(45) For a comparison of these three federations (with one another and with other federally organized countries) see Vladimir, The confederal search, RFE 5.7.1991.

(46) Zora BUTOROVA, A deliberate 'yes' to the dissolution of the CSFR?, Czech Sociological Review I (1993), 58-72, at p. 60.

(47) Martin BUTORA and Zora BUTOROVA, Slovakia: The identity challenges of the newly born state, Social Research 6o (1993), 705-36, at p. 721-22.

(48) The Eighteenth Brumaire, in MARX and ENGELS, Collected Works, vol. II (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1970), p. 166.

(49) This tendency will be reinforced if the fact that (a) is more frequently top-ranked than (b) is perceived as evidence that a majority prefers (a) to (b); if, in other words, (c) is perceived (incorrectly) as implying (b). In an earlier draft of this article I made exactly this erroneous inference, which Aanund Rylland and Claus Offe then pointed out to me. I do not, however, want to cite the flaw in my earlier argurnent as evidence for the present one.

(50) Butorova, A deliberate 'yes' to the dissolution of the CSFR?, p.62.

(51) I disagree with Eric Hobsbawrn, therefore, when he writes that 'the separatist nationalism of the crisis decades plainly fed on [....] collective egoism. The pressure from breaking up Yugoslavia came from "European" Slovenia and Croatia; and for splitting Czechoslovakia from the vociferously "Western" Czech Republic'. (Age of Extremez: The Short Twentteth Century, London: Michael Joseph, 1994, p.427). Although one might argue, perhaps, that the Czechs took the last step towards separation, the first nine steps had been taken by the Slovaks.

(52) See my 'Strategic uses of argument', forthcoming from W.W. NORTON In K. ARROW et al. (eds), Barriers to the Negotiated Resolution of Conflicts.

(53) Marx himself observed that in international trade: 'the richer country exploits the poorer one, even when the latter gains by the exchange' (Theories of Surplus-Value, vol.3, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1972, p. 106).

(54) Eric STEIN, Post-Communist constitution-making, p. 449, note 73 quotes a former Czechoslovak ambassador to the US as stating that in 1991 the Czech Republic contributed 93 % of federal expenditures and the Slovak Republic only 7 %

[Elster, Jon (1995), Transition, constitution-making and separation in Czechoslovakia, European Journal of Sociology/Archives Europennes de Sociologie 36 (1):105-134]

[ Books | Articles | Reviews | Index | The main menu ]