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What Was the Velvet Divorce?

Niki Acker
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Velvet Divorce is the name given to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which went into effect on 1 January 1993. The name Velvet Divorce references the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which led to the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

Velvet in both instances points to the peacefulness of the events, in contrast to the violent revolutions and secessions elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Throughout its history, Czechoslovakia had suffered from a cultural clash between the Czech and Slovak populations, and the Velvet Divorce was a peaceful transition into two independent countries.

Czechoslovakia was established in 1918 after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While the Czechs and Slovaks had much in common, such as a similar language and a history of oppression — the Czechs under the Austrians and the Slovaks under the Hungarians — they also had significant cultural and economic differences. Nevertheless, they voluntarily united as a single country.

Czechoslovakia became occupied by the Soviet Union following World War II. Initially, it was two separate territories — the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic — but the two were later united into the Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic. The Velvet Revolution ended communism in Czechoslovakia, and in June 1990, democratic elections were held in that country for the first time in over 40 years.

After Czechoslovakia became capitalist, problems between the two main populations in the country began to surface. In the Czech lands, gross domestic product (GDP) was 20% higher per capita than in Slovakia, though its long-term growth was slower. Under communism, Czech money had regularly been transferred to Slovakia, but in 1991, this practice ended.

Though the Velvet Divorce did not have widespread public support, politicians successfully negotiated the split. Both Czechs and Slovaks were divided on the issue, though Slovaks showed slightly more support. Some advocated a loose association rather than a complete break. The Velvet Divorce became official with the 1992 Declaration of Independence of the Slovak Nation. After its passage on 17 July, politicians continued to negotiate a smooth dissolution.

The Velvet Divorce was one of the most peaceful changes in political borders in the aftermath of Soviet Communism. Though the Czech Republic and Slovakia still had some kinks to work out after the Velvet Divorce, including the division of former federal property, they remained on peaceful terms with each other throughout. Both countries became members of the European Union in 2004.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Historical Index editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By live2shop — On Jun 29, 2011

I visited Czechoslovakia in 1969. The city of Prague was beautiful as far as the historic sites go, but it looked depressed and the people looked so sad and hopeless. At this time the Soviet Union had a strong hold on Czechoslovakia and two weeks after we left, Soviet tanks rolled in to make a definite stand there.

The term Velvet Divorce really expresses the smooth manner in which Czechoslovakia split into two countries and separated itself from the Soviet Union.

Throughout history, so many countries have been pushed together, split apart, and divided up into smaller countries, it is a great tribute to the Czech Republic and Slovakia to have managed to separate, solve some differences and establish democracies.

Other countries should take a lesson from them.

By BigManCar — On Jun 28, 2011

I find it very interesting how countries come and go. You see it all the time, and it frequently leads to trouble.

Especially in places like the Middle East and Africa, which were colonies or occupied territory at some time in the recent past, the map boundaries came and went based on the occupying power, and they frequently didn't make sense as far as tribes, languages, or history.

So, you ended up with "countrymen" who were not used to living together and did not like each other. Now that you have these countries out from under colonial rule, they sometimes try to get back to their old political divisions or boundaries, and it usually leads to trouble.

By parkthekarma — On Jun 28, 2011

@Nepal2016 - Not only did they break up peacefully, both places turned out to be excellent places to visit or live, at least in my opinion.

The Czech Republic, and especially Prague, is just beautiful. We spent a couple of weeks there last year and I can't wait to go back.

Slovakia is a little rougher around the edges, I think because it is more "Eastern European" and is still developing to some extent, but there is a ton of history there and the people are great.

There are a lot of places in the world where it would not have been such an easy split, but I'm glad (at least for selfish reasons) that it worked out here.

By Nepal2016 — On Jun 27, 2011

I am very impressed with how smoothly this split happened, especially in a part of the world not necessarily known for easy breakups.

I guess that the break up of Czechoslovakia was helped by the fact that the country hadn't really been a country all that long, so it was really breaking into what it was before.

By JaneAir — On Jun 27, 2011

@Azuza - It is very lucky the Czechoslovakia break up was peaceful. I think a lot of times problems come from lumping different groups into one country and telling them to all just get along. We've seen this time and time again in Africa! Even here in the United States different groups still have trouble living together peacefully!

I don't think this is right, or the best way for things to be but it seems to be an unfortunate reality.

By Azuza — On Jun 27, 2011

I was about 8 when this happened and I only vaguely remember it. I do remember that at the time of the Czechoslovakia split my parents didn't think it was going to go as smoothly as it did. At the time the Soviet Union was splitting up most other countries weren't taking the change as well.

I remember being really sensitive to mentions of violence at that age so I was glad Czechoslovakia split up peacefully. And of course, being 8, I thought the name "Velvet Divorce" was very poetic!

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Historical Index editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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