Defining the Sovereign Community

Defining the Sovereign Community: The Czech and Slovak Republics

Nadya Nedelsky
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fhw93
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    Defining the Sovereign Community
    Book Description:

    Though they shared a state for most of the twentieth century, when the Czechs and Slovaks split in 1993 they founded their new states on different definitions of sovereignty. The Czech Constitution employs a civic model, founding the state in the name of "the citizens of the Czech Republic," while the Slovak Constitution uses the more exclusive ethnic model and speaks in the voice of "the Slovak Nation." Defining the Sovereign Community asks two central questions. First, why did the two states define sovereignty so differently? Second, what impact have these choices had on individual and minority rights and participation in the two states? Nadya Nedelsky examines how the Czechs and Slovaks understood nationhood over the course of a century and a half and finds that their views have been remarkably resilient over time. These enduring perspectives on nationhood shaped how the two states defined sovereignty after the Velvet Revolution, which in turn strongly affected the status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and the Roma minority in the Czech Republic. Neither state has secured civic equality, but the nature of the discrimination against minorities differs. Using the civic definition of sovereignty offers stronger support for civil and minority rights than an ethnic model does. Nedelsky's conclusions challenge much analysis of the region, which tends to explain ethnic politics by focusing on postcommunist factors, especially the role of opportunistic political leaders. Defining the Sovereign Community instead examines the undervalued historical roots of political culture and the role of current constitutional definitions of sovereignty. Looking ahead, Nedelsky offers crucial evidence that nationalism may remain strong in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, even in the face of democratization and EU integration, and is an important threat to both.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0289-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    In the autumn of 1992, Czech and Slovak leaders decided to bring their two nations’ near-century of common statehood to an end. They had been negotiating new terms of union since shortly after the Velvet Revolution overthrew the Czechoslovak Communist regime in late 1989 and were frustrated by differences on crucial issues, such as the direction and speed of economic reform. No disagreement, however, was more fundamental than that concerning the source of the new state’s sovereignty and the political arrangement that it would produce. Czech leaders argued that sovereignty’s proper source is the “free and equal citizen” and that...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Awakenings
    (pp. 29-48)

    Many Central Europeans view the nineteenth century as a time of national “revival” and “awakening” after hundreds of years of submersion within Empire. During this time, men who came to be known as the “awakeners” and “fathers” of their nations wrote histories, novels, poetry, music, linguistic studies, ethnographies, journal articles and more, seeking to lay the foundation for a broad ethnonational consciousness. Though their ranks include many, I have chosen to begin this study by exploring the political thought of five awakeners whose work was especially and enduringly influential: the “Father of the Czech Nation,” František Palacký, the “Father of...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Nation-Building in the Empire’s Waning Years
    (pp. 49-64)

    Though the Spring of Peoples ended unhappily for the Czech and Slovak awakeners, as the nineteenth century progressed their movements gained ground. The Czechs flourished and the Slovaks struggled, but by the outbreak of World War I national consciousness had taken solid (if, in the Slovak case, uneven) root in both nations. In this chapter, I investigate three key aspects of this development, looking at the continuities between these increasingly diffused and politically activated views of nationhood and those of the awakeners developed in the preceding period (and chapter), the ways these views evolved under the influence of new leaders...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The First Republic: Czechoslovakism and Its Discontents
    (pp. 65-89)

    In October 1918, the Czechoslovak Republic was founded in the name of the sovereign “Czechoslovak” nation. At the same time, the state’s leaders understood that the Czechs and Slovaks did not in fact constitute a cohesive community. Viewing the differences as primarily the result of the different levels of sociocultural modernization, they began a nation-building project based on an approach called “Czechoslovakism,” which centered, in Masaryk’s words, on “a comprehensive policy of culture and education.”¹ As Štefan Osuský, one of the First Republic’s Slovak founders, explained, “the aim of such a state is not to create unity of blood and...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Second Republic and the Wartime Slovak State
    (pp. 90-112)

    Because the First Republic’s leaders rejected the HSPP’s autonomy demands, the clerical-nationalists did not have a chance to govern Slovakia according to their own ideology. Indeed, since their first political mobilization in the late nineteenth century, they had never exercised significant governmental decision-making authority. This changed with the post-Munich Autonomy Agreement in 1938, and then much more profoundly with the founding of the Slovak state in 1939,¹ which has been variously described as authoritarian, totalitarian, and fascist. It was also divisive: five years after its founding, the Slovak National Uprising violently challenged the state’s legitimacy, dramatically illustrating the lack of...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Third Republic: “Putting an End to All Old Disputes”
    (pp. 113-129)

    Within three years of the war’s end, the Communist Party took over Czechoslovakia’s political system and precluded the free expression of political views for four decades. The Third Czechoslovak Republic, which functioned as a precarious democracy, thus offers a brief window into Czech and Slovak orientations after their separate experiences of the war years. This reconstituted common state faced enormous challenges, including finding mutually acceptable principles for the Czech-Slovak relationship and dealing with those in the society—and there were many—who had aligned themselves with what turned out to be the war’s losing side. On the international front, the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Communist Period: New Vows
    (pp. 130-161)

    Just as the wartime Slovak State was deeply hostile to the First Republic’s ideology (recall Polakovič’s image of liberal states as “inwardly corroded by worms”), the Czechoslovak Communist regime was profoundly opposed to both clerical-nationalism and liberal democracy, to the point of justifying violence in the struggle against them. If the Communists were successful in their efforts to eradicate these ideological orientations among Czechs and Slovaks, then it is problematic to speak of continuities between post-Communist understandings of nationhood and earlier periods, as the traditions would not have been alive, in any meaningful sense, for several decades. In this chapter,...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN From Velvet Revolution to Velvet Divorce
    (pp. 162-189)

    The Velvet Revolution followed the Berlin Wall’s toppling by a little over a week. It began with a student demonstration in Prague on November 17, 1989, in remembrance of a Czech student killed by the Nazis fifty years before. Having held a ceremony at Vyšehrad Cemetery that included some political speeches, the demonstrators decided to head to the center of Prague. On the way, their numbers grew exponentially, and when they reached National Avenue en route to the central square, riot police met them with brutal force. Timothy Garton Ash writes: “This was the spark that set Czechoslovakia alight.” Ash...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Implications of the Ethnic Model of Sovereignty in Slovakia
    (pp. 190-230)

    As the previous chapter showed, the disagreement between Czech and Slovak leaders that led to the Velvet Divorce centrally concerned sovereignty’s source and constitutional implications. The issue proved not just contentious, but polarizing. This, in turn, supported a tendency among both the Czech media and international observers to portray the differences as reflecting the stark dichotomy between civic and ethnic orientations used in traditional scholarship on nations and nationalism. According to this portrait, the more liberal-democratic, universalistic Czechs founded their new state on the “free and equal citizen,” while the nationalistic Slovaks used the exclusivist ethnic principle, long a source...

  12. CHAPTER NINE The Implications of the Civic Model of Sovereignty in the Czech Republic
    (pp. 231-275)

    In post-Communist Slovakia, the ethnic definition of sovereignty had decidedly illiberal effects. This raises the question of whether a state that uses the “civic principle,” defining the sovereign community as the entire citizenry, is better able to secure minority membership and individual rights. Recalling the theoretical debate I discussed in the Introduction, the concept of a community of citizens (sometimes called a “civic nation”) has traditionally been portrayed as avoiding the stratification of citizenship based on ethnic criteria and, therefore, as far more supportive of civic equality in a diverse society. According to this theory, such a community’s bonds are...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 276-280)

    My findings have important implications for the theoretical debates over the nature of normative understandings of nationhood and the legitimacy of the civic/ethnic dichotomy. Beginning with the first, my examination of Czech and Slovak understandings of nationhood from the nineteenth century to the early twenty-first offers strong evidence that while they owed much to the individuals who defined their political-philosophical foundations, once broadly accepted, they were not particularly malleable. Rather, key elements proved resilient, contributing to frameworks for political judgment about the source and exercise of legitimate political authority. While authoritarian state leaders were able to secure compliance with official...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 281-328)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 329-340)
  16. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 341-342)