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Czechoslovakia

 
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Czechoslovakia

CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The Constitution promulgated on July 11, 1960, was the nation's second post-World War II constitution, and, though extensively revised through later amendments, it continued in effect in 1987. It replaced the 1948 constitution (often called the Ninth-of-May Constitution), which had come into force shortly after the communist seizure of power. The 1948 constitution established the vanguard role of the KSC within the Czechoslovak state and government administration under the Leninist principle of democratic centralism. It also granted a degree of autonomy to Slovakia, which was given its own legislative body and governmental structure, although these were made subordinate to the central authorities in Prague. The most important change in the 1960 Constitution was that it severely limited the autonomy granted Slovakia. The executive branch of the Slovak government was abolished and its duties assigned to the Presidium of the Slovak National Council, thus combining executive and legislative functions into a single body. The National Assembly of the central government was given authority to overrule decisions of the Slovak National Council, and central government agencies took over the administration of the major organs of Slovak local government. The 1960 Constitution reaffirmed that the KSC is the "proven vanguard of the working class" and that the governing of society and the state should continue to be in accordance with the principle of democratic centralism. It further declared that "socialism has triumphed in our country!" and that "we are proceeding toward the construction of an advanced socialist society and gathering strength for the transition to communism." It also acknowledged "our great ally, the fraternal Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." Accordingly, the name of the nation was changed from the Czechoslovak People's Democracy to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

The 1960 Constitution consists of a preamble and 112 articles divided into 9 groupings called chapters. Chapter 1, titled "The Social Order," describes Czechoslovakia as "a unitary State of two fraternal nations possessing equal rights--the Czechs and the Slovaks." Article 2 states that "all power in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic shall belong to the working people." State power will be exercised "through representative bodies which are elected by [the working people], controlled by them, and accountable to them." Principles of the socialist economic system, "in which the means of production are socially owned and the entire national economy directed by plan," are also laid out. Socialist ownership takes two forms: state ownership of natural resources, the means of industrial production, public transportation and communications, banks and insurance firms, and health, educational, and scientific facilities; and cooperative ownership, which is the property of people's cooperatives. Small private enterprises "based on the labor of the owner himself and excluding exploitation of another's labor" are permitted. Personal ownership of consumer goods, homes, and savings derived from labor is guaranteed, as is inheritance of such property.

Chapter 2 describes the rights and duties of citizens. Equal rights regardless of nationality, race, or sex are guaranteed. Education is free and compulsory to the age of sixteen; citizens of Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Polish origin are ensured "every opportunity and all means for education in their mother tongue." Lifetime medical care and material security in old age and in case of disability are guaranteed. Freedom of speech and of the press "consistent with the interests of the working people" are guaranteed. Also guaranteed is the "right to profess any religious faith or to be without religious conviction, and to practice religious beliefs insofar as this does not contravene the law." Citizens are duty bound to serve in the armed forces, and conscientious objection based on religious conviction is specifically prohibited.

On October 27, 1968, the promulgation of the Constitutional Law of Federation amended fifty-eight articles of the Constitution concerning the structure of government. Again the reform concerned Slovak autonomy; the concentration of governmental authority in Prague was a source of discontent within Slovakia throughout the 1960s, and the federalization of the Czechoslovak government codified in the 1968 constitutional amendments was virtually the only product of the reform movement associated with the Prague Spring to survive. The Czechoslovak state was declared to be composed of "two equal fraternal nations," the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic, each with its own national administration paralleling and, at least in theory, equal in status to the federal government. Dual citizenship was established, and many of the former functions of the central government were instead placed under the jurisdiction of the two national governments. The federal government retained exclusive jurisdiction over foreign affairs, national defense, federal reserves, and national resources and held joint jurisdiction in a number of other matters, but the extent of the federalization reform was remarkably vast.

The most significant and lasting change under the 1968 constitutional law was the replacement of the unicameral National Assembly with a bicameral legislature known as the Federal Assembly (see fig. 15). The two bodies, given equal authority, were the Chamber of the People, which was identical to the old National Assembly, and the Chamber of the Nations, which contained an equal number of Czechs and Slovaks. This institutional reform, together with a provision that certain decisions required the majority consent of each half (Czech and Slovak) of the Chamber of the Nations, was designed to end Slovak fear of Czech domination of the legislative branch of the government.

It soon became clear, however, that many aspects of the 1968 federalization were politically, as well as administratively, impractical. Political power remained firmly centralized in the KSC (proposals to federalize the party were dropped after the 1968 invasion), and the administration of two economic systems, two police systems, and the like proved unworkable. July 1971 amendments to the 1968 Constitutional Law of Federation unified the administration of these and other government functions, ended the practice of dual citizenship and, most important, authorized the federal government to interfere with and invalidate measures of the national governments. Although most of the structures of the 1968 reform remained intact, observers of the Czechoslovak system of government in the 1970s agreed that federalism remained little more than a facade after the enactment of the 1971 constitutional amendments. In May 1975, the 1968 Constitutional Law of Federation was further amended to allow Husak to take over the presidency from the ailing Ludvik Svoboda. At the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1986, Husak called for the preparation of a new constitution to replace the 1960 document.

Data as of August 1987

Czechoslovakia - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Government and Politics


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