Czechoslovak Democracy

Czech Republic Table of Contents

The Constitution of 1920

The constitution of 1920 approved the provisional constitution in its basic features. The Czechoslovak state was conceived as a parliamentary democracy, guided primarily by the National Assembly, consisting of the senate and the Chamber of Deputies, whose members were to be elected on the basis of universal suffrage. The National Assembly was responsible for legislative initiative and was given supervisory control over the executive and judiciary as well. Every seven years it elected the president and confirmed the cabinet appointed by him. Executive power was to be shared by the president and the cabinet; the latter, responsible to the National Assembly, was to prevail. The reality differed somewhat from this ideal, however, during the strong presidencies of Masaryk and his successor, Benes.

To a large extent, Czechoslovak democracy was held together by the country's first president, Masaryk. As the principal founding father of the republic, Masaryk was regarded similar to the way George Washington is regarded in the United States. Such universal respect enabled Masaryk to overcome seemingly irresolvable political problems. Even to this day, Masaryk is regarded as the symbol of Czechoslovak democracy.

The constitution of 1920 provided for the central government to have a high degree of control over local government. Czechoslovakia was divided into zeme (lands), such as Czechia, Moravia, and Ruthenia. Although in 1927 assemblies were provided for Czechia, Slovakia, and Ruthenia, their jurisdiction was limited to adjusting laws and regulations of the central government to local needs. The central government appointed onethird of the members of these assemblies. Centralization prevailed on the next two levels (zupa and okres). Only on the lowest levels, in local communities (mesto and obec) was government completely in the hands of and elected by the local population.

The constitution identified the "Czechoslovak nation" as the creator and principal constituent of the Czechoslovak state and established Czech and Slovak as official languages. National minorities, however, were assured special protection; in districts where they constituted 20 percent of the population, members of minority groups were granted full freedom to use their language in everyday life, in schools, and in dealings with authorities.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress