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.