Ethnic Conflict, Constitutional Fissure, Negotiated Breakup
Eric Stein
Describes the peaceful breakup of the Czechoslovak Federation


As the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1992, Czechoslovakia, the only genuine democracy in post-World War I Central-Eastern Europe, broke up into two independent successor states. This book explores the failed search for a postcommunist constitution and it records in a lively style a singular instance of the peaceful settlement of an ethnic dispute.

For more than three years after the implosion of the Communist regime in 1989, the Czechs and Slovaks negotiated the terms of a new relationship to succeed the centralized federation created under communism. After failing to agree to the terms of a new union, the parties agreed on an orderly breakup.

In the background of the narrative loom general issues such as: What are the sources of ethnic conflict and what is the impact of nationalism? Why do ethnic groups choose secession and what makes for peaceful rather than violent separation? What factors influence the course of postcommunist constitutional negotiations, which are inevitably conducted in the context of institutional and societal transformation? The author explores these issues and the reasons for the breakup.

Eric Stein, a well-known scholar of comparative law and a native of Czechoslovakia, was invited by the Czechoslovak government to assist in the drafting of a new constitution. This book is based on his experiences during years of work on these negotiations as well as extensive interviews with political figures, journalists, and academics and extensive research in the primary documents. It will appeal to historians, lawyers, and social scientists interested in the process of transformation in Eastern Europe and the study of ethnic conflict, as well as the general reader interested in modern European history.

Eric Stein is Hessel E. Yntema Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan Law School. He previously served with the United States Department of State in the Legal Advisor's Office. He is the author of many books and articles on comparative law and the law of the European Community.

Praise / Awards

  • "For students of the post-communist transition, this work is a treasure trove for several reasons. Stein is a Czech-American and an expert in international and comparative law, and consequently a well-balanced critic. Having acted as a legal advisor to the Czech and Slovak authorities, he has managed to unearth a wealth of detailed primary sources."
    —Abby Innes, London School of Economics and Political Science, International Affairs (London)
  • "The most momentous event of the last decade, and one of the most important things to happen in our century, is the breakdown of Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and the subsequent emergence of democratic regimes in this region. In this book, Eric Stein has written the best case study to date of this process. He brings to the task three qualities that are unlikely to be combined in many—if any—other analysts. First, he has a thorough knowledge of the national language, history, and culture. Second, as a member of an international team of observers he was in a position to follow the process very closely. Third, his background as a law professor enables him to penetrate and make sense of the complex legal issues involved. The result is a book that is indispensable reading for anyone who wants to understand this most recent and most consequential wave of transitions to democracy."
    —Jon Elster, Columbia University
  • "This book is about the time when history was made in our land. It is fascinating not only for politicians, lawyers, and historians but for anyone drawn into the eternal struggle for a better world. Scholarly precision is wedded to an indomitable American idealism and a Central European bent toward intuitive cognition. Its greatest value is its truth and thus its enduring validity."
    —Josef Moravcík, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic and former Prime Minister of Slovakia
  • "Professor Stein's book is a major achievement. It is the first comprehensive account of the Czecho-Slovak split, and it raises important questions about issues of constitutional and international law that arise in conjunction with this historical event."
    American Journal of International Law, January 1999
  • ". . . a major achievement. It is the first comprehensive account of the Czecho-Slovak split, and it raises important questions about issues of constitutional and international law that arise in conjunction with this historic event."
    —Vratislav Pechota, Columbia University, American Journal of International Law, Volume 93
  • "Stein's coverage is encyclopedic and must make his book the last word on the roots and causes of the failure of Czechoslovak federalism. There is not much more to be said about its demise, the emergence of the two new states, and the widespread conviction among both Czechs and Slovaks that they are unlikely ever again to live in closely knit administrative union. Stein provides a truly comprehensive case study of the profound difficulties faced by citizens and their leaders in multiethnic political communities in postcommunist central and Eastern Europe in not only preserving a workable unity but also developing a viable Western-style liberal democracy."
    —Minton F. Goldman, Northeastern University, American Political Science Review, December 1999
  • ". . . a major contribution to the literature on the last years of Czecho-Slovakia and on constitutional change."
    —Stanislav Kirschbaum, Glendon College, York University, Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes, March 1999
  • ". . . a solid and perceptive work, certainly useful to those doing research on modern developments in Central Europe."

Look Inside


Foreword     xv
Acknowledgments     xvii
Preface     xix
Abbreviations     xxi

A Framework     1

1. The Questions     1
2. Some Thoughts on Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict     4
3. Sources on Ethnic Conflict     6
4. On Negotiation for a Constitution: General Criteria     7

Prologue     11
I. The Setting     13
1. Constitution Makers and Foreign Advisors     13
a. The Actors     13
b. The Stage     15
2. A Lesson in Self-Knowledge     16
3. On Asymmetric Federation---and Beyond     18
4. A Parenthesis: On a Good "Gestalt"     22

II. The Asymmetry of the Czech and Slovak State     23
1. Environmental Conditions: Geography, Demography, Ethnicity, Economy     23
2. Social Conditions: History, Religion, Culture     26 3. An Interlude: A "Contempt" Theory     30
4. Political Conditions     32

III. The Threshold Issues     35
1. The Scope and Flexibility of Constitutions     35
2. On Modifying Constitutions     38
3. On Supremacy of Federal Law     40
4. The Constitution as a Symbol     41
5. On Secession and Referendum     42
6. The Constitution and Society     45
7. What Federation?     47
8. The Arena     49
a. The Principal Institutions     49
b. The Early Process     51

First Act     55

IV. The Negotiations for Devolution (1990)     57
1. "The Hyphen War": A Revelation (January-April 1990)     57
2. Negotiating a Power-Sharing Law (April-December 1990)     60
a. A Historic First: Lnare     60
b. A Private Rendezvous (July 1990)     62
c. A Triad Quadrille (August-November 1990)     62
d. The Power-Sharing Bill in the Parliaments---President's "Crisis" Proposals     68
3. The New Power-Sharing Law (December 1990)     72
a. "From the Top" or "From Below"?     72
b. Allocative Patterns: A Comparative Aside     74
c. The Chosen Pattern     75
d. The Emerging Jurisdictional Conflicts: The Constitutional Court Speaks     78
e. An Afterthought: Spotlight on the "Heroes"     82

V. The June 1990 Elections and the Changing Scene     87
1. The Elections     87
2. Political Differentiation in Context     88
a. In the Czech Republic: A Cleavage     88
b. In Slovakia: A Split, Meciar Dismissed (April 1991)     91
3. An Afterthought: More on "the Heroes"     95
4. An Interlude: The Federal Assembly, a Success Story?     97

Second Act     103

VI. Negotiations on a "Treaty" (Winter-Spring 1991)     105
1. The Proposal for a "State Treaty," "a Bombshell"? (February 1991)     105
2. Comments by the International Group     105
3. The President's Legislative Initiative (March 1991)     108
4. "From Castles to Manors": Presidential Talks (Winter-Spring 1991)     109
a. Prelude to Kromeriz: "The Plank Compromise"     109
b. Who Stands Where for What?     112
c. Kromeriz: The President Bows Out (June 1991)     114
d. On Negotiation Forums and Tactics     118
5. A Side Issue: Moravia-Silesia     119
6. An Interlude: Bratislava and Prague in Spring 1991     123

VII. Slouching toward Bethlehem (Summer-Fall 1991)     123
1. The Darkening Sky     123
2. The Referendum Law Adopted     126
3. The Republic Legislatures Take Over: New Bottles---Old Wine (September-November 1991)     128
a. In Bratislava: Some Progress?     128
b. In the Baroque Stirin     132
c. In the President's Mountain "Hut" at Hradecek: A Major Czech Concessions?     133
d. In Casta-Papiernicka: Facing the Core Issue     136
e. In the Federal Assembly: The End of the Referendum Route?     137

VIII. The President's Call to Arms (Fall 1991-Winter 1992)     139
1. An Appeal to Citizens     139
2. The Five Legislative Proposals     141
3. The Politicians Respond     143
4. The Federal Assembly Response     143
a. The Debate on the President's Proposals     143
i. Yes in Principle     145
ii. Yes But (Really No?)     145
iii. No     146
5. Some Thoughts and Afterthoughts     148
6. Coda: Behind the Budget Imbroglio     151

IX. Back to the Republics' Legislatures: The Last Hurrah (February 1992)     155
1. Prelude to Milovy     155
2. In Snowbound Milovy: An Agreement in Sight?     156
a. On the Status of the Treaty     156
i. First Parenthesis: The Curse of "Sovereignty"     160
b. On Foreign Affairs Powers and "International Subjectivity": Milovy Continued     161
ii. Second Parenthesis: The Disputed Treaty-Making Power     163
c. Once More: The Allocation of Competences---"Sovereignty" Again: Milovy Continued     165
d. The Institutions: "The Three Heads"     167
e. Summing Up     169
3. The Milovy Text in the Presidia     172
4. "The Three Heads" in the Federal Assembly: The Dead End     174

X. Onward to the Elections (Spring 1992)     177
1. The Campaign     177
2. The June 1992 Elections: "The Center Cannot Hold"     183
a. With the Czechs to the Right     183
b. "The Earthquake" in Slovakia     184
3. Monday Morning After and Hindsight     185
4. Prague in Spring 1992: The Last Interlude     188
a. A View from an Island     188
b. The Lady Has a Toothache     189
c. Havel Not Reelected     190
d. Up and Down with Law Students and Lawyers     191
e. On Havel, Lincoln, and the King of Sweden     192

Third Act     195
XI. The Lion v. the Unicorn: The Breakup (Summer 1992)     197
1. The Five Rounds (June-July 1992)     197
a. Round One: Testing     197
b. Round Two: Facing Two Alternatives---Federation or "Confederation"     199
c. Round Three: Crossing the Rubicon     202
d. Round Four: The Political Agreement     203
2. The Context     208
a. The Three New Governments     208
b. Havel Resigns (July 1992)     209
3. Round Five: A New Political Agreement     210
4. In the Federal Assembly, Again Referendum? (August 1992)     213
5. Round Six: Setting the Date     214
a. A Stumble     214
b. A "Union" Again: A "Trial Balloon"?     216
c. Return to the Plane Tree     218
6. Summing Up: Spotlight on "the Heroes-Villains"     220

XII. The Deed Is Done (Fall 1992)     227
1. An Overview     227
a. At the Federal Level     227
b. A the Republic Level     228
2. The Defiant Federal Assembly (September-October 1992)     229
a. The "Extinction" Bill": Legitimate Process or Treason?     229
b. The Opposition Triumphs: A "Union"?     232
c. The Reaction: Tension Grows     234
d. Klaus v. Meciar Again: The Seventh Round---Jihlava     238
e. Jihlava Afterglow     239
3. Toward a New Form of Coexistence: Bilateral Treaties (October-November 1992)     241
a. Kolodeje: "Trust Restored" and Treaties Discussed     241
b. Javorina: Treaties Agreed     244
c. Zidlochovice: Eight More Treaties Agreed     248

XIII. Back to the Federal Assembly: Facing the Opposition (Fall 1992 Continued)     251
1. New Federal Government Program     251
2. Dividing Federal Property     253
a. The Government Bill     253
b. The Opposition     255
3. The Vote     257
4. Havel for President and the End of an Era     258
5. At the End: Again the "Extinction" Bill     258
a. The Overture     258
b. The Revamped Bill: Reaching for a Common Language     260
c. The Confrontation on the Referendum     262
d. The Final Vote: Part One     265
e. In the Meantime . . . Another Round     265
f. The Final Vote: Part Two (November 1992)     267
g. The Aftermath: A Flood of Words     269

Fourth Act     271

XIV. Constitutions for the Independent Republics     273
1. The Slovak Constitution, September 1992: Montesquieu Bowdlerized?     273
a. The Process     273
b. "We, the Slovak Nation"---The Institutions     276
c. Basic Rights and Freedoms     279
d. The Judiciary     280
e. The Major Influences---a Postscript     281
2. The Czech Constitution, December 1992: Back to 1920?     282
a. The Process     282
b. The Issues---Criticism     284
i. "We, the Citizens"     284
ii. The Legislature: A Senate? The Voting Procedure    285
iii. The President and the Government     288
iv. The Charter of Basic Human Rights and Freedoms     290
v. The Territorial Division     292
vi. On Referendum and Constitutional Amendment     293
vii. The Lion and the Lamb: A Mismatch Made in Heaven?     294
A Comparative Parenthesis     296

Epilogue     299
XV. An Overview: Some Answers and Some Reflections at the End of the Day     301
1. Sources of Ethnic Conflict and Causes of Separation    301
a. The Primary Cause     301
b. Subsidiary Factors     302
i. Structure and "Heroes"     302
ii. The Economic Component     304
iii. The Media     307
iv. External Influence     308
2. On Eliminating Differences: A Taxonomy Applied     309
a. Neither Genocide nor Mass Population Transfer     309
b. Integration/Assimilation/Multicultural Policy?     310
c. Self-Determination/Separation     310
i. The Successor States in International Law     310
ii. On Self-Determination and Referendum     312
d. Separation as an Alternative: Geopolitics and Legitimacy     317
3. On Multiple Transformations     320
a. The Priorities     320
b. On Free Societies     321
i. The Civil Society     322
ii. The Political Society     325
4. "Strategic Elements" of Constitutional Negotiations     326
a. The Time Dimension     326
b. Issues and Parties     327
i. The "Reform" Phase     328
ii. The "Restructuring" Phase     329
iii. The "New Form of Coexistence" Phase     331
5. Forums and Tactics     332
6. The "Intervenor"     334
7. The Last Afterthought     340

Annexes     343

Annex I. The International Conference, Bratislava, June 1991     345
1. The Allocation of Powers     346
2. The Institutional Structure: The Parliament     349
3. The President: Back to 1920?     350
4. Ethnic Minorities     352
5. On Impartial Advice     353

Annex II. Constitutions and the World     355
1. The "Opening" Issue     355
2. At the Federal Level     356
3. Constitutions for Independent Republics     358
a. The Czech Constitution     358
b. The Slovak Constitution     359
4. Concluding Thoughts on the "Opening"     361

Selected Bibliography     365
Index    379

Product Details

  • 416 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02187-1

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $38.95 U.S.

  • PDF Rental 180 Days: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $22.50 U.S.

  • PDF Rental 30 Days: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $12.00 U.S.

Choosing any of the above format options will take you to the appropriate e-retailer to complete your purchase. Pricing may vary by individual e-retailer. Please see e-retailer site for purchasing information.

For more information about our Digital Products, including reading systems and accessible formats, visit our Digital Products page.

Related Products

Due to the current global health event, shipping of print books may be delayed. Actual status will show in the shopping cart.

Add to Cart
  • $90.00 U.S.

Add to Cart
  • $38.95 U.S.