Czechoslovak Constitution of 1920
After World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 established itself and as a republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

 and democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 with the establishment of the Constitution of 1920. The constitution was adopted by the National Assembly on 29 February 1920 and replaced the provisional constitution adopted on 13 November 1918.

The introduction of the new constitution was based on many of the established Western democracies that had proven themselves through the test of time. Among its most notable influences were those of the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 democracies. This system of government made Czechoslovakia the most westernized of all of the central
Central Europe
Central Europe or alternatively Middle Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe...

 and eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

an nations on the verge of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


The constitution provided the nation with not only a parliament but also a president
A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

 and cabinet
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

 that would serve as the executive branch
Executive (government)
Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

. Beneath them was a judiciary
The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes...

 that was advanced with many levels of courts delegated for various types of cases.

Parliamentary democracy

The parliamentary system
Parliamentary system
A parliamentary system is a system of government in which the ministers of the executive branch get their democratic legitimacy from the legislature and are accountable to that body, such that the executive and legislative branches are intertwined....

 that was installed created a representative democracy
Representative democracy
Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy...

, where there were relatively few constituents
Electoral district
An electoral district is a distinct territorial subdivision for holding a separate election for one or more seats in a legislative body...

 for each representative. This allowed a great variety of political parties
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 to emerge, with no clear front runner or leading political entity. The fact that many political parties came into the national forum by way of the countries’ system of proportional representation
Proportional representation
Proportional representation is a concept in voting systems used to elect an assembly or council. PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. For example, under a PR voting system if 30% of voters support a particular...

 meant that it was nearly impossible for any one party to control the government, until the Communist Party
Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in Czech and in Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa was a Communist and Marxist-Leninist political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1992....

 was able to secure nearly fifteen percent of the seats. This flaw of the Constitution meant that the government was at times stalled out and unable to effectively legislate.

The parliament, the National Assembly, was bicameral. The Chamber of Deputies consited of 300 members elected for 6 years. The Senate consisted of 150 members elected for 8 years. Suffrage was exercised by all citizens, of both sexes, over the age of 21 for elections to the lower chamber; and over the age of 26 for elections to the senate. Candidates for the lower chamber had to be at least 30 years of age; and for the senate, at least 45 years of age.

If parliament rejected a government bill, the government could unanimously refer the proposed law to referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

. No recourse was made to this constitutional provision during the first republic.


The president was elected by both chambers of parliament in joint session (acting in accordance with the standing orders of the lower chamber). The presidential term of office was of 7 years, with a term limit of 2 terms (the first president was exempted from this provision). Candidates for the presidency had to be at least 35 years old. Although the constitutional powers of the presidency were limited, the personal prestige of the first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and the weakness of successive governments meant that the president wielded in practice more authority than the plain text of the constitution suggested. The constitution laid down that all executive functions rested with the government except as expressly assigned to the president. However, as the president could address written or verbal messages to parliament, appoint and dismiss ministers, attend and preside over cabinet meetings, and demand written reports from individual ministers, presidential influence on the executive was in practice considerable.

The president concluded and ratified international treaties, saving that treaties imposing personal or military burdens upon the subject or involving territorial changes required parliamentary consent.

The president could return to parliament, with accompanying observations, any law. Whereupon, parliament could by majority vote re-affirm the law to bypass the president. If there was no majority in the senate, then the lower chamber could pass the law unilaterally by a subsequent vote by means of a three-fifths majority, bypassing the upper chamber and the president.

The president was commander-in-chief, and appointed all high-ranking officers, university professors, judges and senior civil servants.

Regional autonomy

In order to satisfy the protection of national minorities required by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the constitution referred explicitly to the terms of the treaty.

Carpathian Ruthenia

Carpathian Ruthenia
Carpathian Ruthenia
Carpathian Ruthenia is a region in Eastern Europe, mostly located in western Ukraine's Zakarpattia Oblast , with smaller parts in easternmost Slovakia , Poland's Lemkovyna and Romanian Maramureş.It is...

 had been formally included within the Czecho-Slovak state from 1919. The 1920 constitution provided for the autonomy of the territory (however these provisions remained a dead letter in practice as the supposedly autonomous institutions were controlled from Prague).

Language law

A constitutional law
Organic law
An organic or fundamental law is a law or system of laws which forms the foundation of a government, corporation or other organization's body of rules. A constitution is a particular form of organic law for a sovereign state....

 was adopted alongside the constitution on the same day, and was considered one of the constitutional texts. It established the "Czechoslovak language
Czechoslovak language
The Czechoslovak language was a political sociolinguistic concept used in Czechoslovakia in 1920–1938 for the definition of the state language of the country which proclaimed its independence as the republic of two nations, Czechs and Slovaks.- Language legislation in the First Czechoslovak...

" (i.e. Czech
Czech language
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

 and Slovak
Slovak language
Slovak , is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic languages .Slovak is the official language of Slovakia, where it is spoken by 5 million people...

 considered as two official dialects of one language) as an official language
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

, but also granted status to minority languages in areas where at least 20% of the citizens spoke such a language.

Development of the constitution

The Constitution of 1920 would serve as the guiding document for the government of Czechoslovakia until World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, at this point and even once the Czechoslovakian state came under the control of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, the constitution would still continue to govern the way the state’s internal affairs were regulated by serving as the underlying example for the country’s next constitution-with provisions being made for a separate and more localized Slovak
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

 government. These local governments from that point forward would control Slovakia, with the government established by the constitution ruling over the more basic common matters as well as the Czech half of the nation.

The 1920 constitution was replaced on 9 May 1948 by the Ninth-of-May Constitution
Ninth-of-May Constitution
The Ninth-of-May Constitution was a constitution of Czechoslovakia in force from 1948 to 1960. It came into force on May 9, shortly after the communist seizure of power in the country on 25 February 1948. It replaced the 1920 Constitution...

, following the Communist takeover in February 1948
Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948
The Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 – in Communist historiography known as "Victorious February" – was an event late that February in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia, ushering in over four decades...

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