Communist rule had lasted since the late 1948, when the restored prewar democratic system was overthrown in a Soviet-backed coup. The "Prague Spring" of 1968, when Communist leader Alexander Dubcek tried to bring in liberal reforms, was crushed by Warsaw Pact tanks.
In 1989, as the curtain was coming down on communism in the Kremlin, the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel emerged as the figurehead of the country's "velvet revolution" and became the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia.
An era ended in February 2003 when he stepped down as president. It had been interrupted for only a few months at the time of the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Mr Havel becoming first president of the former.
Mr Havel saw the ghost of former Soviet military influence exorcised in 1999 when the country was granted full membership of Nato. He left office having led it to the threshold of the EU. His old rival and successor as president, Vaclav Klaus, oversaw accession to the union.
However, the Czech Republic has been reluctant to join the euro, and is not expected to adopt the common EU currency before 2015 at the earliest.
In addition to its developed industrial economy, the Czech Republic now attracts tourists to some of the finest Baroque, Art Nouveau and Cubist buildings in Europe.
President: Vaclav Klaus
Vaclav Klaus of the conservative Civic Democratic Party succeeded Vaclav Havel, with whom he had many clashes in previous years, in the largely ceremonial role of president in February 2003.
Parliament narrowly re-elected him in February 2008.
He was the architect of Czech post-communist economic reforms, serving as finance minister in the first post-communist government and prime minister between 1992 and 1997 before financial scandals contributed to the fall of his government.
Mr Klaus is a bitter opponent of closer EU integration - although he insists that his views are more "Eurorealist" than "Eurosceptic". He signed the "Lisbon" European Union reform treaty in November 2009, the last European leader to do so.
Prime Minister: Petr Necas
The head of the centre-right Civic Democrat party (ODS), Petr Necas, was asked by President Klaus to form a government after the May 2010 general election.
Prior to the election, the Czech Republic had been in political limbo for over a year, and Mr Necas inherited a difficult situation.
The caretaker government of Jan Fischer had been keeping things ticking over, but pressing problems such as the country's swelling deficit remained to be dealt with.
Mr Necas formed a coalition with the right-wing TOP 09 party and the centrist Public Affairs party.
Between them, the three parties hold 118 out of the 200 seats in the Czech parliament.
The first task awaiting the new coalition was to reduce the budget deficit. Its proposals, which included a 10% cut in public sector wages, provoked a mass protest in Prague in September 2010.
And in October, the Social Democrats gained control of the Senate in mid-term elections, putting them in a position to block legislation. The Social Democrats' leader said they would strive to make the government's reforms "socially more tolerable".
A physicist by training, Petr Necas joined the ODS in 1991. He was first elected to parliament in 1996 and became minister of labour and social affairs in 2006.
He succeeded Mirek Topolanek as leader of the ODS in March 2010.
He is married and has four children.
Private radio and TV stations provide stiff competition for their public rivals.
Public broadcaster Ceska Televize (CT) operates two TV networks and a 24-hour news channel. Public radio, Cesky Rozhlas (CRo), operates three national networks as well as local services.
Two major private TV channels broadcast nationally and there are scores of private radio stations. BBC World Service is available on FM in many cities and towns.
The country is pressing ahead with the digitisation of TV broadcasting; there are plans to switch off analogue signals by 2012.
Press freedom is protected by a charter of basic rights. However, Czech and foreign media organizations criticized an amendment to the penal code in 2009 that made it an offence for journalists to make public the contents of police wiretaps.
Around 6.7 million Czechs were online by June 2010 (Internetworldstats).