AFTER 41 years of communist rule, a new era began Sunday in Czechoslovakia when a coalition government of ``national understanding'' was sworn in, and the last remnant of the old Stalinist regime, President Gustav Husak, resigned. The breakthrough in the three-week-old political crisis amounts to a near-total victory for the opposition group Civic Forum, which is not even as old as the crisis. The Forum had demanded Mr. Husak's resignation, and seven of its candidates entered the new government of 10 Communists, two Socialists, and two representatives of the People's Party. The government is led by Communist Marian Calfa, a Slovak lawyer, who was first deputy prime minister in the previous government.
In addition, the Forum's leader, playwright Vaclav Havel, could soon be the nation's new president, since part of the agreement reached Saturday evening is that the president should be a Czech and not affiliated with any political party. The new president must be elected within two weeks.
Mr. Havel said afterward that the composition of the government was the ``maximum under the present circumstances,'' and there was great satisfaction in Civic Forum after the dramatic end of the crisis. But one Forum activist stressed that even though the ``battle was won, the war is still not won.''
``Happy? I don't know. It is all so absurd if you think back on the situation a month ago,'' said Jiri Dienstbier, spokesman of Civic Forum and new foreign minister. Longtime dissident Dienstbier served an extended prison sentence in the early 1980s, and for the last years has made his living as a stoker while putting out a samizdat paper, Lidove Novine.
The main task of the new transitional government is to prepare for the first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1948, expected no later than next July.
``The composition of the government gives guarantees that the conditions cannot return to what they were before Nov. 17,'' says Jan Carnogursky, a Slovak lawyer and Roman Catholic activist, who a couple of weeks ago was in jail for his opposition activities, but who now is the first deputy prime minister. The brutal beating of student protesters by police on Nov. 17 triggered the revolutionary changes now under way here. The work toward ``total democracy can continue,'' Mr. Carnogursky also said.
The hardest negotiations centered on the post of interior minister, according to informed sources within Civic Forum, and a compromise was reached in which no such minister was appointed. Instead, the responsibility for the police and the security forces are to be shared by a troika, consisting of Mr. Calfa, Carnogursky, and Valtr Komarek, the other first deputy prime minister.
Mr. Komarek is head of the renowned economic forecasting institute, from which two other ministers, new Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Dlouhy, head of the planning commission, also come. All three were backed by Civic Forum, although Komarek and Mr. Dlouhy are also Communist Party members. Thus, Civic Forum has been put in charge of rebuilding the troubled Czechoslovak economy.
There were also difficult negotiations surrounding the candidacy of Dienstbier as foreign minister. The Communist Party did not want him and suggested Jiri Hajek, the former foreign minister during the brief reform era of Alexander Dubcek. But Mr. Hajek declined, saying that he stood behind Dienstbier.
It was a humiliating finale for Husak, the last of the hard-liners still in power three weeks into the Czechoslovak revolution. Husak, who took over as Communist Party leader in 1968, was seen by Civic Forum as the main culprit behind the stark repression of the past two decades. Two years ago, when he became president, he was replaced by Milos Jakes, who, in turn, has not only resigned from all his posts but also been expelled from the party. Mr. Jakes and perhaps even Husak now face possible criminal charges for activities while in power.
Husak said in his speech Saturday evening on television, when he announced his intention to resign after swearing in the new government Sunday, that ``good, less good, and bad things'' had happened in the past, and that mistakes had been made in carrying out socialism. But he also said that socialism was a bright idea and that he had not found anything better in the world.
The new government replaces the less-than-week-old government of Ladislav Adamec, who resigned last Thursday citing difficult negotiations with Civic Forum. The announcement of his government, which included 16 communist ministers out of a total of 21, prompted new nationwide protests last week by Civic Forum and the call for another general strike on Monday. It is unclear at this time if that strike will actually take place.
But on Sunday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of people met up on Wenceslas Square to celebrate the new government and the start of a new era for postwar Czechoslovakia. From Stalinism to a coalition government, open debate, and preparations for free elections in only three weeks: It was, indeed, a remarkably swift revolution.