Birth of a nation
Tuesday, 01 January 2013 16:40
Birth of a nation 3.0 out of 5 based on 1 votes.

MUCH of the world refers to the peaceful split of Czechoslovakia into two separate countries as the Velvet Divorce. For Slovaks January 1st, 1993 represented a beginning rather than an end.

“Slovakia 20 years ago fell into a kind of social void,” said Ivan Gašparovič (pictured above), the president, in his annual New Year’s Day address. “In the early years there were districts in Slovakia where there was 50 % unemployment… What Slovaks have achieved in the last 20 years we were unable to achieve in the previous 1,200.”

Today, this member of NATO, the EU and the euro zone is confident about its independence, even if many of its citizens are still hazy on how all of this came about. At the time of the split, just over 35 % of Czechs and Slovaks supported the break up. “At the end of the day it was political leaders that made the decision,” said Milan Duhár, 53, an entrepreneur working in the steel industry and based in this western Slovak town of some 25,000 people. “Today, I am glad Slovakia is a country on its own.”

With hindsight, Slovak independence may seem inevitable. During the early post-communist years, Slovak political groups had little or no presence in Czech regions. Václav Havel’s Civic Forum was matched by a separate organisation in Slovakia called the Public Against Violence. As Václav Klaus, then Czech prime minister, and Vladimír Mečiar, his Slovak counterpart, negotiated the breakup of a country which itself had only existed since 1918, Mr Havel resigned as president before returning as head of state for an independent Czech Republic. Havel did not want to preside over the breakup of his country.

Czechs, who outnumber Slovaks two-to-one, seized much of the economic and political power in post-communist Czechoslovakia. In Slovakia Havel is remembered as much for shuttering state-owned arms factories in pursuit of NATO membership, and thus axing hundreds of steady jobs, as presiding over a peaceful transition to democracy. Czechs sometimes treated Slovaks as second-class citizens.“I will never forget how when I visited Prague in 1984 and I went to a newspaper shop,” said Mária Fraňová, 47, who works for the ministry of interior. “The women in the shop said, ‘We don’t serve Slovaks.’”

Since independence, after a period of strongman governance by Mr Mečiar, radical reforms like a flat tax saw rapid economic growth in the 2000s. Slovakia had the highest GDP growth in the EU in 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as the global economic crisis set in some of this growth proved tenuous. Today the unemployment rate is at 14% of the workforce. “I wanted to separate on the grounds of economics,” Mr Duhár said.  “Everything was concentrated in Czech Republic: large businesses, foreign trade. I was questioning who really benefits from this?”

Whatever the emotions and variables two decades ago, there is little doubt that Slovakia has gone its own way. Sabina Fraňová, a 19-year old student and daughter of Mária, who was born in an independent Slovakia, says she does not distinguish people by nationality, seeing little inherent differences between Czechs, Poles, even Americans.  “Czechs don’t understand what I say, but I understand what they say,” she continued. “I have noticed there are also differences in the history that is taught to them and what is taught to us.” New nations are moulding their own future—and their past.

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