Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 on the democratic ideals of Thomas G. Masaryk. It recovered from World War II and survived more than four decades under communist rule, yet it started to collapse shortly after liberty had been restored in late 1989, and it died at the end of December 1992. Some explanations of the break-up focus on the Slovaks' need to continue their development as a nation and to affirm their identity by achieving statehood; other explanations allege that Czech politicians thought it would be easier to carry out economic reform (especially) the large-scale privatization projects) without the less developed Slovak east; while still others stress the political immaturity, materialism, and even corruption on both sides of the ethnic divide. There is some merit to all such interpretations, but ultimately the country did not survive because the Czechs and Slovaks, the two peoples united in the birth of Czechoslovakia, had failed to accumulate a body of shared positive historical experience. Indeed, the darkest years for the Czechs (1938-45 and post-1968) were the two occasions during which the Slovaks underwent periods of rapid nation-building and experienced moments of national optimism. This conflicting experience made the relationship between Czechs and Slovaks, and therefore the whole Czechoslovak state, fatally vulnerable to the centrifugal forces unleashed after the break-up of the Soviet zone in Eastern Europe.
Unlike its neighbors (Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Austria), Czechoslovakia lacked a historical antecedent when it emerged at the end of World War I as a newly formed state. The idea to create a Czechoslovak state was conceived by a handful of Czech and Slovak exiles operating in France, Russia, Great Britain, Italy and the United States. Their mission was by no means a simple one. Since the ancient Czech kingdom had disappeared in the early 17th century, and the Slovaks had never been a sovereign people, there was little for the exiles to build upon. They did, however, enjoy the crucially important support of the allies and as a result their "Czechoslovak idea" gave birth to a map, and the territory marked by the map was filled by the new state, the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
The country soon overcame the unusual circumstances of its birth and acquired a remarkable degree of political stability-in twenty years it had only two presidents and five prime ministers. Czechoslovak foreign policy followed a steady course, guided primarily by one man, Edvard Benes. The country's economic achievements were considerable. Thanks to prudent management of its rich industrial potential, Czechoslovakia became one of the most developed countries in the world. The Czechoslovak currency (Kc), was freely convertible already in the early twenties, trading steadily at the New York Stock Exchange at KclOO for $3. The main reason for this was simple. While others in Europe toyed with one authoritarian experiment or another, the Prague government stayed the course of liberal democracy. President Masaryk dismissed fascism as the product of the pathological dregs of society and his critical view of bolshevism was a matter of published record: Lenin's social experiment, he wrote was "an orgy of ignorance, violence and corruption."
Masaryk believed it would take about half a century to build a stable, democratic and prosperous country amidst the revisionist Central Europe. It would have been a difficult task under the best of circumstances. In addition to the unenthusiastic reception Czechoslovakia received from its neighbors, it had a serious internal weakness in the form of its ethnic composition. In a country of 13.5 million citizens, there were 6.5 million Czechs, 3.1 million Sudeten Germans, 2.2 million Slovaks, as well as Hungarians, Ukrainians, Poles, and others. For the Czechs, the Republic was the nearly miraculous culmination of a long struggle to reclaim the statehood lost three hundred years ago. The First Republic lasted for only two decades between the world wars, but its civilized political culture left such a positive imprint on generations of Czechs that they tend to think of Masaryk's Czechoslovakia as one of the most successful political experiments of the first half of the century. The Slovaks also embraced the new country with joy. Most did no because they shared their Czech neighbors' faith in the Czechoslovak ideal while others welcomed it as a shield against the maniacally mono-cultural, intolerant rule of the Magyars. In contrast, the important Sudeten German minority made clear at the beginning that it was not happy about its incorporation in the new state. It saw in Czechoslovakia an artificial creation in which its own Germanic identity was endangered amidst the dominant Czech culture.
This caused at the outset a rift between the government and Czechoslovak citizens of German extraction. Relations between Prague and the Sudeten Germans improved significantly in the second half of the twenties when Czechoslovak political stability and economic prosperity contrasted most clearly with crisis-ridden Weimar Germany, but they degenerated only ten years later when the Sudeten leaders' public embrace of Nazi doctrine made further peaceful coexistence impossible. The frenetic welcome which the Führer received in the Sudetenland and the harsh anti-Czech policies advocated by the Sudeten German leaders during World War II contributed to one sorry outcome of the failed attempt at coexistence between the two peoples: Edvard Benes, Czechoslovakia's second president, obtained during the war the allies' support for the view that the Sudeten German population should be held collectively guilty for Nazi crimes against the Republic. Consequently, at the end of the war most of the war most of the Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia into Germany.
The unwillingness of the Sudeten Germans to accept the new Republic had a profound impact on the relations between Czechs and Slovaks. The Prague government had to deny political and legal autonomy to the three million-strong Sudetens because their leaders would have used it to pass legislation severing the fragile ties with Czechoslovakia. Under those circumstances, Prague did not dare to grant such autonomy to the less numerous Slovaks: to have a Slovak canton without a corresponding Sudeten German canton would have strengthened the Sudeten grievances. Hence it was the Sudeten Germans' initial rejection of Czechoslovakia's legitimacy which made the Prague government fearful of regional rule and committed to administering the country from the center.
The pressing Sudeten problem led the government to take another step which displeased some Slovaks-it created a "Czechoslovak" nationality. Such an idea, in itself, was not an expression of Czech chauvinism. Masaryk was himself partly Slovak, he loathed chauvinists of any kind and, moreover, "Czechoslovakism" had the support of many leading Slovak personalities. It was simply a pragmatic device created to deal with the Sudeten Germans' rejection of the new Republic. By lumping Czechs and Slovaks together, official statistics could show that in a country of 13.5 million citizens more than 8.7 million were "Czechoslovaks," and this seemed preferable to the approach which listed Czechs and Slovaks separately as that method strengthened the position of the 3.1 million Sudeten Germans on paper. But there was another factor which led Masaryk, Benes and others to think in terms of a Czechoslovak nationality. It is not clear that a full-fledged Slovak nation existed in 1918: a Slovak higher educational system, a Slovak middle-class, and a Slovak intelligentsia had not been allowed to develop during the centuries under Magyar rule. They emerged only gradually during the interwar period - with a great deal of financial and logistical help from Prague. The Czechs assisted in developing Slovak schools of all levels, Slovak culture, and Slovak public institutions; they even contributed to the mapping out of the Slovak language. They did so partly out of pragmatic concerns: they thought that by building up the Slovaks they would strengthen themselves for the confrontation with the Sudetens. Czechs also offered assistance based on the somewhat romantic view that the Slovaks were their twin brothers.
Ultimately, the "Czechoslovak" scheme appeased no one. In 1938, more than two thirds of the Sudeten Germans embraced Nazism and cheered the incorporation of the Sudetenland in the Third Reich. This weakened the Prague government and contributed to the emergence of separatism in Slovakia, a new development which took most Czechs - peroccupied as they were by the crisis with the Third Reich - by surprise. They had failed to notice that while the existence of a viable Slovak nation in 1918 could be debated there was no question that it existed twenty years later. At the end of September 1938, Slovak separatists were emboldened by Czechoslovakia's diplomatic defeat at the Munich Conference and the loss of the Sudeten territory which the Conference imposed. By early 1939, Slovak leaders were faced with the possibility that Hitler would destroy the rest of Czechoslovakia. Understandably, they listened attentively to signals from Berlin that the Third Reich would be prepared to support the emergence of a Slovak state. Since the only alternative to forming the new state was going down with the Czechs, it would have been irresponsible for Slovak politicians not to consider the German offer. On 14 March 1939, just a day before the Nazis marched into the Czech lands to commence their bloody six-year long occupation, Slovakia declared its independence, thereby escaping from the category of states occupied by the Third Reich.
The tragedy was that Slovak nationalists received the coveted Slovak state as a present from the most soiled hands in recorded history: those of Adolf Hitler. Czechoslovakia had been formed twenty years earlier by Masaryk, Benes, and their collegues who had secured the help of such democrats as Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, and Lloyd George. By contrast, the Slovak state came into existence as an explicitly fascist entity under the protection of Hitler's Third Reich. ("unter den Schutz des Deutschen Reiches") and it behaved accordingly throughout its existence. Characteristic of the new state's modus operandi is an order issued on the first day of Slovakia's existence by Pavol Carnogursky, chief of the Hlinka Guards: "Escaping Czechs and Jews are to be searched and their money and jewelry confiscated." Imitating their master in Berlin, Slovak fascists gradually declared war on Poland, the Soviet Union, and even on Great Britain and the United States; they sent their elite divisions to fight the first two. Without much obvious pressure from Berlin, the country's president, Jozef Tiso, a priest, presided over the build-up of a quasi-Nazi state in Slovakia. Especially repulsive was his handling of Jews. The newspaper Slovak of 16 June 1941 boasted that the Tiso government had shifted the definition of Jew from religious to racial. The paper was pleased that this would allow a sharper separation of Jews from other citizens. When Goebbels came to Slovakia in August 1941, he had only praise for his ally: "After the victory in this great war, its history will be written. And in this history Slovakia will be given a special, honorable place. You Slovaks were the first to join Germany. And you did so at a time when others looked at us with mockery, contempt, and fear." The Slovak government bragged on 3 September 1942 that "Slovakia as the first state in southeastern Europe provided an example also to other states for solving the Jewish question." There were about 90,000 Jews in Slovakia at the beginning of the war. Of these, Tiso exempted about ten thousand from destruction because they were deemed irreplaceable for Slovak economic life. Consequently, "only" 80,000 were subject to deportations. Tiso also insisted in Berlin that Slovak Jewish families should not be ripped apart upon arrival at the camp. Hitler listened and, therefore, 2,482 babies and toddlers went to the gas chamber in their mothers' arms. Eventually, 57,837 Jews from Slovakia (7,063 of whom were less than ten years old) perished in the Holocaust.
Incredibly, present-day defenders of war-time Slovakia now argue that there was nothing anti-Semitic about the Slovak state of 1939-45. The aforementioned Pavol Carnogursky, who returned to politics for a short time after the Velvet Revolution and who was the father of a family that remains politically active to the present, asserted that the Slovak Constitution under President Tiso "was based on the Christian principle which was uphold in all laws." But this was clearly not the view of the Holy See. Actes et Documentes du Saint Siege Relatifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965 to 1981) is a collection of documents pertaining to the diplomatic activities of the Vatican during World War II. Among other evidence, it contains communications between the Vatican charge d'affaires in slovakia, Msgr. Guiseppe Burzio and Luigi Cardinal Maglione, the chief of Vatican diplomacy. On 5 September 1940, Burzio reported to the Holy See that Tiso had recently invited Slovak citizens - with quotations from the Gospels - "to regenerate themselves in the water and spirit of National Socialism." On 7 September 1941, the shocked Burzio wrote that in a sermon Tiso had identified the national socialist doctrine of the Third Reich with Catholic social teaching. Burzio "sharply" criticized this view, but the Slvoak president remained untouched. On 9 March 1942, Burzio called the Vatican with news of the planned mass deportations of Jews to death-camps. This cruel plan, he said, was being implemented without German pressure. In fact, Berlin demanded 500 Reich marks and food for two weeks for each Slovak Jewish deportee (by the end of he war, Slovakia had paid RD40 million to the coffers of the Third Reich). Burzio said that he had spoken with the Slovak Prime Minister, "and he took the liberty to say (he who displays his catholicism to much) that he found nothing inhumane or undemocratic about it all. To deport those 80,000 persons to Poland, and to hand them over to the Germans, means for many of them a certain death [equivale condanmarne gran parte morte sicura]." Despite Burzio's interventions, the Tiso government carried out its plan to destroy Slovak Jews "in the most brutal manner," and the Vatican informed Tiso via its charge that what was taking place in Slovakia was a disgrace for a Catholic country. On 19 May 1942, Bishop Gojdic from Presov sent a letter to Msgr. Burzio suggesting that Tiso should be reduced to the lay state (ad statum laicalem) because what he was doing to the Jews exsuperavit omnem inhumanitatem, and was in fact reminiscent of Bolshevik barbarism. On 10 April 1943, Burzio tried again to intervene against the deportations, this time with Vojtech Tuka, the Slovak Prime Minister. It was "a conversation with a madman" he reported. Tuka kept repeating that Slovaks were going to rid the country of the Jewish "plague, that band of criminals and gangsters." Burzio asked him whether the deportations were being carried out because of pressure from Germany. The prime minister swore that it was exclusively Slovak "will and initiative." On 26 October 1944, Burzio called Tiso and his government "servile executors" of Hitler's demands. On Christmas Eve 1944, the president stated in a sermon that Germany was "the flag bearer of the most progressive social ideas." At the end of the war, Tiso escaped from Slovakia and was arrested by the U.S. Army in Austria. The Americans returned him to stand trial in Czechoslovakia; he was executed as a war criminal.
Understandably, the behavior of Tiso and other like-minded Slovaks during the war cast a shadow on the future of Czech-Slovak relations. But surprisingly few Czechs held Slovaks collectively responsible for the outrages of the Tiso regime. After all, it was not the Slovaks who had started World War II; moreover, no European country that had experienced Nazi occupation could honestly say that its war-time record was without blemish. Even those countries in which the allies actively supported anti-Nazi movements because of their strategic importance - Norway comes to mind - had their share of Quislings. Unlike France, the Low countries, and Scandinavia, Slovakia was outside the sphere of western interest and its leaders, willy-nilly, had to make deals with the sole power-broker in the region, Adolf Hitler. Even when it came to the scandalous treatment of its Jews, Slovakia did not stand out in the company of states such as Germany, Romania, Hungary, and Croatia. In any case, there was no doubt regarding the restoration of sovereign Czechoslovakia. Both the Czechs and the Slovaks (excepting those Slovak politicians whose lives were intimately tied with the war-time Slovak state) wanted to return to the status quo ante bellum and, importantly, that plan had the support of the British and Americans, as well as Stalin. Consequently, sovereign Czechoslovakia was restored with the defeat of the last SS units in the Czech lands in early May 1945.
For the second time in the history of Czechoslovakia, there was an opportunity to design the relations between Czechs and Slovaks in a manner that would reflect the growth of the Slovak nation and satisfy both parties. With Prague free from the millstone of the Sudeten problem, there was reason for optimism. But little of substance was allowed to happen. Throughout the 1945-48 period, the country's political life was dominated by the struggle between the Czechoslovak democratic parties and the communists. Slovak nationalists who might have preferred the creation of an autonomous Slovak canton in Czechoslovakia were divided into two camps and neither was in a position to achieve their goals. The conservatives were discredited by their association with the Third Reich; a few leaders were tried and punished as collaborators, several dignitaries escaped to various safe-havens in Latin American, Canada, and the US, and the majority stayed at home. Those in the latter category had to stay away from politics. Slovak nationalists of the left persuasion joined the Communist party of Czechoslovakia in large numbers. They were therefore compelled to follow the party line, which was directed almost exclusively at preparing the coup d'etat. Designing a Swiss-style, federal arrangement between Czechs and Slovaks was not one of the party's priorities.
The February 1948 communist take-over brought all hopes for an internal political restructuring to an end. Czechoslovakia became but one small entity in the large Soviet empire, and it was-under orders from Moscow-preparing its industry as well as society for a confrontation with the west. Some Slovak communists had failed fully to suppress their nationalist sentiments. With the help of Soviet advisors, they were quickly "unmasked" as bourgeois nationalists and sent to jail at a time when the whole country was getting a taste of Stalinism. Other communist leaders - both Czech and Slovak - who managed to survive the Stalinist era were just as committed to a centralized form of administration of the state as their democratic predecessors, Presidents Masaryk and Benes. Prominent among the new rulers was Antonin Novotny who remained in power as president and general secretary of the Communist party for a decade and a half. Under his command, Czechoslovakia stumbled along the thorny parth from Stalinism to the era of Brezhnevism. An opportunity to escape from the political stagnation offered itself in early 1968. The Slovak Alexander Dubcek replaced Novotny as party boss, and this change unleashed the forces which produced the famous Prague spring. But the short-lived experiment at bringing democracy into socialism was brought to an end in August by Soviet tanks. This was a crushing defeat of the last hopes that the humanist tradition of Masaryk's Czechoslovakia, so rudely interrupted by Hitler and Stalin, could be renewed.
The Czechoslovak political crisis continued for months after the tanks rolled in. Dubcek, the man most closely associated with the democratization of Czechoslovak life, remained in office despite explicit Soviet instructions to the contrary. It was only in 1969 that the Soviet intervention produced the desired changes. As a result of direct Soviet pressure, Dubcek was dismissed and replaced by Gustav Husak. Husak became General Secretary of the Communist party, and subsequently the country's president. It was he who turned Czechoslovakia into "a Biafra of the soul" and brought Czechoslovakia back under total Soviet control. Husak was one of those Slovak communists who had suffered badly during the Stalinist era. Arrested in 1951 and sentenced to life in prison, he was released nine years later. Despite the harsh treatment which he received from the hands of his party, Husak remained a hard-core communist. Once he became the party's general secretary in April 1969, he behaved with Bolshevik toughness: Husak and another Slovak party apparatchik, Vasil Bilak, presided over the so-called normalization, a large-scale purge, as a result of which almost one million Czechoslovaks were turned into second class citizens. They lost their jobs, access to education and many were permanently harassed.
It was from the hands of Husak and his like-minded colleagues that Slovakia received its autonomous status within the Czechoslovak federation. (The decision to turn Czechoslovakia into a federal state was made in the Kremlin: Brezhnev et al. correctly assumed that the process would divert attention from the Soviet invasion and its consequence: the presence of foreign troops on Czechoslovak soil.) In 1969, Czechoslovakia became a federal state consisting of two legally equal republics, Czech and Slovak. Although it had only one president, foreign minister, and minister of defense, most other federal ministries were replicated in the Czech and Slovak governments. By the mid-1970s, the president and party general secretary, the foreign minister and the minister of defense were Slovaks, as were many prominent diplomats and army officers. Since Slovakia produced just enough to satisfy its own needs, the federal budget came to be serviced almost exclusively from the Czech side of Czechoslovakia, by people who had not felt the need to have three prime ministers, three governments (one federal plus two republican), three parliaments in the first place.
The new arrangement did not produce pronounced anti-Slovak sentiments on the Czech side. Reasonable people understood that Husak was first and foremost a communist and a puppet of the Kremlin, not a true Slovak. As far as the public was concerned, his actions reflected on communists, not on Slovak people. Ultimately, Husak and other Slovak communists who ruled Czechoslovakia from 1969 to the end of 1989 caused much harm to Slovakia. Using the federal budget as their own pot of gold, they presided over the rapid industrialization of Slovakia, building gigantic industrial plants, chemical factories their own vision of a modern, developed country. Although such growth caused jobs and a short-term increase in the standard of living, it also devastated the Slovak environment and caused a public health crisis: in the mid-1980s, Slovakia had the highest cancer rate in the world. (Not surprisingly, there is an equally alarming environmental crisis, and a related medical crisis, in the Czech lands.) At the moment, the enterprises built under Husak have no markets for their products and are bankrupt. They now represent the biggest challenge to those who remain committed to economic reform in Slovakia.
The Velvet Revolution of November 1989 provided another opportunity to reorder relations between the Czechs and Slovaks; this time without interference from either the Thrid Reich or the Soviet Union. Alas, the hopes produced by the implosion of communism in Czechoslovakia were short-lived. Slovak separatist politicians, who had kept out of sight for decades under the old totalitarian regime, came quickly to the fore. Especially shocking - from the Czech perspective - were indications by the new Slovak leaders, for instance by Jan Camogursky (the son of the above-mentioned Pavol) who came to power after the fall of communism, that they looked upon the Slovak state which had existed between 1939 and 1945 as a legal and moral precedent for the Slovakia they hoped to build. The political scene in post-communist Slovakia was from the beginning a battle-ground between the heirs of the Tiso state represented by Jan Carnogursky and the heirs of the Husak state led by Vladimir Meciar. The space between these two groups was filled by a number of unappealing individuals. Take, for instance, Dusan Slobodnik who had undergone training by the SS in special warfare at the end of World War II yet became the first post-communist Slovak minister of culture. When his past was brought up in a critical light, Slobodnik stated that attacks upon his person constituted "a sabotage of Slovak interests." (As of now-December 1994 - Slobodnik is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Slovak parliament.) Or take the case of Matus Kucera, the Slovak minister of education, who began his tenure by shutting down the University of Trnava, primarily because its faculty took seriously the concept of academic freedom. Kucera warned his critics that those who failed to conform to the wishes of the government would have to move out "to another land." When he was asked where they should go, he suggested the United States or Israel. This must be said in order to show that the people who represented the Slovak desire for independence in post-communist Czechoslovakia were among the worst imaginable salesmen of such a cause.
By contrast, the post-communist scene was quickly stabilized in the Czech lands. Vaclav Havel provided the moral guidance while Vaclav Klaus, the conservative economist, took charge of the economic reform as the Czech prime minister. Although there have always been tensions between the intellectual Havel and the pragmatist Klaus, there has never been any doubt as to the direction in which the Czech lands were moving: democracy, prosperity, the European Union, and NATO. Both Havel and Klaus agreed that the key to the future was large-scale privatization as part of a massive economic reform. Most Czechs were eager to plunge into the exciting river of economic and political change. However, in early 1990 the post-communist Slovak representation forced the federal authorities to discuss issues which-seemed frivolous or worse to the Czechs. Prominent among them was the famous "hyphen debate" which was initiated by the insistence of Slovak politicians that Czechoslovakia should be spelled "Czecho-Slovakia." In itself, the idea seemed justified: Slovakia was indeed an autonomous republic, a fact hidden in the traditionally spelled name of Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, most on the Czech side associated "Czecho-Slovakia" with a most unpleasant part of their recent past; this spelling was used after the Munich Conference at the end of September 1938 and before Hitler's destruction of rump Czechoslovakia in March 1939. During the hyphen debate, more and more Slovaks shocked the Czech public by expressing their loyalty for the fascist Slovak state (1939-45) or nostalgia for the period of "growth and security" following the 1969 normalization under Husak.
It was under these circumstances, that one began hearing on the Czech side: "If the Slovaks want to go, let them. Enough is enough." Indeed, neither of the two groups which had assumed the most power in Slovakia headed by Carnogursky and Meciar offered much hope as far as the life expectancy of Czechoslovakia was concerned. The Slovak Prime Minister Carnogursky made clear from the beginning that he was prepared to tolerate Czechoslovakia only as long as its federal coffers were needed to sustain the material needs of Slovakia. "Do you favor a unified Czechoslovakia?" he was asked. "For the time being, yes," was his answer. On another occasion Carnogurksy stated: "We are in favor of a common state of two sovereign states with international legal subjectivity for each." And another opinion: "I am not a separatist because I know that if Slovakia liberates herself already today it would be harmful for her." Carnogursky's successor, Prime Minister Meciar, signaled that he was as committed to doing away with Czechoslovakia, only he was less diplomatic about it. Meciar's party campaigned in 1992 with a three-point program: Slovak sovereignty, a Slovak constitution, and a Slovak president. When Slovakia declared itself sovereign on 17 July 1992, its leaders insisted in an Orwellian manner that "sovereignty" did not mean "independence." Nevertheless, this step fragmented the Czechoslovak political scene beyond recognition and, only five days later, the Czech and Slovak prime ministers Klaus and Meciar agreed to dissolve the country.
Klaus always maintained that the country had to focus on economic reform. He designed and implemented a radical program of privatization, to be followed by a reduction in the bloated bureaucracy. Only this, he argued, could bring the economy up to par with the economies of Western Europe. Klaus is a technocrat by inclination and has little patience with foggy ideologues or with starry-eyed nationalists. His Slovak counterpart, Meciar, is a robust populist whose credentials include a stint as an informer for the old secret police. He is a Slovak nationalist and a socialist by intuition. He never liked the Klausian economic reform. For tactical reasons, Meciar might have preferred to drag Klaus through a lengthy and expensive divorce between the Czech and Slovak republics. He might have wanted to negotiate with the Czech prime minister while holding the sword of a unilateral declaration of Slovak secession above his partner's head. But Klaus would not discuss any specific demands until the Slovaks made clear whether they wanted to destroy Czechoslovakia or not. Put simply, Klaus behaved like a husband who would not discuss what kind of car the family should buy after his wife had announced that she had taken steps to file for divorce. The Czech side was in favor of maintaining the Czechoslovak federal state, Klaus explained, but if the Slovaks wanted out, so be it. Meciar, having planned on months or years of blackmail, was taken by surprise and he was forced to tell the truth: there had to be a Slovak state. Klaus's reaction was predictable - fine, when do you want to split? They even agreed on a date: 31 December 1992. In subsequent accounts of the negotiations, some commentators expressed the view that the Czech Prime Minister Klaus had pushed while his Slovak colleague, Meciar, had pulled. But portraying the two politicians as mirror images of each other is misleading. Prior to the 1992 elections, Klaus was alone among Czech and Slovak politicians in taking the takes of preserving Czechoslovakia seriously. He was the only politician to compete for votes on both sides of the ethnic divide, making the case for a unified Czechoslovakia before dozens of Slovak audiences. In contrast, the Czech dissidents and intellectuals, inasmuch as they bothered to campaign at all, did so exclusively within the Czech lands and in an intellectual code accessible only to the initiated few. Given the separatist climate in Slovakia in the 1992 pre-election period, it goes without saying that none of the Slovak politicians sought votes on the Czech side. Consequently, the election represented the defeat of a goal to which Klaus had been fully committed.
Many, myself included, mourn Czechoslovakia's departure from the scene. Critics have pointed out that no referendum regarding the country's fate was ever allowed to take place. But by 1992, Slovakia had its own constitution, it had declared itself sovereign (it is doubtful that this was diminished by the assertion that sovereignty did not simply independence since such a legal status may not exist under international law), and it had its own foreign minister and flag. It is possible that despite such developments most Slovaks did not wish to shoulder the burden of independence. But they had voted for Meciar, and he had made it abundantly clear that, when elected, he would lead Slovakia toward independence. Under those circumstances, Klaus should be applauded for refusing to be drawn into protracted negotiations with the Slovak prime minister.
The ease with which Czechoslovakia was dissolving in 1990-92 was shocking for generations of Czechs and Slovaks whose lives were intimately linked with that state. It was especially painful for those who had risked their lives as soldiers on the battle-fields of World War II and in the home resistance so that the country could be restored. But it was also an indication that after some seventy-five years in a common state the Czechs and Slovaks were but two strangers who happened to live in the same house. As planned, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia at the end of December 1992. Despite their superficial political quarrels, Meciar, Carnogursky, and Slobodnik are all social nationalists. They hope to develop a modem Slovakia by making patriotic speeches and by maintaining state control over industry as well as the media. It is hard to be optimistic, but one must remember that Slovakia is a democratic country and its leaders have a legitimate mandate for their actions. They will discover on their own whether realizing the goal of a Slovak national state will bring with it any genuine and otherwise unobtainable advantages for the Slovak people and whether it was worth destroying Czechoslovakia.
The new Slovak state is a reality and all we can do is wish it well. One hopes that it will eventually choose the path of tolerance and integration. This, however, will require the emergence of a new generation of politicians, a generation untrammeled as well as untarnished by the legacies of Tiso and Husak.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.