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Easterners forced to leave for the west

VRANOV NAD TOPĽOU - Seventeen-year-old Lenka dreams of becoming a physicist, getting a well-paid job, perhaps teaching in university someday.
But if those ambitions are to be realised, she says, it is not going to happen in eastern Slovakia.
"There's no future here, nothing works. I want to move west to study physics in the Czech Republic," she said.
"And when I move to Prague, nobody will ever force me to come back here."
This is the eastern Slovakia maxim: no jobs, no money, no hope. Saddled with the country's highest unemployment rates, including 25% in Vranov nad Topľou, many young people say their only hope for a good life is in the west.


A young man finishes university. But many eastern students will be unable to find work near home.
photo: TASR

VRANOV NAD TOPĽOU - Seventeen-year-old Lenka dreams of becoming a physicist, getting a well-paid job, perhaps teaching in university someday.

But if those ambitions are to be realised, she says, it is not going to happen in eastern Slovakia.

"There's no future here, nothing works. I want to move west to study physics in the Czech Republic," she said.

"And when I move to Prague, nobody will ever force me to come back here."

This is the eastern Slovakia maxim: no jobs, no money, no hope. Saddled with the country's highest unemployment rates, including 25% in Vranov nad Topľou, many young people say their only hope for a good life is in the west.

"There is nothing to do here, no jobs, no life. Vranov is not even a city, it's just one street. I'd like to move to the West or to the Czech Republic where there are opportunities to work," said 16-year-old Peter.

As more and more young easterners head west, they are increasingly leaving behind 'dead villages' barren of any youth.

"Of course young people are moving, there's no motivation to stay. The young people of these poorer regions are unable to solve their daily problems, like where to work, how to buy a flat," said Iveta Radičová, a sociologist with Comenius University in Bratislava.

"As a result there are already dead villages with nothing but a handful of older families. The younger people are moving to the cities for jobs and homes.

We're not just running the risk of smaller villages going extinct, this is already the reality," she said.

Lenka and Peter are members of an English-language club in Vranov nad Topľou (population 22,000) that meets weekly to practice their language skills. American Jessica Rosen, who leads the group, said that leaving the east was a common discussion theme.

"The vast majority of them are looking to get out, I'd say about 85%. They mostly want to go to Prague, the US or the UK," she said.

Gabriela, 22, did get out. She lived in England for three years as an au-pair where she made enough money to support her sister in Vranov. But since her return last year, she has been unable to find a job.

"I came back full of hope that I could finally get a job here, but now I'm unemployed. My parents are supporting me so I'm going to go abroad again. I'm disgusted, I've had enough of this," she said.

Ingrid, 32, earned a university degree in chemical technologies in Bratislava, yet is also unemployed in Vranov.

"I have two children. In Slovakia it's very difficult for women to find work if they also want to have a family. I had a job interview yesterday but was unsuccessful because I don't have experience. But I've never been able to get a job so how I can get experience?" she said.

Radičová believes that the situation in the east will only improve once effective regional development programmes are launched, a step dependant upon new public administration laws, passed October 3, which give local governments more power.

"In European Union countries there is an emphasis on developing regions.

Regional development programmes connected with high-tech IT systems and other new technologies offer a chance for young, educated people," the sociologist said.

"But in EU countries, power is far more decentralised, a process we've only just begun. Regional elections are next month, and this is terribly important because only regions can solve local problems, the central government cannot," she said.

Few in the Vranov group want to leave eastern Slovakia, but most insist they have no choice.

"This is where my family is, where my heart is, I don't want to leave," said Rasťo, 23.

Gabriela added: "But there's no life here, nothing, not even a social life. Of course, why would someone start a restaurant here? What's the point of building a theatre if nobody can come and spend money?"

The group said that a quick fix to the region's economic woes was unlikely, and Radičová agreed.

"We have a long way to go and I fear that the poorer regions today will not see real change until the current young generation has grown up and has children of their own," she said.

"The problem is severe, we have terrible gaps from region to region. Bratislava is completely different from the rest of the country, and the further east you go, you can literally see the lower quality of life. This is a sign of something sick in our society."

Lenka agreed. As she wrote in an English-language essay contest earlier this year.

"If Slovakia is the heart of Europe, then it seems to me that Europe suffers a serious cardiovascular disease."

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