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Slovaks rain on government's November 17th parades

"I used to live better than I do now. So what should I celebrate [on November 17]?"
Mária Jasenecová, a 53 year-old resident of Sereď in western SlovakiaWhile municipal and state officials in large Slovak towns will be celebrating November 17 with pomp and circumstance, many ordinary Slovaks feel there is little to cheer about.
On Wednesday, November 17 it will be exactly 10 years since communist police violently dispersed a student demonstration in Prague. The police action triggered a chain of events leading to the downfall of the communist regime - something many Slovaks say they now regret.


While the government will be partying, there will be few street scenes like this one from November 17, 1989
photo:Spectator archives


"I used to live better than I do now. So what should I celebrate [on November 17]?"

Mária Jasenecová, a 53 year-old resident of Sereď in western Slovakia


While municipal and state officials in large Slovak towns will be celebrating November 17 with pomp and circumstance, many ordinary Slovaks feel there is little to cheer about.

On Wednesday, November 17 it will be exactly 10 years since communist police violently dispersed a student demonstration in Prague. The police action triggered a chain of events leading to the downfall of the communist regime - something many Slovaks say they now regret.

"I've had health problems for almost 20 years," said Mária Jasenecová, 53, from the western Slovak town of Sereď. "My employer always tolerated the four months a year I used to spend in the hospital and at the health spa. But in 1993 I lost my job, and since then, with my health record, it's been impossible for me to find another job. I receive only 3,200 Slovak crowns [$75] a month. I used to live better than I do now. So what should I celebrate?"

Jasenecová's opinion is echoed by many of her compatriots. According to an opinion poll taken in October by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), fully 41% of respondents said that the Velvet Revolution had been either to little purpose or to none at all; 50% of people said that the events of November 17 had had some or a great deal of meaning.

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said that he took the poll results seriously, but that he regarded the disillusionment expressed as "a temporary phenonemon - I think it's a reaction to the economic situation in which Slovakia now finds itself," he said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator on November 11. "The government has had to pass many unpopular economic measures and restrictions, and this has disillusioned many people."

Slovak political scientist Miroslav Kusý, who at the beginning of the 1990's was an advisor to then-Czechoslovak President Václav Havel, told The Slovak Spectator that the feelings of the people were due to more than just economic hardship. "Slovakia failed in some parts of its transition towards a fully democratic country," he said. "We wanted to transform society, change the economic structure and strengthen our independence, but we didn't meet all of these goals fully."

A big bash

Public uncertainty notwithstanding, many Slovak central and regional government offices are planning to celebrate November 17 in style. The national government will hold an official concert at the Reduta music hall in Bratislava with live TV transmission, at a cost of 541,000 crowns, while each of the country's eight regional government offices will be given 75,000 crowns to throw a party.

According to Silvia Duhajová, a Regional Office official in Nitra (80 kilometres from Bratislava), her office is planning a series of celebrations including theatre plays, concerts, documentary exhibitions and lectures by politicians who participated in the revolution, such as current Culture Minister Milan Knažko and member of parliament Jan Budaj.

But political parties, surprisingly, are keeping a low profile. One week before the anniversary, according to Bratislava city council spokeswoman Andrea Veselá, only one political party had announced its intention to hold a rally. A meeting organised by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) will take place on Bratislava's SNP Square - ths site of those first protests 10 years ago - at five p.m. on November 17.

Celebrations will also be scarce in smaller Slovak towns. Galanta, a town of 16,000 in southern Slovakia, will stage no official celebration. "Actually, I wasn't thinking of organising any celebration. I think it's up to the political parties which arose from the events of November 17," said Galanta Mayor Ján Zareczký for The Slovak Spectator on November 9.

Kusý, for his part, said he thought NGO's should spearhead the festivities. "It's up to non-governmental organisations to provide a reminder of those days, because November 17 was essentially their idea," Kusý said.

By press time, Slovak NGO's had announced numerous lectures and seminars, but no larger street marches or rallies around the country.

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