1000 days since independence, is Slovakia better off?

Ján Klepáč and Ján Langoš offer their opposing views in their two opinion pieces from our achives.

Obchodná Street in BratislavaObchodná Street in Bratislava (Source: SME)

This article was originally published in The Slovak Spectator on October 13, 1995.

January 1, 1993, the Czechoslovak Federal Republic split into two separately independent nations: Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Although the country divided peacefully in what came to be known as the "Velvet Divorce," no referendum was ever held to determine popular sentiment on the subject. September 27, 1995, marked the 1,000th day since Slovakia gained its independence.

Yes, Slovakia was ripe for self-determination

By Ján Klepáč

To reply to this question at the present time is, for a proponent of Slovak independence, apparently disadvantageous. We are becoming more and more aware of the difference between the present Slovakia and Slovakia the way it should be. Slovakia is building the pillars of sovereignty but at the same time sawing the branches of democracy underneath.

This is one of the reasons why representatives of both camps, the federal nostalgics as well as the faithful Slovak nationalists, are inconspicuously trying to raise the question: "Do you want an independent Slovakia or do you want democracy?" I fundamentally reject this forced way out.

I am for democracy in a sovereign and independent Slovakia. I do not consider my nation as being unable to establish democracy without foreign curatorship. At the same time, I condemn the idea of renouncing democracy for a certain period just to build up a stronger Slovak sovereignty.

While balancing 1000 days of Slovak sovereignty I want to point out several facts. I was for the confederation between Czechs and Slovaks where both republics would delegate those authorities which, once entering European structures, they will delegate to the European Union.

The Czech side's attitude during meetings prior to the rejection of the so- called "Mílovská agreement" convinced me of how unrealistic this idea was. Sovereign Slovakia resulted from a dilemma: federation as it used to be or immediate separation.

Establishing a sovereign state was truly magnificent. Its opponents' pessimistic prognosis that Slovakia will not be accepted into international groups and that Slovak sovereignty will mean economic collapse did not come true. On the contrary, Slovakia started to gain respect on the international level and the proceeding transformation of the economy is reflected in rising ratings by international financial institutions. Sovereign Slovakia was gradually accepted even by those political subjects that voted against its constitution and declaration of sovereignty in the past. This progress was reached despite the fact that conditions in the beginning were worse than in the Czech Republic. The main reason was that the authoritative and economic levers were in Czech hands during the federation.

I suppose that sovereignty became more advantageous than the mutual accusations and the never-ending discussions about who is taking advantage of whom, which were permanently weakening the common state. The year 1992 proved that the Czechoslovak Federal Republic was in an agony that should not be prolonged and that Slovakia was ripe for self-determination of its future.

It is a big mistake that the promising development was doubted by current governmental ornaments after other parliamentary elections. The clamor for stability with the current violations of democratic norms and customs is the way to a totalitarian regime.

Despite this, I consider the present situation in Slovakia to be an exam as well as a chance. If we pass this exam and democratic forces win with their programs and their solidarity, it will be a significant precedent for the young Slovak Republic.

Good society depends on how brave its members are. If we stay unconcerned, we will carry the consequences of our own passivity towards power. If we do not resign and do not renounce political radicalism, we will create a new chance for this country for which we all carry the responsibility.

Ján Klepáč was a founding member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), then he founded the nationally-oriented Christian Social Union (KSÚ). In 1995, he was head of the economic department in President Kováč's office.


No, political power has been abused

By Ján Langoš

During the election campaign of 1992, the Košice bureau of Slovak TV conducted an inquiry on the election's results. At that time I said to the reporter that Vladimír Mečiar is going to dismember the federal republic and cease the economic transformation process. But nobody is a prophet at home.

A thousand days of Slovakia's independence is not enough to answer the question: Was it beneficial to split the common state of Czechoslovakia for the sake of Slovakia's overall development?

In March 1990 at the rally called "Let's be honest," Mečiar yelled to the crowd that there is plenty of space for communists in jail. At that very moment the communist "hawks" knew they had found their man. On their way to corporative power there were two major obstacles: A rational concept of economic transformation, based on privatization through standard methods, especially public tenders and extensive voucher privatization, or a federal state. Voucher privatization and the founding of investment funds and companies accelerated the emergence of a capital market and the real possibility of capital concentration, which would be out of reach of political power. Public tenders, transparent and under public control, thwarted any possible merging of political and economic power, that is, creating a group of major proprietors enjoying political power. The federal organization of state is the only reliable protection against the emergence of corporative dictatorships these days.

After Mečiar was removed from office for the first time in 1991, he initiated the creation of the "national block" in the federal parliament. Ever since that time, the MPs for HZDS, SNS, and SDĽ, which recently gave birth to the Association of Slovak Workers - that is the present ruling coalition - have voted against all fundamental transformation laws and prevented passing the law on a referendum about the future of the common state.

Unlike in the Czech Republic, the majority of the Slovak electorate didn't understand the necessity and positive effect of quickly transforming the economy and society. On the contrary, it believed a mighty leader. The consequence of this was the election results of 1992 and the inevitability of splitting the state. It must be said that independent Slovakia didn't emerge from the free will of Slovak citizens but from the desire of Slovak political representatives for economic and political power. For the fathers of statehood, January 1, 1993, meant the limitless possibility of acquiring economic power in their state. This was their real interest. That's why the election winners were not able to give the new republic any tangible vision. That's why they feed increasingly miserable people with shallow myths of a thousand year struggle for national existence, mythic voyages on rafts and bonfires of independence.

The unlimited personal power of leaders of a fascist corporative state attracts primitives as well as some intellectuals. This is the case especially in Slovakia, a country with no experience with life in a democratic environment, legal state or individual liberties. The chosen acquire limitless opportunities for putting their dreams through by force. The result of this is a society torn from the inside, xenophobia, hostile relationships, anti-Mečiarism as fundamental to the opposition's policy, the search for support from similar regimes in the East, Russia or Serbia.

The brutal pressure of political power generates fear but it generates an ever-growing resistance too. That is part of the hope for Slovakia. But the other part of it must be created by the socially accepted positive meaning of existence of a sovereign state. And that's the most important task for the present democratic opposition.

Ján Langoš was Minister of the Interior in the Czechoslovak Federation and a founding member of Public Against Violence (VPN). In 1995 he was an independent member of parliament. 

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