FATHERS Gašparovič (left) and Mečiar in 1992.
WHILE THE REST of the world was going about its business on July 17, 1992, the Slovak parliament passed a resolution on Slovak sovereignty that launched the division of Czechoslovakia less than six months later.
The move was supported, out of 147 members present in the legislature, by all 73 members of Vladimír Mečiar's ruling HZDS party, all 15 for the Slovak National Party, and 25 members of the former communist SDĽ. It was opposed by the Christian Democrats (KDH) and about half of the ethnic Hungarian politicians.
A decade later, the state of the Slovak nation can be seen as a reflection of how and why Czechoslovakia was dismantled. Although tensions in the federation had indeed been rising between Czechs and Slovaks since the fall of communism in 1989, the division was largely Mečiar's work, at least on the Slovak side. It gave the former communists in the HZDS and SDĽ power over a sovereign state in which to distribute favours and state assets. It freed the Mečiar government from oversight by the Czechs over what many regard as the subsequent looting of state coffers and the intimidation of the cabinet's political and civic opponents. And it gave Mečiar a political pedestal - the 'father of the Slovak nation' - from which to refute criticism of his policies.
An equally key element was that the Slovak public, in whose name the division was ostensibly forced through, was never given the chance to vote in a referendum on the issue. The Mečiar parliament simply declared on July 17 that the federal Czechoslovak constitution would only remain in force in Slovakia until the Slovak constitution was approved (which occurred on September 1, 1992). The passage of a federal law sealing the division on November 25, 1992 was simply a logical outcome of this process.
For a country whose 'fathers' acted more for personal gain than civic duty, whose citizens neither wanted nor were consulted about independence, Slovakia has surely been nothing short of a miracle. It works, despite the handicap of its cynical birth. It plays a role in international peace-keeping missions, fulfils global commitments, hosts awestruck tourists, wins world hockey titles. It has less violent crime and more multi-lingual youth than many western countries. It's a place many foreigners have made their home despite the paucity of economic 'advantages'.
But as ex-pat Jonathan Gresty writes so aptly in this issue (see Meeting of the Cultures, page 11), the tenor of Slovakia life suffers interference from music of a different source. Money which flowed out of the country during privatisation swindles, combined with Mafia and other ill-gotten funds, has returned in the form of economic lobbies tied to political parties and individuals. Political parties still have nothing to do with the free competition of ideas and everything to do with the greed and ambition of their backers. To say that corruption is widespread is less a cliché than simply no longer true - it's all-pervasive. A climate of aggression and self-interest in society threatens to erase the image of hospitality and public spirit Slovakia has long deservedly enjoyed.
Despite the problems, few Slovaks would now put Czechoslovakia back together again if they were given the choice. There have been many things to be proud of these past 10 years, not least the fact that a nation half the size of greater New York City has managed to find the human talent to staff its courts, universities, newspapers, sports teams and businesses.
But it's also because of the nation's problems that Slovak citizens have to become far more concerned about protecting their very young and very fragile republic. While Slovaks chose democracy in 1989, they were not allowed democratically to choose their country in 1992, which explains why the public takes such a tepid interest in the nation's true interests today, and why the country's leaders continue to put private interests ahead of the nation they 'fathered' 10 years ago.