SLOVAK society has yet to reach a consensus on the historic role of the fascist wartime Slovak state.
But the quiet that surrounded the anniversary on March 14 of its establishment proves what it means for modern-day Slovaks - a product of history with little relevance for today's life.
The Slovak state was created in 1939 as a puppet of Hitler, who wanted a subdued Czechoslovakia to serve as a base for his offensive against Poland, which materialised in the autumn of that year.
Unlike Bohemia, which had turned into a German-run protectorate, Slovakia enjoyed formal independence throughout the war, leading some to celebrate it as the first such achievement in the nation's history.
However, the local administration had little real power to shape its own policy, which was instead dictated from Berlin.
Although some suggest that the deportations of Jews at that time were done on orders from Germany, the fact remains that numerous other puppet-regimes were able to avoid sending people to death camps.
Over the decades of Communist rule that followed the war, the official doctrine condemned the fascist dominion.
That line, fed to the people through media and curricula alike, undoubtedly continues to influence the views of Slovaks about this sensitive part of their history.
After the collapse of the oppressive Communist regime, supporters of the first Slovak state were free to speak their minds, but none of the contesting historical interpretations gained decisive victory and the doctrine was replaced by an ideological vacuum.
Moreover, those who felt an urge to address the issue often abused the discourse for political goals or to fuel nationalistic emotions.
The difficult times of transformation showed that there were just too many tasks ahead of society to leave room for dealing with its past.
The Science Academy's Institute for Political Sciences, in collaboration with Slovak Radio, undertook a survey as part of a long-running project mapping the views of Slovaks on past and present political issues. It confirmed that Slovaks tend to take a cautious stand when it comes to the controversial issue of the wartime republic.
"The research results show that the public has a sober and critical view," said Miroslav Pekník, head of the institute, at a press conference.
"Public opinion considers the creation of the first Slovak state an inevitable consequence of the times and political situation," he added.
Pollsters also found that the short-lived anti-fascist Slovak National Uprising, launched in August 1944 and which helped the reunited Czechoslovakia establish itself as part of the winning coalition after the war, has a better resonance with the people of Slovakia.
The study also showed that as many as 93 percent of Slovaks draw information about the country's past directly from the media.
The major opinion-forming dailies, Pravda and SME, have included almost no reports about the anniversary, with SME running only a small box on the meetings of young ultra-nationalists at selected commemoration sites, and Pravda avoiding even that information.
TV reports were also mostly limited to brief factual reports, accompanied by images of pubertal skinheads who have been the most likely to attend the March 14 celebrations.
The main reason for the lack of media interest is obvious - there was nothing to report on. Moreover, no relevant public figure has commented on the occasion.
The anniversary means nothing to Slovaks, who feel no need to cope with this period in their history, and it will remain so until the media decide otherwise.
22. Mar 2004 at 0:00