HISTORIC events have the power of determining how one feels about life and the world at large. EU entry is no exception and for most Slovaks, being in the union feels great.
For decades, Slovaks had to wake up under Soviet oppression, which left deep scars on the nation's soul. Then one day the communist regime was gone.
Although a long and painful transformation was ahead of the country, hardly anyone can forget the incredible feelings enthusiastic demonstrators shared as they rallied for their long-desired freedom.
Similarly, few can forget what it felt like to wake up in an independent Slovakia for the first time. Some cheered the dawn of a new state, but for the majority that opposed the split up of Czechoslovakia, all that was left was a sense of helplessness, frustration, and even loneliness.
A feeling of despair and quiet anger mounted in the subsequent years as authoritarian forces without much respect for the rule of law and of the opinion of their opponents, headed by the notorious PM Vladimír Mečiar, took the country hostage.
Then came the great relief once more, as pro-reform forces took over the government after the 1998 elections. There was hope again. Hope that Slovakia could achieve what it has now achieved - membership in the union.
Now, for the first time, Slovaks have woken up as true Europeans. There are several factors that define this feeling.
Firstly, there is satisfaction. All the efforts of Slovak domestic and foreign policy were focused on this one aim. Elections were won and lost because of this one aim.
All of Slovakia's hopes for a better life and a better society were directed in this direction. Now, Slovakia has made it.
Secondly, there is pride. Due to Slovakia's short history, small size, and a certain resemblance in name to another new EU member, the country is not too well known outside of Europe. But everyone has heard of the EU and Slovakia is now a part of it.
And from now on the successes of British athletes, French artists, or German cars in the global arena will, in a way, be Slovakia's own.
Thirdly, there is freedom. The borders have opened and the joint European market is Slovakia's to conquer. The feeling of being able to wander around Europe freely is everything but natural, especially for those who spent most of their lives under communism.
Although it may take a few years before all restrictions are gone, it's definite.
Even more important for this feeling of freedom is that Slovakia no longer appears to be a toy in the hands of the world's superpowers. Slovakia now is a part of that superpower. For the first time in history, Slovaks can hope that one of their own will one day rule the continent.
And lastly, there is hope that the union will have the power to help Slovakia overcome the problems with which the country has long been struggling, not too successfully, on its own - unemployment, regional disparities, the situation of the Roma, corruption, and generally terrible politicians.
Formalities don't really matter in the life of a nation. It's feelings such as these that do.
Even if the union does nothing more for Slovakia, it has already done something local leaders have failed to do - given them this hope for the future, this new feeling about life.
There is a widespread belief in the EU15 countries that immigrants from acceding countries will now flood their borders.
In recent weeks, dozens of foreign journalists have visited Slovakia, seeking to report on the planned mass exodus of the Roma, unskilled labourers, intelligentsia, or just about anyone. Most had a tough job finding anyone at all who would be willing to leave.
According to official statistics in the present EU, only 2 percent of the population live and work in a country other than their home and the change to that figure will not be significant.
Most of those eager to leave have already left and there has never been a better time to stay in Slovakia than right now. People feel it.
3. May 2004 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila