HARDLY any social group in Slovakia is more influential, vocal, respected, and mocked than východniari, the Easterners. To understand local politics, business, and jokes, one must be aware of their existence. It also helps to be able to identify them in a crowd. There is no better time to start observing than now, during the finals of the hockey league playoffs between Bratislava’s Slovan and the US Steel team from Košice, the capital of the East. This match-off tends to repeat itself, and it is always a period when the ever-present bond between the tens of thousands of Easterners becomes visible to the extent that even in Bratislava you can tell who is one of them.
The East is to a great extent a world in itself – it has its own dialects, its own celebrities, and it is the only region which even has its own daily – the Korzár, published by the same publishing house as The Slovak Spectator. Every year there is an Easterners’ Ball in Bratislava. Much of the Slovak music scene is dominated by bands from the East – no Bratislava group comes close to the success enjoyed by Košice’s No Name, or IMT Smile and Peha from Prešov.
Slovakia’s first and second presidents, Michal Kováč and Rudolf Schuster, are Easterners (Ivan Gašparovič is from central Slovakia), as is SDKÚ boss and former prime minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and the party’s vice chairman and the architect of Slovakia’s economic reforms Ivan Mikloš. Former EU Commissioner and chairman of the Christian Democrats is also a východniar. So is the current speaker of parliament Pavol Paška and Supreme Court boss Štefan Harabin.
So what are the traits that, according to Slovak folklore, characterise Easterners? Firstly, it’s ambition. Secondly, it’s a sense of Easterner unity and an ability to help each other out. And thirdly, it’s a passion for liquor. As someone has observed: no one has ever defeated alcohol, but the Easterners managed a tie. And to be fair – in politics, culture and hockey, východniari often manage a victory.
26. Apr 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila