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20th anniversary of Slovakia's independence: Was a referendum necessary?

TWENTY years after the split of the former Czechoslovak federation, the critical opinion prevails in both successor states that the split of the federal republic by political agreement without any referendum was wrong, according to a recent poll. The split of the federation without a referendum is viewed critically by 70 percent of Slovaks and Czechs, a similar figure to that seen in 1992. Only one fifth of the population is convinced otherwise, according to a survey called “Twenty years after the split of the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (ČSFR) and the founding of Slovakia and the Czech Republic”, carried out by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank in cooperation with the polling agency Focus and the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) at the Czech Academy of Science, in November 2012. A total of 1,013 respondents in Slovakia and 1,212 in the Czech Republic were surveyed.

TWENTY years after the split of the former Czechoslovak federation, the critical opinion prevails in both successor states that the split of the federal republic by political agreement without any referendum was wrong, according to a recent poll. The split of the federation without a referendum is viewed critically by 70 percent of Slovaks and Czechs, a similar figure to that seen in 1992. Only one fifth of the population is convinced otherwise, according to a survey called “Twenty years after the split of the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (ČSFR) and the founding of Slovakia and the Czech Republic”, carried out by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank in cooperation with the polling agency Focus and the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) at the Czech Academy of Science, in November 2012. A total of 1,013 respondents in Slovakia and 1,212 in the Czech Republic were surveyed.

“When we negotiated with the Czech partner, I tabled the [idea] of the referendum,” said former prime minister of Slovakia Vladimír Mečiar in an interview with the Sme daily published on December 31, 2012, one day before the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence. Mečiar is widely seen as having pushed the country to the verge of international isolation when he served as prime minister in the mid 90s. “They told us that we had a mandate from the elections, which [meant] that we could make any decision without a referendum. The process that followed was internationally acknowledged, except [for a] couple of grumpy domestic people.”

Slovakia as we know it today celebrates 20 years of its existence on January 1, 2013. On this day in 1993, the ČSFR split up to give life to two new independent states: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The split of the ČSFR is often referred to as “the velvet break-up”, since it was carried out by constitutional agreements without any violence.

Mikuláš Dzurinda, who ousted the third government of Mečiar in 1998 and then served two four-year terms as prime minister, when asked by daily Sme whether Mečiar proceeded correctly when he negotiated the split, responded: “for years, I have had the feeling that he had no other choice”, adding that the Czechs viewed the co-existence and the long-term tug-of-war over power to be a burden.

“After all, the decisive action most probably came from the Czech party,” said Dzurinda, who earlier this year stepped down as chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) after his party performed much weaker than expected in parliamentary elections. “Vladimír Mečiar was not left with many other options.”

Iveta Radičová, the former prime minister of the right-wing government that collapsed less than a year and half after winning the parliamentary elections in June 2010, told Sme in an interview that at that time as an activist of the Public Against Violence (VPN) movement that united leaders of the Velvet Revolution, she preferred a form of federation with strengthened powers for the individual states.

“The way the country was split has impacted the political culture up until today,” Radičová told Sme, citing as an example “the way that a politician can make decisions which he/she does not have a mandate for”.

As the years pass by, Czechs have more and more problems with the legitimacy of the split, Czech sociologist Ivan Gabal told the TASR newswire.

“The break-up of the state due to a political agreement between two politicians, two political parties without a referendum - that remains a kind of Christmas Eve bone stuck in the throats of many people,” Gabal said.

Gabal's Slovak colleague Ivan Dianiška pointed to a similar poll, carried out in October on behalf of the Hospodárske Noviny daily by Focus agency: “Even this poll showed that up to 60 percent of people blame the politicians for the break-up. On the other hand, only 15 percent of respondents put the blame on citizens for not taking any action against the break-up.”

Seeing as the majority of people did not agree with the split 20 years ago, the sociologist assumes that citizens have a certain buck-passing attitude, TASR reported.

“Why wasn't some relevant collective resistance formed ... by leaders that would force politicians to reconsider or at least organise a referendum?” asks Dianiška.

Statements made by politicians asserting that a referendum would not have solved anything are irrelevant, believes Dianiška. “That's just a political fabrication that politicians needed to hide behind after what they had done.”

Slovakia celebrates the 20th anniversary of the velvet split

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