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Independence day overshadowed

“WHAT Slovaks had failed to achieve over more than 1,200 years, they have achieved in 20 years,” Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič said on January 1, 2013 when marking the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence. The president noted that the first 20 years of independent Slovakia make up the most significant, most dynamic and most surprising period in the history of Slovaks. The anniversary also brought a presidential pardon for 753 prisoners in Slovakia – and unlike in the Czech Republic, where the president pardoned about 7,400 prisoners, including some who committed serious economic crimes in the mid 1990s, the act did not result in such fiery public debate.

“WHAT Slovaks had failed to achieve over more than 1,200 years, they have achieved in 20 years,” Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič said on January 1, 2013 when marking the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence. The president noted that the first 20 years of independent Slovakia make up the most significant, most dynamic and most surprising period in the history of Slovaks. The anniversary also brought a presidential pardon for 753 prisoners in Slovakia – and unlike in the Czech Republic, where the president pardoned about 7,400 prisoners, including some who committed serious economic crimes in the mid 1990s, the act did not result in such fiery public debate.

Yet both the president’s address and the pardon were quickly overshadowed by his formal announcement that he did not intend to appoint Jozef Čentéš as Slovakia’s next general prosecutor, an act which attracted massive criticism from the political opposition, journalists and activists.

The ‘Velvet Divorce’

The Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (ČSFR) was dissolved at midnight on December 31, 1992, giving birth to two new, independent states: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The split of the ČSFR is often referred to as the ‘Velvet Divorce’, since it was carried out by constitutional agreement and without physical conflict.

The majority of the inhabitants of Slovakia and the Czech Republic say that the creation of two independent states brought improvements in some areas and setbacks in others, according to a survey called “Twenty years after the split of Czechoslovakia (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 Centre for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) at the Czech Academy of Science, in November 2012, which polled 1,013 respondents in Slovakia and 1,212 in the Czech Republic.

As for the benefits of the separation, respondents placed the most importance on independence, autonomy and sovereignty. Yet, in Slovakia, emphasis on these attributes was significantly higher than in the Czech Republic: 49 percent of respondents in Slovakia cited these characteristics as important, compared to 22 percent of respondents in the Czech Republic. Other benefits of independence cited by Slovak respondents include international acknowledgement of the country, increased self-confidence, stronger feelings of responsibility for the nations’ own fate as well as the existence of Slovakia’s own state symbols and state institutions, according to the poll.

When asked what they have lost as a result of the split of the Czechoslovak federation, the respondents of the November 2012 poll in Slovakia first cited negative economic impacts such as weakened industry, lower competitiveness, fewer job opportunities, a lower standard of living and weaker social security. Negative economic impacts were listed by 28 percent of the population. Economic impacts of the split were cited less frequently by respondents in the Czech Republic - 5 percent, according to the poll.

Nevertheless, 19 percent of the respondents in the Czech Republic considered the shrinking of both the country’s territory and its population the greatest loss. In Slovakia, only 9 percent of the respondents viewed this factor negatively.

While the number of Slovaks who are proud of their country is growing, it does not exceed the number of those who expressed pride back in 2008, according to an IVO poll conducted in cooperation with Focus between November 7 and 13, 2012.

As much as 60 percent of those polled said they were proud when the pollsters asked about the degree of their pride for what the country has achieved over the past 20 years of its independence as opposed to late 2010 when 49 percent said they were proud.

Yet, sociologist Zora Bútorová has said that the performance of Slovak athletes, especially the ice hockey team at the world championship, served to boost feelings of pride, while sympathisers of the ruling party Smer viewed positively the political change in 2012 when Smer took over the country, the SITA newswire reported the results of the poll on December 30, 2012.

Slovaks have also named European Union membership, independence and Slovakia’s viability as reasons for being proud citizens of Slovakia, according to the poll.

Nevertheless, when IVO and Focus asked those polled about the direction the country is heading, as many as 63 percent of the respondents said that the country is not going in the right direction, with 28 percent suggesting that the direction the country is heading is the right one, according to an IVO release.

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