Paneláky are an irony of history

Many older Slovaks are nostalgic of the job security and the flats they got “from the state for free” before 1989.

(Source: Peter Chrenka)

About 59 percent of Slovaks think that the change of regime that happened in November 1989 in former Czechoslovakia, now known as the Velvet Revolution, was worth it, while as many as 73 percent of Czechs share a similar opinion. This is according to a survey carried out by the Sociological Institute of the Slovak and Czech Academies of Sciences and the Bratislava-based non-governmental think tank Institute for Public Affairs.

Experience makes people critical

Among the changes that the fall of the regime brought to their life, Slovaks mostly appreciate the possibility to study and travel abroad, followed by free access to information and the opportunity to become actively involved in public affairs.

Conversely, Slovaks list the state of the health care sector, weaker social protection and increased criminality as negatives. Overall, younger people evaluate the past 30 years positively while the older generations are more critical. This obviously has something to do with the fact that the older generations lived through the communist regime while the younger did not.

Sociologists involved in the survey try to explain the differences in perception between the Slovaks and Czechs with the fact that the communists invested in modernising Slovakia, which was largely rural and less developed than the Czech part of Czechoslovakia after WWII, and the transition to a market economy was more painful in Slovakia. Many older Slovaks are still nostalgic of the job security and the flats they got “from the state for free” before 1989. These concrete blocks of flats can still be found all over the country.

"Nothing was built"

Not everybody seemed to notice or care about the tradeoff, which included obedience to the regime. It’s quite common in Slovakia to hear ordinary people comment that the Communists built schools, hospitals, and bridges, while “nothing has been built” in the past 30 years. Well, cynics might say that there was something built all over Slovakia in the past years, even in areas with high unemployment rates: shopping malls.

In the same survey, Slovaks declare that entrepreneurs are those who benefited the most from the change of the regime while decent, hard-working people have been at a loss. This could be put in the context of corruption scandals that have been making headlines in the country lately.

But another set of data makes the results more interesting. The net wealth of Slovak households has grown by almost 40 percent in three years to stand at €70,000, according to the latest survey on the financial situation and consumption of households, carried out by Slovakia's central bank.

Almost the entire growth in wealth can be ascribed to increases in the price of real estate, which makes up over 80 percent of overall household assets. It’s ironic that those flats in ugly high rises - the legendary paneláky - that the Communists built, branded as heaven on Earth, and gave to the working class “for free” are now an asset that “capitalists” often overprice and sell to… the working class. Due to climate change, this population is on the verge of reaching hell on Earth inside them in the summer. The biggest investment that most Slovaks make in their life is buying a flat or a house, not trying their hand at their own business.

Anca Dragu is a journalist with Radio Slovakia International, which is available in Bratislava in English on 98.9 FM at 18:30 and 20:30, at www.rsi.sk and via podcasts. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own. You can listen to her interview with sociologist Zora Butorová about how Slovaks regard the Velvet Revolution.

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Theme: Velvet Revolution


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