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Transition, fragmentation, recomposition

Violette Rey

Structures locales, effets de contexte, recompositions

The Czech and Slovak Republics: towards which horizons?

Violette Rey

Texte intégral

  • 1 Slovak leader Miroslav HURBAN, speaking to the Czechs at the National Theatre foundation stone layi (...)

« We are ones of yours, we are ones of yours, You are ones of us » 1868
Dr. M. Hurban1

1When the overall context is one of large fluctuations – sudden reversals or the implosive kinds of inertia that are so sensitive in these early months of 1994 – how useful is to consider methodically and assiduously the specifically geographic elements of the transition? The term « transition », in fact, already proves too ambiguous, implying a brief moment between longer periods, whereas we can hardly anticipate the eventual duration of the changes now underway. So we must keep on working! Under these conditions, doing a break-down of phenomena – a task which involves, in a sense, anchoring events according to their place – is hardly without its benefits. It provides elements of duration, localized traces for future recomposition within the very heart of current fluctuations. This, at least, is what we believe we have shown through these texts and maps from 1992.

Cechy and Slovensko a Year After Independence

2Once separation was converted from pledge to reality on January 1, 1993, the processes by which the two sides began to evolve in divergent directions were set in motion. They were accompanied by certain choices which propelled deliberate moves in the direction of separation: the Czech Republic abandoned the common currency, and while Slovakia decided to allow for dual Slovak and Czech nationality, the Czech Republic did not. Although chaos did not arise on neither side, the partition nonetheless briefly served as a brake to other transformations inherent in the post-socialist transition.

  • 2 « Republique (cheque, la reprise ajournée; Slovaquie, des debuts difficiles » (The Czech Republic, (...)

3Economic disparity can be seen on the table of economic indicators for the first semester of 19932. Unemployment is at 4 % in the Czech Republic and at 12 % in Slovakia; the rate of change of industrial production is at -10 % and – 22 % respectively; bankruptcy law has begun to be implemented in the Czech Republic, but has been held off in Slovakia. Following the dismantling of formally federal industries and their subsidiaries, trade between the two sides fell by a third in the first trimester of 1993, while ties with other trade partners were resumed; Bohemia is now supplied with hydrocarbons by Germany and Austria. The degree of foreign investment has provoked great concern in Prague financial circles, leading Czech Prime Minister V. Klaus to call for them to be curtailed; in Slovakia, foreign investment continues to be rare. All of this points toward a disparity of economic rhythms, which tends to confirm the appraisals of separatists on both sides: the Slovaks who had argued that the economic leadership of Prague had been increasing at the expense of economic equilibrium within the federation and who had opposed the forced march toward a free market economy because they were aware of the effects it would have on Slovak employment; and the Czechs who had blamed the decline of Bohemia on the Slovak burden. Most of all, we begin to see how much the fragmentation currently underway involves a return to the world-system, into which it is integrated through « local » pieces in a self-feeding process of unequal development.

  • 3 « Le climat politique s’est degrade... l’incertitude s’est installee dans les esprits. Certains Slo (...)

4A disparity in the political climate is likewise apparent, yet it stems to a much greater degree from differences in the social culture of the two countries. In the Czech Republic, national homogeneity is predominant; the re-emergence of aristocrats may be jarring to a people grown accustomed to an ideology of equality, but fissures within society are difficult to perceive. In Slovakia, however, national cohesion remains a more delicate matter. Nearly 600,000 Hungarians inhabit the area bordering Hungary, and they have been demanding local autonomy3; on the eastern border with Ukraine ethnic tensions have increased as religious identities – Orthodox and Uniate – have been revived. The Gypsies, moreover, numbering 300,000 (?), are unwelcome everywhere. In Bratislava, the instability of the government reflects this delicate multi-ethnic social situation. It is exacerbated by the near absence of a political class, which has not yet had the necessary, uninterrupted span of time necessary to form.

5Thus, as the Czech Republic re-affirms its new identity in numerous ways, and as it re-projects, thanks to Prague, its image as the Baroque heart of Central Europe, Slovakia is left tasting the bitter fruits of an independence won in a context of political and economic crisis and has yet to create its own international image. Is the fact that others are creating that image for them to their own advantage a help or a hindrance? Within the international group « Visegrad, » the two countries share the same status.

Here Peaceful Separation, There Bellicose Fury

6Why is it that the Czechoslovakian federation has had a « velvet » break-up, while the Yugoslav Federation, and the very idea of political autonomy there, have brought on the worst horrors?

  • 4 Cf. V. REY. 1992: « Tristes richesses de 1’Europe balkanique » ( « Sad Richesses of Europe of the B (...)

7« Here, » « there, »: these words are not only terms of localization; they are the birthplaces of human dynamics which are uniquely experienced by the peoples involved4. Unique, and thus incomparable: the hard rule of the chronological order specific to each place carves the path of difference. The Czecho-Slovak situation cannot be read in the light of what is going on in the Balkans, even if analytical decomposition does allow for certain analogies.

8Does language take its place in the order of analogies, as a kind socio-political cement? The Czech and Slovak languages are closely related but still distinct; Serbo-Croatian, in contrast, is common to Bosnians, Croatians and Serbs. Thus, the first thing to be implicated in schools, language – so important in sustaining minority group dynamics and in maintaining cultural difference – has not served as a vector of mutual understanding between the peoples of these federations.

9Certain poorly accepted economic disparities also take their place in the order of analogies. New candidates for economic management in Slovenia, Croatia and Bohemia were quick to seize the opportunity, provided by the restructuring of Europe in 1989, to disengage from obligations of solidarity within the federations and to gain member status of the EEC all the more quickly. While they were set to make a probable gain, however, those who remained behind, as it were – cut off and closed in within the Balkans – felt they stood to become big losers, and this fear fed the violence of their reactions.

10In the order of analogies, as well, we find the inability – perhaps as a result of its lack of real meaning – to invent a new common identity, a new idea of nationality, less rooted in the past and more open to the future. With the exception of a small percentage of the population, located more often than not in Bosnia, Yugoslavian identity as such had never cut very deep. It hardly had a stronger foundation than a « Czechoslovakian » identity, which had not even been promoted.

  • 5 More than two million people were affected by the expulsion of Germans from Sudetenland and the for (...)

11The truly essential points of comparison, however, have more to with the collective mentalities present at the time of the collapse of the Soviet system. The inhabitants of Czechoslovakia had built up their share of resentment, but they had not had the history of hate, political violence and massacres which, since 1920, had been the lot of the people living within Yugoslavia. The political culture of Czechoslovakia tended toward that of the nation-state and had not inherited the Byzantine idea of empire; in theory and in action, « Greater Czech » could hardly compare with « Greater Serbia » – loathed by the other countries of the Balkans. Finally, their respective collective mentalities had not grown out of a similarly composed ethnic geography. In Czechoslovakia, where massive displacements took place in 1945-485, the ethnic mosaic which is behind the current campaign of « ethnic cleansing » in former Yugoslavia does not exist. Nor do we find just any ethnic mosaic in former Yugoslavia. Rather, it is the concrete expression of a religious and ideological front, still very active and hardened over a millennia, on which the Roman Christian and the Orthodox Christian worlds, as well as the Muslim world through the traces left by the Ottoman empire, confront one another. The shock waves that rise up from this front carry terrific emotional power and are of a magnitude incomparably greater than those produced along the centuries-old line that once divided the Holy Roman Empire from the Hungarian Empire and which now serve as the border between Slovakia and the Czech Republic.


1 Slovak leader Miroslav HURBAN, speaking to the Czechs at the National Theatre foundation stone laying, Prague, 1868. This quotation appeared in the czech history handbooks at the time of T. G. MASARYK during the interwar years.

2 « Republique (cheque, la reprise ajournée; Slovaquie, des debuts difficiles » (The Czech Republic, Recovery Deffered; Slovakia, difficult beginnings) Le Monde, June 22, 1993.
Also see J. Rupnik: « L’ann6e politique 1992 en Tch6co-Slovaquie: le divorce a l’amiable » ( « The Political Year 1992 in Czecho-Slovakia: A Friendly Divorce ») and J. Blaha: « L’annee economique 1992 en Tch1co-Slovaquie: un federation en voie d’extinction* ( « The Economic Year 1992 in Czecho-Slovakia: a federation nearing extinction ») in L’Europe centre-orientale entre stabilisation et implosion, (Central-Eastern Europe Between Stabilization and Implosion), Lhomel (E.) and Schreiber (T.) (ed). La Documentation fran1aise, series « Etudes », December 1993.

3 « Le climat politique s’est degrade... l’incertitude s’est installee dans les esprits. Certains Slovaques, mais aussi des Hongrois, ont peur et se posent la question de demenager plus au nord. Il n’y avait pas de problemes entre voisins serbes, croates ou musulmans à Sarajevo, jusqu’au jour ou... » ( « The political climate has deteriorated... uncertainty has settled in. Some Slovaks, and Hungarians as well, are afraid and are considering moving north... There hadn’t been any problems between Serbian, Create and Muslim neighbors, until the day when... ») « La minorite hongroise manifeste son unite et sa determination » ( « The Hungarian Minority Manifests Its Unity and Determination »), Le Monde, January 12. 1994.

4 Cf. V. REY. 1992: « Tristes richesses de 1’Europe balkanique » ( « Sad Richesses of Europe of the Balkans »). Historiens et geographes, 337. 50-63.

5 More than two million people were affected by the expulsion of Germans from Sudetenland and the forced displacement of populations from Slovakia toward uninhabited regions...

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