You are here: Home Články / Articles 1997 Tension between the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Tension between the Czech Republic and Slovakia

The deteriorating relationship between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, combined with political instability in Slovakia itself, could further undermine democracy in Slovakia, raising the possibility that Slovakia could destabilize the entire region. Meciar's Slovakia that would remain outside NATO and have bad relations with its immediate neighbors is a potential powder keg. It is, therefore, in the interest of Czech politicians to end as quickly as possible, the current emotional exchanges of opinions with Slovak politicians and, instead, strive for a stable relationship based on equality and reciprocity

The current war of words between Czech and Slovak politicians started after Czech President Vaclav Havel recently described Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar as "paranoid" over his statements on NATO. But in reality the conflict has deeper causes than just Meciar's hurt ego. Observers have tended to put blame mainly on Slovakia, but Czechs bear a large degree of responsibility for the current state of affairs.

It is true that democracy in Slovakia, under Meciar's leadership, has struggled. International organizations, including the European Union and NATO, have repeatedly warned Slovakia that its violations of democratic rules may prevent it from gaining membership in such organizations. Instead of striving to correct such behavior, Meciar recently alleged there is an international conspiracy against Slovakia

For example, he recently suggested that the United States and Russia had decided--independently of Slovakia's real actions--that Slovakia would not be admitted to NATO in the first wave. Meciar and his closest allies have also accused the Czech Republic and Hungary of trying to mar Slovakia's chances of being admitted to NATO. It was at this point when Havel made his unfavorable comment about Meciar's mental health

But the relationship between the Czech Republic and Slovakia had begun deteriorating even before Havel made his comment. In late March, Meciar had been set to visit the Czech Republic, to discuss primarily the division of the remaining assets of former Czechoslovakia. Slovakia has claimed that the Czech Republic is illegally holding some 4.5 tons of Slovak gold, which has been deposited in the National Bank in Prague since the end of World War II. Czech politicians, on the other hand, claim that Slovakia owes the Czech Republic over 20 billion crowns in unpaid bank debts. The amount has been verified by an international audit.

What made Meciar cancel his visit in the end was not so much that the Czech side was not forthcoming on the question of Slovak gold--an issue of great symbolism to the young Slovak state. Rather, it was paternalism that Czech politicians and journalists tend to display any time they deal with Slovakia. When Meciar's visit was announced, he and his anti-democratic excesses were subjected to harsh criticism in the Czech Republic. Czech politicians made it clear they will want to teach Meciar a few lessons about democracy. Havel said Meciar is welcome to come but he will not like what he hears.

Slovakia, though grudgingly, has in the past accepted such statements and concerns from Western countries. The history of Czech-Slovak relations, however, is such that similar Czech statements are inevitably seen as the Czechs' paternalistic meddling in Slovak affairs. In reality , both Czech politicians and ordinary Czechs are mostly indifferent toward developments in Slovakia. Such indifference, combined with occasional flare-ups of ostensible concern, make Slovaks even more sensitive about Czechs' behavior

Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, for example, has showed little interest in visiting Slovakia since the split of Czechoslovakia. When the Meciar government was three years ago replaced by t that of Jozef Moravcik, which tried to steer Slovakia away from violations of democratic rules, Klaus refused to officially meet Moravcik and lend him support.

Slovakia is in some ways currently going through a phase in its national development that the Czechs, Poles, or Hungarians went through at the beginning of the 20th century. The fact that the Slovaks have the opportunity to build national identity within their own state only now has partly been caused by the Czechs' lack of understanding for Slovak national aspirations when the two nations lived in the common state. It is this legacy that makes it easier for politicians like Meciar to create the feeling among ordinary Slovaks that their country is a victim of an international conspiracy in which Czechs play an important role

In this context, it is no wonder that Slovaks are sensitive about what they see as double standards. While Slovakia has experienced problems, the country is a functioning parliamentary democracy. If the most compelling reason for NATO expansion is stability, it is difficult for Slovaks to understand why hey are likely to be excluded. And why Slovakia, for relatively minor anti-democratic offenses, is being denied membership in an organization in which Turkey is allowed to play an important role

Such real and imagined grievances have played into the hands of Meciar when Havel described him as "paranoid." Such a statement would have offended Meciar and many Slovak had it come from any foreign politicians. Expressed by the Czech President, it has caused furor. And it has helped Meciar to go on the offensive and condition his visit in the Czech republic on Havel's apology. As a result, in the last week, or so, Czech-Slovak debate has degenerated into personal insults

If anything, such a situation will strengthen the position of Meciar, who knows how to turn foreign "anti-Slovak campaigns" into his advantage. In the long run, a strengthened Meciar who, moreover, no longer feels bound to strive for membership in NATO (and perhaps even the European Union) and for good relations with Slovakia's neighbors, could easily destabilize the entire region.

Reuters, Prague Business Journal - 16. 4. 1997