Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slovakia Is Sick, Unstable, a Year after Joyous Birth Freedom from Hungary, Czechs Is Not Enough

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slovakia Is Sick, Unstable, a Year after Joyous Birth Freedom from Hungary, Czechs Is Not Enough

Article excerpt

IT IS ALMOST a year since nationalist Slovakian leaders proclaimed fulfillment of what they considered an age-old dream: independence and an end to domination by neighbors.

Fireworks and the pop of champagne corks greeted independence on Jan. 1, but today's Slovakia is not a happy place.

The economy is sick, and the government is unstable. The new country, which used to be the eastern third of Czechoslovakia, is itself divided, primarily by the figure of populist Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

Rather than boosting pride and self-confidence, independence has confused many people about their futures and that of their fledgling republic of 5.2 million people.

In Czechoslovakia, said housewife Claudia Honsova, pushing a baby carriage in this industrial town north of Bratislava, "there was certainty. Now we have that strange border" with the Czech Republic.

A poll taken last month by an independent research group indicates that hers was a common sentiment. As many as 60 percent today oppose the split last Jan. 1 of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, up from 50 percent in March. No margin of error was given.

Slovakia was dominated by its southern neighbor, Hungary, for centuries in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, the more numerous and prosperous Czechs dominated the federation.

Industrialization actually was begun in Slovakia only after Communists took over in 1948. When they were toppled 41 years later, the new federal government decided to convert most of the weapons industry centered in Slovakia to civilian use, and 80,000 jobs were lost in the process.

Czech domination convinced some Slovaks that they would be better off on their own. Some still feel that way.

Anton Vyskoc, controller of Trnava's Slovenske Sladovne beer and soft drink factory, said he was convinced partition was inevitable. "The banks, the export business, the financial system - almost everything was occupied by the Czechs."

Personnel manager Jarmila Molnarova said, "I believe things will be better for us. Now we can decide about our own business."

But the Czech-Slovakian split is not the only theme cutting across the nation. …

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