Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Czechoslovak Vote Could Decide Issue of National Unity

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Czechoslovak Vote Could Decide Issue of National Unity

Article excerpt

IS Czechoslovakia - the common state of Czechs and Slovaks founded in the wake of World War I - destined to break up like the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia?

The question will be decided at the federal and regional parliamentary elections today and tomorrow.

But after six months of heated debate and three weeks of equally bitter election campaigning among a fragmentation of center, left- and right-wing parties, the chance of any clear-cut outcome is remote.

On the eve of the polls a Czech political observer said he would make no prediction of the results. "Take a cross section of the population and you'll find a gut reaction of wishing to stay together. There are also many Slovaks who say if there is a split, they will emigrate to the Czech lands," he says.

But in Slovakia the ultranationalists have successfully exploited long-standing local feeling against the perceived greater weight of the Czech lands in federal affairs. They have also played on the fact that the transition to a market economy has hurt the Slovaks more than the Czechs.

If the nationalists get the 40 percent support suggested by polls, it would give them control of the Slovak parliament and almost certainly confront the federation with a major constitutional crisis.

Forty-two parties, movements, and coalitions created a confusing situation for voters as well as the pollsters. "It is very different from the 1990 elections," says the observer. "That was, in a sense, a negative election. The issue was anticommunist and people said what they didn't want.

"This time they're not sure what they want. Many even say there is `too much democracy' and they've looked in vain for simpler and clearer answers than all these parties ... offer."

Nationalist rhetoric has obscured really what is the key issue for the whole country: the economic reform which has made notable progress despite incipient public hardship. …

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