The Velvet Divorce
Slovakia achieved its independence on January 1, 1993 as Czechoslovakia split apart in a 'velvet divorce' brokered by the prime ministers of the two republics, Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, the summer before. In the years that followed, the Czech Republic affirmed its reputation as one of the most stable and democratic states in the former Soviet bloc. Slovakia achieved the opposite. As Mečiar led his people into a twilight zone between democracy and dictatorship the country was increasingly shunned as a pariah. What went wrong?
The first obstacle Slovakia confronted was a clear tendency among foreign journalists and politicians to see the entire move to independence as the work of troublemakers. US Vice-President Dan Quayle visited eastern Slovakia in June 1991 bringing an uncompromising message that it was in the interests of both Slovakia and the region that the federation remain intact. Some of the more influential journalists were far less diplomatic: 'The break-up of the Czechoslovak federation is a sad unnecessary event that in the long run may benefit some sectional interests of the Czech economy and the irrational fantasies of some Slovak nationalists but is of little value to Central Europe' (my italics). 1
Aspects of this initial opposition to the very idea of an independent Slovak state have endured in one form or another in both journalistic and academic writing ever since. The reasons are complex but take us to the heart of the main problems Slovakia has faced since 1993.
In this chapter we look at the key issues surrounding the break-up of the federation, starting with a crucial background discussion of