Czechs and Slovaks launch campaign for referendum on reunification
Czechs and Slovaks launched a campaign to collect 150,000 signatures in Slovakia and 50,000 in the Czech Republic in a joint petition to force officials in Prague and Bratislava to call for a referendum in 2018 on the reunification of Czechoslovakia.
The movement called “Czechoslovakia 2018” states on its website that in 1992 it was decided, for political reasons, to divide the joint state which functioned well and citizens are not allowed to say in a referendum what they think about the division of Czechoslovakia.
“According to the surveys, a large part of the population believes that the division of Czechoslovakia was a mistake and would not have consented to it if they were allowed to vote on the issue. For example, in a survey conducted by Czech television, 70 percent of respondents found the division of the country as a misstep and they are bothered that they could not be heard. According to Slovakian magazine SME, 40 percent of Slovaks would like to live with Czechs again,” says the website of the movement.
The fact that former Czechoslovakia was divided by politicians, led by the then Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Slovakian Vladimir Meciar, and that they categorically refused to give the chance to the citizens to express their opinion on referendum is one of the few stains on the Czech-Slovakian “velvet” divorce.
“The common state would have a greater importance in the world, it would be stronger, would better respond to external threats and more efficiently implement the independent foreign and domestic policy,” said the initiator of the campaign, publicist Ladislav Zelinka.
One of the arguments is that both Czechs and Slovaks, especially since the joint entry into the European Union in 2004, always mark each other as the closest and friendliest people in the world in surveys, and regardless of who is currently in power in Prague and Bratislava, the cooperation between the two countries is impeccable.
Year 2018 is chosen as deeply symbolic since then Czechs and Slovaks will celebrate the centennial of the creation of Czechoslovakia and realization of the vision of the first Czechoslovakian President Tomas Masaryk of the joint state.
Czechs and Slovaks were better together, by Pavel Seifter, The Guardian
As the referendum on Scottish independence nears, I recall the feeling of deep depression that came over me 21 years ago at the time of Czechoslovakia’s “velvet divorce”. Two new small countries appeared on the map – the Czech Republic and Slovakia – and beyond their borders nobody understood why they had separated. A broader and larger “unionist” (federal) state that bound citizens together gave way to two smaller states more reliant on ethnic definition.
From today’s perspective, that divorce was just a historical episode. It happened in a different time, in a different geopolitical space, long before the two new countries worked their way – separately – into Nato and the European Union. It was also largely seen as a positive achievement because at the time Yugoslavia was falling apart violently.
However, the Czechoslovak decision was not made through a proper democratic process. It was sprung on “unionists” as well as on “secessionists” in a somewhat despotic fashion by two national leaders, energised by electoral success: one a Czech, on the victorious political right, the other a Slovak on the equally victorious left. It was made over a cup of tea (or was it a beer?) in the garden of the famous Tugendhat modernist villa in Brno. After the decision taken by then Czech prime minister Václav Klaus and Slovak prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, there was no way back.
The questions surrounding Scotland’s possible departure from the union are not the same. Nevertheless it’s worth reflecting that whatever the certainties of the campaigns, nobody can be sure what happens next, in the short or long term. This is the surprise that’s waiting. There is a cost in lost time on both sides: the prospect of years needed to find a new way and a new identity, both for the nation and its individual people.
The Slovaks at least had a sense of their future, of what they were doing. They were building a new country. But in the process they nearly missed the train to Europe and to Nato, and in the end they made it at the last minute. Before that, they first had to turn round the nationalistic, populist and corrupt politics of the post-divorce period and get rid of that same leader who decided upon independence for them under the Tugendhat tree. It took five or six years.
The Czechs are generally still not even aware of the time they’ve lost. This has something to do with the fact that their country came out of the divorce with no deeper sense of being, with no obvious purpose or role to play. The Czechs woke up on 1 January 1993 in a different country but didn’t realise it. In a way one can see what went on as a replay of what happened to the Austrians when the Czechs and others in 1918 left their “union”, the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Austrians ended in Austria, now a country that was “left over”. It took them half a century to become a nation again, albeit a very different one. The traumatic loss was about much more than lost time and lost dominance within a lost empire.
The western part of what used to be Czechoslovakia is also a “left-over” country. It still struggles to find a less difficult name than the Czech Republic, and has meanwhile not found anything better than just half of the old one – “Czecho”. The country, lucky at the time to still have Václav Havel as its president, drifted into Nato in 1999 and into the EU in 2004 while sometimes giving the impression that it is even now not sure it has done the right thing. Its politicians occasionally come up with some odd statements, are sometimes disloyal to allies, sometimes rubbishing the politics of human rights (which under Havel passingly gave the country some sense of identity), and recently tried somewhat bizarrely to befriend China.
It is not clear either what the population desires and where its emotions belong. One of the results is the rise of little-Czech nationalism, populism and xenophobia in a nation that no longer shares its fate with its historical partners or minorities – Slovaks, Germans, Jews, Poles, Hungarians. The Roma Gypsies have become the new “other”. Such small-nation nationalism and parochialism comes with a lot of negative sentiment: anti-politics and anti-politicians, anti-Roma, anti-homeless people, anti-Islam, increasingly anti-American, anti-European and still quite anti-German. Curiously, pro-Russian sympathies are growing, as reactions to the crisis in Ukraine tend to demonstrate.
On the other hand, sheltered by its link to German industries and to exports, economically the country is fine. Wealth is growing (despite the monstrous spread of corruption), the nation is still relatively egalitarian, and though the general trend is one of growing inequality, its national health system is better than in the UK.
In the end, “Czecho” is a wandering nation in a wandering country, less important and far less interesting than its predecessors, and the world doesn’t really care. At home, for nearly two decades there has been a widespread feeling of depression. “Blba nalada”, silly mood, as Havel once coined it. It all began then, with the split of Czechoslovakia. But we didn’t know.
Prospects for a future Czechoslovakia: Augusto Manzanal Ciancaglini
Today, considering the acceptable development, the belonging to the European Union and the strengthening of habit, reunification does not have much life in the public debate, but, although hidden, the acceptance of an eventual fourth Czechoslovak Republic does exist.
The Institute of Public Affairs of Slovakia, the Focus Agency and the Czech Academy of Sciences, in November 2012, produced a study by surveying 2000 Slovaks and Czechs, to find out the current attitude towards the separation occurred 20 years ago. The positive aspects expressed were reduced to autonomy and sovereignty obtained, but the negatives were expressed far more numerous; for the Slovaks the dissolution of Czechoslovakia was negative because it would have caused political and industry weakening with the consequent loss of importance in the world, Czechs however, stressed that the worst has been the reduction of the territory and its natural beauty. Finally, both the Czechs and the Slovaks agree about nostalgia in relation to the loss of common country founded on the basis of partnership.
The historic event as the most valued consulted by the Focus agency was the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and there is agreement between the two nations regarding the last place of preferences, wich is the end of Czechoslovakia.
Thus, reunification would not be traumatic, taking into account the historical and cultural ties reflected mainly in Slovakia, where, for example,a lot of movies are exhibited with subtitles in Czech, is watched massively Czech TV programs and even the main news program has a daily section with news today of the Czech Republic. At the same time, the prelude to the approach is illustrated in a massive cultural expression like football; both federations of this sport recently revealed their desire of devising a common football league.
After some years, the current valuations are clarified around certain undemocratic facts, such as Martin Šimečka remarks in 2013 to Respekt, who also stated that both communities would be more democratic today if there had been no separation.
The politicians decided quickly without hearing the citizens so much, which was largely unfavorable, it resented the democratic culture of the two people with the idea of establishing national states supported by the ethnic principle. All this in the collective imaginary was negative for the situation of minorities, the development of mechanisms for a more participatory democracy and for a greater cultural permeability.
Daniel Kroupa says that there is a conclusive contradiction about the weakness of the ethnic criterion, which would be manifested in the bigger cultural differences between areas of Czech regions than between Czechs and Slovaks.
The paradox of separation to define the relevant national space at the same time of the expansion of pan-Europeanism with its reintegrative effect emphasized by Peter Zajac, reinforces the inconsistency of the events 22 years ago, and this only would make sense if it was as a sort of retreat strategy to go forward. The reunification without having to be the only possible way could be a logical next step in the progress towards strengthening a modern, cosmopolitan society with more importance in the world.
At the international level, with regard to the safety factor, the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, but Slovakia could access only in 2004, after making expenditures to modernize its army, which affected its economy enough. It would be clear that this joining would have been sooner and less expensive if made together. Besides the obvious significance of the war potential in the international prominence, in today’s world are listed larger factors in the increased balanced interaction; more self-interference in decision-making in forums established by international organizations, and especially in this particular case, the influence on the supranational institutions of the European Union, taking into account that at present, according to the proportional rule on the demographic weight per member country, Czechoslovakia would contribute about 26 Members of the European Parliament instead of 22 Czechs or 13 Slovakians.
Therefore, the possibility of being a state that aspires to be a middle power, at least within the European area seems to have more perspective for a multinational democracy of 15 million people, than for two states with a smaller and an more homogeneous population.
It is difficult to take assumptions regarding the economic future and even more if it is about a hypothetical country, it is only posible to be done timid forecasts with positive results in the medium term for the reunification. The new Czechoslovakia would escalate various positions in the list countries by nominal GDP, due to the amount of economic data from the two states with less distance in its development thanks to an external level, encompassed and linked by a single European market and internally by the boost that would mean the two countries integration. Current trade between the two is not preferential, the Czech Republic is the second customer and importer for Slovakia, while the Czechs have to Slovakia as the second largest buyer but only as the fourth provider.
At the institutional level besides the links restored by the European Union, the relatively recent history of a common consociational model and the similarities between the present political system, would not generate problems of great magnitude, of course, learning the historical background, the adaptation should be exercised through a rigorous consensus process with appropriate times and the participation of all the social sectors, which probably would aim to reach a structure quite differentl in relation to the territorial organization of the state, that if a federation may not have to match their states with strict ethnic standards, or having to choose Prague or Bratislava as capital, but project an artificial alternative.
The composition of a multinational state within a federal structure with a political system that brings consociationalism of the Swiss model could be the main example to adapt to help conceive a new Czechoslovakia, which would be a paradigm and a symbol of demystification the mandatory establishment of an unstoppable fragmentation caused by the idea of a state for every nation, unnecessary in an increasingly interconnected world, constituting an example of mutual coexistence. All this confirms, even looking like a paradox, that the correction in politics is possible and even necessary to provide progress.
It is almost impossible to predict exactly what would have happened if the break had not been consummated, but Czechoslovakia today, would surely be a state where people would enjoy higher levels of development, democratic quality and relevance in the international community, as well as being an stimulating example for the world, of search of unity in diversity.
Augusto Manzanal Ciancaglini