From sharing the past towards a shared present – 20 years later- the Czechs and Slovaks enjoy an excellent relationship
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By Jiri Sitler, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in Bucharest
By Jan Gabor, Ambassador of Slovakia in Bucharest
On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, both Czechs and Slovaks decided to dissolve their common State and establish two independent states- the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And, today we would hardly find another two countries with such a harmonic relationship. Why?To get an appropriate answer we have to go back almost a century. After the WW 1, on the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy two medium-sized nations, the Czechs and Slovaks joined their destinies in a newly emerged state-Czechoslovakia. There were several reasons for this union. Despite the fact that their culture, mentality, religion, and historic background were quite different, their languages and many aspects of their fate in Central Europe throughout the history have been rather similar. Moreover, at that time both nations felt threatened because of the territorial claims of their immediate neighbours (Germany, Hungary). During the period between WW 1 and WW 2, Czechoslovakia was a functioning parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, democratic Europe in those days was very weak and ultimately inefficient to prevent this invasion of the above mentioned neighbours that led to the occupation of the largest part what was then Czechoslovakia.At the end of WW 2, Czechoslovakia was liberated from Nazi occupation. However, very soon another totalitarian system –the Communist regime-took over. Despite certain economic and social development a dramatic shortage of democratic freedoms did not allow either nation to develop a normal relation between them.Eventually, the sudden change of the global political climate in late 1980s, leading to the democratic revolution in Central Europe enabled the Czechs and Slovaks to think about their arrangement of the mutual relation. Considering the already mentioned differences between the two peoples, their approach to the reform process in then Czechoslovakia was not and could not be identical. Consequently, instead of continuing to blame each other for failing to solve problems that were piling up, the leaders of both nations took the decision to divide the Federal State into two parts. Of course, this caused an ambiguous reception, partly due to the international context of that time – ethnic conflict on the territory of former Yugoslavia and the ex Soviet union at the brink of the civil war. However, nobody got killed or injured during the “Velvet divorce’ at Czechoslovakia. From this perspective, the manner in which the split of Czechoslovakia was managed has been a real contribution to the stability of the Central Europe region. In order to get the complete picture about these days, it is necessary to remind that less than one fifth of the citizens of Czechoslovakia could imagine two separate countries at the time. Today, most Czech and Slovak citizens are rather content to live in their independent states.Twenty years later-both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are firmly anchored in the Euro-Atlantic democratic structures. Furthermore, political elites and citizens of both nations consider that relationship between them in now much better and more fair than it was during the common State. Public-opinion polls constantly show that Czech and Slovaks, although living in two separates states, consider each other best-liked nations-Slovaks are most popular with Czechs and vice versa. As time passes by it is more evident that the decision taken 20 years ago was a right one. Finally, a message to the Romanians-instead of one, you have two friends allies in Central Europe.