Separation comes 10 years too soon for Havel's dream

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

June 23, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

CZECHOSLOVAKIA -- The saddest reading circulating through Europe and the United States this week may be Vaclav Havel's "I Have a Dream for Czechoslovakia" essay.

The dream of the playwright-philosopher president for his splintering country is not in itself sad; it anticipates a sort of post-Communist Jeffersonian utopia.

But the irony of his essay's appearance in Germany and the United States as Czechoslovakia breaks itself in two is poignant.

The Czechs and the Slovaks, the major ethnic groups that make up his country, have in effect already rejected Mr. Havel's dream. His ideas come from his book "Summer Meditations," which was published last year in Czechoslovakia.

The text appearing currently in Berlin's Wochenpost and the New York Review of Books, both weighty journals of politics, culture and opinion, is an excerpt from "Summer Meditations." The book will be published in Berlin next month, when Czechoslovakia may already have disintegrated.

Mr. Havel dreams of a green and humane Czechoslovakia where life is centered in towns and villages that "will have overcome the legacy of grayness, uniformity, anonymity and ugliness inherited from the totalitarian era."

"Political life will have become more harmonious," he writes.

He envisions two large political parties, with "their own traditions, intellectual potential, clear programs and grass-roots support."

Two major political blocs did emerge in elections two weeks ago: one a Czech party dedicated to free-market reform of the former Communist state, the other a Slovak nationalist party committed to slowing the conversion to capitalism.

But they can apparently only agree on separation. They're planning the split now. They want it finished by the end of September. Europe groans uneasily and watches the end of Mr. Havel's dream. The United States doesn't seem to have any particular official view.

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the biggest winner in the Czech Republic, is determined to continue undiluted "shock therapy" free-enterprise reforms.

ODS is led by the present finance minister in Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Klaus, a smart, sophisticated, extremely well-dressed economist.

Mr. Klaus likes to think that the little band of freethinking economists he led in the Finance Ministry had as much to do with Czechoslovakia's liberation from communism as noisy dissidents who who were sent to jail-- like Mr. Havel.

In fact, Mr. Klaus has supported the Czechoslovakian federation and Mr. Havel as president. But he won't meet the demands of Slovak leader Vladimir Meciar for an easing in the pace of transformation to a market economy.

Mr. Meciar, a broad-shouldered populist who used to be a boxer, leads the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. In marathon talks with Mr. Klaus over the past two weeks, he has pressed for Slovak sovereignty. And he wants the preservation of social programs in Slovakia that Mr. Klaus sees as compromising his free market ideals.

The Slovaks have benefited far less than the Czechs from the peaceful "velvet revolution" that toppled communism three years ago.

Unemployment officially is 12 percent in Slovakia, more than four times the Czech rate of 2.8 percent. Ninety percent of foreign investment coming into the country goes to the Czech Republic. Most comes from Germany.

Mr. Klaus' party is widely believed to have been heavily supported by German money. Mr. Meciar is suspect as an ex-Communist, publicly accused of past contacts with the secret police.

One wag in the Czech election commission says the vote was a victory of social welfare for the people in Slovakia and of social welfare for Germany in the Czech Republic.

Czechoslovakia was cobbled together out of the remains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I.

It survived six years of occupation by Nazi Germany and four decades of totalitarian communism.

In his essay, Mr. Havel addresses the desire of Slovakia to have "its own star on the future flag of Europe." But he had hoped that separation would come only after 10 years of stable, political integration both in Czechoslovakia and Europe.

"After all," he writes, "we will have a right to do so at any time."

But now the future of a united Czechoslovakia seems already lost. Separation is coming 10 years too soon for Vaclav Havel's dream.

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