On eve of Czech-Slovak partitioning, those along border lament loss of unity

December 30, 1992|By David Rocks | David Rocks,Contributing Writer

HODONIN, Czechoslovakia -- Hodonin's statue of Thomas Masaryk, Czechoslovakia's founding father and the town's native son, has had a tough half-century.

Three times since it was erected in the 1930s, the memorial has been dismantled, hidden away and then put back up again as Masaryk has fallen out of and into favor with the country's rulers.

And now it could all happen again.

"I don't know if somebody will come along and say, 'That's Masaryk, who founded the Czechoslovak state,' and tear it down again," said Stanislav Mikus, an adviser to the mayor of this town of 31,000.

As Czechoslovakia prepares to split into separate Czech and Slovak nations tomorrow night at midnight, Hodonin's interest in the separation is exceptionally acute, and not only because Masaryk was born here.

Hodonin lies in the future Czech Republic's land of Moravia, just 1 mile from the border with tomorrow's new Slovakia.

Officials here don't expect either new nation to immediately establish a border post at the bridge across the Morava River on the way to the Slovak town of Holic, 3 miles away.

But some kind of controls probably will be implemented by midyear, despite an agreement calling for a Czech-Slovak customs union, said Hodonin Mayor Frantisek Karkoska.

And on both sides of the river, residents know that with or without controls, separation will only bring hassles.

"For 40 years we lived just 80 miles from Vienna. And we couldn't go there, and that was a tragedy," said the mayor. "Hodonin is only 1 mile from the Slovak border, and if we couldn't cross it, that would be an even bigger tragedy."

"We don't have any bad feelings toward the Czechs," Jozef Hrusecky, the mayor of Holic, said in his office across the river. "We're so intermixed here that we don't want separate states."

Czech-Slovak relations in the boundary regions seem to be much better than they are in the respective capitals, Prague and Bratislava.

People living on both sides of the frontier speak a similar dialect, which is something between Czech and Slovak.

Many families have intermarried across the border, and thousands of people cross to the other republic to work every day.

Jan Farkas is the night shift supervisor at a metal shop in the village of Sudomerice, which abuts the border on the Moravian side east of Hodonin and Holic.

But Mr. Farkas, a Slovak of Hungarian descent, travels the 2 miles from the Slovak town of Skalica every day to work.

"Of course, things are going to be more complicated, especially when it comes to the currency," he said.

The Czech and Slovak currencies are scheduled to be separated by mid-1993, which means that Mr. Farkas will be paid in Czech crowns but will pay his rent in Slovak crowns.

"Here on the border, we buy things in Slovakia or in the Czech lands," Mr. Farkas said, "wherever it's a better deal."

For the last 40 years, the border has meant virtually nothing. Most residents of Sudomerice travel to Skalica to shop because it is only half as far as the nearest Czech town.

At the Slovak town of Vrbovce, 12 miles east of Holic, the local train station lies in the Czech Republic. In a roadside bar on the Czech side, the radio is tuned to a Slovak station.

In many cases, even finding the border may be difficult.

In Sudomerice, the frontier is an invisible line running through farm fields, just a sort of Slovak Kansas merging seamlessly with a Moravian Nebraska.

But 100 yards farther on is a creek that at one time served to mark the limits of the two lands.

The last time anyone really thought about the border was during World War II, when the Nazis made precise maps and installed border stones, one of which still marks the crossing in Sudomerice.

Officials in Prague say the German maps will be one of their primary sources for determining exactly where the line lies.

But most residents of the region would prefer to leave the border as fuzzy as it now stands and see Czechoslovakia return to the ideal of unity that Masaryk represents.

At the small plaza where the Masaryk memorial looks out over Hodonin's train station, retiree Maria Pochyla sadly laments that the statue isn't the flesh and blood leader who brought Czechs and Slovaks together.

Masaryk, she says, would never have allowed the split to happen.

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