With cheers, quiet misgivings, Czechs, Slovaks split into separate states

January 01, 1993|By David Rocks | David Rocks,Contributing Writer

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- The Czech Republic and Slovakia became the world's newest countries today, rising from the now-defunct Czechoslovak federation.

At a ceremony on Bratislava's main square, officials raised the new Slovak flag at midnight to popping champagne corks, pealing church bells and the cheers of thousands of revelers.

"Slovakia is ours and will be ours forever," Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar told the throng.

The crowd broke out singing the Slovak national anthem, and thousands of firecrackers were set off.

"I'm as old as the old republic -- 74 years," said a beaming Maria Wertlenova. "I've lived through the entire development of the Czechoslovak Republic, and Slovaks have never been allowed to look after themselves."

In Prague, revelers thronged the streets, but there was no ceremony marking the arrival of their new state. Leaders there were planning a formal celebration this morning.

Although many here showed great enthusiasm for the break-up, the most recent polls indicate that popular support for the split is lukewarm at best. In the waning hours of the federation, a deep sense of melancholy and bewilderment seemed to settle over both republics.

"They should have left it like it was," Jan Arpad said over a pre-New Year's glass of wine. "The economy is just getting worse and worse."

In the Prague daily Lidove Noviny, a front-page cartoon yesterday showed a Czech and a Slovak bidding each other farewell and saying, "See you around Europe sometime."

Indeed, future relations with Europe weighed heavily on the minds of citizens of both republics, as did the irony that Czechoslovakia's split arrived at the precise instant that the European Community made final its transition to a single market.

"Every nation should be proud of itself," said Michal Mlich, a member of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra chorus, who said he would reluctantly sing the new Slovak anthem at a ceremony today. "But at the very moment that the rest of Europe is reaching out and coming together, why should we be splitting up?"

Czechs and Slovaks are counting on foreign investment to speed their transformation to market economies. Mr. Meciar said yesterday that he hoped to reassure the West with a peaceful split.

He acknowledged that many people had mixed feelings about (( the separation but said there was no other solution to Czechoslovakia's problems.

"The question of feelings is irrelevant," Mr. Meciar said. "The question is, was there any other possible way? There would have been no other means to resolve this peacefully and democratically."

And, though many in Slovakia might have preferred to find an accommodation that would have allowed some sort of continuing relationship with the Czechs, they also believe that striking out on their own will force Slovakia to "grow up" and join the community of nations.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.