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Czechs and Slovaks still best friends 20 years after split

Czechoslovakia may have ceased to exist 20 years ago but Czechs and Slovaks continue to join forces in many areas – from military operations to the production of talent contests, drama series and entertainment shows. The 1989 velvet revolution that saw the non-violent collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia was followed by its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993.

“The separation did not come as a bolt from the blue,” sociologist and market researcher Pavel Haulik explained to German Press Agency dpa. “When Czechoslovakia was founded at the end of World War I the core issue of the relationship between the two nations in the unified state was not sorted out.” The more populous and industrially developed Czech region benefited from the centralised government structure while the Slovaks looked for greater autonomy.

This core difference was never addressed and eventually culminated in the country’s split. However, relations are still close between the two nations, which share a similar language and culture – and nowhere is this proximity more evident than in the area of television and entertainment.

Slovakian state television still broadcasts the Czech main evening news every night after midnight while many entertainment shows are now produced on a cross-border level to cut costs and boost audience figures. For example, the Czech Republic’s TV Nova and Slovakia’s TV Markiza joined forces for “Czecho-Slovak SuperStar”, Europe’s first international version of the smash US series American Idol.

Plans for a unified soccer league have failed to materialise due to resistance from European football’s ruling body UEFA, though the more realistic concept of a combined ice hockey league still has potential. The countries send joint international peacekeeping forces for UN and Nato military missions and, according to the Slovakian government, this level of co-operation will only increase in the future.

The need for a closer relationship is felt more closely by Slovakia and its population of 5.4 million inhabitants, where the Czech language can be used in any circumstance and occasion whatsoever. As both languages are mutually intelligible there is no need to translate official documents into Czech. The opposite situation prevails in much of the Czech Republic where 20 years after the split around 150,000 Slovaks still live in the area between Krkonose and Sumava.

The Slovakian language is like the voice of home for people like Lubica Svarovska, who produces a radio programme for the country’s minority from a radio station in Prague, offering advice about the daily problems Slovaks living in the Czech Republic face. Although many words are similar in both languages, Czech television has on occasion thought it necessary to dub dramas and films as many Czechs are no longer familiar with the Slovak language.

“When our neighbours first heard our children speak, they thought we were from Croatia,” says Svarovska of the time she and her family moved to the Czech countryside. Although the division of Czechoslovakia was celebrated by both nations in 1993 despite the failure to hold a referendum on the issue, Svarovska admits that it caused her to shed a tear. “The split-up of Czechoslovakia hurt me deeply and I was annoyed that the politicians did not ask the people for their opinion,” she says.

Historian Oldrich Tuma, on the other hand, feels the decision by Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Meciar not to hold a referendum was the only rational solution to a decades-long conflict. “No one wanted a referendum because nobody wanted to be seen to be agitating for a split,” explains the head of the Prague Institute for Contemporary History. “In the end, the State was divided in a cultivated manner and, in complete contrast to Yugoslavia, without any violence or confrontation.”

Chritoph Thanei and Michael Heitman, "Czechs and Slovaks still best friends 20 years after split," Business recorder. 2012-12-29.