NEARLY one month after general elections revealed the depth of political, economic, and social polarization between Czechs and Slovaks, opposing political forces have agreed to unite in what may turn out to be the country's last federal government.
In announcing formation Wednesday of the 10-member Cabinet, to be led by Czech economist Jan Strasky and equally divided between Czech and Slovak politicians, President Vaclav Havel reiterated his support for the continuance of the 74-year-old federation - but admitted that breakup of the state was likely.
"I think that a common state is still possible and would really be the best solution for everyone," he said at a news conference. "But if I look realistically at the relationships of power emerging in the country, then I cannot exclude a separation. But I am not resigned to it."
He stressed that the country's current crisis stemmed from the deformation of four decades of communism. "I have always repeated that our society came out of 40 years of communism morally ill," he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Havel was expected to receive another rebuff of his pro-federal position today, when parliament votes for a new president. Slovak and leftist parties were expected to block Havel's reelection by denying him the three-fifths majority he needs to win a new term.
Slovakia's regional parliament is also expected to vote for sovereignty on Monday.
These moves would further reinforce the feeling in both parts of the country that separation is all but a foregone conclusion and that the Cabinet announcement Wednesday would result in little more than a transitional government. It will hold the fort until Sept. 30 - the deadline agreed to 10 days ago by the new Czech Republic Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and his Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, by which the Czech and Slovak regional governments will decide whether the two republics will split or rem ain linked.
The conflict between the Czech and Slovak republics involves economic and political orientation as well as nationalism.
In the general elections last month, Czechs overwhelmingly backed right-wing parties committed to radical market reform as championed by Mr. Klaus. In Slovakia, voters demonstrated deep resentment of Prague's policies, including Klaus' fast-track economic reforms, which Slovaks feel benefit Czech development at their expense. Some 60 percent of Slovak voters cast their ballots for parties that were nationalist, or leftist, or combined elements of both.
Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia seized on this resentment as a mandate to demand Slovak sovereignty - even though it was far from clear that Slovak voters really wanted a plunge into independence.
In the elections, for example, the Slovak Nationalist Party, openly campaigning for independence, won less than 10 percent of the Slovak vote.
Surveys conducted by Bratislava's Center for Social Analysis in the months preceding the elections indicated that 60 percent of Slovaks were against the dissolution of the federation and only 13 percent supported an independent Slovakia.
They showed that more than 50 percent of Slovaks feared a drop in living standards if Slovakia became independent and also feared ethnic violence and territorial claims from neighboring Hungary and the Ukraine, both of which have ethnic minorities living within Slovak borders.
Meanwhile, pro-federation critics of Meciar in Slovakia said they feared that the populist socialist nationalism Meciar has espoused in his drive for Slovak independence could lead to the ascendance of an intolerant, authoritarian regime.
"Slovaks are an ambivalent people and can be manipulated," said a filmmaker, who did not want to be quoted by name. "Meciar is a very good speaker, a demagogue. His program contained many possibilities, so he can do what he wants."
Some predicted a crackdown against Meciar's opponents which, they said, could prompt many people to consider moving out of Slovakia into the Czech Republic or elsewhere.
Zuzana Szatmary, director of the human-rights group Charter 77 in Bratislava, told the Prague Post that some anti-Meciar journalists were already leaving. "They have already been expecting the new order and they adjusted in advance. People here know what it's like to have a totalitarian regime," she said.
A Bratislava historian, who didn't want to be quoted by name, said: "I started looking for a job in Prague as soon as I saw the election results. I think a lot of intellectuals, people who are against Meciar, are going to leave Slovakia. The first wave of emigration will be political; the next will be economic." A year ago it was already reported that Slovaks were moving their money into banks in the Czech Republic.