Slovakia Declares Its - Identity?

LAST Friday, to much fanfare, the Slovak Parliament passed a resolution declaring that the "1,000-year-long effort of the Slovak nation for self-determination is fulfilled." But the declaration of "sovereignty," Slovaks assured both their Czech neighbors and a concerned world, doesn't mean "independence."

Then what does it mean?

According to the Slovaks, the resolution means the Slovak Republic is a sovereign state that may choose - or not choose - to live with the Czech Republic. As the language of the declaration states, Slovakia has the right to self-determination "in the way it is formulated in all international agreements and contracts."

Yet such rights are already guaranteed by the federal Czechoslovak Constitution (and all international contracts). So why risk a resolution that threatens to further exacerbate relations with the Czechs and cause uncertainty and consternation throughout the West?

New events in Slovakia show that what the Slovaks really de-clared last Friday was not independence, which most Slovaks do not want - and not sovereignty (which they already have). To a world that has too often confused them with their Czech brothers, the Slovaks declared that they are a "separate" people.

A demonstration this spring highlighted the extent to which the Slovaks wish to distinguish themselves from their more affluent, more celebrated Czech brothers. On March 14, over 10,000 Slovaks in Bratislava celebrated the anniversary of the day prior to World War II when Slovakia was declared independent for the first (and only) time in history. Ironically, this celebration took place in the square dedicated to the Slovak national uprising, an unsuccessful revolt against the same fascist government that

was established on March 14, 1939.

In the Czech lands, there was astonishment that Slovaks would celebrate a day when Hitler made a pact with Slovak leader Josef Tiso and began the final brutal assault against Czechoslovakia. As President Vaclav Havel said in a controversial address: "World War II began on March 14."

The Slovaks say Tiso made the only choice a leader could make (independence or Nazi assault), and that distinctions can be made between Slovakia as a state and its form of government. Not surprisingly, the Czechs have not been able to appreciate such a fine distinction.

If the Slovaks have rewritten part of history, it probably reflects a strong desire to have a separate identity, to have separate heroes and separate events to celebrate. When Czechoslovakia's Communist (and Slovak) leader Gustav Husak died after the velvet revolution, then-Slovak prime minister Jan Carnogursky attended the funeral to pay his respects. That anyone would pay respect to a decade-long Communist tyrant was incomprehensible to most Czechs. But it, too, reflected a desire among Slovaks to affi rm their separate history.

SINCE the June national elections, momentum for independence has grown. Some of the desire in Slovakia for independence is based on the economic disparity between Czechs and Slovaks. But economic considerations are not overriding. Even many Slovak nationalists admit (privately) that the Slovak economy will suffer from a split of the country - certainly in the short run, and probably in the long run.

So why do it? The answer: "The problems may be greater, but they will be our problems."

But a separate Slovakia is not a perfect cure for a country in search of its identity. Certain ugly problems of national identity will become worse after separation. Opportunist politicians have already begun attacking the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia, trying to whip up emotion and play the "nationalist" card. Bills targeting the Hungarian minority, like those declaring that "Slovak" is the official language, are already being offered or expanded.

Even if independence does distinguish the Slovaks from the Czechs, there is another danger in the wings, a danger demonstrated by a CNN reporter who recently made what may be the classic Western blunder of the future - confusing Slovaks with Slovenes.

Today, Slovakia declares its identity. Tomorrow, it may declare its independence. But Slovakia should pause if it believes independence will establish its identity in the world. The fatal flaw in that reasoning is that identity is something established from within - from a confidence about the values a nation shares among its people. No declaration, no secession, no partitioning of a country into ethnically pure units will give a country an identity worth having if it fails to observe this golden princip le.

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