BRATISLAVA: Czechs and Slovaks on Monday marked a quarter-century since the January 1, 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into two independent states, an amicable parting dubbed the “Velvet Divorce”.
It came on the heels of the peaceful 1989 “Velvet Revolution” that ousted communism and ushered in democracy on the back of peaceful protests as the Soviet bloc began to crumble.
The split was not triggered by popular demand, nor was it decided in a referendum; it largely resulted from the inability of negotiators to strike a satisfactory new partnership deal in democratic times.
Slovak-born Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš spoke via telephone on Monday with his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico who dubbed the divorce “an unprecedented example of a peaceful split of a federal republic” in a Facebook post.
Hundreds of Czechs and Slovaks held an annual meeting on the Veľká Javorina mountain straddling the Czech-Slovak border that first began in 1845. Since 1992, the gatherings have protested the unpopular split.
“We had no problem being together. We had a problem with how to be together,” former Slovak foreign affairs minister Milan Kňažko told AFP.
While recent surveys suggest that around half of Slovaks are happy with independence, a 1990 Czechoslovak opinion poll showed that just under 10% of Slovaks wanted their own country while in the Czech part of the federation, only 5% of respondents wanted to go it alone.
“Czechoslovakia didn’t fall apart like the Soviet Union, and it was not torn apart like the former Yugoslavia. It just split,” Kňažko said.
An actor-turned-politician that played a popular role in the Velvet Revolution, Kňažko was one of the four members of the Slovak delegation that held talks with Czechs in the summer of 1992 on the split.
“During the negotiations, we tried to find a form of maintaining our federation. At one point, Czech PM Václav Klaus said we should rather have separate countries than to engage in some kind of experiment,” Knazko recalled.
After their amicable divorce, the two countries have maintained close trade ties and political cooperation in forums like the Visegrad Group.
Bratislava and Prague joined the EU in 2004, but the smaller Slovakia pushed further ahead in 2009 by joining the eurozone. Both are also NATO members.
“Relations between Czechs and Slovaks are even better now than they were in the federative republic,” Kňažko said, adding that “time has shown that the division was a very reasonable step”.