Twelve years after the Velvet divorce: Slovaks upbeat, Czechs grumpy

03-02-2005

Twelve years after the break up of the Czechoslovak federation the mood in the two countries has changed radically. The once upbeat Czechs, who were considered a role model for the post communist world in the early 90s, are in a slump, their Slovak neighbours, who risked a lower living standard in return for complete independence are upbeat and optimistic about the future.

If the Czech government ever needed a persuasive argument in favour of radical reforms then this would be it. In recent years the Slovak government undertook a radical overhaul of public finances, and although people's living standards dropped sharply as a result, Slovaks now feel that they are over the worst and that things can only get better. Vera Haberova of the STEM polling agency explains:

"The Slovaks made more radical decisions and although their government's pro-reform line has made people's lives harder its policy has dynamics, it is transparent and people know where their country is heading - whether they agree with it or not. Here governments have been more cautious. We've been treading water and Czechs have grown lethargic as a result. Right now Czechs are far less optimistic about the future than their Slovak neighbours."

A unique poll conducted by Czech and Slovak sociologists reveals that Slovaks are worried about social security and maintaining their living standard while Czechs are largely concerned about unemployment and crime. Unlike their eastern neighbours, Czechs feel that the worst is yet to come when the impact of the long overdue health and pension reforms hits.

The number of Czechs who are happy with their lives today is higher than the respective number of Slovaks - 68 % here against 48 in Slovakia - but a look at the trend over the past decade suggests that in Slovakia the number of satisfied people has grown by 12 percent while in the Czech Republic by just one percent. Ten years ago 40% of Czechs asked said they expected their lives to improve over the next 5 years; that figure has now fallen by nearly a half.

Paradoxically, the two countries' struggle to deal with reforms and find their place in the new Europe has brought them closer and has eradicated doubts over the break up of Czechoslovakia.

Vera Haberova again:

"After 12 years of living apart the prevalent opinion in both countries is that the divorce was the right thing to do. At the time more people were against the break-up than in favour, but today people have accepted it and most of them say that, with hindsight, it was the right decision."

Although at the time of the split few people believed that Slovakia could keep up with the EU frontrunner states and join the union alongside the Czech Republic it has achieved that goal and possibly because of the effort it took, Slovaks are more supportive of their country's EU membership than Czechs are.

03-02-2005