Today’s economic crisis acts as a catalyst for the “acceleration of history”, a phenomenon similar to the times after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which brought something which was not expected – the split of Czechoslovakia – former Slovak foreign minister and current MEP Eduard Kukan told EurActiv.
Kukan, who was the last ambassador of Czechoslovakia at the United Nations and the first ambassador of Slovakia to the world organisation, argues that dividing Czechoslovakia “was not in the minds of people” at that time.
Czechoslovakia split without a referendum in 1993 and Czechs and Slovaks have been remarkably relaxed about deciding to live separately.
Comparing the situation in his country at that time with separatist movements in present days, Kukan insists that there is “much more animosity” today in places such as Catalonia versus the rest of Spain.
“Czechoslovakia is not a typical case because if we look back at history, there were no big problems between the two nations. Once each of them is on the same ground, on the same basis, once they have been masters in their own house, there is no reason for them looking at the development of the two nations historically to cultivate negative feelings about the other,” he said.
However, Kukan recognises that Slovakia has been worried by the “wrong behaviour of the Hungarian national minority in Slovakia,” which has contributed to Bratislava’s decision to not recognise the independence of Kosovo.
But he insisted that the fear of the Kosovo precedent was not the main reason for the fact that Slovakia, together with Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Romania, are the only EU countries that do not recognise the independence of the former Serbian province.
“The most important factor why not to recognise Kosovo was that we thought that it was possible to reach a solution that would be acceptable to both parties. We thought that with the efforts of the international community, if there was a heavyweight negotiator, that it was possible to resolve those 5% of the issues, because they were telling at the time that 95% of the issues were already resolved," he said.
"So the most important reason is that we are against the solution which was forced on one of the participants in the negotiations.”
Regional separatism different
The Slovak politician also argued that one could not compare the division of Czechoslovakia with regional separatism.
“Separatism cannot lead to creation of state. The right to self-determination can, but not separatism. And I don’t think that the Hungarian national minority living in Slovakia is wishing to secede or to join Hungary. I simply do not believe it. Sometimes their positions are ambivalent, and that’s why many politicians are suspicious about them,” he said.
Asked if Bosnia and Herzegovina, a laggard amongst the Western Balkans hopefuls for EU accession, could survive as a single entity with the ethnic Serb, Croat and Bosniak communities divided over a common future, Kukan gave a pessimistic reply.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina, given the construction of this state, is a very difficult country to govern. The question, whether it can survive, or can it have a viable development, is very, very pertinent. There are not many optimistic signs coming from the country that this would be possible,” he said.
Kukan, chair of the European Parliament delegation on relations with the Western Balkans, visited Bosnia and Herzegovina the previous week.
Read the full interview here.
Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 as the Austro-Hungarian empire crumbled. The larger Czech population was closer to Germany, the Slovaks to the defunct empire.
The state proclaimed the official ideology that there were no Czechs and Slovaks, only one nation of Czechoslovaks with two languages. The Czech region developed industrially, while Slovakia remained rural.
Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis who sought the Germanisation of the Czechs. On 9 May 1945, Soviet troops entered Prague. Under communism there was a period of liberalisation in 1968 when reformer Alexander Dub?ek was appointed First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. But the Prague Spring was crushed by the Warsaw Pact.
The 1970s saw the rise of dissident movements, represented among others by Václav Havel. In 1989, the Velvet Revolution restored democracy. In 1992, because of growing nationalist tensions, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved by parliament. On 1 January 1993 the Czech and Slovak republics were born.
The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, followed by Slovakia five years later. Both joined the EU on 1 May 2004.