Friday, January 01, 2010

Velvet divorce: 17 years

In September 1992, I became a part of the last group of federal Czechoslovak freshmen at the Charles University. Since 1992, there has been a lot of important Slovaks in my life.

As a staunch defender of a unified Czechoslovakia, I kind of believed various alarming predictions that a split of Czechoslovakia would imply lots of catastrophes, a war, international isolation for both new countries, and many other bad things.



NoName (SK) & Chinaski (CZ): Ná ná ná
A duet of two top bands

SK: Hello, my friend,
SK: they say you're already in the train
CZ: Yes, I'm going to see you
CZ: for hundreds of miles.
SK: Our parents are already preparing
SK: the favorite cakes.
CZ: I know your hospitality
CZ: even from the totage [totalitarian era].
SK: I am looking forward to see you,
SK: we can debate until the morning.
CZ: In the morning, just sing
CZ: without engagements: nah nah nah
SK: Many friendly words
CZ: I am going to see you.

SK: Enjoy the trip, its beauty peacefully
CZ: I've heard our dads were serving in the army together.
SK: They say that they've been laughing so that they cried.
CZ: And all women who were with them have melted.
CZ: They were feeling good and riling until the morning
CZ+SK: near the morning, they were singing,
CZ+SK: without obligations, nah nah nah
SK: Many friendly words
CZ: I am going to see you.

CZ+SK: Even today, the whole world wonders
CZ+SK: how two can part their ways without blood,
CZ+SK: for the last time and for the first time.
CZ+SK: Just a few people would return the time.
SK: Today, all of us are our own masters
CZ: that's why thanks, bye, and amen.

CZ: Hi, pal, it seems that you're already in the train.
SK: Boy, it's so far.
CZ: I know, 600 kilometers.
CZ: Enjoy Moravia and look forward to Prague, too.
SK: Do you have something like our rafts on the Váh river?
CZ: We have totally everything there and we also rile until the morning
SK: Before the morning, you are singing, without engagements, nah nah nah
SK: Many friendly words
CZ: I am going to see you.

CZ+SK: Even today, the whole world wonders
CZ+SK: how two can part their ways without blood,
CZ+SK: for the last time and for the first time.
CZ+SK: Just a few people would return the time.
SK: Today, all of us are our own masters
CZ: that's why thanks, bye, and amen.

SK: I am looking forward to see you,
SK: we can debate until the morning.
CZ: In the morning, just sing
CZ: without engagements: nah nah nah
SK: Many friendly words
CZ: I am going to see you

CZ+SK: Even today, the whole world wonders
CZ+SK: how two can part their ways without blood,
CZ+SK: for the last time and for the first time.
CZ+SK: Just a few people would return the time.
SK: Today, all of us are our own masters
CZ: that's why thanks, bye, and amen.

SK: I am looking forward to see you,
SK: we can debate until the morning.
CZ: In the morning, just sing
CZ: without engagements: nah nah nah
SK: Many friendly words
CZ: I am going to see you.
Of course, all of it was proved wrong. Two mostly civilized nations (or subnations) with political leaders who have no interest to create new problems because they want to become influential in the new countries pretty much guaranteed that what we were doing turned out to be the Velvet Divorce. And it has actually improved the actual relationships between the Czechs and Slovaks.

A separation is often more peaceful and constructive than a forced unity.

An irrelevant terminological fun: a dash war

The word "Czechoslovakia" referring to the 1992 stories above isn't really accurate. ;-) Until 1990, the country was called "Czechoslovak Socialist Republic". Of course, the post-Velvet-Revolution changes have removed the ugly adjective "socialist" but most Slovaks wanted something else, too.




They wanted a hyphen in between "Czech" and "Slovak". That looked extremely awkward to the Czech speakers, so for a month, the country was called "Czechoslovak federal republic" in Czechia (we only capitalize the first word of names) and "Czecho-Slovak federal republic" in Slovak. The mere translation of the official name from one language to another, almost identical language produced an extra hyphen and an extra capitalization.

Of course, there were big confrontations about this symbolic detail. These confrontations were known as the "hyphen war". The war ended when the country was renamed to "Czech and Slovak Federal Republic" (with the excessive capitalizations that contradicted the Czech and Slovak grammar: it was needed to capitalize "Slovak" which would otherwise have to be written in lowercase letters, imagine that!). A few months later, the country split which was somewhat more important a change than the hyphens. ;-)

There actually exists another meta-war concerned with the very name of the first "hyphen war". Internationally and in Slovakia, the character inserted in between "Czecho" and "Slovak" is called a hyphen ("spojovník" in Czech and Slovak). However, in Czech, people usually use the word "dash" ("pomlčka" in Czech and Slovak) both for a "dash" and a "hyphen" even though it is not quite kosher. We simply consider the word "spojovník" too awkward and the difference between hyphens and dashes as being too unimportant to force us to use the word "spojovník". ;-)

Yes, I do recognize hyphens and dash, their different sizes, spacings, and roles, and I do type them differently. But when I speak in Czech, I still use the word "dash" for both. Depending on the context, you should be able to figure out how the dash should be written.

Even though Slovaks use "spojovník" pretty often, unlike the Czechs, the Czechs have won the second hyphen meta-war ;-) which means that the first "hyphen war" is being called "dash war" both in Czechia and Slovakia, even today. :-)

These stories are funny because they highlight the amazing tension created by some of the seemingly most irrelevant characters in the name of a country. But of course, there was an obvious deeper dynamics underlying these different attitudes to the hyphens: most Slovaks simply wanted much more sovereignty within (or outside) Czechoslovakia than the Czechs.

The idea of a confederation of Czechs and Slovaks - a hybrid of a state and non-state - was a possible solution. But important Czech politicians have successfully argued that such a confusing arrangement - analogous to the pseudo-state structure of the current European Union - is inherently dysfunctional, and it was abandoned.

The Czech politicians gave the Slovaks two options - a functional federal state, or two independent countries. While the Czechs overwhelmingly favored the former, most Slovaks favored the latter and it was, of course, enough for Czechoslovakia to split.

Today, the Slovak-Czech relationships are the best ones in the history and there are all kinds of warm and constructive interactions going on. The common Superstar contest is just one major recent example. But such things are possible even in the bi-country setup.

No one has to create the artificial illusion of a unity for that. After all, commercial considerations (lower shared expenses, bigger impact) has led the Slovak and Czech TV stations to unify the music contest. I actually do think that we should re-unify the hockey league and other things, too.

But the focus in the political thinking is just too different and the Czechs and Slovaks would constantly choose representatives and parties that have nothing to do with each other. For example, if you look at the periods of left-wing vs right-wing governments in Czechia and Slovakia since 1989, you can see that they're almost exactly inversely correlated!

It just no longer makes any sense to forcefully put these two politically different entities into one bloc.

Needless to say, these comments of mine are relevant for the European Union, too. Unfortunately, the European Union is trying to unify too many things that work more efficiently, naturally, and democratically when they're not unified. But the unification has irrationally become a "politically correct" goal that average people and average politicians are expected to pay lip service to - and most of them do. This bias is unjustified and wrong.

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