National Geographic : 1993 Sep
through the celebration at dizzying speed. Not all Czechs and Slovaks reacted so enthusiastically to the dissolution of their country, I learned during my visits there before and after the split. "We're a sovereign nation now-for better or worse," a Slovak friend said, with a shrug. "At least the parting was peaceful; that's something." Czechs and Slovaks are products of the same central European geogra phy and similar in language and culture. "The nation was cobbled together ft after World War I from Provinces of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Em Bodu pire," explained Martin Bfi -" tora, a Slovak sociologist who teaches in the Czech capital, Prague. "Slovakia had been occupied by Hungarians for a thousand years. The Czechs were influ enced more by Austria and the West." Recently they rejoiced in the same victory over 41 years of communist rule, a nonviolent triumph led by intellectuals from both lands: the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Barely two years later, they had sued for a "velvet divorce." "The split is mad," an economist told me in Prague. "All of Europe is straining for unity, and we're dividing ourselves in two. Slovakia, smaller, less developed, will suffer the most." A Bratislava psychologist disagreed. "The Czech population is ten million, twice that of Slovakia; the Czechs are richer, more indus trialized-and they have always lorded this over us. It is time to step out of Prague's shadow," he insisted. "Let them go," said a Czech bookseller. "It will avoid bloodshed. Look what hap pened to our neighbors in Yugoslavia." Many in both regions of Czechoslovakia prepared for the split in advance. A young Slovak I met at Charles University had al ready applied for her Czech passport-one of some 40,000 to do so before the separation. "Prague is where the future will happen," she said. "The truth is, at one time 85 percent of the people - Czechs and Slovaks alike - were against the breakup," said Ivan Tomek, a Staples for Prague's street capitalists, Soviet military insignia and other souvenirs are fading reminders of the Cold War. Meanwhile, swamped by foreign visitors, the city's hotels and restaurants are thriving.