Slovaks On the Move

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Geography buffs find particularly interesting places in the world where major urban centers come close together but under different jurisdictions: the greater New York City metropolis, say, or the Liège-Maastricht-Aachen area in NW Europe. But there is one other that is more interesting even than these, featuring major urban centers once divided by the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and that is the Vienna-Bratislava area along the Danube. (Which, if you enlarge it even further, also includes the Hungarian city of Mosonmagyaróvár – OK, we’ll forget about that one for now . . .)

Indeed, a major Bratislava residential area known as Petržalka (to the south, and infamous for its very many drab panelák Communist pre-fab high-rise apartment buildings, still there today) has for years crowded right up to the line beyond which no one was allowed to be seen, lest they be shot. Ever since that regime fell in 1989, travelers heading to Bratislava on the bus from Vienna’s Schwechat airport (e.g. your humble blogger) have still found it remarkable the way the villages and fields lying to that city’s east abruptly give way to crowds of buildings once you cross the border.

But now there is no more “border” – that part of the world is now in the EU’s Schengen Area. Slovaks are no longer constrained, and so now they’re breaking out::

Novinky: Bratislavané se stěhují do Maďarska a Rakouska: http://t.co/8XyLzZ69

@Zpravy

Zpravy


“Bratislavans are moving to Hungary and Austria,” it reads. Yes: “moving,” as in “house.” This article – and note, it’s on a Czech news website – mainly discusses Slovak settlement in two neighboring places, namely the Austrian village of Wolfsthal – which you ride through on that airport bus – and the Hungarian town of Rajka, in the other direction but still only about 20km from Bratislava.

Hasicom
As recently as 2007, there were only three Slovaks in Wolfsthal, out of a population of around 720; now it’s 230 Slovaks making up a population of 900. The mayor, Gerhard Schödinger, certainly speaks Slovak – he has a Slovak wife! (And he used to be an Austrian customs official, back when there was a border.) As we can see, he also makes sure that the public signs dotting this Austrian town are bilingual German/Slovak. The Slovaks living there like it mainly because, well, everything is so German – “It’s peaceful here,” says one, “with beautiful Nature, order and safety in the streets” – but also because the Austrian government offers great social welfare benefits, topped off by easily-attainable and cheap loans of up to €50,000 for home improvement. (more…)

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Slovak-Hungarian Language Dispute Still Doing Just Fine(s)

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Since last September, relations between fellow EU-members (and NATO allies; but also with a very troubled historical relationship) Slovakia and Hungary have been rather bad, due to a Language Law that took effect then in Slovakia mandating the use of Slovak in all communications with any government organizations – the only exception being within those localities where people speaking other languages constitute 20% or more of the population. In Slovakia, that can really only be Hungarians, and it’s true that in some places they do reach that 20% threshold, but not many. And if you try to communicate with a language other than Slovak in those many other places where you’re not allowed to, you can get hit with a fine – up to €5,000!

One excellent window onto this controversy is the main Czech business newspaper, Hospodářské noviny, which now has an article on the latest development: Bratislava is in a rage: Budapest to contribute to countrymen in Slovakia towards fines for Hungarian. Put simply: the Hungarian government is raising a fund of money – mainly from its own resources, although private contributions are also encouraged – to pay the fines and legal costs for Hungarian-nationals in Slovakia that run afoul of that Language Law. Even though those that do so will by definition be Slovak citizens, although of Hungarian ethnic nationality. The Slovak Minister of Culture Jozef Bednár has issued a statement condemning Hungary for “intervening in the internal affairs of the Slovak Republic.” That does seem to be an accurate accusation, as far as it goes, although on the other hand it was also the standard line trotted out by the Soviet Union and its satellites whenever the West chose to complain about human rights violations and the like in those countries while the Cold War was still raging

Indeed, you could think that a bit of “interference in internal affairs” is quite in order here to stifle this childish and embarrassing brouhaha – intervention not from Hungary, but the European Union. Yet it seems that neither the doctrine concerning relations between EU institutions and member-states nor the sheer willingness of EU top officials to actually do anything has evolved sufficiently for that to happen.

Things really get interesting towards the end of the HN article when the author (the piece is attributed only to the Czech press agency CTK) introduces secondary information – like only entities registered as organizations or businesses are liable to the fine, not physical persons. Or the fact that no entity has actually been fined yet! If that’s really true, you can safely guess that the Language Law was really intended to be little more than a Slovak political gesture. Unfortunately, that gesture is kicking up more than a bit of trouble with the neighbors.

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Coals to Newcastle, Explosives to Dublin . . . ?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

What’s heading the list of most-read articles in the mainstream Slovak newspaper Sme would not normally merit the notice of the rest of the world. Today, though, it points to a most-amusing story: Airport police hid explosives in baggage. One [set of explosives] flew off to Dublin.

So, the Slovak and the Irish Republics: not two countries one would normally associate with one another. Now the latter is rather cross at the former, and since one side to the dispute does use English as an official language, you can read about all the details in the Irish Independent, among other places.

Executive Summary: Slovak police decided they needed to conduct an exercise to test airport screening personnel, so they inserted actual explosives into the luggage of eight unwitting passengers. Unfortunately, one of them managed to make it through security without being detected, and so actually flew to Dublin while carrying one-tenth of a kilogram of explosives in his suitcase. The hapless explosives-mule, 49-year-old electrician Stefan Gonda, according to the Independent article actually lives smack-dab in central Dublin – which was where a multi-block area was sealed off earlier today and five buildings evacuated, as an explosives team from the Irish Army arrived to greet Mr. Gonda and secure the stash.

Apologies are now flowing profusely to the Irish from Slovak government officials. Following on the heels of the “underwear bomber” above Detroit on Christmas Day, this is really rather abysmal timing for such a similar incident. Too few people in the world – excluding also certain US Senators, as in one “McCain, John” – are even aware of Slovakia’s existence, preferring to utter “Czechoslovakia,” but this is not really the ideal way for that country to make itself better known. And in keeping with that general obscurity, this further article from Sme (“Police: We informed the Irish today”) makes it clear that the incident happened at the “international airport” in Poprad*, and not at the Bratislava airport as the Independent article would have it. On that same page you can relish no fewer than two videos featuring embarrassed Slovak officials mouthing their excuses to the press – respectively the Poprad police chief and the spokeswoman for Poprad-Tatry Airport – but of course those excuses are mouthed in Slovak.

* OK, maybe you don’t know that Poprad is over in the eastern part of the country, while Bratislava is way over in the western part, but you surely heard of the city before, back when it was a candidate to host the 2006 Winter Olympics! Seriously, though, those looking for a cheap-but-good skiing vacation – particularly European residents – should check the place out.

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Škoda Free-Trade Success

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

fabiaNeed a little bit of good recession-related news? Maybe even something with “rejoice” in the title? We get that from the mainstream Czech daily Lidové noviny, reporting on recent Škoda auto sales: Germans fall in love with the Fabia, Škoda rejoices. Yes, Škoda’s Fabia (pictured here) was the second-most-sold automobile in the German market in February, 2009, behind only that perennial favorite the VW Golf. At 9,190 units sold, Fabia sales were triple what they had been only the previous month, while sales of the Octavia also improved enough to push that sister Škoda model (more of a luxury auto, I believe) to 19th place on the auto-sales hit-parade of what is of course a very competitive German market. One important result of all of this is that Škoda has cancelled the plans it had to go to a four-day work-week until the end of June; the five-day work-week (meaning five-day pay for personnel) will stay. (more…)

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Slovakia Re-Opens Forbidden Atomic Reactor

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

It now looks like an agreement is in place to let Russian natural gas shipments to the West resume with independent monitors from the European Union in place, but those have been blocked completely since Thursday (8 January) and it will take about a further three days to resume full service. In the meantime, unfortunately, the continent has suffered under a bitter cold spell, so that the political pressure from freezing constituents has already reached the breaking-point – I wouldn’t really call it the “boiling-point” – in Slovakia. As a number of press outlets report, among which Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel, Slovak premier Robert Fico announced at a Saturday evening televised press conference that his country would bring back on-line the atomic reactor at Jaslovské Bohunice that it had just shut down before the end of 2008.

Gee, why did the Slovaks go and close that reactor in the first place a few weeks ago? Namely because doing so, and doing so permanently by the end of 2008, was a provision in the accession agreement by which the country became a EU member-state back in 2004 in the first place. With the Jaslovské Bohunice reactor we’re talking in fact about the very first nuclear reactor in the former Czechoslovakia, whose construction began back in 1958 although it first went into operation only in 1972. Naturally, then, it’s a reactor built in the Soviet style, which in the light of such incidents as Chernobyl raised safety concerns to such a degree that the EU insisted that Slovakia eventually shut it down. (more…)

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Euro-Underdog Comes Through

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Hungry for some sort of financial news now, at the beginning of a brand-new year, that’s actually good, that reflects things flawlessly going ahead according to plan? How about this: As of 1 JAN 2009 Slovakia adopted the euro as its currency, just as the European Central Bank (ECB) and various other responsible Euro-authorities had authorized it to do last May. That’s right: Slovakia – I mean, who even knows where that place is? It was only a separate country as of 1 JAN 1993, yet it has beaten out (among others) its former big-brother state, the Czech Republic (which could be said to date back to Greater Moravia of 833 AD if you’re willing to stretch the affiliations a little bit), and Poland (dating from 966 AD) to the safe-haven of the euro. And make no mistake: these days the euro-zone is definitely the sort of currency safe-haven that all sorts of countries still standing outside it (e.g. Poland, Denmark, Iceland) wish that they were within, given the demonstrated weakness of numerous small-state-currency regimes.

Against this background, it’s amusing to take a look at comments from the Czech press. (more…)

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We’re Targets – Yes, Us Too!

Saturday, November 20th, 2004

The dark blight of terror has now spread its shadow a bit further ’round the world, I’m sorry to report. This from the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny (Terrorist Attack Allegedly Threatens Slovakia): The government spokesman for the Slovak Republic, Vladimir Simko, recently announced on Slovak TV that Slovakia is the possible target of a future terrorist attack. It seems that the Slovak secret intelligence service (SIS) has caught wind of something; as Simko’s announcement put it, “During radio broadcasts in lands in the Near and Middle East there has appeared speculation according to which Slovakia was designated as a possible target for a terrorist attack.” Naturally, though, there was nothing picked up about an actual imminent strike; I daresay the entire conduct of the Slovak government would have been rather different if there had been. (more…)

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Slovakia: The Past is Now

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

We recently covered the “Europa XL/Zelfportret Europa” portrait of the Czech Republic. Now it’s time to take up that country’s sister republic, Slovakia, which came into its own as an independent country only with the so-called “Velvet Divorce” of 1 January 1993. Did that “divorce” really ever need to come to pass? (more…)

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Six of One, Half-A-Dozen of the Other

Wednesday, April 7th, 2004

Let’s continue today our “When Good Central European Electorates Go Bad” series in which, while defending to the death the right of voters there to choose the governments they want, we take out our spectacles, lean in for a closer look, and then blurt out “You want to choose that lot?!”

Today’s subject is one I mentioned in passing in this weblog’s last post, namely the seemingly unstoppable ascent of Vladimir Meciar to the presidency of the Slovak Republic. I took a closer look myself, and while the crisp, succinct, bottom-line summary of what’s going on that I’ve just given you is bad enough, in fact the situation viewed more broadly is even worse – not that there aren’t plenty of comic elements that can’t be extracted to put a little sugar on the bitter pill. Or at least that’s for those of you who are not Slovak and so will not have to live through the next few years with the results of what is about to happen. We’ll do our best to do this in the following, so get yourself in tune for some bittersweet humor. (more…)

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A New Churchill Needed for Europe?

Monday, March 22nd, 2004

The tide has now largely turned on the Madrid bombings of two weeks ago. Fewer commentators are willing to assert that the Spanish electorate, in voting out the conservative Aznar government in contradiction to what opinion polls had previously indicated would happen, capitulated to terrorist threats to inflict more of the same on their country in the hope that they would instead be left alone. Instead, most now ascribe Aznar’s loss to his government’s alleged attempt after the attacks, but before the election, to point the blame for them to what for him would be the more politically-advantageous culprit, the Basque terrorist organization ETA.

This is not the case in the Czech opinion-weekly Respekt, though, where in his cover-story commentary Before Terror Annihilates Us Teodor Marjanovic declares that “Europe today needs its own Winston Churchill” in response to the terrorist threat. Are Czech editorial writers merely lagging behind their counterparts further west? I’ll let you judge that in what follows; in any case, Marjanovic raises some good points ordinarily overlooked by many, and does so rather pungently. (more…)

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Slovakia Votes “Yes” to EU Accession

Sunday, May 18th, 2003

One of EuroSavant’s reader services, as regular visitors to this site will have noticed from past entries, is tracking the series of referenda by which EU candidate countries will (presumably) approve their entry into EU membership on 1 May 2004. Earlier this month Lithuanians voted in favor. This weekend it was the turn of Slovakia, and according to most press reports the important question was not whether “Yes” votes would prevail, but whether there would be enough votes cast, whether “Yes” or “No,” to attain at least the level of 50% participation which would make the referendum valid. It seems that that did indeed come to pass: according to the president of the Slovak electoral commission, Julius Fodor, 52.15% of eligible votes were cast, of which 92.46% were in favor of EU accession. (more…)

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