Martin Milan Simecka has just returned from an interview with a Slovak radio station. For the meeting with DW, he suggested the editorial offices of Dennik N, one of the most important private news sites in Slovakia and Simecka’s employer. Nevertheless, the 65-year-old is rarely here: “I belong, but at my age…” he says ironically.

“I usually sit at home, think and write.” He is particularly interested in the broader political lines. With his commentaries, books and essays he is one of the most influential analysts of Slovak current affairs.

Dennik N’s editorial office is located in a high-rise building north of the center of the Slovakian capital Bratislava. On this December day, an upcoming vote of confidence in parliament is being discussed in the open-plan office – which the government under Prime Minister Eduard Heger will ultimately lose.

For our conversation, we retreat to a small, quiet glass booth at the edge of the office. The heating is turned up all the way here, but Simecka in his dark gray wool sweater doesn’t seem to mind. Only once does he open the zipper on the collar a little further.

We want to talk about an important date and its consequences: 30 years ago, on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia was dissolved and two independent states were created: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, which led to the fall of the communist dictatorship that had ruled the country since 1945, the decision was made to partition.

30 years later, some things have changed in the relationship between the two countries – but the bond is still close.

Simecka, whose father was a well-known opponent of the communist regime, describes himself as a “typical Czechoslovakian”: He speaks both languages ​​at native level, his family has Czech and Slovak roots. In 1993 Simecka suddenly had to make a decision. “It was pretty brutal,” he says, looking back.

Although his Czech parents would have granted him Czech citizenship, he opted for Slovak citizenship. “I’m a rarity – many Slovaks dreamed of a Czech passport back then,” he laughs. At the time, the clerk at the Slovakian passport authority said with tears of joy: “‘I’ve never met anyone like that, what happened?'”

The year before, in 1992, the decision to split the country into two states had been made at the highest political level. There was no referendum. “The split was against the will of the population,” says Martin Simecka. According to surveys, the majority of people in the Czech Republic and Slovakia back then supported the common state. “I would therefore be careful to praise the division as a prime example of an amicable separation – as is often done in Western Europe.”

Simecka keeps looking out the window while talking. Across the street, a typical Czechoslovak high-rise is aging: the round building was once a dormitory for soldiers, because of its resemblance to a corn cob – corn is “kukurica” ​​in Slovak – most Bratislava residents call it “Kukuriza”. After many years in which nobody seemed to care about it, it will soon be renovated – something is happening in Slovakia.

Thirty years earlier, many people there would have been afraid of an independent state. “Less for economic reasons – although there certainly were – than because of the political elite at the time.” The first prime minister of independent Slovakia, Vladimir Meciar, led the country in an increasingly authoritarian manner, explains Simecka: “Meciar and his party started to behave like the communists used to. Censorship and the fight for freedom of expression followed.”

For Simecka, the 1998 parliamentary elections are even more important than the demonstrations in autumn 1989: “There was a clear will to remove Meciar from power. The reason, of course, was that we knew that we would never join the EU and NATO with this government.”

At that time, Slovakia was afraid of being left behind by developments in the west: while its neighbors the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary had already been invited to join NATO, Slovakia had to wait until 2004.

When the EU expanded in the same year, Slovakia was again in tune with its neighbors – and even went further when it joined the monetary union in 2009.

Recently there have been disagreements because the Czech Republic unilaterally introduced controls at the common border due to migration – but Simecka, who regularly travels to Prague himself, does not see a major problem in practice.

Overall, the relationship between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which has been separated for 30 years, is characterized by mutual trust: “It is really remarkable how much these two nations love each other.” Otherwise, the Czechs would not have a neighbor they loved so much, for example definitely not the Germans, says Simecka with a laugh. And it’s similar for the Slovaks: “Of all the neighbors, the Czechs are the only ones we can really love.”

30 years after the separation, both countries are economically far from equal: the Czech gross domestic product is two and a half times as high as that of Slovakia, and Czech salaries are also significantly higher than Slovakia’s. And because many young Slovaks go to the Czech Republic to study and quite a few of them stay there, there is always talk of a “brain drain” to the West in Slovakia.

In one point, however, many in the Czech Republic are jealous of Slovakia – and that is their President Zuzana Caputova. The lawyer and former environmental and anti-corruption activist is considered absolutely incorruptible and has been by far the most popular politician in her country since her election in 2019. “The Czechs love them,” says Simecka. Many of the candidates in the Czech presidential elections in January 2023 would try to learn from Caputova. But that is an exception: “Otherwise Slovakia is not a role model for the Czech Republic.”

Author: David Ehl (Bratislava), Katharina Peetz (Bratislava)

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The original of this article “Thirty years in Slovakia: Anniversary in troubled times” comes from Deutsche Welle.