The last European summit under the Czech presidency took place on December 15, 2022 – without Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger. On that day, he had to face a vote of no confidence in the Slovakian parliament in Bratislava.
He was represented by his Czech counterpart Petr Fiala. An obvious decision, because even thirty years after the smooth division of their common state on January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are still very close.
Fiala confirmed this to Deutsche Welle: “The excellent relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are not only evident in this issue.” That is why January 1, 2023 will be the 30th anniversary of the peaceful division of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic and its founding of two independent states to celebrate with pride.
“We must not forget that the division of Czechoslovakia was not only peaceful, but also unusually friendly,” Fiala said. That is something unique in history. “The special thing that we should be proud of and work on is that the post-partition relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are really excellent.” This applies not only to the political level, but also between companies and people.
“This is something really beautiful and I think it shows that creating two independent states was the right path and helped both nations,” the Czech prime minister told DW. “The fact that we have such good relations strengthens us together in Europe.”
Slovak politicians and diplomats take a similar view. Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Rastislav Kacer has fond memories of his time as his country’s ambassador to the Czech capital. “Being the Slovak ambassador in Prague is a great privilege. Here you are a diplomatic king. Other ambassadors come up to you and say: nobody else understands Czech politics as well as you do, explain it to us.”
The post of ambassador in Bratislava is also considered very prestigious in Czech diplomacy. Evidence of this is the fact that the Czech ambassador to Slovakia from 2013 to 2018 was former First Lady Livie Klausova, wife of former President Vaclav Klaus.
“The moment it became known that I would go to Slovakia as ambassador, interest was great, much more than when I went to Germany as ambassador,” remembers Rudolf Jindrak, head of the foreign department of the President’s office in Prague, in conversation with DW. On January 1, 2023, he will take up his new post as Czech ambassador in Bratislava.
The exceptional relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are also reflected in the fact that the first trips abroad by presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers of both countries still lead to the capital of the respective neighboring country, to Prague and Bratislava – even 30 years after the division of Czechoslovakia . There are also regular joint meetings between the two governments.
Student exchanges are also lively, as Czech and Slovak citizens can study in the other country free of charge. Both languages are classified as understandable in both countries. More than 25,000 Slovak students study in the Czech Republic – that’s more than ten percent of the total student body. Conversely, the number of Czech students in the neighboring country is significantly lower due to the lower quality of Slovak universities.
In addition, thousands of Slovak doctors and nurses work in the Czech Republic. 91,000 Czech citizens have Slovak roots, and more than 114,000 Slovaks are permanent residents of the Czech Republic. In Slovakia, on the other hand, there are only a few tens of thousands of Czechs.
Slovak political scientist Grigory Mesezhnikov, director of the Institute for Public Affairs, confirmed in an interview with DW that relations between Czechs and Slovaks are consistently good. “The perception of the Czechs by the Slovaks is very positive, which is also confirmed by opinion polls. And in the Czech Republic, too, the Slovaks are perceived as the closest nation,” says Mesezhnikov.
“Czechoslovakia is still alive in people’s minds and hearts, albeit with varying degrees of intensity,” Mesezhnikov said. According to a survey conducted in November 2022 by the Prague-based polling institute STEM, 91 percent of Slovaks and 87 percent of Czechs still consider themselves their closest allies. 53 percent of Slovaks still think the division of Czechoslovakia is wrong, but only 35 percent of the Czech population.
Despite all this positive data: According to many experts, the specificity of the relationship between the two brother countries is slowly declining. “In many areas our relations are no longer exceptionally good,” admits Rudolf Jindrak to pay attention.”
This was particularly evident during the first serious crisis in bilateral relations since Czechoslovakia’s dissolution, when the Czech Republic closed the “green border” with Slovakia on September 29, 2022. The reason for this was a sharp increase in the number of illegal immigrants entering the country via Slovakia. Bratislava refused to take back the migrants apprehended by Czech police under the readmission agreement.
“Yes, one of the reasons for the reintroduction of controls at the common border was the problematic implementation of the readmission agreement by Slovakia,” confirms Hana Mala from the press department of the Czech Ministry of the Interior to DW. The closure of the green border led to protests by Slovakian truck drivers. Even a meeting of the prime ministers on November 11, 2022 could not settle the dispute. The green Schengen border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia will remain closed over the Christmas holidays.
Author: Lubos Palata
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The original of this article “Thirty years after the separation: Dark clouds over Czech-Slovak relations” comes from Deutsche Welle.