Hace 30 años, estuve en Praga y Bratislava para cubrir en los medios el “divorcio de terciopelo” entre la República Checa y Eslovaquia. Bratislava celebraba en las plazas su separación de Chequia, a pesar de estar a 15 grados bajo cero. Las calles nevadas de Praga, en cambio, estaban desiertas. Los checos no tenían ninguna razón para celebrar y se quedaron en casa reflexionando sobre la disolución del país. Mientras el mundo admiraba ese divorcio pacífico, que tanto contrastaba con la guerra que en el mismo momento desencadenaban los políticos nacionalistas serbios en la antigua Yugoslavia, muchos checos suspiraban, melancólicos: “Si quieren irse, que se vayan”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Edvard Benes (left), then-president of Czechoslovakia, is greeted by the crowd upon his return to Plzen, Czechoslovakia, in June 1945. STF/AFP via Getty Images

Imagine that, one day, government representatives knock on your door and claim ownership of the land you inherited from your grandfather, saying it should have been confiscated from him immediately after World War II. The government representative explains that, for some procedural reason, the confiscation was not duly implemented in the 1940s, so the state is now correcting this omission.

This may sound preposterous, but it is the reality ethnic Hungarians and Germans in Slovakia face today through the retroactive application of World War II-era laws called the Benes Decrees. The Benes Decrees permit the seizure of private property of individuals belonging to these ethnic groups, and they are being increasingly abused by the Slovak government to expropriate land.…  Seguir leyendo »

Igor Matovic, leader of anti-graft political movement Ordinary People and Independent Personalities, and Slovak President Zuzana Caputova arrive Monday for informal talks after the country's parliamentary election at the presidential palace in Bratislava. (Vladimir Simicek/Afp Via Getty Images)

It’s still hurricane season in European party politics, with plenty of unpredictable results. In Slovakia, the winds blew hard Saturday — the governing parties took a big hit, with two smaller partners losing their representation in parliament entirely and Slovakia’s once-dominant Smer-Social Democracy party suffering major losses.

The clear winner was anti-corruption — not the radical right

Much of the international coverage prior to the election focused on assertions of widespread support for Marian Kotleba’s neo-fascist party. But Kotleba’s Our Slovakia party mustered just 8 percent of the vote. A decline in overall voting for nationalist parties and splintering of the nationalist vote meant Slovakia’s other two prominent nationalist parties failed to win any seats at all.…  Seguir leyendo »

Annotated results of Slovakia's first round of voting for president, held March 16.

On March 16, Slovakia held the first round of voting for its largely ceremonial Slovak presidency, with 13 candidates competing for the slot. Even though the country’s real executive power lies with a prime minister, the presidential election reveals the mood and changing politics of Slovakia. Two candidates are left standing: an anti-corruption crusader and a candidate promoted by the ruling party, Smer. The pair will face-off in the March 30 second round. Here are five takeaways, showing the shape of politics in the country and wider region.

1. It’s not about populism, but about rejecting the elite

Many voters are fed up with the current government’s corruption and scandals.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators attend a protest 'For a Decent Slovakia' in Bratislava, Slovakia, on May 4, 2018. - Journalists firings at the public TV and radio broadcaster RTVS, sparked protests across Slovakia again, nine weeks after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee. (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP) (Photo credit should read VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Thirty miles northeast of the Slovakian capital Bratislava is Veľká Mača, a village-turned-bedroom-community of tightly packed bungalows fanning out from a big Catholic church, a small supermarket, and a smoky pub. In winter, the surrounding fields are dusted with snow, some planted with wheat but many now filled with hangar-like logistic centers for Amazon, DHL, and other markers of economic change.

Nearly a year ago, hired killers drove into this quiet town, broke into a small prefabricated bungalow, and shot dead two young people: the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, an archaeologist at a local research institute.…  Seguir leyendo »

People celebrate the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico and his government as a way out of the political crisis during a rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 16. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

A month after the grisly double murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, the aftershocks continue to reverberate throughout Slovakia, underscoring the country’s struggles with corruption but also the vital importance of the quest to uncover it.

The murders have been met with universal condemnation and outrage inside Slovakia and throughout the European Union. Kuciak was the first journalist ever to be killed for his work in Slovakia’s 25 years as an independent state. Until now, it had enjoyed a reputation as a country where expression was generally tolerated.

The report that Kuciak was working on — a meticulous account of the ties between government officials and an Italian mafia syndicate accused of defrauding the E.U.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man holds a poster of Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban that reads “What have I done again” during a protest by opposition parties against Orban’s policies on migrants. (AP)

On Wednesday morning, the European Court of Justice turned down a challenge brought by Hungary and Slovakia against the European Union’s mandatory refugee relocation scheme. This is a big deal — the E.U. has had to manage an influx of over 1 million displaced people since 2015. Mediterranean E.U. states such as Greece and Italy faced a particularly big burden since they were often the countries where refugees first arrived. This is why the E.U. established new rules that required each member state to accept a quota of refugees in September 2015.

The plan was initially supposed to transfer approximately 120,000 refugees from Greece and Italy to Central and Western Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

To any fair-minded observer, President Trump’s authoritarian instincts, Twitter outbursts and divisive rhetoric should be greatly concerning. Americans might take comfort in the fact that the United States is not the first country to elect and live under such a leader. I would know.

Two and a half years after the fall of communism in 1989, the ruthless and charismatic Vladimir Meciar was elected as prime minister in my home country of Slovakia after a brief previous stint in the office. His larger-than-life personality and bombastic rhetoric filled much of the media space, often with lies and conspiracies. His opponents, many of them former dissidents from the old era, lacked the rhetorical skills, charisma and political acumen to compete.…  Seguir leyendo »

When Europe’s Far Right Came for Me

Last month, after I finished a few final items of paperwork, I walked out of the offices of the Human Rights Institute around 11 p.m. and headed home. I was alone and had no sense of any danger. Because of my work, I’ve received plenty of threats before, but I’ve ignored them. I’ve always felt safe in Bratislava.

After I’d gone a few feet, I was attacked. I didn’t see it coming. A punch landed in my face. And then another. Two men I didn’t recognize were standing over me. “You’re a dirty Smer whore!” one shouted, referring to Slovakia’s ruling Social Democratic Party, with which I am not affiliated.…  Seguir leyendo »

Post-Communist countries can be likened to Western societies operating with a time lag — repeating the same debates that their Western counterparts had some 10 years ago. One such example is Slovakia’s current controversy over gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

Although the institutionalization of gay marriages or child adoptions by same-sex couples hardly figures on the agenda of most political parties, the country has come a long way since its first Gay Pride event in 2010, which was disrupted by neo-Nazi youths. Because it is probably just a matter of time until gay unions and same-sex adoptions become palatable to most Slovaks, opponents of these reforms have launched a pre-emptive assault to make these reforms legally and politically costly.…  Seguir leyendo »

The global economy is still struggling to overcome the effects of the recession sparked by the 2008 financial crisis. But energy — in particular, shale gas exploration — has become one of the strongest engines for the U.S. economy. U.S. natural gas production has increased by one-fourth in the past five years, according to the Energy Information Administration; it has created 600,000 jobs since 2009 and helped drive down gas prices for millions of Americans. Moreover, the United States is now in a position to export gas. This surplus creates opportunities for the United States to again be a geopolitical player in Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

La decisión de nuestra sociedad de apartarse por completo del comunismo, y que últimamente ha adoptado forma de ley, ha tenido como consecuencia lógica el que la atención prestada a los acontecimientos de 1968 en Checoslovaquia se limite ahora fundamentalmente a criticar la falta de entusiasmo y el antagonismo interno de los políticos comunistas de la reforma que entonces dirigían el país. Por consiguiente, sería aconsejable, en el XXV aniversario de la invasión de Checoslovaquia por parte de los ejércitos del Pacto de Varsovia recordar también otros factores y dimensiones de aquellos acontecimientos.

Ante todo, no hay que olvidar que los cambios conceptuales y de personas que tuvieron lugar a principios de 1968 en la cúpula del Partido Comunista, así como en el Gobierno, no fueron sólo una especie de golpe entre los líderes comunistas.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a stadium in Prague, 20 years ago today, a hundred thousand people, including my father and me, saw something we were not supposed to see. For decades it had been forbidden. The music, we were told, would poison our minds with filthy images. We would be infected by the West’s capitalist propaganda.

It was a cool August night in 1990; the Communist regime had officially collapsed eight months earlier, when Vaclav Havel, the longtime dissident, was elected president. And now the Rolling Stones had come to Prague.

I was 16 then, and to this day I recall the posters promoting the concert, which lined the streets and the walls of the stadium: “The Rolling Stones roll in, Soviet army rolls out.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Tema: El 1 de enero de 2009 la República Eslovaca cumplió 16 años como Estado soberano. Ese mismo día se integró en la zona euro, el primero en hacerlo de los cuatro países de Visegrado. El devenir de la Eslovaquia contemporánea fue, en un principio, convulso, pero en los últimos diez años ha logrado grandes niveles de estabilidad política y económica.

Resumen: Desde los motivos de la desaparición de Checoslovaquia hasta el importante apoyo electoral otorgado a Vladimir Meciar, la historia reciente de Eslovaquia es todavía poco conocida o comprendida. Pero a partir de 1998, la superación de su aislamiento internacional y las audaces reformas estructurales iniciadas por el Gobierno de centro-derecha presidido por Mikulas Dzurinda la situaron en la senda de un destacado crecimiento económico, basado en buena medida en la llegada masiva de inversiones extranjeras, que le valieron la denominación del “tigre centroeuropeo”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Forty years ago last week, the five Warsaw Pact countries, led by the Soviet Union, sent armored tanks into Czechoslovakia. It was to be the end of the Prague Spring, a brief period of political liberalization and cultural blossoming in Czechoslovakia, and the beginning of 21 years of Soviet oppression — a turning point in the histories of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet the anniversary was marked here with some hesitation.

At the official commemoration at Prague Castle, Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, gave a speech. The prime ministers of Slovakia and the Czech Republic opened an exhibition in Wenceslas Square — where Soviet troops had clashed with the citizens of Prague in 1968 — featuring a Soviet T-54 tank and homemade posters protesting the invasion.…  Seguir leyendo »