In a very engaged final discussion at AAU’s international conference “Czechoslovak Velvet Divorce: 25 Years After”, Czech diplomat Štefan Füle reminded panelists that the EU has not turned its back on the crisis in Spain. “When [the European Commission] called it an internal matter, it was not a message to forget it. It was not a message that we don’t care. It was a message that the balance between those very important principles of international law needs to be addressed by the people inside the country and not by those outside.” he said.
Representatives of Spain / Catalonia, as well as Serbia, Belgium and Czechia participated in the last panel of the conference at Anglo-American University (AAU) in Prague on Friday, December 1, 2017. Renowned economists, sociologists, academics, diplomats and former political figures jointly echoed the events that preceded and followed the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The one-day International Conference “Czechoslovak Velvet Divorce: 25 Years After” became a diverse platform for assessing the economic aspects of this peaceful divorce with a focus on the economic development of both separate states. Although the division of the federation was supported mainly by Slovakia at the time, all the speakers came to a similar conclusion – that it benefited both countries and helped them build an even a stronger relationship following the split.
AAU’s President Petr Jan Pajas, gave the opening and welcome speech, discussing the founding of Anglo-American University in 1990, before the Czechoslovak split. Following this introduction, Ivor Lehoťan representing TopForex, a global investment company and one of the main partners of the conference, stressed the importance of not only free movement of goods and services but especially of workers and citizens in general.
The first block of seminars thoroughly analysed the 25-years of independent economic development following the split. Highlighted topics included the struggles both states underwent with the legacy of the Communist regime, and evaluating the controversial privatisation of state property in both countries. On the other hand, the experts admitted that the division enabled both countries to compete and better mobilise their own resources. “The transformational reforms carried out in 1998 in Slovakia helped the country to overtake Czech Republic for the first time after the division and the ‘Tatran Tiger’ profits from it ever since,” said Slovak economist Ján Oravec.
His Czech counterpart Jiří Schwarz recalled the high expectations of Czech political leaders and prognostics who had forecasted that the Czech Republic would have caught up with Austria in 10 years not having to drag the Slovak weight. As he concluded, the results of past 25 years does nott prove such optimism to be quite right: “We are definitely closer to Austria but still further than we expected.” The economics of the Czech Republic and Slovakia took a very similar curve though. For example with joining the European Union hand-in-hand in 2004 or putting the emphasis on the automotive industry, since both are global market leaders in car production and exporting to developed markets.
The second round of lectures was to be delivered by two former leading politicians who were involved in the actual process of the division of Czechoslovakia. Of the two, the Slovak representative Vladimír Mečiar did not make an appearance in the end, so it was mainly a one man show for the former Finance Minister. Ivan Kočárník started his speech with a reminder of Masaryk’s Czechoslovak People that unfortunately proved to be unsustainable, as there had always been desire among Slovaks to be independent. He also explained the logistics of the whole process of separation, the principle of the 2:1 ration in the division of property or the later currency allocation. To counter the sentiment that there should have been a referendum to legitimize such an important change, he pointed to the June 1992 elections. In these elections, a majority of Slovaks voted for Mečiar’s Movement for democratic Slovakia, a referendum of a kind.
Overall, Ivan Kočárník saw the Velvet Revolution as a successful step forward, saying that it ended the dispute about which federation state was a burden and set the ground for a better relationship. In the discussion after the seminar Mgr. Petr Chára from AAU added that this legal separation actually brought the Czechs and Slovaks back together.
After a short break, Ján Tóth from the National Bank of Slovakia took the floor, turning the topic to the question of being in or outside the Eurozone. After presenting the Slovak experience of adopting the Euro and showing the curves of different economic indicators, he weighed in on the Euro itself. He stated that if economic growth in the long-term proves to be faster thanks to the growth of international trade, thanks of more foreign direct investments, he would be a supporter of Euro, but that the data to show such long-term returns is currently not available. There was also an interesting comparison of the two currencies during the global economic crisis, such as when Czech Republic could use the currency exchange rate channel to balance the impact of the crisis with the intervention of Czech National Bank. According to Tóth this was a good move.
To complement the panel, Mojmír Hampl from Czech National Bank, known to be Eurosceptic, said: “I am convinced that the Koruna is a stabilizing element of the Czech economy, but it is by far not the most important one. If everything works in the economy, monetary policy does not play a role. If the economy does not work, monetary policy will not fix it either.” He also thinks that the question of whether to adopt Euro or not is not based on analysis as the political, social, security and other reasons play a more important role. Hampl considers Czechs to be very conservative and that there is actually no demand to change the currency due to the anti-inflationary DNA nor the political will as the politicians usually only proclaim: ‘yes, we will debate Euro, but only in the next parliamentary term’.
Even though recent research by the MNFORCE agency for TopForex, undertaken for the occasion of this conference, shows that seven out of ten Slovaks are happy with Euro, Mojmír Hampl stressed that the data should not be considered transferable to other countries no matter how similar their economics might be.
During the next lecture, called Memorial to Peter Matějů, an important Czech sociologist and founder, the topic turned to the Independent development of Slovak and Czech society from a sociological point of view. This brought with it again a completely different light on the topic. American educator Michael Smith pointed out a few problems the Czech Republic is currently facing. Apart from a rigid educational system, there is also a lack of cooperation between schools and private companies, people are still rewarded based on their level of education rather than development of real skills etc. “The educational system, along with over-regulation and corruption continues to be a major restraint on Czech competitiveness,” he added.
The Slovak sociologist Oľga Gyárfášová from Comenius University in Bratislava pointed out that in the early 1990s, Slovakia was considered as the weaker part of the former Czechoslovakia and many found it hard to believe it would join the EU and NATO in 2004 at the same time as the Czech Republic. Now we can all see that Slovakia has successfully integrated into EU.
To complete the loaded schedule of the conference, the last part consisted of a Discussion Panel of four participants from different countries that experienced a cultural or political divorce of its own: Milorad Mišković from the Republic of Serbia, Luc De Ceuster from Belgium, Antoni Ferrando from Spain and diplomat Štefan Füle as a Czech representative.
Each panellist had ten minutes to present the audience with the situation they experienced in their countries and to explain the differences compared to the amicable and non-violent split of the Czech and Slovak states. In the case of the former Yugoslavia issues were arrayed along lines of religious and ethnic differences, plus external intervention, which became a huge part of the problem. Milorad Mišković from Serbia stressed that Czechoslovakia was different from the violent Yugoslavian case for many reasons: “There was not a problem concerning ethnicity, as minorities account for a small percentage of the population. The Czech part of Czechoslovakia is the most atheist in the world, so there was no real religious conflict either.”
Luc De Ceuster then mentioned the experience with revolution in his country between the Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Wallons, which was not velvet but bloody. The lesson was learned though and Belgium became an example of a solution found in a compromise.
The conference in Czech Media
Televize ČT24 ● 1. 12. 2017
min. 10:40 – 11:55
min. 12:15 – 14:18
min. 34:09 – 35:55
Publication date: December 06, 2017