1 June 1990

In the Land of the Hyphen – Jan Budaj and ‘Fictional Culture’ in Slovakia before the Split

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In the summer of 1990, I visited Slovakia, then still part of Czechoslovakia, to watch preparations for the first general election since the Velvet Revolution. Jan Budaj had recently emerged as leader of Public Against Violence (VPN), the Slovak sister organisation of Civic Forum, but I had previously met him in the Communist era. Having been much impressed by the courage with which he had then lived as a persistently harassed dissident, I was shocked when I heard, just after my return to Britain (and the publication of this article), that he had been forced to resign after the closure of the polls. He was the victim of a ‘lustration’ process involving the manipulative publication of information from secret police files in Prague. Having won the election through Budaj’s campaign, Public Against Violence split in 1991, and power went to the breakaway Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, lead by the populist Vladimir Meciar. This article was published as ‘Gesture Politics’ in New Statesman and Society, 1 June 1990, pp. 16-20


 In British thinking, Czechoslovakia usually means the northern lands of Bohemia and, above all, the enchanting city of Prague. When we hear about Slovakia in the south, we get only the scantiest information from which to build a picture. We probably remember Dubcek, who spent his years of internal exile there, and also the fact that the Semtex explosive favoured by terrorists the world over was manufactured there. Add a vague recollection of wartime fascism, together with more recent reports of resurgent national chauvinism, and it is immediately clear why we should have been disposed to share Prague’s superior and exasperated smile at the famous problem of the hyphen that the Slovaks – in what has been widely portrayed as a fit of Balkanizing pettiness – wanted to insert into the name of the new post-communist state…

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 1st, 1990 at 12:00 am and is filed under Articles General, Czecho-Slovakia, Encounters, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.