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The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a common state in the center of Europe for more than seventy years until 1993, with the exception of the years of World War II. In 1992, Czechoslovakia disintegrated. But after the split, the two countries entered into extensive intergovernmental agreements in 2000, four years before they joined the EU. These have created relations, especially in the linguistic and social fields, which go beyond common EU membership: Slovak and Czech are recognized in both countries as "generally understood languages" that students can use in the other country to study or citizens to communicate with the authorities. The Slovak and Czech governments meet in joint meetings, and the first foreign trips of new presidents, prime ministers and ministers are always to Prague and Bratislava.
Even on the international stage, the two countries have so far mostly moved in sync, or at least very close to each other. Except for the period immediately after the breakup of Czechoslovakia, when the nationalist and authoritarian regime of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar (1993-1998) made Slovakia the "black hole of Europe" and excluded it from the first wave of NATO enlargement as well as from integration into the European Union, because it did not meet the democratic criteria.
Fico: Not a bullet for Ukraine
With the new Slovak cabinet led by Robert Fico's national-conservative Smer party taking office, which won elections in late September, the question of whether Prague and Bratislava will face a repeat of the Meciar era seems possible. And if, as one Prague diplomat said, "if Slovakia will succeed in remaining in the Czech orbit." Or whether Hungarian authoritarian leader Viktor Orban, who repeatedly and unequivocally backed Fico before the election, will pull the new Slovak government to his side.
The main point of conflict is helping Ukraine against Russian aggression. The Czech Republic has been and remains one of the main supporters of Ukraine, both in terms of arms shipments and financial and humanitarian aid. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala was one of the first three European heads of state to visit Kyiv on March 15, 2022 , immediately after the start of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. The new Slovak Prime Minister Fico, on the other hand, wants to end aid to Ukraine. One of the election slogans of his Smer party was "Not one more bullet for Ukraine". He also made similar statements after the election and said in early October that "the roots of the war in Ukraine go back to 2014, when Ukrainian fascists killed civilians of Russian nationality."
Prague judges based on actions
However, these harsh statements have been followed up with little action so far, especially due to diplomatic pressure exerted by the Czech Republic. From the first trips of Slovak politicians who, as usual, went to Prague, it became clear that the rejection of aid to Ukraine is not so obvious.
The government in Bratislava will not cancel any contracts entered into for the delivery of arms and ammunition to Ukraine, including those of the state arms factories. "Everything that takes place on a commercial basis remains unchanged and will continue as before," declared the new Slovak Foreign Minister, Juraj Blanar, on November 6, 2023 in Prague, after a meeting with his Czech counterpart Jan Lipavsky. "Slovakia has provided significant humanitarian aid to Ukraine and we want to continue this aid".
In this aid, the new Slovak government also includes demining, for which Bratislava offers Kiev the help of Slovak specialists.
In early November, the new government flatly rejected military aid in the form of 40 million euros worth of ammunition from the Slovak army stocks, planned by the previous government.
But in Prague, we are impressed with this "I don't judge by words, but by actions," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky told DW. "The delivery of Slovak ammunition to Ukraine, which is not negligible, continues."
Fico wants to come to Prague
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala is also trying to reach out to the new government in Bratislava. He met with Fico on the sidelines of the European Union summit in October 2023. "We will have different views on a number of foreign policy issues, that's true," he said after the meeting. "We may have different ideas on this or that topic, but we must look for a common language, it is our duty and this is how I approach this issue". The two heads of government agreed that Fico should go to Prague as soon as possible. possible for his first traditional trip abroad November 24 was mentioned.
According to diplomatic sources, the main obstacle is Fico's request to be received by President Petr Pavel. General Pavel, chairman of NATO's military committee until 2018, is clearly pro-Ukrainian. According to diplomatic circles in Prague, the two governments are currently negotiating a public statement from Fico in favor of Kiev.
Czechs love Visegrad only with Tusk
In other areas too, Prague is trying to diplomatically push Slovakia away from Viktor Orbán. Thus, the Czech government, which currently chairs the Visegrad group of countries, rejected Fico's request to convene a summit of V4 prime ministers and foreign ministers. Fico wanted to force the Visegrad countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, to jointly reject the European pact on migration. Both Hungary and the outgoing PiS government in Warsaw are against the migration pact. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, supports it.
Prague rejected the Slovak request and said it would welcome a new Polish government led by the pro-European leader of the current Polish opposition, Donald Tusk. "We don't want to meet just for the sake of meeting, but to deal with real politics in Central Europe," it said. Experts believe that with Tusk, Poland and the Czech Republic will together try to put pressure on Fico and isolate Orban within the Visegrad Group.
Hungary is also making efforts
Hungary knows this well. This is why Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto rushed to Bratislava on 07.11.2023, immediately after Blanar's visit to Prague, to meet his Slovak counterpart: "We do not forget the value of a good neighborliness with Hungary", said Blanar after the meeting. But for now, even after the first weeks of the Fico government, Slovakia continues to give first place to the Czech Republic. And in doing so, the Fico government also chooses the current Czech pro-European and, to some extent, pro-Ukraine direction./DW