Building borders, opening borders...

24-10-2003

At midnight on December 31 1992, the Czechoslovak federation was formally dissolved and two independent states - the Czech Republic and Slovakia - came into being. Creating Europe's newest border. Since then, the two have moved in different directions. But when they become a part of the European Union and after that the Schengen zone, their citizens will once again travel freely between the two states as they did 11 years ago. What does this mean to Slovaks and Czechs?

It's the middle of the week, approximately noon and at the border between Slovakia and the Czech republic I see long queues of cars and trucks. After 1993 when Czechoslovakia separated, people had to get used to the fact that on their way to the "brotherly state" not only did they have to stop and wait at a border, but also actually they were entering a different state. This is how people at the border view the borderline between the two states:

PERSON 1: "Right now when I am crossing the border, it's very common for me, it's not as strange as at the beginning. I remember few years ago crossing the border with your passport in the pocket, it was pretty strange. But now crossing the border is a habit, so no problem."

PERSON 2: "I'm still not used to the fact that I have to wait at the border when I go to Prague or Brno, for example."

PERSON 3: "It wasn't necessary to build the border. Anyway, if we enter the EU next year, there will be no more border."

These days you never know how long your journey to the Czech republic will take, because you never know how long you will have to wait at the border. On the topic of the border shock spoke also Michal Vasecka from the Institute for public affairs.

"People already got used to the fact that there is a border between the Czech republic and Slovakia. It was very difficult for many to get used to the fact that there is a line. Many people of the former Czechoslovakia have family members and definitely many friends on both sides. And suddenly this kind of border separated something what 11 years ago many thought was inseparable."

Despite the separation Slovakia and the Czech republic have continued to have "above standard", or 'special relations'. As such Czech and Slovak citizens only need to show their identity cards - rather than a passport - when leaving or entering at the border. Many take advantage of this. Again people at the border:

PERSON 1: "Using the identity card when crossing the border is a great idea. It shows that this is not the typical kind of border, that the relationship between the countries is a little bit different, friendlier. And it definitely takes less time and is less complicated."

The border that separates Slovaks from their Czech neighbours will relax even more after the two countries enter the European Union in May next year - as Jaroslav Grandic, deputy at the customs office at the Breclav highway explains:

"The check of documents won't be done by the custom officers, but by foreign and border police. After signing the Schengen agreement not even this sort of control will be present, only occasional inspections will be carried out. I believe free movement should be possible in three years time, at the most. A radical change will happen to freight services, trucks won't have to declare their goods at the border and so the trucks will only be passing the border, with no waiting at all."

After becoming a part of the Schengen zone the long hours of waiting for cars and trucks will diminish, but will the feeling of reunification come back? Michal Vasecka explains:

"People still feel that this border is only temporary and in the future European Union, more or less the situation will be like in the former Czechoslovakia."

How the relationship between Slovakia and the Czech republic will change after the two countries enter the EU and how their "above standard relationship" will develop, only May 2004 will show. One thing is for sure; the technical side of EU entry should be beneficial for us, ordinary citizens, who at present blame the state borders for slowing us down.

24-10-2003