I’ve been away a lot recently. AWAY away: not in Slovakia (in Cuba in fact; hence the lack of recent posts). Coming back to Slovakia in December, as Christmas kicks into action across the country in the form of the famous festive markets, as medovina (mead) is quaffed and lokše (potato pancakes ideal when lined with goose fat) scoffed, does now feel like coming home.
But of course I missed out on November. A quarter of a century since the fall of Communism was marked in Slovakia perhaps as it should be: in a quiet and analytical way, with a lot of discussions in the media on the progress the country had made during this time.
We mentioned on this blog some of the events held to pay tribute to the tumbling of the regime which still, 25 years later, has such a profound effect on so much of this part of Europe (those events with a Slovak theme anyway) and hopefully some of Englishmaninslovakia’s readers got a chance to check some out: talks by people far more qualified than me to comment on Slovakia’s development from 1989-2014.
But the main question on everyone’s lips: has Slovakia developed in a good way, in the way people imagined or hoped that it would? And of course a lot of voices answered: no, not nearly as “good” as expected. To paraphrase from one of the discussion programmes I got a chance to listen to (and got my girlfriend to translate the complex parts for me): Slovakia, whilst technically the easternmost reach of the “west” is more accurately in politics the westernmost outpost of the “east”.
It’s not our place on this blog to dwell so much on thorny Slovak state issues. There are plenty of them, which are perhaps best summarised in the word “corruption”. Slovakia’s PM Fico can argue, citing such successes as the Kia and Peugeot automotive plants, that he’s helped the economy (well, at least in the west of SlovaKIA) but culturally? Democratically? In its legal system? Ahem. Recent polls by CVVM (Czech) and IVO (Slovak) showed only 51% of Slovaks viewed what took place in that autumn of 1989, up to and including November’s Velvet Revolution, with positivity, and that’s no doubt based on disillusionment with those facets of life where there’s a country mile of room for improvement.
But on the subject of travel, I can say that I’m happy to be here right at the beginning. And I really do mean the beginning – because for years the Slovak tourism industry was dormant and for years more it developed in the wrong way (ski package deals, stag weekends). The beginning of the opening of Slovakia to tourism is now. As new flight connections to Poprad and Košice show, the “set piece” – the east of the country – is more accessible than ever. Slovakia is now catering to a more discerning type of traveler: the kind that really wants to discover. And the potential is as great as the mountains and forests are vast.
Raise a glass of your finest Demänovka (herbal liqueur) to the next 25 years. Actually, Slovaks are generally more partial to Becherovka, which is a Czech version of the same drink…