Friday, July 06, 2007


It's good to be in Slovakia where the veil of incomprehension has finally been lifted and I can communicate with anybody on the street (and sometimes I do just that asking unnecessarily often for directions just because I can). Theoretically Czech and Slovak are two different languages but as far as I'm concerned Slovak is just slightly misspelt Czech and the two are so mutually intelligible that no real effort has to be made when a Czech and a Slovak converse. During Czechoslovak days the daily news on TV and the radio would be alternately broadcast in the two languages. There are, of course, a few differences mainly because of the different histories of the two countries: until the inception of Czechoslovakia in 1918 Slovakia was always a part of the Hungarian empire whereas the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) were always under the influence of the Germanic Holy Roman or Austrian empires. As such one contains more Hungarian, whilst the other more German, loanwords. I, however, like Slovakian which has a more sing-song quality to it than Czech and people often end phrases with a jolly hej?

The main metropolis in the east of the country is KoŇ°ice, which used to be the second-largest town in Hungary until Hungary was carved up after WWI (any historical museum in Hungary will lament, at least once, that it lost two thirds of its territory at the Treaty of Triannon) and you can still find a fair number of Hungarian Slovaks in this part of the country. Hungary's biggest national hero, Ferenc Rakoczi, was also born and is buried here and his house-museum is a little pilgrimage site for visiting Hungarians as can be attested by the statue of the venerated man which is bedecked in the white, green and red colours of their national flag. For such a historic city the old core is suitably ornate and grand, however the rest of the city is a bolshevik blot on the landscape. The Communists, wanting to industrialise this mostly agrarian region decided to set up a gigantic steel-mill in the town, despite it not being particularly close to any raw materials, or markets for that matter. So the city's population tripled in a very short space of time leading to a labyrinth of boxy, concrete apartment blocks sprouting up around the city. A pity as the centre deserves better, but such were the ineffable ways of Communist planning.

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