Mixed feelings in a Slovak border village

An international train is about to arrive at the tiny railway station of Skalite, a little town of 5,000 people located on the Slovak-Polish border and not so far from the Czech one too. The station looks almost empty in the pleasant morning sunshine and looking around one could hardly imagine that one of the major pan-European transport corridors connecting Bratislava to Warsaw is supposed to cross the hilly Skalite area. Some 250 kms away in Bratislava politicians speak a lot about millions of euro pouring into such projects now Slovakia is a member of the European Union. But this morning in Skalite nobody seems to pay any special attention to this event. Life goes on as usual for Miroslav and his two friends who make tombstones in a little workshop hidden between two colourful houses.

"What we know about the European Union is that it's a form of exploiting a cheaper labour force from poorer countries like Slovakia. I don't think we'll get their salaries in the next ten years but we'll get their higher prices immediately. For example beer will be more expensive."

A few blocks away from the tombstone workshop there is one little hotel. In winter Skalite is a favourite destination for skiing. At the end of April, however, the restaurant is empty and Karol Matis, one of the owners, has spent the morning painting the new price list which is now hanging near the front door. Now he feels he has enough time to talk about EU's structural funds.

"Our life will not improve, simply because most of this money from the EU which is supposed to help develop poorer regions like Skalite will not reach us. They'll be spent by corrupt politicians in Bratislava and other big cities. It has always been like this and that's why politicians are the only ones who seem so happy about this enlargement."

It's lunch time and the classes are over at the local school. More than 400 pupils are collecting their school bags and some form a queue in front of an ice cream shop. Rudolf Mitrenga is the director of this school and says he is very proud of Slovakia joining the European Union.

" Judging but what I've read in newspapers and watched on TV I think the European Union will bring a brighter future for these children. They can go and study, travel and work abroad and get to know the world. For my generation, and I am in my 60s, it is more like a sort of moral victory over history because now we sit at the same table with all these powerful and respected countries. It's like saying 'we did it'."

The border with Poland lies less than two kilometres from the school. It will officially cease to exist starting this Saturday, May 1st. The customs officers are waving and smiling, wishing everybody a welcome into the EU.