Slovak Prime Minister's visit overshadowed by cottage dispute

Mikulas Dzurinda

The Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's two-day visit to Prague had all the ingredients of a state visit by top representatives of friendly, neighboring states. But this time all interest was focused on one seemingly trivial matter. Olga Szantova reports.

Milos Zeman and Mikulas Dzurinda
The visiting Slovak delegation discussed mutual trade, military cooperation, cultural relations and numerous other issues, all of them showing that cooperation between the two countries that were Czechoslovakia until the end of 1992, is really good.

But this went largely unnoticed by journalists and the general public alike. THE issue involves one tiny piece of land covering an area of 36,000 square meters, a settlement called Kasarna. Nobody, except the locals, had ever heard of the place before 1993, when the borders between the Czech and Slovak Republics were officially drawn up and Kasarna fell to the Slovaks, in spite of Czech protests. Not that Kasarna is of any strategic or economic significance. But it's a beautiful piece of countryside and site of numerous recreational centers built and owned by Czechs living in the nearby cities. Suddenly going there for the weekend meant going abroad. At first this was merely an inconvenience, but this year the Slovak local authority sold the land under some of those Czech-owned buildings without even informing the Czech owners. Now they are afraid that they will lose their property across the border and the issue is overshadowing all other aspects of Czech-Slovak relations. Much hope for resolving the problem was put into this meeting of the two premiers. But, it seems, they passed the hot potato right back. Prime Minister Dzurinda stressed that it was a matter to be resolved on the local level, by those directly involved.

"This issue has been blown out of all proportion by the media even before any fruitful negotiations could be conducted. The Slovak side does not have any official complaints from the Czechs whose property is involved. I would like to use this opportunity and call on both sides to launch cultivated negotiations, showing mutual goodwill to reach an agreement."

The Slovak Prime Minister did promise that his cabinet would help if it feels that the situation requires it, but hastened to add that he did not anticipate such a situation. Mr Dzurinda's Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman couldn't agree more.

"My golden rule is that the amount of publicity a problem gets is in inverse proportion to that problem's real importance."

As for the locals on both sides of the border, they are meeting on Thursday for discussions neither side thinks can be of any avail. On one issue both sides do agree: if no agreement is reached, the two cabinets will have to tackle the problem. It may be blown out of proportion, they say, but it certainly has a negative impact on relations between the two countries regardless of successful top level negotiations.

Author: Olga Szantová
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