Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 15, 2010

Slovakian Euro’s first birthday is Czech & Hungarian irony

The sky's the limit in Slovakia; or are those recession blues?

Onwards and upwards: Bratislava embraced the Euro at the start of 2009

Ironies abound in postcommunist Europe. In 1989, the Poles led the backlash against four decades of planned economies. Hungary was the most liberal and capitalist country in the Soviet sphere at the time and pulled the rug from under East Germany with its border relaxation. While in Prague, the memory of 1968 drove many a Czech to the streets to call for change.

Yet today, none of these countries are in the Euro. I was travelling in the region this time last year: in Poland the weak Zloty meant everything was cheap for me. In Budapest an economist turned tour guide bemoaned the fact they had fallen so far behind their neighbours, and that endemic corruption persisted. And a Czech receptionist gave a ‘what can you do’ shrug when I asked why they still used Crowns in Prague.

So it seemed ironic that in Slovakia they had just introduced the Euro. Visiting Gdansk, I had felt nostaligic, remembering old tv news images as I toured the Solidarity museum. In Budapest, I had been both moved and wow’d by the ultra-modern House of Terror with its juxtaposition of Nazi and Soviet tyranny, and pictures of those it directly accused. And in Prague, I had pondered the overt partisanship of the Museum of Communism.

So when I got to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia since it parted company with the Czechs in the ‘Velvet Divorce’, I was looking forward to seeing their equivalent. Instead, I left the tourist information office stunned not by powerful images or moving testament, but by indifference. “That was all up in Prague,” I was told, when I asked where their revolution museum was.

Reflecting prosperity.

Bratislava's Communist-era UFO Bridge by night.

Talking to locals, it seemed that they felt themselves sidelined in the past, living in the shadow of ‘that lot in Prague’. That month, they had joined the Euro and were getting on with EMU (European Monetary Union) apace. There was EU investment and a modest tourist industry that – while acknowledging with its slogan “Little Big City” that it would never compete with Prague or nearby Vienna – was feeding a building programme and encouraging public art.

Naturally, the Eurozone is a double-edged sword. The recession, coupled with the strength of the pan-European currency, has deterred Polish and Russian visitors to the Tatras ski-zone this winter and taken the shine off the Slovakian Euro’s first birthday party. And of course, I heard the usual complaint that everything had gone up in price since it was introduced.

But as I watched the sunset in the chic bar atop the ‘UFO’ bridge, with monolithic mass-produced ‘Panelka’ flats on one side and skyscrapers with giant Euro logos on the other, it was obvious to which direction modern Slovakia looks for inspiration.

All content © Bookpacking 2009

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