CZECHOSLOVAKIA has, for the time being, settled a question of the division of power, which threatened to split the country in two. A compromise bill defining the character of the federation - including the division of power between the Czech and Slovak republics and the federal government - was passed by the Federal Parliament late Wednesday.
Almost six months of debate came to a head last Monday, when an impending constitutional crisis brought President Vaclav Havel before Parliament to demand exceptional powers.
Warning deputies of the immediate risk of disintegration of the state, Mr. Havel called for the establishment of a constitutional court and a law providing for referendums to determine citizens' will if representative bodies reach deadlock. He also said he would submit a bill temporarily increasing specific presidential powers.
The crisis arose when the Slovak National Council announced that it would declare the sovereignty of the republics' laws over those of the whole Czechoslovak federation if a version of the bill amended by the Czech republic's National Council was passed by the Federal Parliament.
The president's decision to intervene was a response to what Deputy Prime Minister Pazel Rychetsky calls ``an anomalous legal situation.''
``Our legal code does not have such a thing as a state of emergency. We have no procedures for resolving serious conflicts,'' he says.
Havel's appeal to Parliament was an unusual deployment of his charisma and moral stature. Calling on deputies to assume not just their present responsibilities but those of years to come, he warned, ``If we allowed this [disintegration], ... future generations would curse us and the world declare us insane.''
International observers and potential investors have grown increasingly uneasy about Czechoslovakia's stability in recent months as the federal dispute has fueled social tensions and delayed economic reform. Although public opinion polls show that the majority of Slovaks reject the idea of an independent state in favor of a federation with the Czech republic, Slovak nationalism remains disruptive.
THE smaller, eastern republic's struggle for national identity has taken the form of often impractical demands for control in recent months, championed by Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.
The issue that sparked the parliamentary crisis was Mr. Meciar's demand that the pipeline carrying gas and oil from the Soviet Union across Czechoslovak territory to the West be divided into a Czech and a Slovak section, with independent management and control over revenues.
This conflict was resolved by a last-minute compromise, when the Slovaks accepted the establishment of a single joint stock company to manage the pipeline. But a divergence of goals remains. With 5 million of the country's 15 million inhabitants, Slovaks place priority on solidifying their nationhood by constitutional means for the first time ever.
``There is a feeling among Slovak politicians,'' explains Jaroslav Jiru, managing editor of the once underground, now leading independent daily Lidove Noviny, ``that if they don't defend Slovak national interests now there won't be another chance.''
The Czechs, recalling the glory days between the wars when Bohemia was a world industrial power, view rapid economic reform, not national revival, as the shortest path to prosperity and a stable, unified society.
``Slovak leaders have a penchant for populism,'' says Milos Zeman, a parliamentary deputy. ``They oppose measures which entail short term undesirable consequences on the roads to long term positive ones. But the danger exists in the Czech republic as well.''