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Future of Czechoslovak Union Turns on Prospects for Economy

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SIX months ago, the breakup of Czechoslovakia appeared imminent. President Vaclav Havel, pleading with his fellow citizens not to be tempted by the East European split-up fad, was met here in Slovakia by jeering, egg-throwing crowds of Slovak separatists.

Since then, however, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the atrocities of the Yugoslav war have had a sobering effect on the debate. Now "there is a more workmanlike approach" to the issue, observes a Western diplomat in Prague.

It is still impossible to gauge what will happen to Czechoslovakia. For every pessimist who believes the country will go the way of the Soviet republics, there is an optimist who says economic interdependence and international pressure will keep the Czechs and Slovaks together.

Most politicians and analysts believe the outcome of federal and regional elections in June will determine whether the country stays together or not.

If it comes to a split, they say, it will be legal, democratic, and hopefully peaceful. And if it splits, they add, there will probably still be a good deal of cooperation between the two republics.

"The development in Czechoslovakia will not be the same as in Yugoslavia," says Vladimir Meciar, by far Slovakia's most popular politician. In an interview, Mr. Meciar said he advocates Slovak sovereignty and a "loose confederation" of the Czech and Slovak republics. He, as well as Slovak premier Jan Carnogursky, want international recognition for Slovakia.

Leading politicians agree that nationalism is not really the dividing wedge, as is the case with the Serbs and Croats in former Yugoslavia.

The two neighbors have never warred with each other, though they have quite different histories. The Czechs had their own kingdom and nobility since the 10th century, although they were ruled from Vienna for nearly 400 years.


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