AT midnight on New Year's Eve, politicians will redraw the map of central Europe, even though most people living in the region are against it.
As Europe passes into 1993, the Czechoslovak flag atop the castle in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, will be lowered and a new independent Slovak banner raised.
The state of Czechoslovakia - born of President Woodrow Wilson's concept of self-determination at the end of World War I - will no longer exist.
Until nearly the last hour, polls showed that at least half the Czechs and as many Slovaks wanted to remain in the union, albeit it in a looser form than the 74-year-old federation.
Under Czechoslovakia's Constitution they should have been allowed a referendum. But that was blocked by the rival ambitions of political leaders of both republics. Those leaders made it plain that they would ignore even a popular vote of the electorate against separation.
Numerous agreements for cooperation between the two states were made. There is to be a customs union and an open frontier for goods and people. The defunct federation's fixed assets will belong to the republic on whose territory they are located. Most are in the Czech lands.
Movable properties will be divided according to the 2 to 1 population ratio between Czechs and Slovaks. In almost everything the Czechs will have the advantage of their traditional economic superiority and a national work ethic.
Talking to the foreign press Dec. 4, Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar acknowledged that for the foreseeable future the going will be tough for an independent Slovakia.
Ordinary Slovaks understand that well enough. Their trepidation and uncertainty for the future is evident in much that is already happening. Federal armed forces, for example, are being divided according to the force reductions and quotas set for all European nations by the post-cold-war East-West agreements. But 80 percent of the military establishment is on Czech soil, and Slovak officers are proving reluctant to go home.
Substantial Slovak funds are being transferred to the Czech lands where many Slovaks are looking for economic opportunity and land on which to build. The Czechs, however, rejected a Slovak demand for dual citizenship. Thus Slovaks anxious to avoid rising Slovak unemployment and settle in Czech lands will need a work permit (which the Czechs may be reluctant to give) or take up Czech citizenship.
Czechs also have anxieties, though they are tempered with considerable self-confidence and awareness that they are better off in terms of industrial efficiency. They also have no potential internal political problems, such as the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia that feels "slighted" because the proposed Slovak constitution makes no mention of guarantees of particular Hungarian rights.
But both nations will lose much in this sudden separation. Their respective leaders talk much of creating greater openings to the West and inducements for Western investment.
Neither will find it easy, however, to renegotiate new, separate accords with Western institutions such as the European Community to replace advantageous terms extended to the former federation. The Czechs may have a better chance than the Slovaks.
The encouragement felt by investors under federal economic reform has already lost momentum.
The Czech Republic cannot expect to inherit the international image and support commanded by the old Czechoslovak federation. Slovakia will almost inevitably find itself driven to rely more and more on the less efficient East.