Finally posting my first column from visit to Slovakia last week

Socialism ended about a year before I first visited Slovakia 18 years ago. Equating Slovak life back then to life in the United States around 1900 is a fair comparison. However, even in the less than a year I was here, the country and the people changed. Seeing its future trajectory was clear.
Pre-World War II, Czechoslovakia was the sixth most industrialized country in the world. The area continues to have a literacy rate near 100 percent. The people are hard workers and incredibly handy. Almost every Slovak knows how to fix things.
My visit to Slovakia shows that their evolution toward a completely modern culture has been on warp speed.
When I was here in 1993, barely anyone had a car or a house. Everyone relied on public transportation, and most everyone lived in a small flat. I’ve visited two sets of friends thus far on my trip. One family was deeded their family home back through the process of restitution after Socialism ended. Restitution was, and continues to be for some, a massive quest for historical proof of ownership of land and buildings so that property is returned to its original owners after being State controlled throughout the Socialism era. My friends who got their old home have worked for years to restore it.
My other friends have built a huge, sparkling and beautiful home on a hill overlooking the city. It is majestic and impressive. They have three cars and a rolling landscaped lawn. It is like nothing that existed when I was here before.
Both families agree on many of the consequences of many of changes the changes that have taken place since Capitalism took its old. The most obvious is the change in wealth and the new buildings and restoration. Ancient city centers, drab and dirty when I was here before, now glisten and glitter. The difference is remarkable, and even though I expected the change, it blows my mind.
Ancient cathedrals built in the 14th century now stand beside glass and steel shopping malls that sell any and everything under the sun. When I was here before, the selection from food to fashion was limited with few, if any, choices. The real estate market has exploded with prices comparable to most cities in the USA, if not higher. When I was here, a home would have sold for about $10,000 that today sells for more than $200,000. That’s a big change.
The other big difference is the ability for Slovaks to travel now. For so long, they were not allowed to travel. Then they were so poor that they couldn’t afford to travel—or if they did travel, they couldn’t afford to eat (which many of my friends did). They would take one change of clothes and fill their bags full of food for the trip. My friend whose family has built the big new house told of his first trip out of Slovakia.
“I was there for two weeks, and the whole time I was there, I only bought one ice cream,” my friend, Dominik, said. “I ate from my bag for the rest of the trip.”
All of my friends agree that the country isn’t nearly as friendly as it used to be, especially from one Slovak to another.
“Before we all took the bus, or we all took the train. We all lived in a bloc of flats,” my friend, Zorca, said. “We knew everyone and everything about each other. Now we drive cars alone. We live in homes with neighbors not so close. It is very different.”
In a philosophical turn, my friend Roman said, “They opened the big door, but they closed the little door.”

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One thought on “Finally posting my first column from visit to Slovakia last week”

  1. I still can’t believe you were so close to me and we didn’t get to see each other! Please come back when you have time to visit us in Prague. We absolutely love it here and love showing friends and family this beautiful city. Mother and Angela are coming next week!!!

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