Czechs and Slovaks celebrate common heritage But the backdrop is country's split


The smell of roast pork with sauerkraut and knedliky -- dumplings -- filled the cavernous hall in Parkville yesterday, as an "oom-pah" band pumped "Roll Out the Barrel."

Women in bright, Czechoslovakian embroidery ate at circular banquet tables, while young gymnasts from the local sokol, or athletic club, tumbled on mats.

Later, they planned to crowd around an accordion player for a traditional Bohemian sing-along.

Czechoslovakia may be splitting apart, but the sixth annual Czechoslovak festival went forward in high spirit yesterday with about 500 people in attendance.

"Let's be frank," said Charles Supik, president of the Czechoslovak Ethnic Association. "We're all Americans. We're Americans first. . . . What happens in Europe, everybody says, 'That's a shame, but that's the way it is.' Nobody's going to be marching in the streets."

With Czechoslovakia deeply divided, he and others saw the festival as an important show of ethnic pride and unity. But Mr. Supik fretted over the quaint and incomplete image such folklore fests sometimes create.

"One of the images we've got to change is that Czechoslovakia is people with costumes, that everybody walks around dancing polkas," he said.

"Czechoslovakia is not pork, sauerkraut and dumplings. It's TC modern country, with rock-'n-'roll music. They walk around in Reebok shoes and Nikes and Levi jeans."

Events in Eastern Europe formed a melancholy backdrop for yesterday's gathering of the area's far-flung Czechoslovak community.

At one time, the so-called "Bohemian" community dominated in the Collington and Ashland Avenue neighborhood of East Baltimore, after settling in the city in the latter half of the 19th century.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, nearly 22,000 people throughout Maryland report full Czech or Slovak ancestry.

Many have relatives and close contacts in Czechoslovakia, where ethnic Czechs and ethnic Slovaks are splitting the country, in what is being called a "Velvet Divorce."

Eva Slezak, who publishes a newsletter on Czechoslovak heritage, said the split stems from a demand for respect and recognition from those in the country's agrarian Slovak region to the east.

They are demanding a separation from the richer, more developed Czech part of the country, comprising Bohemia and Moravia to the west, said Ms. Slezak, a Czech.

She predicted that the two regions will avoid the kind of bloody, ethnic warfare that has destroyed Yugoslavia.

Melanie Krywulako, a Czech who lives in Dundalk, spent five months in Czechoslovakia last year and said ethnic Czechs worry about economic damage from the split.

"After all, they are a small country," she said. "If they split, they will be even smaller. How will they survive? Especially Slovaks?"

From the Slovak point of view, however, separation is the route to respect and recognition denied them by the dominant Czechs.

"We are not Czech, we are Slovak," said Anna Losovsky, who lives in Baltimore County. "They don't really want separation, they want more recognition."

Emil Madro, whose son translated for him, said most Slovaks favor the separation.

"Their feeling is that nobody knew the Slovak. Everything was 'Czech,'" he said. "They would like for the world to know the nation that was somehow hidden behind the bigger Czech nation."

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