Moravian nationalists are seeking further Czech fracturing


BRNO, Czech Republic -- A half-year after Czechoslovakia split into two sovereign states, nationalism is budding again in the Czech Republic -- this time in the regions of Moravia and Silesia, which lie between the Czech land of Bohemia and the new nation of Slovakia to the east.

"Our goal is a renewal of our historic rights, and respect for Moravia's historic, geographic and ethnographic specificities," says Ivan Drimal, chairman of the Moravian National Party. "We want to return Moravia to its historical standing."

Sound familiar? Three years ago, many in Slovakia were making similar demands: decentralization of political power; establishment of a separate identity in a common state; and a greater degree of regional autonomy, which in this case would give Moravia and Silesia more control over their resources and industry.

And while few Moravians or Silesians are demanding separation from the Czech Republic, three years ago only a small minority of Slovaks would have said they wanted independence.

Most said they wanted a re-thinking of the federal relationship with the Czechs -- exactly what Mr. Drimal and many other Moravians are saying.

"We're not anti-Czech. We aren't chauvinists, and we aren't separatists," Mr. Drimal says. "We aren't trying to make Moravia an independent state."

In Mr. Drimal's vocabulary, political autonomy means establishing a Moravian regional assembly, government and judicial system.

The federal government would consist only of the presidency and ministries of finance, defense, police and foreign affairs.

And Mr. Drimal wants to rename the country. "Czecho-Moravia" would be fine.

"We want to be in a new common state, but we want that state's name to respect that it's not a mono-national state," he says. "Abroad, people think that there are only Czechs here, which just isn't true."

As was the case in Slovakia, there is plenty of infighting among the nationalists.

In elections a year ago, Mr. Drimal's Moravian National Party campaigned alongside the more mainstream Movement for an Autonomous Democracy-Moravia and Silesia, known by its Czech-language acronym HSD-MS.

But now, the groups are quick to show their mutual contempt.

"We're not extremists," Julie Skrivankova, a leader of the HSD-MS, says simply when asked to describe the differences between the two groups.

Under Austrian rule, Moravia and Silesia were administratively distinct from Bohemia, she says.

When Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, the two historic lands were divided into smaller administrative districts.

After the Communists took over in 1948, that tradition continued, which Ms. Skrivankova says was simply a ploy to keep the regions from gaining any real power.

While the HSD-MS isn't seeking the level of autonomy that Mr. Drimal's group wants, Ms. Skrivankova says the administrative divisions in the Czech Republic should treat Moravia and Silesia as one unit, not two or three.

Only then, she says, would the region be able to sufficiently look after its own interests.

It is difficult to gauge how much interest most Moravians have in these issues.

The coalition of Mr. Drimal's party and the HSD-MS was the second-most popular party in Moravia in last year's elections, after the Civic Democratic Party of Premier Vaclav Klaus.

Some 13 percent of the Czech Republic's 10.3 million inhabitants declared their nationality to be Moravian in the 1991 census.

Just 0.4 percent claimed to be Silesian.

On the streets of Brno, Moravia's capital and largest city, most people say there are only scant differences between Czechs and Moravians: The two groups share a language and a long common history.

Many, including Ms. Skrivankova, say there is no such thing as a separate Moravian nationality.

Still, few people interviewed indicated they were happy with the current setup.

Most said they would support moves toward greater autonomy but had no interest in outright independence.

"I don't want to split off from the Czechs," says Anna Kotolova, a popcorn vendor in Brno's historic center. "But I want us to be able to control our affairs so that we can benefit from our own work."

Prague, meanwhile, considers "the Moravian question" to be no question at all.

The government is against granting greater autonomy to Moravia or Silesia, says Klara Pospisilova, a spokeswoman for Klaus.

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