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Havel Asks Slovak Army Officers Not To Intervene In Nationalist Dispute

March 14, 1991

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ President Vaclav Havel today asked Slovak army officers to stay out of a dispute over Slovakia’s future that threatens to split Czechoslovakia in two.

Havel issued the plea during a stop at an army base on a visit to Slovakia on the 52nd anniversary of the declaration of an independent Slovak state under the Nazis in 1939.

The trip was seen as an attempt to quell nationalist passions in Slovakia, where tens of thousands demonstrated Monday to call for Slovak sovereignty. Another demonstration commemorating today’s anniversary was scheduled in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

While speaking nearly identical languages, Czechs and Slovaks experienced very different histories before linking up in 1918. The secular, more industrial Czechs were ruled by Austria, the more rural Slovaks by Hungary.

Havel’s popularity has sharpy decreased in Slovakia, the country’s easternmost third, as the nationalist dispute has grown. Recent polls showed 57 percent of Slovaks now approve of his policies, compared with 88 percent a year ago.

″Our young democracy lives through very dramatic moments these days,″ Havel told Slovak army officers at the army base in Trencin, about 175 miles southeast of Prague.

A petition of Slovak intellectuals submitted to the regional Slovak parliament this week rejected such fundamental principles of the Czechoslovak federation as a common foreign and monetary policy as well as united army.

The petition stopped short of demanding Slovak independence. But it was seen as an attempt to pressure the Slovak parliament to declare Slovak law sovereign in the republic, separating it further from federal rule.

″Our army must in no way intervene or enter this complex process,″ Havel said, echoing fears the republic’s military force could be abused by nationalists to support their demands.

″The picture of tanks in the streets is a horrifying picture,″ Havel said. ″I do not think street riots and clashes are imminent in Czechoslovakia, but I declare ... I will not permit the army to introduce order here.″

Czech leaders have repeatedly called for a referendum to settle the national dispute, but necessary legislation must be approved by the federal parliament.

Havel’s office has labeled the republic’s efforts to achieve sovereignty unconstitutional, and has accused some leaders of advocating ″national socialism,″ Nazi-style facism. The charges triggered a sharp response from some Slovaks.

″Through your spokesman you have joined a campaign, the purpose of which is ... to discredit Slovakia,″ Anton Hrnko, parliamentary deputy for the Slovak National Party, said in an open letter to Havel.

″If you fail to explain this satisfactorily to the Slovak nation, I will ask you to resign,″ the letter said.

S-03-14-91 0939EST

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