What’s in a name? Radio Prague and the split of Czechoslovakia


One of the more curious aspects of Radio Prague in the early 1990s was that the station’s name kept changing. In 1991, for no particular reason, we stopped calling ourselves Radio Prague and became Radio Prague International. Then, at the beginning of 1992, in order to seem less Prague and Czech centred, we became Radio Czechoslovakia. The change was largely cosmetic, because the great majority of programmes, with the exception of a daily commentary sent from Bratislava, continued to come from the Czech part of the federation.

After the parliamentary elections in June of that year it soon became clear that Czechoslovakia’s days were numbered. Vladimír Mečiar and Václav Klaus, who had emerged as the election’s clear winners in Slovakia and the Czech Republic respectively, soon gave up attempts to reconcile their widely differing visions of the country’s future, and within weeks they began unraveling the federation.

Vladimír Mečiar, Václav Klaus (right) in 1992, photo: CTKVladimír Mečiar, Václav Klaus (right) in 1992, photo: CTK Given the complications of terminating a 70-year marriage, their talks were protracted and often tedious. But after many initial squabbles, the Czech and Slovak leaders adopted an increasingly friendly, at times even homely, tone. At one point at a press conference in November 1992, a journalist asked Mr Klaus which citizenship his Slovak wife, Livia, was going to choose.

Klaus replied that back in 1969 when Czechoslovakia’s federal structure had been set up, his wife had opted to make the Czech part of the federation her home and therefore she would be taking Czech citizenship, and to that Vladimír Mečiar added:

“The things that we are sorting out in our discussions may be important, but human relationships, peace and harmony and a happy life should not be swallowed up by constitutional minutiae.”

While the talks went on, the future of what had been Radio Prague was also uncertain. At one point – very briefly – there was even talk of keeping a single international station for the two new countries. There were even some souvenirs made, with “Czech and Slovak Radio International” printed on them, the name of a station that never actually existed.

Instead, on January 1 1993, the day that the chairman of the Czech Parliament Milan Uhde solemnly declared the Czech Republic into existence, Radio Prague got back its old name, and became the international broadcaster of the Czech Republic.

But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. Two-and-a-half months later, on March 19 1993, Slovakia launched its own broadcasts from Bratislava, and the two stations continue, side by side, to this day.

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