On Sunday evenings trains and buses going from Bratislava to Prague are crammed with young Slovaks. An increasing number of them are working and living in the Czech Republic and heading home only on weekends. What is behind this migration wave and why are so many Slovaks choosing to settle in Prague?
According to an opinion survey conducted by the Slovak Institute for Public Matters a full third of young Slovaks are thinking of emigrating and many are doing it. Some are heading for the United States, Canada and Germany but the vast majority of those who want a change for the better without straying too-far from family and friends are opting for life in the Czech Republic, not just a neighbour state but a neighbour state with which Slovakia spent over 70 years in a federation. Fedor Gal is a well known Slovak sociologist living in the Czech Republic .
"I think that what attracts young Slovaks to the CR is a higher living standard, the fact that in many ways the Czech Republic is more liberal than Slovakia. There are better job opportunities for ambitious school graduates and there is also the fact that in connection with the long years of Czech-Slovak coexistence Slovaks can get a university education here free of charge. At present Slovakia does not have a great deal to offer young people. The results of opinion polls suggest that the country could suffer a set back. It is not clear whether it will be accepted into NATO and the EU anytime soon and the strongest parties on the Slovak political scene are not very popular with the young. Those are the main reasons for the present brain drain."
Slovaks have fewer problems getting residence permits, thanks to the years of Czech-Slovak coexistence they are not looked down upon as "poor emigrees from the East" and there is no language barrier - since the two languages are so similar. " If you can't go further West -at least go as far as Prague" -that is how many young Slovaks think today. Fedor Gal says that part of the attraction which the Czech Republic has for Slovaks is that they are made to feel at home here.
"All the opinion poll conducted on how Czechs view foreigners in the country suggest that Czechs prefer Slovaks above all other foreign nationals. They are practically indistinguishable from the majority population, they think alike, they act alike, their lifestyle is almost identical. For Slovaks who seek a better lifestyle with minimum upheaval and the bonus of living just a few hours from home the Czech Republic presents an immense attraction."