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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 13:37 GMT
Slovakia's youth exodus
Industry in Slovakia
Many industries have been forced to lay people off
Ray Furlong reports from the town of Vranov, eastern Slovakia, on the large numbers of people abandoning the country for its richer neighbour, the Czech Republic

On a cold winter's day, the soothing strains of the town hall radio resound from the communist-era public announcement system in Vranov, a small town in the eastern reaches of Slovakia.

I don't see a future for myself here, and I also don't see a future for the other young people

Gabriella Mikitova, nurse
The music is one of the few things to brighten up the gloom among the blocks of flats and the drab shops that make up this town - where one in four people are unemployed, and increasing numbers of young people are leaving.

At the local job centre, Gabriella Mikitova explains her situation. She is a fully qualified nurse, but she can't find work.

"I don't see a future for myself here, and I also don't see a future for the other young people," she says.

"Lots of people are going to Prague - lots of men are working in construction companies and girls are working as nurses in hospitals or they're taking care of Czech children."

High unemployment

The local textile factory is a graphic illustration of Vranov's woes. The equipment is 40 years old and the people who work it earn less than half the average wage in the Czech Republic.

The factory once employed 2,000 people. Only around half of the original workforce now have a job here.

The Mayor of Vranov, Milan Muska, is pessimistic about the prospects for change. "In recent years there has been an increasing number of people leaving, and this will continue," he says.

Some of Slovakia's most talented young people are moving to Prague
"We have no power to do anything and the politicians in Bratislava have no plans for regional development. Our region is so far away - there are no decent roads leading here - no major investors will come here for another five or 10 years."

Slovakia was always the poorer half of Czechoslovakia, and that situation has got worse since the division of the two countries in 1993.

At the moment it has an unemployment rate of nearly 20%, among the highest in Europe. There are no official statistics for the numbers of Slovaks leaving, but it is recognised as a major problem - and it's estimated that 90% of them go to the Czech Republic.

Czech opportunities

The cafe Louvre, one of Prague's historic coffee houses, is a world away from the depressed towns of eastern Slovakia.

Here, among the art-deco elegance and under the crystal chandeliers, I met Alexandra Halabukova.

Originally from Slovakia, she came to Prague three months ago and has found a job as a personal assistant, applying the language skills she learnt after spending a few years studying in England.

But she stresses that Prague offers cultural as well as economic benefits.

"I like the opportunities in Prague," she says. "It's a bigger city. Many foreign people come here so it's not so isolated like Slovakia, where you wouldn't see any foreigners."

Vladimir Meciar
Vladimir Meciar hopes to return to power in Slovakia later this year
Ms Halabukova says that living in the Czech Republic is not like living in a completely different country to Slovakia.

"It's the same. We've got the same TV, and I've have no problem with the language. As a child I was always exposed to Czech films."

Slovakia's only hope of stopping its young people leaving lies in economic development and moving closer to the European Union.

The current government has made some progress in achieving this but the general population has yet to feel the benefits, and elections later this year look set to return the former nationalist leader, Vladimir Meciar, to power.

That could drag the country once again into isolation, increasing rather than stemming the flow of those who want a better life elsewhere.

See also:

01 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Slovakia
08 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Czech Republic
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