U Sabotu, Czech Republic, Feb. 8 (RFE/RL) - Nestled among
the gently rolling hills of the southern Moravian countryside is the
small village of U Sabotu.
It is an unassuming little town, consisting of two streets lined with
modest homes. The far end of the east-west thoroughfare is
interrupted in three spots by border checkpoints into Slovakia. The
north-south route winds its way toward open fields that lie at the
foot of a tree-covered hillside.
For years the 120 residents of the small village went quietly about
their business, unnoticed by the rest of the world. "We all got along
well, were neighborly and helped each other," says a long-time
resident of U Sabotu, Anna Kavicka.
"We were all like a family, here," agrees the female bartender at
the closest bar in Javornik, about three kilometers west of U Sabotu.
But a family feud that has attracted the attention of international
media has put the small village in the spotlight. It began with the
split of Czechoslovakia. U Sabotu found itself on the negotiating
table as Czech and Slovak governments drafted a new border agreement.
In an effort to straighten the border out, the two governments agreed
to trade two small villages. The village of Sidonie, currently on the
Slovak side of the border, will be part of the Czech Republic under
the agreement. In exchange, the Slovak territory will include U
The agreement has been two years in the making, and initially the
majority of residents of U Sabotu did not mind the change. In fact,
the majority approved of it in 1994.
But as years dragged on, feelings began to change. Many of the
residents of U Sabotu obtained Czech citizenships, took jobs in the
Czech Republic and did not like Slovak politics. Now, a deep chasm
has broken the village apart.
"It's like lightening has struck and people don't like each other
anymore," says Kavicka, "We are Slovaks and all the rest are Slovaks
except they forgot that they are Slovaks. They went to school in
Slovakia. They went to work in Slovakia, took their pension there.
Their children went to work in Slovakia and they forgot that. They
Vladimir Masnica says he didn't forget. But he says that doesn't
mean he wants the home he built in 1972 in southern Moravia to
suddenly be located in Slovakia. "Those Slovaks in America, I don't
know, did they ask that America be joined to Slovakia? This is free
Europe and people here are in the Czech Republic, no? It works for
everyone else, but for us it doesn't work?"
Masnica said that if the Czech government offers adequate
compensation, he'll sell his property in U Sabotu and move to the Czech
"I am humble," he said when asked how much compensation he wanted.
"I come from a humble family. We didn't have anything. With the help
of my family we built this (large, two-storey) house. If we have to
move we'd like to live at a resonable level."
That's why he said a million crowns ($37,500) compensation would not
be enough. "This house for a million, I could not built anywhere
He made the comment before the Czech cabinet approved a 50 million
crown ($1.9 million) compensation package to 38 residents of U
Sabotu, who are Czech citizens with permanent dwellings in the
village. The compensation package includes 1.5 million crowns for
homeowners who wish to relocate. Property renters would get lower
compensation. Each resident who qualifies would also be eligible for
a 400,000 crown settlement (children under 18 would get 200,000
"That's all about...money," said Kavicka. "Nothing else." Her
neighbor, standing beside Kavicka in the driveway agrees. "We don't
want to be bought off with money. I'll say it like that, like Judas
who sold out Christ for a little bit of money."
Kavicka said "We don't begrudge their compensation. We're not
jealous...We wish them well, but just wish they would get it over
with so it would belong to Slovakia."
But one resident, washing a car in his driveway, disagreed. "It's
not the money," said the young man. "People who want to remain in the
Czech Republic already got their citizenship a long time ago. They
only started talking about money in the last month. Before that, no
one talked about money."
He would not give his name, but said he would relocate to the Czech
side - if he could afford it.
"We work here. My wife works on the Czech side too."
The mayor of Javornik says that's the real story. Martin Kruzica
accused the Czech Cabinet of failing to understand that most people in the
village are not concerned with money, but with their home and
"Why can't (Prime Minister) Vaclav Klaus admit, just once, that he
was wrong, or that an official at the interior ministry made a
mistake. It's just human and everyone would understand."
Not Kavicka. She said the mayor has sided with those who wish to
remain Czechs and doesn't like the opposition in U Sabotu. "He's not
interested in us, in how our kids get to school."
She said the village did not get any benefits when it was part of
the Czech Republic in the district of Javornik.
"We don't have a store. We get everything from Slovakia, our
electricity, post office, daycare, school..."
She said the only thing they do is pay Czech taxes on their
property, which she says is a problem as well.
"We get Slovak pensions, but the taxes we have to pay, the 800
crowns we have to pay, in Czech. So, we have to pick ourselves up and
exchange our money.
"He who doesn't live here doesn't know, can't understand what kind
of problems we have," agreed her neighbor.
Mayor Kruzica defended his record though. He said the town helped
construct a grocery store in the village, but when it was privatized
it could not stay profitable and closed. The empty shell is still
evident at the only intersection in the village.
He said if the Czech parliament approves the compensation package, it also has
to consider the property the municipality owns in the village,
including a fire station, the store and other parcels of land.
The debate and the battle is far from over - even if parliament
approves the new border treaty.
About 40 of the 74 adults in the village intend to file a complaint
with a high court, charging their basic human rights are being
violated. It's an argument in evidence at the town hall, where the
Czech-Moravian Central Union (CMUS) party posted a large sign saying
"The constitution says citizens will not be forced to leave their
country... but the residents of U Sabotu are."