Category Archives: Slovakia

Early Days, 1956 Part One – The Balance Of Power

andrew age 2

I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when I was two years old with a dodgy home haircut, a nautical jumper, velveteen shorts and a firm grip on the family cat.

In this year there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.

In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance because it provided a convenient link from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company in which British banks and business had a significant financial interest.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the entire British fleet was dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the upstarts.

1956 suez

The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day.  Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century of Benjamin Disraeli and Napoleon III and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.

Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there.  The liberal government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be completely successful but on 4th November a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees.  Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

1956 soviet tankStalin's Boots HungaryAnonymous Pedestrians Wroclaw Poland

From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but paradoxically was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing.  The President of the United States Dweight D Eisenhower was dealing with both issues at the same time and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the bombastic actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt he found himself severely compromised.

It was also rather a nasty concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower insisted on a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt.  Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957.  In Britain Anthony Eden promptly resigned, in France there was a political crisis, a period of instability and the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958.

1956 anthony eden  egypt_russian_1956

The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World Superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.

Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.

This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.  In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the certain end of the world.

secret bunker

During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Cold War Europe

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Travel Issues – Forgotten Documents

Bratislava station

Some time ago we visited Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia and on one day we planned a visit to nearby Vienna.  After an excellent breakfast of ham and eggs we left the hotel and took the short walk to the railway station for an early train to Austria.  It was a lovely crisp autumn morning with another promising blue sky.  The city roads were busy but not uncomfortably so and we enjoyed the brisk walk to the trains.

Purchasing the tickets was straight forward enough and at only €6 was a real bargain, there was some confusing and contradictory information about the platforms but we found the right train without any difficulty and settled down for the one hour journey to travel the sixty kilometres to the Austrian capital.

I stress Austrian because today we were visiting another country and this involved crossing a state boundary with border controls.

What a good idea it would have been therefore to take a passport!

Shortly out of Bratislava two men in black military uniforms wandered through the train requesting documents.  I naturally assumed that they were checking tickets so was surprised when they showed no interest in these whatsoever and demanded travel documents instead.

Border Control Police

OMG!  This simply hadn’t occurred to me, and just when I was thinking ‘we’re all in trouble now’ Micky, Sue and Christine produced their passports and waved them in the air like flags with a self-satisfied smugness, while Kim and I sat there in a state of extreme shock!  And I wouldn’t mind but I should have known better because I’ve had a passport cock-up before when I attempted to travel from Paris to Calais on the Eurostar and wasn’t allowed to do so because I wasn’t carrying my documents.

They towered over us, dressed in commando style uniforms with lots of belts and zips and velcro pockets and loops holding torches and batons and radios and they looked very much as though they could handle themselves in almost any situation from disarming a nuclear submarine to dealing with people without documentation.

As we looked nevously at the loop with the handcuffs we had to confess that we hadn’t got the necessary paperwork and the policemen asked if we had any alternative forms of identification and Kim optimistically offered twenty year old photographs of her children, perhaps hoping that a family resemblance might be acceptable to them.

This didn’t work of course and the options began to look bleak, at worst a concrete prison cell and some explaining to do  to staff from the British Embassy and a solicitor, at best being dropped off at the next station in the middle of nowhere before the train crossed the border into Austria and having to find our own way back.

According to the official Web Site, the Slovak Police Force is an armed security force that performs duties in the field of maintaining public order and security, combating crime (including its organised and international forms) and other tasks resulting from Slovakia’s international obligations in the field of policing. These are tough professionals and they deal with organised and serious crime and are the main points of contact with Europol, the Organised Crime Bureau, the Judicial and Criminal Police Bureau and the Border and Aliens Police Bureau.

I was fairly certain  at this point that we were going to become a Eurostat crime statistic but luckily the men with guns eventually seemed to find our embarrassing situation just as amusing as our travelling companions and on the basis that Micky was able to vouch for us and to confirm that we were neither refugees nor international terrorists they agreed that we could proceed with our journey.  They seemed surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing even though this was two months before the Schengen* ‘no borders’ agreement was due to be implemented in Slovakia.  I doubt it would be so easy right now!

They added a chilling warning however as they moved on; ‘Of course we cannot guarantee that the Austrian police will be so understanding on the way back’, which left us weighing up our overnight and return journey options.  No problem, we could get a hotel for the night while Micky returned tomorrow with our documents.  Then we rather pessimistically remembered that you usually need a passport to book a hotel room!  A night on a chilly park bench seemed to be a distinct possibility.

Upon arrival in Vienna we feared that there might be a frontier post to negotiate without our passports but there was no sign of officialdom and we alighted the train and left the station without incident.

For the rest of the day it was difficult not to worry about getting back to Bratislava and on the way back to the station for the return journey a nervous Kim kept a watchful eye out for the border police but I was less concerned now because I couldn’t imagine that they have too much trouble trying to prevent people slipping over the border into Slovakia from Austria.

Pendolino MEFT

Anyway there were no police and once we were over the frontier we felt safe to sit back and relax and enjoy the rest of the return journey.  Now that we were securely on our way it seemed almost James Bond like to be dashing across Eastern European borders and sneaking like fugitives through custom checkpoints without identification, but next time I shall try and avoid this sort of tension and definitely remember to take my passport with me.

Have you ever forgotten any important documents when travelling?

passport

*The Schengen Agreement is a treaty signed on 14th June 1985  between five of the ten member states of the European Economic Community. It was supplemented by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement five years later and together these treaties created Europe’s borderless Schengen Area which operates as a single state for international travel with border controls for travellers travelling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls.

The Schengen Agreement was implemented on March 26th 1995 and by 1997 all European Union member states except the United Kingdom and Ireland.

 

Cities of Eastern Europe – Bratislava

Bratislava buildings

This was our first view of the famous River Danube, which at two thousand eight hundred and fifty kilometres is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga.

It is the twenty-ninth longest river in the world and flows through nine countries.  It starts in Germany and runs like a European timeline through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Ukraine before it finishes its journey by discharging its waters into the Black Sea at the Danube Delta and on route it passes through the four capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. It was flowing quite briskly through Bratislava today and its appearance was brown and muddy and disappointed those in the party who were expecting to see the sort of Blue Danube that inspired the composer Johan Sebastian Strauss to write his famous waltz.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Bratislava Street Art

Bratislava Street Sculpture

“If there is something famous about Bratislava it is its statues. If you have visited the city, or even more if you live here, you definitely must have a picture with these icons. These strange sculptures were created to give some flair to the town and an added touristic attractive to visitors.”

http://www.inevents.org/bratislava/statues-in-the-old-town-our-silent-neighbours#.UyVh8fl_vQw

Freshly Pressed

gutenbergpress

WordPress seem to go to a lot of trouble to convince users that ‘Freshly Pressed’ is fair, impartial and based on critical selection.

Consider this then from a blog page I chanced upon…

“It has been interesting to look back over 2012 to see which posts were the most popular. Bagni di Lucca and Beyond has been Freshly Pressed twice this year, which has been great fun. Thank you WordPress for choosing.”

It is a nice blog but it isn’t brilliant (sorry).

I say no more…

Bratislava Old Town

Bratislava Blue Church

It was designed in 1907 by a man called Ödön Lechner who was a Hungarian Art Nouveau architect and whose favourite colour was obviously blue because the exterior is painted in various shades of cobalt, sapphire and sky with an indigo roof and blue-black windows.  And the theme was continued inside as well because again the predominant colour was a vivid sky blue that gave a pleasing and cheerful ambiance to the building.

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Bratislava, The Castle and The Genie

Bratislava Castle

The castle is one of the most prominent structures in the city and stands on a plateau eighty-five metres above the river.  There has been a castle on this site for hundreds of years, the Romans had a fort here and after them there was a large Slavic fortified settlement. A stone castle was constructed in the tenth century, when the area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and subsequently it was converted into a Gothic fortress under Sigismund of Luxemburg (Luxemburg?) in 1430, became a Renaissance castle in 1562, and was rebuilt in 1649 in the baroque style.  Under Queen Maria Theresa, the castle became a prestigious royal seat.

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Bratislava to Vienna Without A Passport

passport

Purchasing the tickets was straight forward and at only €6 was a real bargain, there was some confusing and contradictory information about the platforms but we found the right train without any difficulty and settled down for the one hour journey to travel the sixty kilometres to the Austrian capital.  I stress Austrian because today we were visiting another country and this involved crossing a state boundary with border controls.

What a good idea it would have been therefore to take a passport!

Read the full story…

Bratislava

Bratislava buildings

The Danube is a navigable European artery and there were a lot of cruise boats on the water that make the daily journey either west to Vienna or east to Budapest but they didn’t look especially exciting so we were glad that we were planning to use the railway tomorrow instead.  It was mid morning by now and time for refreshment so we walked back from the river and after the girls had walked past and rejected café after café, all of which that looked perfectly acceptable, we finally found something that got the collective seal of approval and we enjoyed drinks at a pavement café in the sun in the old Town Hall Square.

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Bratislava and the Danube

Bratislava blue sky

This was our first view of the famous River Danube, which at two thousand eight hundred and fifty kilometres is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga.  It is the twenty-ninth longest river in the world and flows through nine countries.  It starts in Germany and runs like a European timeline through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Ukraine before it finishes its journey by discharging its waters into the Black Sea at the Danube Delta and on route it passes through the four capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.

 Read the full story…