|St. Martin's Cathedral Where 11 Kings and 8 Queens were crowned|
When Czechoslovakia internally parted ways in 1989, Bratislava became capital of the new country of Slovakia and Prague governed the Czech republic. Slovakia differs significantly from its western twin -
less prosperous and more Catholic and rural. Its roots reach deep into Hungary, a part of the Habsburg monarchy for almost 400 years. Strangely, the centrally placed Bratislava was a favorite coronation destination for the royals. Eleven kings and eight queens were crowned at its St. Martin’s cathedral, including Maria Theresa of Austria.
Historical Bratislava suffered greatly under communism. Two-thirds of the buildings in Old Town were cleared for highway and bridge construction as well as for building large, impersonal prefab apartments. The comparison to its charming and well-preserved sister capital of Prague is tragic. Today, thanks to increasing numbers of tourists, Bratislava has restored what it could and relies on its energy to be quite welcoming.
|Marianna Gajanova and Betty Swasko|
|Betty Swasko and daughter, Kristi Swasko|
Volkswagen was the first major automobile company to set up shop in Bratislava in 1994. Since then, the company has continued to expand, producing through the years the Passat, VW GolfA3, Polo, and AudiQ7 as well as many parts for other cars. Peugeot-Citroen and Kia followed suit in 2004 , meaning Slovakia makes more cars per capita than any other country in the world and is known as the Detroit of Europe. This industry’s presence has lifted many Slovakians from the countryside into relative prosperity.
Happily, Mariana’s English was quite good, and we visited over a typical dinner of dumplings, cabbage, ham, sour cream, and beer. When asked if she liked beer, she smiled, “I’m Slovakian, aren’t I?” We learned Mariana is now an assembly planner for SUV door systems for Volkswagen and Audi and her boyfriend, Rado, works as an internal auditor for CEIT Consutling that provides external support for Volkswagen. They drive a Volkswagen, of course, and because of expensive real estate prices in Bratislava, have bought a house 24 miles outside of town. Despite their strong earning capacity (especially in Slovakia), 25% of their salaries goes to taxes with the house payment eating up more. They have to plan carefully to even visit her home 200 miles away.
Marianna knows she’s fortunate to have her job and to be living where she does. She was only two when the regime fell but heard from many that under communism, everyone had a job and seemed happier. That may be true of her parents’ generation but Marianna took advantage of her country’s education and now participates and excels in a very capitalistic world. Her generation is the hope for Slovakia. And the truth is, both Slovakia and the United States are lucky to have those Swasko genes.