their own medicine, by expelling German farm families fromrnthe Sudetenland, where they had lived for centuries. When myrnwife made the mistake of asking a German visitor, whose familyrnturned out to have been among the victims, whether or notrnhe had ever been to Prague, he replied, “Only when I will bernriding on top of a tank.”rnAfter the Soviet takeover in the late 1940’s, Czecho-Slovakrnnationalism was directed against the Russians, but the end ofrnthe Gold War changed the picture entirely. The U.S. State Departmentrnwas looking for a weak puppet who could appear tornrule Czechoslovakia and hit upon an absurdist playwright, VaclavrnHavel, a man of no political experience and whose literaryrnreputation was limited to intellectual circles in Prague. Byrnspending millions on a p.r. campaign, the United States wasrnable to turn Havel’s little group of intellectual poseurs intornheroic symbols of resistance, even in Prague, where peoplernshould have known better.rnWhat neither we nor the Gzechs banked on was Havel’s incompetence.rnNo other Gzech leader would have allowed thernSlovaks to secede peaceably without, at least, a legitimate referendum,rnand it is surprising that the United States allowed it tornhappen. Perhaps, and this seems to be true in the case of Italy,rnwhose regime we have allowed to collapse, we simply no longerrncared.rnThe Slovaks are so different from the Gzechs, I find it hardrnto believe that they could ever have tried to make a nation together.rnTheir languages are similar—though perhaps not sornclose as Serbian and Croatian—and they share many of thernsame customs, but they had not lived in the same state togetherrnsince the fall of the Moravian Empire in the tenth century.rnSince that time, the ethnic twins were adopted out to differentrnimperial nations, and although they preserved the evidence ofrntheir origins, their new masters pulled them in different directions.rnIf the history of Bohemia is dominated by Germans and Austrians,rnSlovaks had to put up with Hungarians and Russians.rnIn Bratislava I spent several hours in the old Town Hall, whichrnDON’T LEAVE HOME WITH ITrnI was in Krakow to meet with the editors of Arcana, a superbrnnew journal of politics and literature, and as I wasrnsaying good-bye to the editor, Andrzej Nowak, he gavernme a final warning; “Be careful. A friend of mine was recentlyrnrobbed by Russians on a train.”rnThese words were on my mind the next morning as Irnboarded the train to Kosice. Dragging my heavy suitcasernand gripping my briefcase, I found myself being pushedrnback by several men shouting and waving their arms as ifrnthey were in a hurry to get off. It was not until two ofrnthem came at me from the other direction that I realizedrnthat 1 was being mugged, however surreptitiously. I feltrnthe cold spot where my wallet had been, but the thugsrn(who were, it now occurred to me, speaking Russian)rnheld me pinned to the wall. When the group (perhapsrnas many as seven of them) split in opposite directions, Irnshouted “thief” and started to run after one of them. Anrnolder Pole put his hand on my arm and—making thernshape of a pistol with his hand—motioned me not torndo it. Whatever he said, I interpreted it as, “It’s onlyrnmoney.”rnNot just money but credit cards, which I had not—asrnI had promised myself—divided up between wallet,rnbriefcase, and suitcase. But, as I explained to my daughter,rnat least we still had our passports, plane tickets, andrnnearly $600 that we had stashed away in various places.rnEven so, it was a long and dreary ride to Kosice, enlivenedrnonly by the gang of Romanian gypsies whornprowled up and down the corridor looking into eachrncompartment to see what they might snatch. About BOrnminutes before Kosice, one of them opened the doorrnand stood blocking the way, asking—in what I took to bernRomanian—for a razor. I told him in pidgin Slovak thatrnI didn’t understand—”Nie rozumiem.” He switched tornpidgin Slavic of some variety and asked again, and thisrntime I answered—pointing to my beard—”Nemam nishta”rn(“I’ve got nothing”), which was not strictly true. Afterrncarefully noting all our possessions, he finally consentedrnto leave. As the train pulled into the station, wernstarted dragging our bags into the corridor. Predictably,rnthe whole gang of them suddenly appeared to block thernwav we were headed. I told my daughter to go the otherrnwa}’, and I quickly followed her, leaving the gypsies staringrnopen-mouthed like dogs staring at the squirrel thatrnran up the tree. “You see,” I asked my daughter, “whyrnthe Russians built an Empire and the gypsies live inrnhousing projects? The Russians blocked both exits.”rn1 was angry about the robbery but not too worried.rnAfter all, I had two American Express cards, and althoughrnI am (thank God) no Jerry Seinfeld, I was confidentrnthat it would be at most two days before I had thernplastic passport to freedom. After checking into the HotelrnSlovan (Brezhnev-era charm combined with Vegasrngood taste), I called home and eventually found out thernAmerican Express number to call.rnI had no telephone cards, of course, and getting anrnoperator to make a collect call proved to be well beyondrnmy competence, so I dialed the number, only to be putrnthrough a series of recordings thanking me for my patience.rnAt last I reached a clerk in card replacement yhornasked me how to spell Kosice and Slovakia for which shernhad no entries. (Apparently, no one has told AMEXrnabout the breakup.) Listening to my explanation, sherntold me I had to go to Prague, which was eight hoursrnaway by train, but then she assured me that it would bern”no problem” since I could pick up a temporary card atrnTatratour in Bratislava on Friday. I asked her if the officernwould be open this Frida’—it’s Good Friday for some ofrnus—and she said again, no problem and, no, there wouldrnbe no point in calling ahead.rn12/CHRONICLESrnrnrn