I wanted to write about Slemence because this little, offbeat place had a huge effect on me. Not in the conventional sense, rather the opposite. I would prefer to avoid politics, but for anyone who knows anything about Slemence/ Szelmenc (in Hungarian), the divided village, the political connections are unavoidable and NOT about tourism. I went there because I wanted to give respects as I have a special relationship with this region. And to point out to any bicycle enthusiasts, it is possible to come to and from Slovakia and Ukraine by means of bicycle at this pedestrianised crossing and NOT at the very busy and heavy going Chop and Uzhgorod borders.
This particular village, between Uzhgorod and Chop, has been separated for almost 70 years. During the night of August 30th 1946, Slemence was divided by the Red Army into two parts to establish a border between former USSR and Czechoslovakia. The larger part remained in Czechoslovakia and renamed Velke Slemence, Big Slemence; and has been more developed. The smaller part went to the Soviet Union and renamed Mali Slemence,Little Slemence. Little has changed there in any-ones’ lifetime. The populations is made up with Slovaks, Ukrainians and Hungarians.
The border between the two sectors of the village cut through land and property, thus separating families and friends. They could only converse from several meters distanceover the fence; Or apply for visas, which meant lengthy travels elsewhere, just to obtain a simple permit to get to the other side of their village, via Uzhgorod.
By 1949, the 3 meter high electric fence was in place. Armed guards patrolled the grounds and were positioned in watchtowers. It was to the advantage of the Hungarians to make their exchanges to one another over the border, since the guards were unable to understand them.
After Stalin, the border restrictions became a little lighter and it was possible to attend local church services along the village lane. There were still very strict regulations.
With the Soviets gone and EU Slovakia now controlling most of the village border. There have been some lighter restrictions introduced for Ukrainian citizens, but not enough to allow free movementfor all local persons. The only solution would be when Ukraine joins the European Union, this unwelcomed border would vanish. At time of writing, no date has been given for such a change yet.
It does not seem right with today’s mood that the vast Berlin Wall fell down and the tiny Slemence Wall still operates. And it is most unfair that I, Alex, from the other side of Europe, can come and go from Slemence as I please without restrictions; Whilst some Slemence people still have to apply for visas. None of this fits in with today’s liberal scene.
There is an interesting Slovak documentary called Hranica: The Border. The stories the Slemence/ Szelmenc people tell are very sorrowful. No thought was given to this village early on by the authorities. What could be a pleasant village, has been fundamentally destroyed.
Throughout the 20th century Slemence village went through various identities; Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, Soviet Union, EU Slovakia and Ukraine.
I am also surprised there has not much more outside awareness for the Slemence matter. Perhaps in time there may be a museum and memorials for the village, marking all that it had gone through.
Until then, those with EU passports from Velke Slemence can surely walk across the border, find a cheap bottle of vodka and bring it home in a matter of moments. Whilst those on the Little
Slemence side, unable to cross freely, do what they can to boost their income by buying and selling with their neighbours in the best possible way. This is regardless of any smuggling that may go on!
Slemence is a one-hour bike ride from Uzhgorod. I saw both sides of the Slemence village in a further hour and saw many stalks flying by and resting on roof tops. The two churches, one in Slovakia and the other in Ukraine, and a pleasant folk-lore bus stop, are good places to rest and take in the atmosphere. Finally, I returned to the Ukraine side and made my way to Chop across the agricultural flatlands. My heart went out to this place.
Copyright. Alexander Stemp. March 2015.