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This report is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

Letter from Slovakia James Sutherland-Smith

I took the car into a new car wash, a charitable enterprise set up by the Uniate or Greek Catholic Church whose bishop resides in Presov. It is a curious denomination, a section of the Orthodox church which became reconciled with the Roman Catholic church about two hundred years ago. Many of its parish churches are to be found in the area known as Ruthenia whose population inhabits or used to inhabit an area towards the Polish-Ukrainian border. Last summer I spent an afternoon with a student of mine, a young poet and short story writer called Anna Fedurcova, sitting under linden trees beside the little wooden Greek Catholic church of Jalova. She told me that it had been moved bodily across from the hill opposite to make it easier for old people to reach. Indeed the old are the only people likely to use the church, the young having migrated elsewhere for their education, for jobs, for a different way of life.

To return to the car wash, what happened there was a tiny incident, an image I suppose, an emotional and intellectual complex in an instant of time which exemplifies one of the realities of contemporary Slovakia. The car wash attendants, three men in blue overalls and a man in the kind of leather overcoat, familiar from films such as The Billion Dollar Brain, ushered me into a waiting room which had two chairs covered with a foamy plastic material which squeaked when I sat ...

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