Slovaks and the more numerous and prosperous Czechs appear intent on dividing the 74-year-old state in the next few months. 'A common state would be better, I do think that even today . . . but I am a realist,' Mr Havel told his nationwide radio audience.
Czechoslovakia foundered on the differing aspirations of its two main ethnic groups. The Czechs, who comprise some 10 million of Czechoslovakia's 15 million people, generally want to push ahead quickly with economic reforms, regardless of the short-term pain, in order to put the legacy of Communist rule behind them. Slovaks are saddled with much higher unemployment and more inefficient heavy industry from the Communist era. They have argued that economic reform must be tailored to their needs.
Demands for more Slovak autonomy have found a rallying- point in lingering resentment over Prague's dominance. Before Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, the Slovaks were under Hungary's influence. When the Slovak parliament declared sovereignty, it said that a 1,000-year-old dream had come to fruition.
Mr Havel said: 'The emancipation efforts in the Slovak society are stronger than we federalists thought . . . and I have to respect it. And I have no right to be disappointed . . . It's a matter of concern to me that the process, which now seems inevitable, is quick, decent and respectable.'
Last month Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Prime Minister, and his rival and Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, agreed to split the federation in two. But they asked their respective parliaments to work out a final agreement by the end of September. The deal has left only a slim chance for Czechoslovakia to survive.
Slovak deputies in the federal parliament earlier this month blocked Mr Havel's re-election as President; the declaration of sovereignty was seen as another important step towards the split. Mr Havel insisted his resignation was not a reaction to the sovereignty vote. 'I don't feel like a destroyer of the common state,' he said. 'With my abdication, I helped clear up the situation.'Reuse content