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Name-calling upsets the Federal Republic

Obscure grammatical quarrels are nothing new to the former Czechoslovakia, where Czech and Slovak politicians once argued over whether to insert a hyphen in their state's name and call it Czecho-Slovakia, writes Tony Barber

The latest bizarre dispute concerns how to translate the official name of Germany into Slovak. Seven German-Slovak agreements remain unsigned because Slovakia insists on calling Germany the "German Federal Republic" rather than as the Germans want, the "Federal Republic of Germany".

Germany says "German Federal Republic" is unacceptable, as Communist governmentsused this term to remind the world of the "German Democratic Republic", the former Communist East Germany. Slovakia appears the only Slavic-speaking country that refuses to use "Federal Republic of Germany". Indeed, it was not until last year that the Slovak authorities dropped this term in favour of "German Federal Republic".

Slovak officials say the change was made because "Federal Republic of Germany" cannot be translated into Slovak grammatically. But the Bratislava newspaper Narodna Obroda suggested that the Slovak authorities were using "German Federal Republic" to show their displeasure with German attitudes to Slovakia.

"A Meciar letter asking for a meeting has lain on Kohl's desk, covered in dust, for months," Narodna Obroda said.