CHAPTER 3: THE VILLAGE
There is evidence of settlement in Chl’aba as long ago as the Neolithic Period. It was founded as a fishing village, on an island in the Danube River, in approximately 1138. It later moved to the mainland, away from the river banks which are prone to flooding, and embraced agriculture and winemaking.
Chl’aba is situated in an area that has long been contested by warring factions. During World War II, fierce fighting between Germans and Russians stalled in this strategic vicinity, and locals hid in their wine cellars to avoid shelling. Wartime bunkers and craters from shelling are still visible. The village was annexed to Hungary during the war and returned to Czechoslovakia afterwards. Most of its current 800 inhabitants identify as Hungarians and speak Hungarian. The village is closer to Budapest, Hungary, than it is to the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
Under Communism, there was an active collective farm in Chl’aba that provided for everyone. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that toppled Communism and the Velvet Divorce in 1993 that divided Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics, Chl’aba’s economy was weak, and many young people left for opportunities elsewhere. In recent years, however, more families are choosing to stay and to raise children.
This chapter captures the many faces of life in Chl'aba: its bucolic beauty at the confluence of the Danube and Ipel Rivers; the small and often ancient houses that still burn wood and coal for heat; the struggle of many residents to fit into the new economy; the neighbors who eagerly help each other with the harvest; and the songs, folk costumes, and other traditions that still exist but are slowly fading away in the face of modernity.
The story of Chl’aba is fundamentally one of its families and their challenges, loves, and losses. But it also has larger implications for all of Slovakia, Central Europe and the European Union. The future of Chl’aba, simultaneously promising and extremely uncertain, may be one of the best indicators of the future of Europe as a whole.