BRATISLAVA, CZECHOSLOVAKIA, JUNE 7 -- Like an aggrieved spouse weary of repeated squabbles, Slovaks are intent on using their first free elections in 44 years to force change in the often unhappy marriage of nations that is federated Czechoslovakia.

While straight-out divorce does not appear a viable option, all 15 parties competing for Slovak votes in federal and regional elections Friday and Saturday advocate increased autonomy from Prague for the Slovak republic. Only the Slovak National Party, shown in opinion polls to have the support of about 6 percent of the electorate, is advocating establishment of a separate Slovak state in the poorer, largely rural and heavily Roman Catholic eastern third of the country.

Discord between Czechs and Slovaks has been a refrain in the history of Czechoslovakia since its creation in 1918, when the Czechs of Bohemia and Moravia were eager to escape Austro-German encirclement and the Slovaks wanted to break with centuries of Hungarian domination.

"The 1,000 years we were living under Hungarian slavery did not harm our self-identity as much as the past 72 years under the Czechoslovak Republic," said National Party Chairman Slavo Moric.

Just before World War II, Slovakia broke away from Bohemia and Moravia, becoming a puppet state under Nazi German control. This experience with nominal independence, during which 60,000 Slovak Jews were sent to death camps, still casts a shadow over the latest attempt at Slovak separatism, which began after the collapse of Communist rule last December.

Embittered by a view that their existence as a separate nation is inadequately recognized at home and abroad, Slovaks demonstrated in Bratislava and Prague in April to demand that the name of their hybrid country be changed to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. Since then, there have been small but voiciferous nationalist protests, the latest in Bratislava Monday when several hundred protesters sought to interrupt a speech by President Vaclav Havel, a Czech, with shouts of "We've had enough of Prague!" and "Slovakia for the Slovaks!"

"The unpleasant aspect is that this particular separatist movement is politically oriented in a way that too closely resembles the residue of the Slovak political past," said Milan Simecka, a former dissident and now a leader of Public Against Violence, the Slovak counterpart of the grass-roots Civic Forum movement that forced the Communists from power in Prague.

"Subconsciously within this movement, all the dark features of European nationalism emerge," Simecka said. "These are a rather reserved position towards Czechs, a highly developed hostility against the Hungarian national minority as well as hostility to all so-called foreign or alien elements, blatant antisemitism, blatant fascism and everything else we know from history."

Public Against Violence advocates revamping federal structures to give greater sovereignty to Slovakia. But its platform backs the existing links between Slovaks and Czechs, stating that "the sovereignty of the federation is derived from the strength of their union." In contrast, the Christian Democratic Movement, to which Public Against Violence runs a close second in opinion polls in Slovakia, would retain joint ministries only for defense, finance and foreign affairs.

"At the present time, we support an operative and fully functioning federative system," said Christian Democratic campaign manager Jan Kovacovsky. In the long run, he said, his party wants to achieve "the existence of two equal nations at each other's side, with our own national economies, our own national taxation systems, our respective national banks, as well as individual foreign representations abroad."

Polls show the Christian Democrats winning 25 to 30 percent of the vote, with Public Against Violence taking 18 to 25 percent, a result that would necessitate a governing coalition at both the federal and regional levels. Deputy Premier Jan Carnogursky, a lawyer and human-rights campaigner, leads the Christian Democrats in Slovakia. Public Against Violence counts ousted Communist Party reformer Alexander Dubcek and current Premier Marian Calfa among its top candidates.

Public Against Violence, acknowledging that Slovak interests must be respected, regards the emphasis on nationalism that has marked the campaign as a diversion from the more pressing problem of rebuilding an economy and environment ravaged by decades of central control.

A Christian Democratic television ad this week featured an ancient hymn used as the anthem of the 1939-45 Slovak state, and the same tune is played in campaign spots used by the more extreme National Party.

"Some very disturbing balancing can be seen within the Christian Democratic Movement," said sociologist Martin Butora, a leader of Public Against Violence. "The commercials were very subtle," he said. "There is a men's choir singing in the National Party commercial; women sing in the Christian Democratic Movement's advertisement. We would expect {the Christian Democrats} to be on a high enough level to sing in a European key."

Campaign manager Kovacovsky denied that his party's TV ads seek to exploit nationalist sentiment or mask a hidden agenda. "We wanted to link up with the heyday of Slovak history," he said, but added that his party did not consider the wartime Slovak state as its forebear.

"We want to build a Slovakia, and we truly want to achieve this within the framework of Czechoslovakia. . . . We would like the Slovak nation to coexist with all other nations."