Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 12
27 March 2000

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Slovakia
News highlights and analysis
since 17 March 2000

Robin Sheeran

The Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) set the cat among the pigeons last Saturday by calling for a renegotiation of the Government coalition. The party's Republic Board made the call during a party conference at Malá Lučivná. It cited as it reasons the removal of the SDĽ-appointed Director General of the Slovenske Elektrarne electricity utility by the Economy Ministry and an alleged campaign to poison the good name of the party through accusations of clientilism. The proposal to amend the coalition agreement has met with a hostile response from other government parties. Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda has made clear his view that there is no need to amend the agreement. Béla Bugár of the Hungarian Coalition said: "Anyone who wants to amend the agreement without serious grounds will endanger the stability of the governing coalition, and will be pressing the coalition partners to deal with the agreement rather than addressing real economic and social problems" (quoted by TASR on 19 March 2000). The party's partners in government refuse to acknowledge the SDĽ's claim that there is a crisis in the coalition, preferring to point to a crisis in the SDĽ. In recent months, the party has seen its poll rating drop perilously close to the cut-off point for representation in Parliament, with much of its support draining off to the newly-established Smer party, headed by Róbert Fico.

US Steel is to acquire partial ownership of the Eastern Slovak Ironworks (VSŽ), one of Slovakia's biggest manufacturers. The long-awaited deal was signed on Friday 24 March after two days of negotiations in Bratislava. The American company has agreed to take on the steel-related parts of the conglomerate. A new company will be created, and part of VSŽ's debt will be assumed. US Steel President Paul Wilhelm described the move as a "major strategic step for US Steel and expanding the company offshore." The agreement made on Friday has to be approved by the VSŽ shareholders and the board of US Steel before a final contract can be signed. It was a sign of the importance of the deal that Premier Dzurinda himself took part in the negotiations, and he later said the terms of the contract were the best Slovakia could hope for. VSŽ employs 25,000 people and its presence dominates Slovakia's second-biggest city, Košice. The recent history of VSŽ has been dogged by scandal and accusations of corruption (see Michael J Kopanic Jr's two-part article "Stealing the Eastern Slovak Ironworks" in CER. Part one is here and part two is here).

Former Premier Vladimír Mečiar was re-elected Chairman of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) last Saturday. At its "transformation congress" in Trnava, the HZDS amended its constitution to become a centre-right people's party. Mečiar rejected claims that the new constitution had been cobbled together from Austrian People's Party and German CDU documents. He was reelected by a unanimous vote and appointed four deputy chairmen, including the controversial former ambassador to Canada, Zdenka Kramplová. Mečiar was later to predict that elections will be held "next year at the latest".

An opinion poll carried out by the MVK agency suggests that only 42.6 per cent of the electorate would turn out to vote in a referendum on an early general election. 51.6 per cent would not vote and 6.1 per cent were undecided. Over 50 per cent of the electorate would need to vote for the result of any such referendum to take effect. The opposition HZDS has been collecting signatures in support of a campaign for a referendum calling for early elections.

President Rudolf Schuster made a dramatic plea for a historic Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation during a speech to the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. "Relations between both nations in the Carpathian fold have never been a bed of roses," he said. The President was speaking during a three-day official visit to Slovakia's southern neighbour this week. Schuster discussed the situation of minorities in both countries with his Hungarian counterpart, Arpad Goencz. In talks with Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, he requested Hungary's support for Slovakia's bid for EU and NATO membership. Relations with Hungary hit a low point during the Mečiar government of 1994-98, mainly due to concerns over the situation of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, and a longstanding dispute over the hydroelectric project on the River Danube at Gabčíkovo.

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, General Wesley Clark, visited Bratislava on Wednesday. After a meeting with Premier Dzurinda, General Clark told reporters that Slovakia was moving closer to its strategic vision of entry to NATO. Clark praised Slovakia's co-operation during the NATO operation in Yugoslavia last year and the work of Slovak military engineers in the reconstruction of Kosovo. He emphasised the importance of the continuing process of transformation of Slovakia's armed forces. The government is to mount an "information campaign" to persuade the Slovak electorate of the need to join NATO. The size of the Slovak Army is expected to drop from the present figure of 18,000 troops to 12,000, by the end of the year 2001.

Slovak customs officers seized a consignment of 52 kilogrammes of heroin from a car with Polish licence plates at the Petržalka-Berg crossing on the Austrian border on the outskirts of Bratislava. Five Polish citizens were arrested, and the police took eight hours to take the car apart in order to retrieve the 104 bags of heroin. The offence carries a penalty of upto 15 years in prison.

Robin Sheeran, 24 March 2000

Useful links for Slovak news:

TASR (Press Agency of the Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)
Slovak Spectator



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