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Jan Marinus Wiersma on EU
With a week to go before the European Union issues its annual progress reports on candidate countries, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Slovakia, Jan Marinus Wiersma, predicted that Slovakia would receive a positive report.
Mr Wiersma, who paid a three-day visit to Slovakia between 29 October and 31 October, could not resist the opportunity to lecture the Slovak electorate on the implications of the referendum on early elections, to be held on 11 November. He warned that early elections would mean a slowdown of reforms and EU accession talks.
Wiersma's intervention followed similar comments in recent weeks from Hans-Peter Martin of the Slovak-EU Parliamentary Committee, and Dirk Meganck, the EU's chief Negotiator with Slovakia. The rapporteur's visit concentrated on regional policy and social issues. During a visit to Banská Bystrica he called on the government to pay more attention to poorer areas of the countryside and to development in the regions.
Wiersma emerged from a meeting with Pál Csáky, the Slovak Deputy Premier for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities, calling for a swift completion of the reform of public administration. He emphasised the EU's support for the principle of decentralisation of power to the regions.
One of the biggest challenges facing the current government is the split which has developed within the coalition over the question of the reform of public administration, with Pál Csáky's party, the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), calling for greater autonomy for Hungarians in southern Slovakia.
Investigation into SIS
The investigation into an alleged conspiracy by members of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) against the former President, Michal Kováč, has been completed. The chief investigator, Jaroslav Ivor, has recommended that charges be brought against former SIS director, Ivan Lexa and two of his subordinates, Peter K and Pavol V.
It is alleged that Lexa ordered the two SIS officials to prepare a report on ways to remove Kováč from the office of President in 1995. Lexa is currently on the run in an unknown foreign country, evading an international arrest warrant for his alleged involvement in the abduction of Kováč's son, Michal Kováč Jr, also in 1995.
It was reported earlier this year that the former SIS director had sworn loyalty to the British Queen in order to become a citizen of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. He was rumbled, and soon on the run again.
Meanwhile, the cabinet has said it agrees with a proposed constitutional law to cancel a number of amnesties issued by ex-Premier Vladimír Mečiar. The amnesties were issued to persons allegedly involved in the abduction of Kováč Jr and the sabotaging of a national referendum in 1997. Previous attempts to annul the amnesties have failed.
The Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), a member of the present government coalition, has objected to the proposed law, arguing that it is unconstitutional. Vladimír Mečiar himself issued a statement claiming the introduction of such a law could lead to dictatorship.
Prince Charles visits Slovakia
Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, had a crash course in Slovak culture during his two-day visit. During a visit to a forest reserve in central Slovakia, the Prince was presented with a fujara, a traditional wind instrument, sometimes called the Slovak didgeridoo. He had some problems with the fingering, but promised to learn to play along with some tapes of traditional folk music.
Charles, who is famously keen on preserving ancient architecture, visited a number of conservation projects. In Bratislava he visited St Martin's Cathedral, the historic site of the coronation of numerous Hungarian kings. He was also introduced to some latter-day Slovak royals—two beauty queens, Martina Vrazdová, 21, and Adriana Rakovšeková, 20.
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda described Prince Charles' visit as "of fundamental importance" to Slovakia.
And in other news...
- On Tuesday 31 October, parliament passed a law banning deputies from holding membership in more than one political party. The law will take effect on 1 March 2001 and could cause considerable difficulties for Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda who launched his new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) earlier this year, but remains chairman of the Slovak Democratic Coaltiton (SDK), which he led in the 1998 elections. The threat posed to Dzurinda by the new law is potentially greater than that posed by the forthcoming referendum on early elections.
- The cabinet approved its negotiation position for a further six chapters of the EU's acquis communitaires. The chapters cover the free movement of capital, the rights of companies in business, taxes, economic and customs union, energy production and budgetary rules. Slovakia has already completed nine out of the thirty chapters. One chapter that was quickly dealt with concerned fisheries policy—perhaps as Slovakia has no coastline.
- Slovakia celebrated a public holiday on 28 October, commemorating the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, for the first time since independence in 1993. This week also saw Parliament extolling the merits of Milan Rastislav Štefánik, the Slovak leader who worked alongside TG Masaryk in the founding of the first Czechoslovak Republic. Štefánik, an astronomer, pilot and general in the French army, died in an air crash in Bratislava in 1919, aged 39. A bust of the independence leader is to be placed in the Slovak parliament building.
- Recruits at a Slovak army passing-out parade took an unexpected trip back in time when their colonel mistakenly led them in an oath of loyalty "to the socialist homeland." Colonel Milan Baláz called on the soldiers to protect the constitution of the Slovak Socialist Republic at the parade in Bratislava on 27 October. An embarrassed official from the Ministry of Defence put the Colonel's faux pas down to a case of butterflies in the stomach. Worse still, the Colonel had to put up with loud protests from the soldiers' proud parents, who were attending the parade. Colonel Baláz has resigned his commission.
Robin Sheeran, 3 November 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)
Today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic