Ruling coalition under strain
The internal feud over the reform of administrative boundaries (see last week's CER Slovakia News Review) continues to drive a wedge between the constituent parties of the coalition government. Following a walk-out by the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), which wanted to see a new region established in the south of Slovakia, the remaining coalition parties agreed to back a proposal for 12 higher territorial units (or VUCs).
The former-communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) abandoned the coalition ship the following day, announcing that it, too, now favoured the 8+8 option. Faced with the prospect of an embarrassing left-right split on an issue of reform demanded as a membership precondition by the European union, Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda backed down. After a meeting lasting several hours on Wednesday 14 March, the coalition party leaders agreed to leave the issue to a free vote of Parliament.
All of which left former Premier Vladimír Mečiar feeling rather pleased with himself. Mečiar told journalists last week that his Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) would support personnel changes to the cabinet, or a minority government of experts. The HZDS would be happy to support such a government until the 2002 elections, provided its policies were beneficial to Slovakia.
Mečiar's tactics are designed to split the Government, with the SDĽ ever on the verge of becoming semi-detached, and the 8+8 proposal has worked a charm for him. The kind of neutered Government beholden to the HZDS envisaged by Mečiar would undoubtedly spell the end for Slovakia's hopes of EU membership. Róbert Fico's Smer party, always keen to go further than the HZDS in its condemnation of the Government, called for the removal of Dzurinda, claiming the damage the Premier was inflicting was utterly wrecking the country
In the shadow of the past
A ceremony in Budapest to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the politician János Esterházy went ahead on Sunday 11 March despite a protest by the Slovak Foreign Ministry. Esterházy was a leader of the Hungarian minority in pre-war Czechoslovakia and during the wartime Slovak puppet state. He was the only MP in the wartime Slovak Parliament to vote against the deportation of Slovakia's Jews, and died in prison after the war.
However, Esterházy is seen as a controversial figure in Slovakia. Newspaper reports this week said this aristocratic leader supported Hungarian territorial claims to Slovakia. In a statement issued before the Budapest ceremony, the Slovak Foreign Ministry said such events; "do not help either improve bilateral confidence or promote the atmosphere of intensifying constructive cooperation."
The ceremony was addressed by the Hungarian President, Ferenc Mádl, and the Slovak Deputy Prime Minister, Pál Csáky, who is a member of the SMK. Csáky's party leader, Béla Bugár, and František Miklosko, a Slovak MP from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), were both awarded the János Esterházy medal.
The Roma take action
Ninety-eight Roma from the village of Hermanovce in eastern Slovakia have signed a petition against the police claiming to have suffered years of physical and mental abuse. The allegations outlined include beatings and sexual abuse. The petition also complained about inappropriate education offered to Roma pupils at local schools and the poor living conditions in the village. A spokeswoman for the Prešov regional police authority said the petition contained nothing concrete.
New fighters darken the atmosphere
A decision on how to replace the clapped-out planes of Slovakia's air force is to be postponed until November. The National defence Council said it "took note" of the Defence Ministry's highly-publicised decision to purchase subsonic fighters. Defence Minister Josef Stank was nonplussed by the Council statement. He said it was not a rejection of his ministry's policy. "We have to wait for a while to see that our plans fit with the overall strategy for rebuilding the army," he commented.
Former Defence Minister Jozef Tuchyň was critical of the ministry's plans, claiming that Slovakia was under pressure to buy subsonic Hawk jets in order to save jobs in Britain. He said the Hawk was known in NATO countries as a training jet, and Slovakia required combat aircraft to defend the state.
And in other news...
- A petition signed by 55,000 people opposed to the establishment of a Hungarian-language teacher training faculty at Nitra University was handed to the university's Rector on Monday 12 March. The decision to set up the faculty was taken by the Government following pressure from coalition member the Party of the Hungarian Coalition in advance of the recent vote on the amendment of the constitution. The petition was accompanied by letters from concerned citizens, educational groups and the nationalist cultural institution, Matica Slovenská.
- A statue to Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the founding father of Czechoslovakia, has been unveiled at his former official residence, the castle of Topolcianky in western Slovakia. The sculpture had been in hiding since 1939 and is the only public statue of Masaryk in Slovakia. The elderly academic who led Czechoslovakia to independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire was born in Moravia of Slovak parentage 151 years ago. The unveiling ceremony on Saturday 10 March took place under the auspices of the Slovak and Czech presidents, Rudolf Schuster and Václav Havel.
Robin Sheeran, 16 March 2001
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TASR (Slovak Press Agency)
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