Interior Minister resigns
This has been a very bad week for Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda and his coalition. On Monday 14 May Ladislav Pittner resigned as Interior Minister prompting a massive row over the choice of his successor.
Pittner, a close ally of Dzurinda, cited calls for his removal from coalition parties as the reason for his resignation. He is the second cabinet member to leave in the past fortnight. Last week CER reported on the sacking of Deputy Premier Pavol Hamžík in the wake of the European Union funding scandal.
Pittner had failed miserably to live up to promises to prosecute those responsible for the human-rights violations and corruption of the previous Mečiar government. He expressed a hope that his resignation would help the coalition to continue in existence. In reality Pittner's departure has prompted a vicious squabble about his replacement which amounts to the greatest threat to Dzurinda's leadership in his two-and-a-half years in office.
Dzurinda disappointed by Shuster's temporary appointment
President Rudolf Schuster offered to give Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský control of the Interior Ministry on a temporary basis. Čarnogurský is a member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), as was Pittner at the time of his ministerial appointment, although he subsequently joined Dzurinda's newly-established Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
Dzurinda had wanted the temporary appointment for himself, and was deeply angered when Čarnogurský accepted the job. He immediately proposed his close aide Ivan Šimko as full-time replacement at the Justice Ministry without consulting his cabinet colleagues. Dzurinda's bitter rivalry with Čarnogurský dates back to the time when they were both members of the KDH. The relative success of Dzurinda's SDKÚ has threatened electoral wipeout for the KDH at the next election.
Dzurinda's stance on the appointment has been criticised by his coalition partners, although they denied plans to unseat him as premier. Meanwhile, Dzurinda insisted on his right to make the appointment, stating that he was "much annoyed" at the KDH's disloyalty, and that it seemed to him they were looking for a reason to quit the government. This was denied by the KDH leader Pavol Hrušovský who said his party had lost confidence in Dzurinda. He insisted that his party would do its utmost to ensure the coalition accepts its nominee for the vacant position.
President Schuster, who has no real choice but to accept Dzurinda's nominee, upped the ante by simply stating that he would check whether Šimko fulfilled all the necessary criteria. This left Šimko's candidacy up for debate at a vital meeting of the Coalition Council in Trenčianske Teplice on Friday 18 May.
Mečiar verbally attacks Havel
The leader of the opposition Movement For a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Vladimír Mečiar, has attacked the Czech President, Václav Havel, for comments made during his speech at last week's Bratislava conference on NATO accession.
Havel said Slovakia should be invited to join NATO at next year's Prague summit "provided no tragic reversal" occurred. The remark has been widely interpreted as referring to a return to power by Mečiar, whose last premiership (1994 to 1998) saw Slovakia become a virtual pariah state. Speaking on Radio Twist, former Premier Mečiar said Havel had come to Slovakia "to solve some of his complexes" and that he had "nothing more to do in Slovakia."
The HZDS had earlier issued a statement describing Havel's comment as "a gross intereference in the domestic affairs of another country."
Four EU chapters closed
Slovakia has closed a further four chapters of European Union legislation as part of the EU accession process. The chapters on telecommunications, social policy and employment, the free provision of services, and company law were concluded on Thursday 17 May. The Slovak media have been quick to point out that Slovakia has now closed more chapters than its neighbours in the Czech Republic and Poland, despite having started along the road to membership two years later.
The news was a small consolation for Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda in an otherwise disastrous week. "The difference between the first and second group of candidates has been basically erased," he commented. Slovakia has now closed 16 of the required 29 chapters.
The Czech government may offer to supply Slovakia with military aeroplanes in a straight swap for Slovak-made arms supplies. The Slovak Air Force has been considering how to replace its ageing Soviet-made supersonic warplanes with newer subsonic aircraft in preparation for NATO membership.
The British-made BAe Hawk jet was thought to be among the leading contenders to fill this role, but the Slovak Defence Ministry could well be tempted by a deal with the Czechs which would not require cash up front.
It is thought the Czech defence ministry could supply 36 of its L-159 aircraft manufactured by Aero Vodochody. It appears that the Czech Air Force ordered too many of the aircraft. A deal with Slovakia could help to offload the surplus. Joint training of pilots from the two air forces could save money for both countries.
And in other news...
- The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights has praised Slovakia's efforts to implement legislation to uphold the rights of minorities. Alvaro Gil-Robles was speaking after a visit to the infamous Lunik IX estate in Košice. The estate, which is populated almost entirely by Roma, has an unemployment rate of 99 per cent. "The colour of the skin should not be a criterion for a job," said Gil-Robles.
- The opposition HZDS is considering bringing a motion of no confidence in the Culture Minister, Milan Knažko. It follows a decision by the Culture Ministry to deny the use of the State Opera House in Banska Bystrica for a celebration of the HZDS' tenth anniversary on the grounds that it would be a political event. HZDS deputy chairman, Jozef Božík said the former Communist Party of the Democratic Left which is part of the ruling coalition, was allowed to hold its anniversary celebrations in a theatre in nearby Zvolen. He said the decision to bar the HZDS from the opera house "smacked of state terror."
- Maria Kadlecíková of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) is to be Pavol Hamžík's replacement as Deputy Premier for European Integration. Premier Dzurinda submitted her nomination to President Schuster on Tuesday 15th May. Kadlecíková has said her priority will be maintaining continuity in Slovakia's bids for membership of the EU and NATO.
Robin Sheeran, 18 May 2001
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