Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence on Thursday 13 April, but the episode has left the Government coalition looking more divded than ever. The vote was sponsored by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS). They cited the government’s failure to live up to its eletoral promises and poor handling of the economy, which has resulted in growing unemployment and the fall in value of the Slovak Crown. The no-confidence motion was supported by 60 deputies out of the 141 present, 72 were opposed and nine abstained.
Those abstaining were all members of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), which is part of the government coalition. It was reported that five SDĽ deputies actually voted against Dzurinda’s leadership. They included Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš, who is also chairman of the SDĽ, and had announced earlier that he would vote in favour of the no-confidence motion. The SDĽ leader said he wanted to see the "reconstruction" of the government, while the coalition remained intact. He said the new government would have to ensure better communication with the opposition. Premier Dzurinda described Migaš’ announcement as a bolt from the blue. The government coalition has been wracked by disagreements between the constituent parties in recent months, culminating in the sacking of SDĽ nominee Štefan Košovan from the post of Director of the Slovenské Elektrarne power utility. The SDĽ’s public support in opinion polls has also plummeted.
The HZDS Chairman and former Premier, Vladimír Mečiar, seem to be relishing the role of pantomime villain. He took part in the manoeuvring prior to the no-confidence vote from self-imposed house arrest at his family-owned boarding-house in the western Slovak Spa town of Trenčianske Teplice. Mečiar is currently attempting to avoid questioning by investigators looking into the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr, the son of the former Slovak President, in 1995. Before the vote, Mečiar stated that he was prepared to support a new government composed of the present coalition, but without Premier Dzurinda at the helm. As the sharks circled, Dzurinda lashed out at Mečiar, saying, "I absolutley don’t care what Mečiar says, he is not a trustworthy politician." Mečiar maintains that he has not been hiding out from the police for the past three weeks. In a flurry of interviews with foreign media, the ex-Premier claimed he was merely taking time out to complete his memoirs.
Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar expressed his country’s backing for Slovak membership of the EU, NATO and the OECD, during a two-day visit to Slovakia. He praised the apparent progress that Slovakia has made during the 18 months of the Dzurinda administration. Premier Dzurinda said that Spain's success in catching-up with the most advanced EU countries was a "big inspiration" for him. The premiers have now met three times. Dzurinda reffirmed his commitment to lead the country into the EU in 2004 alongside the "first wave" countries, including neighbours the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Aznar also met President Schuster and Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš.
The Justice Minister, Ján Čarnogurský, has officially removed Róbert Fico from his position as the Slovak envoy to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (see last week's Slovak news review). Čarnogurský said that Fico did not meet several of the criteria required for the post and had been unprofessional in his handling of former HZDS deputy František Gaulieder, who was relieved of his seat in Parliament by the prevous government. Fico, a former SDĽ deputy, founded his own political party, Smer, last year and recently topped a poularity poll as the most popular politician in Slovakia. He described the reasons given for his dismissal as "made up."
Details are gradually beginning to emerge of the deal brokered between US Steel and the Eastern Slovak Ironworks (VSŽ)last month. The TASR news agency reported that the deal will result in the formation of a new company, to which unspecified VSŽ assets and liabilities will be transferred. US Steel will own 100 percent of the company, for which it will pay USD 60 million, and bind itself to invest USD 700 million in Slovakia over the next ten years. A number of shareholders in VSŽ have called for a special general meeting to be held. They want more details about the agreement and are said to be unhappy about the arrangements for keeping shareholders informed.
A two week exercise by the US Airforce has been held at the airbase at Kuchyna, near Bratislava. Around 10,000 visitors attended an open day at the base on 8 April, to see the 12 US F-16 fighters, along with SU-25s and Mig-21s of the Slovak airforce. Later in the week, an international military air exercise involving 13 countries from NATO and the Partnership for Peace began in Zvolen. The latest opinion poll on Slovak membership in NATO shows support rising to just above the 50 percent level. The survey, by the Markant agency, showed 51.2 percent in favour of membership, 38.7 percent opposed and 10.1 percent undecided.
Slovak citizens may not be flavour of the month in Belgium, which recently introduced a visa requirement for Slovaks, but they could find a warmer welcome a little farther to the West. On a two-day visit to Slovakia last week, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen expressed an interest in using Slovak workers to fill jobs in Ireland's booming high-tech economy. Cowen said his country was even considering exempting Slovak workers coming to Ireland from visa requirements. He expressed his support for Slovakia's moves to join the EU sooner, rather than later. Unemployment in Slovakia currently stands at around 20 percent.
Robin Sheeran, 14 April 2000
Useful links for Slovak news:
TASR (Press Agency of the Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)