Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda says Slovakia will be ready to join the EU at the beginning of 2004. In a an interview with the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Hirlap on Friday 5 May, he said setting the exact date was not one of Slovakia's top priorities. The country started accession negotiations earler this year and is attempting to catch up with its neighbours, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, which began negotiations in 1998. Dzurinda has also been anxious to boost his government's image on the domestic economic front. On Tuesday, he claimed the Slovak economy is now stabilising, and its revitalisation is about to begin. He pointed to figures for the first quarter of 2000, which showed export volume rising by 33 per cent, and promised more measures to reduce interest rates. Dzurinda admits that high unemployment, currently hovering at around 20 per cent, is the government's main problem. He said he was alarmed by the political tension accompanying the transformation process.
Between 700 and 800 supporters of the oppostition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) attended a May Day rally ouside the Tesco department store, in downtown Bratislava on Monday 1 May. They protested against the charge of corruption made against HZDS Chairman Vladimír Mečiar, and the recent police raid on his home in Trenčianske Teplice. Cries of "Dzurinda resign!," "Gestapo!" and "Police state!" were heard. The TASR newsagency reported that one young man who raised a banner with the slogan, "Mečiar is a cheat," was set upon by ten enraged pensioners.
The Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) continues its campaign for a cabinet reshuffle and the renegotiation of the Ggovernment coalition agreement. In an interview for Slovak Television, SDĽ Deputy Chairman Lubomir Andrassy defended his decision to vote against Premier Dzurinda in a recent Parliamentary vote of confidence. Andrassy went so far as to suggest that Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan might make a suitable replacement for Dzurinda. Kukan has declared that he has no interest in the premiership.
The leaders of the Democratic Union (DU) were split last week on the question of whether the small Liberal party, which is presently part of the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition, should merge with Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's newly-launched Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. Party Chairman and Economy Minister Ľubomír Harach has backed the move, which was to be decided at the DU national convention on Saturday 6 May. The merger has been opposed by DU Deputy Chairmen Ján Budaj and Juraj Švec, who questioned the change of venue for the convention from Bratislava to Zvolen in central Slovakia. Budaj claimed that the faction which supported the nmerger was trying to limit the participation of those members who are opposed to the proposal. Ľubomir Harach said the change of venue was due to costs.
Will Ukraine impose a visa requirement for Slovak travellers, or not? The answer remained unclear after a flurry of diplomatic exchanges. On Friday 28 April, Slovakia issued a diplomatic note officially announcing a visa requirement for Ukrainians, beginning on 28 June. Slovakia's intention to introduce the visa regime has been public knowledge for some time. The Ukrainian Foreign ministry replied by announcing that it would impose a reciprocal visa requirement for Slovaks, also with effect from 28 June. However, on 29 April the Pravda newspaper interviewed Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who stated that Ukraine had no plans to introduce visas for Slovaks: "We will not yet take any retaliatory measures, because we know that businesses in Slovakia are interested in expanding cooperation with Ukraine."
The government has allocated SKK (Slovak Koruna) 200 million (USD 4,237,692) to pay for the second stage of a programme to tackle social issues affecting the Roma minority, according to Pál Csáky, the vice-premier for Human and Minority Rights. Csáky said the prevention of the organised exodus of the Roma population to EU member states would be among the top priorities for the Foreign and Interior Ministries and the police force. The flight of Roma asylum-seekers to countries including Belgium and the United Kingdom has led seven EU members to impose visa requirements for Slovak travellers.
Slovakia's birth rate is falling. Last year, less than 10.7 children were born per 1000 of the population, the country's lowest ever figure. This is in stark comparison to the early 1950s baby boom, when the figure stood at 28 per 1000. The falling birthrate has been attributed to the changing economic and financial situation since the fall of communism in 1989. The daily Hospodárske Noviny (Economic News) repeated the contentious claim that young women in areas of high unemployment have babies in order to claim increased social welfare benefits. 4746 children were born in the prosperous Bratislava region last year, compared with 9355 in the Košice area of Eastern Slovakia, where unemployment stands at 27 per cent.
Robin Sheeran, 6 May 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)