Slovakia's international profile took a knock when foreign newspapers reported that the USA was blocking the country's application to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). On 16 May, Britain's Financial Times reported that the US government was insisting that Slovakia prove its efforts at reforming the economy and, in particular, the financial system. Slovakia had hoped to get the green light for OECD membership at the end of June.
Senior Slovak politicians were quick to pitch in with their interpretations of the reports. Finance Minister Brigita Schmoegnerová blamed domestic political turbulence. President Rudolf Schuster said he was not surprised at the US attitude. Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda was keen to emphasise that all was not lost regarding the June decision, and said he would be seeking a meeting with the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.
The US diplomatic machine creaked into action with a somewhat unconvincing rebuttal, denying that the USA was blocking Slovakia's application and pointing out that the decision rests on consultations between the OECD member states and Slovakia. The US embassy in Bratislava stated that the USA hoped Slovakia would join the OECD very soon.
In its editorial, which kick-started the controversy, the Financial Times accuses the US of running scared of the kind of embarrassment which ensued when Mexico and South Korea joined the OECD only to fall victim to economic catastrophe. "Slovakia risks being made a scapegoat. It deserves better," the article states.
The governing coalition failed to patch up its differences at a two-day meeting in the western Slovak town of Častá-Papiernička between 15 May and 16 May. The Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), which forms part of the coalition, has been calling for a cabinet reshuffle. The party redoubled its attack on the leadership of Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda at a meeting of its national committee on 13 May. The remaining coalition partners, the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), have consistently rejected calls for a reshuffle. The SMK chairman, Béla Bugár, accused the SDĽ of coming to Častá-Papiernička unprepared to back its case for a reshuffle. President Rudolf Schuster has offered to help resolve the cabinet crisis.
Parliament passed a Freedom of Information Act. One of its proposers, government coalition deputy Ján Langoš, described the principle behind the new law as: "what is not secret is public." Under the new act, the public should have access to information on the activities of parliament, government ministries, local authorities and other public bodies. Exceptions have been made regarding information that is considered economically sensitive, property details of individuals and companies, judicial decision-making and industrial secrets.
There was a poor turn-out at a series of protest rallies called by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), on Thursday 18 May. Small groups of less than 100 people were reported at the rally points in Bratislava. They were protesting against government polices which the HZDS says breed poverty, encourage corruption and unemployment and criminalise the opposition.
The poular Slovak satirist, Milan Markovič, has been the subject of death threats. An anonymous telephone caller threatened to kill the comedian if the next programme of his current series on Slovak Television (STV) was not cancelled. Markovič's programme was dropped from the STV schedules during the previous government led Vladimír Mečiar and the HZDS.
Slovak ice hockey fans, and that includes most of the population, have been licking their wounds after the national team's 3:5 defeat by their Czech neighbors in the final of the world championships in St Petersburg, on 14 May. The result was Slovakia's best in the competition since gaining independence in 1993.
Robin Sheeran, 22 May 2000
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