Róbert Fico, the leader of the newly-established Smer party, has suggested cutting state benefits to Roma families with more than three children. Fico told reporters he had conducted discussions with obstetricians in Eastern Slovakia, and had concluded that within ten years Roma numbers in the region could match those of the majority population. He said the Roma issue was a "time bomb that will cause trouble if we do not keep it under control."
Fico also claimed that state authorities often fail to prosecute Roma who break the law. This is not the first time that Fico has made anti-Roma statements. According to a poll published this week by the MVK agency, Fico is the most trusted politician in Slovakia. He scored 26.3 per cent. The runner-up was former Premier Vladimír Mečiar, who scored 23 per cent.
Fico's comments came just days before a two-day international conference on the position of Roma in OSCE countries, held in Bratislava. The conference discussed anti-Roma discrimination, education, living conditions and participation in public life.
The European Union has officially confirmed that since Slovakia began accession negotiations in March it has closed six of the initial eight chapters of EU legislation. Foreign minister Eduard Kukan said it was "a good beginning that has met our expectations." He told EU representatives on Wednesday 14 June that Slovakia wanted to open a further six chapters of the so-called acquis communitaires before the end of the year.
The Government has promised action to help drought-stricken farmers. Agriculture Minister Pavel Koncoš said this year's harvest will be down by at least 30 to 40 per cent. A more pessimistic scenario sees the harvest figures down by 50 to 60 per cent. Koncoš toured the worst-hit areas in the eastern Slovak lowlands, along with Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda on Monday 12 June. The country has been sweltering in a heatwave this week, with daytime temperatures of 36 celsius , and uncomfortably hot nights reaching 26 degrees. The newspaper Narodna Obroda reported that a storm in the central Slovak town of Ruzomberok saw hailstones the size of peas melting instantly as they hit the superheated surface of the road.
President Rudolf Schuster was among those suffering from the heat. The 66year-old head of state was hospitalised for a time with a high fever. Doctors said he was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. Schuster announced earlier in the week that he would not be seeking re-election at the end of his term in office.
According to the latest opinion polls, Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) remains the most popular party with Slovak voters. The poll, conducted by the Markant Agency between 2 June and 9 June, suggests that 30 per cent of the electorate would cast their votes for the HZDS. The poll also appears to show a drop in support for Róbert Fico's newly-established Smer party with 17 per cent. Recent polls have shown Fico's support as high as 25 per cent. Premier Mikulaš Dzurinda's SDKU polled 14 per cent. The Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) scored nine per cent, the Slovak National Party (SNS) seven per cent, and the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) six per cent. There is a five per cent cut-off point for representation in parliament.
Around 1000 people took part in a march against globalisation held in Bratislava on Saturday 10 June. The two hour demonstration, which passed off without incident, ended with a rock concert at the Pristavný Bridge by the River Danube. Those taking part included representatives of the Czech Initiative Against Economic Globalisation, which plans to hold a major "countersummit" at the IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague in September.
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The average monthly pay for Slovak employees was SKK [Slovak koruna] 10,497 (euro 250) in the first quarter of this year. This is an eight per cent rise on the figure for the same period last year. However, when inflation is taken into account, the real value of wages has dropped by six per cent. The employees with the highest average pay are, unsurprisingly perhaps, in the financial and insurance sector, with SKK 19,469.
Customs officers have seized 26.5kg of heroin from a car at the Slovak-Ukrainian border. The Lada vehicle, with two Czech citizens on board, was stopped at the Ubla border crossing in a planned operation on Tuesday 13 June. According to the authorities, the 49 packets of the drug found in the back seat of the car contained enough heroin for three million doses. It is thought the smugglers' plan was to drive the consignment across Slovakia to the Czech Republic, for distribution to Western Europe
Robin Sheeran, 19 June 2000
TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)