The European Union's chief negotiator with Slovakia has warned of the danger of political instability posed by the forthcoming referendum on early parliamentary elections. Speaking in Brussels on Thursday 28 September, Dirk Meganck said: "If Slovakia lost its political stability, it would threaten the entire accession process."
He added that the country has made great progress towards EU membership, and this would be reflected in the European Commission's evaluation report, due for publication in November. Meganck then listed areas where more work needed to be done. They include reform of the judiciary, changes to the constitution, the implementation of laws to help the Roma population, to fight corruption and to protect minority languages.
The EU representative's misgivings over the referendum follow reports that the US ambassador to Slovakia has expressed similar fears about political stability. Ambassador Carl Spielvogel is said to have voiced his concern during a meeting with Parliamentary Vice-Chairman Pavol Hrušovský, last week. The referendum, calling for early elections and sponsored by Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS), is to be held on 11 November.
The political row over the medical treatment received by President Rudolf Schuster during his near-fatal illness earlier this year drags on. Around 60 health-care workers are to be relieved of their obligation to confidentiality as part of the inquiry into Schuster's treatment. The President was flown to Austria for treatment while still dangerously ill, after allegations that doctors in Bratislava had mishandled the treatment of his perforated colon.
The present inquiry was set up by the former Health Minister Tibor Šagát, who subsequently resigned over the affair. Since his return from Innsbruck in August, Schuster has been convalescing in his home town of Košice in eastern Slovakia.
The President told a press conference on Wednesday 27 September that he does not believe the problems which arose during his treatment in Bratislava were intended by any of the doctors, and that the inquiry should serve to reassure ordinary people who are afraid of receiving treatment in Slovak hospitals. Corrupt practices are understood to be widespread within the health service, with numerous reports of doctors expecting additional unofficial payments from patients.
Trouble within the media
The two leading Slovak press agencies are at loggerheads over the alleged theft of news stories. The state-run TASR agency is suing the independent SITA agency for damages of SKK (Slovak Koruna) 92 million (USD 1.85 million) over the alleged illegal use of passwords to gain access to TASR's internet-based wire service.
TASR managing director Ivan Ceredejev told a press conference that SITA had gained entry to the Website by using passwords belonging to the Defence Ministry and Vecerník, an evening newspaper based in Banska Bystrica.
It is reported that TASR invested in special software to trace illegal users of the system following allegations made by Pavol Múdry, the managing-director of SITA, in June. Múdry claimed that TASR was "stealing" stories from SITA. His comments resulted in TASR suing him for libel, and claiming SKK 5 million (USD 100,000) in damages.
Slovakia pledge support for Koštunica
The Slovak government has backed the claims of the Serbian opposition candidate Vojislav Koštunica to be the rightful victor in the recent Yugoslav presidential election. A statement issued by the foreign ministry said: "We appeal to Slobodan Milošević to accept the clearly-expressed will of the citizens."
They also state that Slovakia understands Koštunica's objection to a second round of voting, since the will of the nation is stronger than the will of one individual. "It is obvious that acceptance of the second round of the election would represent acceptance of election fraud," the statement concludes.
Defence Minister Pavol Kanis has announced that the duration of compulsory military service for men is likely to be cut from twelve to nine months. "Analysis has shown that we can afford to cut military service to nine months. It also shows that it cannot be made any shorter," he commented.
The change will probably come into effect from 1 January 2001, and means that many of the young conscripts currently serving will have their period of engagement cut short. The government expects the move to be popular with voters, but it is also aimed at placating critics within western military circles.
Slovakia is a candidate for membership of NATO, and its state of military preparedness has been brought into question on a number of occasions recently. Other reforms being considered by the Defence Ministry include tightening up on health checks prior to compulsory military service and quicker promotion for young officers. The moves are designed to bring about a gradual professionalisation of the armed services.
Reconstruction work on the Mária-Valéria Bridge on the Danube between Štúrovo (Slovakia) and Esztergom (Hungary) is to begin in October. It follows the EU granting approval of the tender to rebuild the historic link, which opened in 1895 but was blown up by the retreating German army in 1944. An agreement to rebuild the bridge was signed by the Slovak and Hungarian premiers last year. The project is receiving funding under the EU's PHARE programme and should be completed by December 2001.
Robin Sheeran, 2 October 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)