Mečiar seeks coalition
Ex-Premier Vladimír Mečiar says his party is ready to seek a coalition with Róbert Fico's Smer (Direction) party following an election. The announcement came at a rally of Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in Zvolen on Wednesday 18 October.
There are now clear signs of the parties jockeying for position ahead of the referendum on early parliamentary elections on 11 November. The referendum will only be valid if 50 per cent of the electorate votes, and the indications are that only about a third are prepared to take part. The referendum has been sponsored by the HZDS with the clear intention of causing as much trouble as possible for the shaky ruling coalition.
According to the latest poll from the UVVM agency, the HZDS remains the party with the largest support, at 21.5 per cent. Smer stands in second place with 17.6 per cent, and Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) is third with 16.9 per cent.
The popularity of Smer, founded by Fico after he quit the former Communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) has hacked away at the roots of support for the SDĽ. With the party facing a possible meltdown in any future election, it seems that Slovakia's leftist politicians have decided to consolidate their support.
Following a meeting with Pavol Hamžík of the Party of Civil Understanding (SOP) on Monday 16 October, SDĽ chairman Jozef Migaš conceded the possibility of integrating left-leaning forces, including the SDĽ, the Pravda newspaper reported.
Between 12,000 and 16,000 workers will lose their jobs at Slovak Railways (ŽSR) under a new plan for the restructuring of the railway system adopted by the Government on Wednesday 18 October.
According to ŽSR's managing director, Andrej Egyed, the enterprise will be divided into 17 separate companies, losing between 12 and 15 per cent of its current 46,000 employees.
Compensation totalling SKK (Slovak Koruna) 950 million (USD 18.3 million) has been agreed with the rail unions. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is to chip in with a loan of EUR 80 million to lessen the damaging social effects of the strategy. ŽSR also expects to receive EUR 60 million from the European Investment Bank—the third part of a loan totalling EUR 200 million.
The company made a loss of SKK 1.27 billion (USD 24.5 million) in the first half of this year, most of which stemmed from loan repayments.
Dalai Lama visit
The government came under fire in the press for not officially welcoming the Dalai Lama during his two-day visit to Slovakia. Apart from an informal meeting with Pál Csáky, the Minister for Human Rights, the Tibetan spiritual leader did not meet with government or parliamentary representatives.
His engagements in Bratislava included a lecture on ethics delivered to a crowded Pasienky Sports Hall on Sunday 15 October. The distinguished visitor also took part in the ceremonial scattering of a mandala made of coloured sand into the waters of the Danube.
The Dalai Lama also received an honorary degree from Comenius University for his work in the promotion of peace and the protection of human rights worldwide. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who lives in India, was in Slovakia at the invitation of a Buddhist Centre in the town of Šamorín in Southern Slovakia.
A bill cancelling amnesties issued by ex-Premier Vladimír Mečiar during his last period in office, and concerning a number of controversial criminal cases, has passed its first reading in Parliament. The amnesties covered suspects in the case of the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr in 1995, and the obstruction of a referendum in 1997.
It is alleged that the abduction of Kováč Jr, son of then President Michal Kováč, was carried out by close political allies of Mečiar in the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). Former minister of interior Gustáv Krajci is suspected of having deliberately blocked the referendum to NATO membership and direct presidential elections.
The entire management team at the struggling shipbuilders, SLK Komárno, has been given the sack. The move was announced by the SLK Chairman, Jozef Žucha, on Monday 16 October. The clean-sweep approach was decided by the company's newly-appointed Board of Directors, which cited the management's failure to implement a rescue plan agreed with the Government.
SLK has also been the subject of an investigation by the financial police into allegations of asset-stripping. The company, based on the banks of the river Danube in the southern Slovak town of Komárno, was dealt a devastating blow by last year's NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia. The blocking of navigation on the river, due to the bombing of bridges, meant the company could no longer deliver its ships to foreign customers.
And in other news...
- The Government has agreed to bail out the cash-strapped state broadcast companies, Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio (SRo). Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamžík announced the SKK 1 billion (USD 19.3 million) package at a press conference on Tuesday 17 October.
- There are signs of an improvement in the unemployment crisis. The National Labour Office recorded a figure of more than 470,000, or 17.5 per cent, unemployed in September. This compares with the 20.5 per cent unemployment rate registered in January 2000. September's unemployment figures are the lowest for 16 months, and any move below the psychologically important 20 per cent level must be a relief for the Government.
- Slovak farmers' penchant for a drop of the hard stuff has led to complications in the country's application for membership of the European Union. Deputy Prime Minister and chief negotiator Pavol Hamžík is to request a permanent exemption to the EU law on the taxation of spirits produced by farmers. If the move is successful, Slovaks will be able to continue the centuries-old tradition of home production of plum brandy and other brain-pickling concoctions.
Robin Sheeran, 20 October 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
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