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Gerhard Schröder became the first German Chancellor to visit Slovakia since the country became independent in 1993. On his one-day visit Monday 23 October, Schröder told an audience of students and representatives of NGOs that expansion of the European Union is inevitable. He said he did not favour the setting of target dates for admission, as the date depends on the preparedness of individual states.
On the subject of whether Slovakia could catch up with its neighbours the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, which began accession talks two years earlier, the Chancellor stated: "The entry of individual countries into the EU does not depend on when the talks started. It depends on when the talks will end and when the individual countries will be really prepared for it."
In an interview with the Pravda newspaper, the Chancellor went further, stating that the EU should be "internally prepared for the admission of new members by the end of 2002." The visit by the Chancellor, with his explicit support for the reform policies of the present Slovak government, came at a vital moment for Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, with only days to go before the referendum on early elections, due to be held on 11 November.
The German leadership had pointedly refused to visit Slovakia during the period of the previous government led by Vladimír Mečiar. The newspaper Nový Deň, a mouthpiece for Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), greeted the visit with the headline: "In the Blitzkrieg Tradition."
New KDH chairman
Pavol Hrušovský was elected Chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), at a party conference in Trenčín on Saturday 21 October. The election followed the recent resignation of the KDH's founder, and former anti-Communist dissident, Ján Čarnogurský. The KDH forms part of the ruling coalition, and Čarnogurský will continue in the post of Justice Minister. Hrušovský, who is Deputy Chairman of the Slovak Parliament, scored 249 votes, easily beating the 179 gained by Deputy Foreign Minister Ján Figeľ.
An expectant crowd of political suitors immediately gathered below Hrušovský's balcony, each hoping to woo the new KDH leader. HZDS leader, and former Premier, Vladimír Mečiar was quick off the mark, informing Slovak Radio that he could "imagine that the HZDS and the KDH can form a more stable couple than any of the other parties." Mečiar blamed the irascible Čarnogurský for the parties' failure to come to a suitable arrangement in the past.
Mečiar's overtures were quickly slapped down by KDH Deputy Chairman Daniel Lipšič, who said co-operation with the HZDS was unthinkable while Mečiar continued as its leader, and while the party continued to block attempts to investigate alleged crimes involving members of the previous government.
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, who split from the KDH in February to found his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), said the SDKU would seek negotiations on closer ties with the KDH. "I don't understand statements of elements within the KDH saying that we are the party's biggest rivals," the TASR news agency quoted Dzurinda as saying. The KDH's poll-ratings have nose-dived since Dzurinda formed his new party.
Forest fire in national park
Six people died in a forest fire, which raged for most of the week in and around the Slovenský Raj (Slovak Paradise) national park. The victims, two men aged 39 and 26, two 37-year-old women, a youth aged 17 and a 16-year-old girl, are all believed to be from the Roma community. They were among a group of unemployed people taken on to fight a number of small fires which broke out on Monday 23 October near the village of Hrabušice. The fatalities occurred on Tuesday, when high winds spread the blaze.
It is reported that the local mayor spent the night under armed police guard, fearful of the reaction of the local populace. By Thursday, 62 hectares of forest were reported to be affected. Helicopters from neighbouring Hungary and the Czech Republic joined the effort to extinguish the flames. President Schuster expressed his sympathy for the families of the deceased. They are to receive payments of SKK (Slovak koruna) 5000 (USD 97) from the government.
Representatives of Slovak Roma have banded together to form a common front to fight in the next national elections. Representatives of 14 Roma political parties and 29 Roma NGOs met in Košice on Sunday 22 October and agreed to a common political programme. They will run in the elections under the banner of the Roma Civic Initiative (ROI). Roma parties have yet to achieve representation in the post-independence Slovak Parliament.
Parties have to receive support from five per cent of the electorate before they are allocated seats. According to Gejza Adam, Chairman of the ROI, the group hopes to achieve ten to 12 per cent of the vote in the next general election. The official figures for the Roma population are notoriously unreliable, and Adam claims there are 700,000 Roma living in Slovakia.
And in other news...
- German Deputy Foreign Minister Christoph Zöpel met with representatives of Slovakia's Jewish community during Chancellor Schröder's visit. The community is suing the German government for the return of money paid to Nazi Germany by the wartime Slovak puppet regime for the removal of Jews from Slovakia. The Jews were later murdered in concentration camps, and the money came from confiscated Jewish property. Until recently, Germany has refused all claims for compensation from Slovak Jews, pointing to the existence of an independent Slovak government at the time. The Jewish community claims that the payments of DEM 500 for each deported Jew were extorted from the Slovak government under pressure. Their case is due to come to court in Berlin next March.
- The last component parts of Slovakia's Soviet-made SS-23 missiles were destroyed at a ceremony at a military base in Nováky on Friday October 27. The short-range missiles, capable of carrying chemical and nuclear warheads, were inherited from the Czechoslovak military. The ceremony was attended by a number of foreign guests and disarmament observers.
- On Thursday 26 October, Parliament ratified the accession treaty which will bring Slovakia into the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Parlimentary Chairman Josef Migaš hailed the moment as representing "a landmark in the country's history." Slovakia applied for membership of the OECD in February 1994.
Robin Sheeran, 28 October 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)
Today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic