Slovak Democratic coalition crumbling
Yet another party has quit Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK). The departure of the six MPs of the Democratic Party (DS) leaves the SDK parliamentary caucus with just 27 of its original 42 members. The move by the DS mirrors that made by members of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) last month. The DS MPs say they will continue to support Dzurinda's government.
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The SDK is a coalition within a coalition. It is the biggest but also the most unstable party within the Government coalition. The news of the departure of the DS caused rumbles of disquiet among the SDK's coalition partners. Béla Bugár, leader of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), said it could mark the beginning of the end for the coalition agreement. Pavol Hamzík of the Party of Civic Understanding said he thought the agreement was in need of revision. Premier Dzurinda said he found the DS decision surprising.
Dzurinda in Nice
Dzurinda travelled to France on Thursday 7 December for the vital European Union summit in Nice. He said that while Slovakia would look forward to having its own EU commissioner, he understood the need for reform of the Union's decision-making processes to make them more flexible and more just.
Speaking in Košice on the same day, the deputy Prime Minister for the Economy, Ivan Mikloš said it was vital that Slovakia joined the EU at the same time as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. With 60 per cent of exports going to the EU and 30 per cent to its Višegrád Four partners, Slovakia could not afford to be left out of the trading area taking 90 per cent of its exports.
Breakthrough in Slovak-Ukrainian relations
The Ukrainian Premier, Viktor Yuschenko, paid a two-day visit to Slovakia on 5 and 6 December. The visit was hailed as a breakthrough in Slovak-Ukrainian relations, which have been described as being at freezing point. The last time the two countries' premiers met was almost four years ago in the western Ukrainian city of Užhorod. Among the items on the agenda were the recent imposition of a visa requirement for Ukrainian citizens travelling to Slovakia, and various trade issues, including the building of the Yamal gas pipeline.
Yuschenko met with President Schuster and Premier Dzurinda. In recent years, trade between the countries has dropped from USD 500 million to USD 340 million per year due to the introduction of customs barriers. The introduction of visas was prompted by Slovakia's move to join the EU.
Duray criticises World Federation of Hungarians
Mikloš Duray, an MP from the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), has criticised the activities of the World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ), which he describes as increasingly political. It follows the circulation in eastern Slovakia of a petition in support of Hungarian citizenship for Hungarians living abroad.
The SMK supports preferential treatment for ethnic Hungarians when visiting Hungary, but feels that moves to extend citizenship would do more harm than good. Duray quit the MVSZ in May, after it adopted a resolution calling for the revision of the Trianon Treaties. Any such revision could mean a redrafting of the border between Hungary and Slovakia. Duray has described the Federation as a group of "naive zealots, madmen and villains."
EU aid for Slovak minority
The EU is to provide more than 2.8 million euros (USD 2.5 million) for social projects to ease the situation of the Roma minority in Slovakia. Announcing the initiative in Banská Bystrica on Monday 5 December, Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, Ján Figel, said: "The Roma issue is becoming one of the key political criteria for Slovakia."
Figel explained that in the coming year up to 20 per cent of all EU PHARE aid for reconstruction would be earmarked for Roma projects. In its recent Regular Report on Slovakia's application for membership of the EU, the European Commission said the Government needed to work harder to implement its policies to improve the position of the Roma in Slovak society. According to the Roma Entrepreneurs Club, 150,000 out of the estimated 500,000 Slovak Roma are unemployed.
And in other news...
- The political career of Defence Minister Pavol Kanis appears to have hit the buffers. The newspapers have been full of details of a mansion being built for Kanis in Bratislava's exclusive Koliba district costing far more than he could possibly afford on his ministerial salary of SKK (Slovak koruna) 40,000 (USD 820) per month. The mansion is said to be worth SKK 12 to 15 million (between USD 246,000 and 307,000). Claims that Kanis is a highly-skilled punter and paid for the construction with his winnings from the betting office have not gone down well with the media. Pavol Kanis is a member of the former-Communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ).
- The SLK shipyard in Komárno will be bankrupt within seven to ten days, according to reports issued on Monday 4 December. The troubled yard's managing director told reporters there were debts of SKK 2.5 billion (approximately USD 51 million) and a backlog of wages owed to the 1500 employees. 207 workers were laid off on 1 December. SLK's previous board of directors was sacked back in October, having failed to implement a government-backed survival plan. SLK's woes date back to the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which left the River Danube blocked, preventing delivery of ships to the yard's overseas customers.
- Opposition newspaper Slovenská Republika ceased publication as of 1 December. The daily was a staunch supporter of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and its leader, Vladimír Mečiar. It got into financial problems and was bought out by Leopold Danihels, a minority shareholder in the Narodná Obroda newspaper.
- Microchip cards carrying patients records, and looking similar to credit cards, are likely to be issued by the Slovak health service in the near future. Patients will bring the cards with them when they visit their family doctor. Each card would be capable of carrying the equivalent of several pages of data. It is hoped that the scheme will allow for considerable savings to be made over a period of years.
Robin Sheeran, 8 December 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
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Today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic