Vol 2, No 8
28 February 2000
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
News Review for Slovakia
News highlights and analysis from Slovakia
since 19 February 2000
Michael J Kopanic, Jr
Two leading Slovak politicians have denounced the upcoming unveiling of a statue dedicated to Jozef Tiso, the former president of the Slovak Republic during the Second World War. The ceremony is planned to take place at the Catholic House in Žilina, the location where Tiso first proclaimed Slovakia's autonomy on 6 October 1938. Both President Rudolf Schuster and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda have distanced themselves from the event, which commemorates the anniversary of Slovakia's first experience as an independent state. They hope to avoid having the European Union associate the current government with right wing movements at a time when EU members fear a neo-fascist revival in nearby Austria.
In a 23 February speech, Schuster objected to honor someone who served as president at the time of the Jewish deportations to Poland. "Regardless of the share of his participation," Schuster said, "he made these crimes possible" by allowing them to happen. A week earlier, Premier Dzurinda termed the unveiling as "inappropriate."
The two leaders obviously felt compelled to speak out on the issue, following protests from the US embassy in Bratislava and concerns raised by Jews in Slovakia.
The Slovak National Party (SNS) has supported the effort to memorialize Tiso. Party members insist that Tiso was a significant person in Slovakia's history and needs to be remembered.
Another referendum in Slovakia?
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar has launched another petition drive calling for early elections. The party is hoping to force the calling of new parliamentary elections before the regularly scheduled vote due in 2002. Given an unemployment rate of 20 percent and the political turmoil among the current government's coalition members, the HZDS is hoping to capitalize on widespread discontent.
The success of the petition drive depends upon getting half of all voters to participate. As it stands, public opinion is sharply divided and the referendum would fail if put to the test now. An MVK sponsored poll showed that over half of all eligible voters in Slovakia would not show up at the polls. Half clearly opposed a referendum, eight percent did not care, and 42 percent would take part.
A February poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research even gave the HZDS effort lower chances of success. It found that 58 percent opposed the petition, and only one-third of all Slovak voters favored early elections. Thirty-seven percent thought early elections to be unnecessary. Another 20 percent thought that elections would have no impact in improving the ailing Slovak economy (Radio Twist, 21 February 2000).
Thus for the present, the referendum appears to have little chance of succeeding. But that could change with a steadily eroding economy. Dzurinda's government is counting on an economic turnaround to start sometime later this year. Otherwise, his chances of staying in office until 2002 will steadily diminish. Public opinion could shift decidedly against him if conditions continue to worsen.
The Tisza River disaster spills into Slovakia
The contamination of the Tisza River has reached Slovakia. On 30 January, a waste-water reservoir in Romania leaked deadly poison into the river, which flows through Hungary and Slovakia before emptying into the Danube below Budapest. Although only six kilometers of the Tisza touch on Slovakia's eastern border, the river is connected to other streams of water and has devastated local plant and wildlife.
The Slovak part of the river carried 1.16 milligrams of cyanide per liter, an amount which approached six times the safe limit according to Slovak law. The contaminated water flowed into Slovakia more than 24 hours earlier than Hungarian officials had predicted. Although the level of contamination was three times weaker than it had been in most of Hungary, the polluted water still proved deadly. Although more precise assessments of the damage will take a few weeks to finalize, experts estimate that it will take between two and ten years for the local environment to return to normal (Slovak Spectator, 21-27 February 2000).
With Slovakia about to enter talks for EU entry, the disaster points to the need for more environmental coordination and stricter laws among neighboring countries in the region. With the limped economic performance in the region, there has been a tendency to be lenient in enforcing environmental regulation on foreign companies investing in the region. The Tisza River disaster should serve as a wake-up call for all East Central Europe and the EU to pay more attention to safeguarding the ecological balance in the region.
Michael J Kopanic, 25 February 2000
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