Schuster chides government
President Rudolf Schuster dealt the Government a swift slap on the wrist during his televised New Year address. Schuster, who spent much of 2000 recovering from a near-fatal illness, chided the coalition for showing contempt for the opinions of its citizens following November's referendum on early elections. He said the Government would do well to listen to objective criticism, even if it came from the opposition.
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In a TV interview later on New Year's Day, Schuster took a pop at the leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Vladimír Mečiar, whom he advised to leave politics. He also criticised Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda for the "premature" formation of his new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
Jozef Stank appointed Defence Minister
Jozef Stank, the Slovak ambassador to the Czech Republic, has been appointed Defence Minister. It follows the resignation of Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) member Pavol Kanis after revelations in the media that he was building a luxury villa in Bratislava which he could not possibly have afforded with his ministerial salary.
Kanis' subsequent claims that the villa had been paid for with gambling winnings were treated with contempt in the press. Stank was nominated for the position only after Premier Dzurinda refused to accept the SDĽ's candidature of the former army chief-of-staff, Jozef Tuchyna.
Following his appointment on Wednesday 3 January, the new minister said his chief priority would be improving Slovakia's prospects for joining NATO. He praised the decision to allow NATO planes to overfly Slovakia during the bombing of Yugoslavia and the dismantling of the SS-23 missile system.
EU accession negotiations
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan has said Slovakia could open the 13 remaining chapters of European Union accession negotiations during the first half of 2001. In a radio interview on Saturday 30 December, Kukan suggested that by the end of the Swedish presidency of the EU, Slovakia could be close to catching up with its neighbours in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which began accession talks a year earlier.
He also said the Government was planning an intensive campaign to inform the public about the consequences of EU membership for Slovakia. Kukan's optimism was not shared by HZDS MP Ivan Gašparovic, who said that although a majority of citizens favour membership, it would be very expensive and the country may not be ready for such a step.
Former SIS boss charged
The former boss of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), Ivan Lexa, and his deputy, Jaroslav Švechota, have been charged with misuse of powers in the strange case of the "Adoration of the Magi" triptych.
In a plot straight out of a thriller novel, the two former spymasters are accused of trying to discredit the bishop of Banská Bystrica, Rudolf Baláz, by arranging for a SIS agent to illegally buy a painting belonging to the Bishop's diocese. The SIS officer, posing as a Swiss citizen, bought the triptych from a restorer in 1995 for USD 200,000.
The administration of former premier Vladimír Mečiar was keen to see the troublesome bishop discredited, as the diocese had been critical of the government. Lexa and Švechota are accused of financing the operation, and Švechota of covering it up. Lexa is currently on the run in an unknown foreign country. He also stands accused of involvement in the abduction of the president's son, Michal Kováč Jr, in 1995.
And in other news...
- The Belgian authorities are to investigate the deportation of 74 Slovak Roma from Belgium in October 1999. It follows a complaint from the Union of Belgian Jewish Progressives (UPJB), which accuses the authorities of having marked the deportees with numbers on their skin. The UPJB wants to know who was responsible for carrying out the deportations.
- The police intervened to foil an FBI-backed abduction on the streets of downtown Bratislava on New Year's Eve. A US citizen was attempting to seize his daughter from her Slovak mother with the assistance of an FBI agent, when the police stepped in to break up the fight. The father claimed to be acting with the backing of a US court decision which said he should have custody of the four-year-old girl. He was later released from custody. The child has stayed with her mother.
Robin Sheeran, 5 January 2001
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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