SMK quit reform talks
The Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) walked out of discussions on the reform of public administration on Friday 2 March. The party decided to quit the talks after its coalition partners rejected its proposal for an administrative region bringing together the areas of southern Slovakia where many of Slovakia's 500,000-strong Hungarian minority live.
The redrawing of the boundaries for Slovakia's regions is one of the many reforms demanded by the European Union as a prerequisite for membership. The SMK's walkout has again raised questions about the long-term stability of the Government.
With the Hungarians having left the meeting, the Coalition Council agreed to a proposal to divide Slovakia into 12 counties. However, the Government may have to look for support from the opposition if it is to become law. The leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Vladimír Mečiar, favours a symmetrical division of the country into eight regions. He warned last week that any other arrangement would be thrown out if his party wins the election in 2002.Given the choice, Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda would prefer to do a deal with the SMK. He met the Hungarian party's leader, Béla Bugár, on Friday 9 March, but an agreement was not forthcoming.
Political stability essential for early EU integration
The importance of political stability to Slovakia's bid for membership of the EU has been underlined by the European Commission's Commissioner for Enlargement, Gunter Verheugen.
Speaking at the meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of the EU and Slovakia in Brussels on Monday 5 March, the Commissioner said Slovakia has a real chance of entering the EU at the same time as its neighbours provided it made more effort, attained a high level of political stability, and achieved a broad consensus on European integration. He said he expected negotiations with the next wave of new members to be completed by the end of 2003, with the countries joining in time for the elections to the European Parliament in the spring of 2004.
Slovakia's Deputy Premier for European Integration, Pavol Hamzík, says it is vital that the country joins in the first wave, as the next stage of enlargement may take another five or six years. Speaking outside the same Brussels meeting, Hamzík said Slovakia would like to see the announcement of the countries taking part in the first wave to be made at the end of this year, rather than at the end of the Swedish presidency in June. This would allow Slovakia the benefit of another positive regular report from the European Commission in November.
Schuster approves constitutional reform
President Rudolf Schuster signed the reform of the constitution into law on Friday 9 March. A ceremony which was planned to mark the Schuster's approval of the reform was cancelled. Schuster favoured a consensus approach to the issue, and is said to be unhappy that the changes were passed without the support of opposition parties. In a statement, Schuster said the new constitution would have a positive effect on Slovakia's integration into the EU and NATO.
Skinheads charged with attack on Romani family
Four skinheads have been charged with the attack on a Roma family in Žilina last August which led to the death of Anastázia Balázová. They face charges of causing bodily harm and violating the privacy of a home. One of the men was serving in the army at the time of the attack. He has been charged with causing bodily harm resulting with death, and his case will be heard by a military court. If found guilty, the accused could face sentences of ten to 12 years in prison.
It is alleged that the men broke into Mrs Balázová's home on 20 August 2000 and began beating the occupants with baseball bats. When they realised they were beating children, it is alleged, the men stopped and made to leave the house. The children's mother got in their way as they were leaving. One of the men lashed out and hit her on the head. She died two days later in hospital.
And in other news...
- A memorial to the victims of communism may be erected in Bratislava. The Institute for the Documentation of Communist Crimes hopes to build the monument at Devín, a spot on the River Danube where many people perished trying to flee to the West. It depicts a wire road block of a type used by the Czechoslovak border police. A total of 312 Czechoslovak citizens were killed while attempting to escape. The Institute's main role is to collect information which may lead to the prosecution of those responsible for crimes committed under the communist regime. No-one has yet been successfully prosecuted in Slovakia for such crimes.
- An amputated human leg was found in a stream near the centre of Trnava on Wednesday 7 March. It is believed the limb may have come from the local teaching hospital whose incinerator has broken down. An investigation by the Markíza television channel revealed that the backyard of the hospital was covered with bags full of waste.
- Harassed parents throughout Slovakia heaved a sigh of relief when the state broadcaster STV was forced to pull the Japanese animation series Pokémon from the schedules after an intervention from the Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission. The Council is to investigate reports that the cartoons' fast changing colours and flashing lights can cause epileptic fits. Only nine episodes of the series had been broadcast before it was shelved.
Robin Sheeran, 12 March 2001
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