The Deputy Premier for European Integration, Pavol Hamzík, has been sacked in the latest twist in the EU funds scandal (see last week's News from Slovakia). President Rudolf Schuster accepted Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's request for Hamzík's removal on Friday 4 May.
The Deputy Premier's downfall resulted from his failure to inform Dzurinda of the European Commission's decision to halt funding of new tenders for pre-accession projects. The EC took the decision to stop funding on 6 March. The former director of the foreign aid department at the Cabinet Office, Roland Tóth, has been accused of owning companies which profited from EU tenders.
Speaking on Markíza TV, Hamzík said he had informed the Foreign Ministry and the Slovak mission in Brussels immediately. "I took all the precautions I was obliged to take," he claimed. Premier Dzurinda was only to learn of the scandal through the media on 26 April.
Following Hamzík's dismissal his role in the government will temporarily be filled by the Deputy Premier for Legislation, Lubomír Fogaš. Meanwhile, Roland Tóth has said he is prepared to release a number of documents linked to the case and will publish a response to his accusers. The former Government official was turned in by an informer—his estranged wife—who notified Hamzík and the Cabinet Office about his alleged business dealings. Tóth has yet to be charged with any crime.
The European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) is to investigate the possible misuse of pre-accession funds in Slovakia. In a statement issued on Monday 30 April the agency announced that it would be working closely with the Slovak authorities in the probe into the handling of PHARE and ISPA infrastructure development funds. EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen has confirmed that the affair will not affect Slovakia's prospects for EU membership.
Government appeals to Belgium to return Roma
The government has appealed to the Belgian government to send back Slovak Roma asylum-seekers. A new wave of Roma would-be emigrants left Slovakia for western Europe following the cancellation of visa restrictions for Slovaks in most EU countries in early April. Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda said he would be making the appeal to Belgium following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday 2 April. He accused the Roma of abusing the social systems of both countries and offered to pay for their repatriation.
Dzurinda says he is angry because ordinary Slovak citizens have suffered due to the actions of Roma asylum-seekers. "We don't want to allow decent people to be discriminated against because of the speculators," he commented. One hundred Roma have asked for asylum in Belgium since the visa restrictions were lifted.
Roma encouraged to lay claim to their nationality
Meanwhile a special Roma bus, the "Rombus," has been touring eastern Slovakia as part of a public relations offensive to try to persuade Roma to lay claim to their nationality in the census due to take place later this month. According to official statistics, only 76,000 Roma live in Slovakia. The reality is thought to be 300,000 to 500,000.
Discrimination against the Roma has resulted in people being unwilling to identify with their ethnic group. The chairman of the Roma Parliament, Ladislav Fizík, says he is confident that once people have the situation explained to them they will identify themselves as Roma. "Our people have no idea what statehood or nationality means. Once we have explained it to them they understand right away that they are Roma," he told Slovak Radio.
And in other news...
- The Government has recommended that 17 November should become a state holiday to celebrate the overthrow of Communism. The Day of the Fight for Freedom and Democracy would mark the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989. It is hoped that Parliament will pass a law in time for the change to take place this year. In previous years, 17 November was celebrated as a day of commemoration, rather than as the more important state holiday. Workers hoping for an extra day off will have been disappointed to learn that, as a trade-off for 17 November becoming a state holiday, the Ministry of Culture will consider reducing the total number of similar holidays in the year
- Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda has laid the foundation stone of a car accessories plant in Senica in western Slovakia which should eventually employ 1300 people. The Delphi Automotive Systems plant will manufacture electric wiring for the new Volkswagen off-road model, the Colorado, which will be built at VW's plant in Bratislava starting in 2002. The importance attached to attracting high-profile inward investment of this kind was reinforced by the presence of four government ministers at the ceremony. In his speech Dzurinda said foreign investors had shown faith in Slovakia, and the country should learn to have faith in itself.
Robin Sheeran, 4 May 2001
- Archive of news reviews for Slovakia
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Slovakia through CER
- Return to CER front page
TASR (Slovak Press Agency)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)