Dzurinda hopes for NATO membership by next year
The Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its opposition to NATO enlargement ahead of a three-day conference of candidate countries in Bratislava starting on Thursday 10 May. A ministry spokesman said the inclusion of Central and East European countries in the military alliance was in the interest of neither Russia nor European security.
In his opening speech at the conference, entitled "New European Democracies: Leadership and Responsibility," Slovak Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda said he hoped candidates would be invited to join at the NATO summit in Prague next year. He said security in Central Europe had been improved by the last wave of new NATO members (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) in 1999.
Dzurinda said nobody had the right to deny a democratic European country the right to choose its allies. "The bigger the next NATO enlargement, the better for the candidate countries, NATO, peace, and stability in the world," he added. The conference was attended by premiers and foreign ministers from ten former Communist countries.
United States President George W Bush sent a letter to the conference in which he said no European country would be excluded from NATO due to its history or geographic location.
US-Slovak relations reach new high
US-Slovak relations have never been better, according to Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan who returned from a four-day visit to the United States on Saturday 5 May. Kukan met Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush's defence adviser, Condoleeza Rice. He told reporters that the new Bush administration is a friend of Slovakia.
Kukan said Slovakia welcomed US plans for a missile defence system. "We assume this will be implemented in such a way as to avoid causing tension in international affairs," he commented. Kukan also met United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who praised Slovakia's contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
President Rudolf Schuster says video recordings of three operations carried out on him at the Interior Ministry Hospital last summer have been wiped. Schuster was flown out of the country for life-saving treatment in Austria after surgery for a perforated bowel proved unsuccessful.
It is alleged that Slovak doctors botched the job, and a full-blown investigation has been running since August 2000. Schuster says the wiping of the videotapes is the main reason why he suspects something was amiss with his treatment.
Pay rises deemed inadequate
The Government has approved salary increases for doctors, nurses and teachers. Medical staff will receive increases of between 20 and 45 per cent starting in June. A typical nurse's pay packet will increase from SKK 6547 (approximately, USD 133) to SKK 9067 (approximately, USD 185) per month, according to Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda. The maximum pay for teachers will rise to SKK 18,300 (approximately, USD 371) from 1 April 2002. Around 300 health workers protested outside the Health Ministry against what they view as inadequate increases.
NGOs call for abolition of cabinet post
Representatives of Slovak NGOs have written to Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda calling on him to do away with the cabinet position of Deputy Premier for European Integration. The position was recently vacated by Pavol Hamzík following allegations of corruption in the Cabinet Office regarding European Union pre-Accession funds.
The NGOs say Slovakia's 20-member cabinet is one of the largest in the world when Slovakia's population is taken into account. They further claim that the large number of ministerial posts was designed to maximise the moneymaking opportunities for the coalition parties. The NGOs say the work formerly carried out by Hamzík could be easily divided up among other cabinet members.
And in other news...
- The Government has sacked its commissioner for Roma Affairs, Vincent Danihel. Deputy Premier for Minority and Human Rights Pál Csáky said Danihel had lost authority within his own office, had failed to co-operate properly with the European Union and had lost the trust of the Roma community. A recent meeting of the Roma "parliament" passed a motion calling for Danihel's removal.
- Meanwhile, the chairman of the Slovakia Helsinki Committee has proposed that positive discrimination should be used to encourage Roma to stay in Slovakia. Miroslav Kusý said tax incentives could be used to encourage employers to take on Roma workers.
- A bomb exploded in a car belonging to the deputy director of a gas plant near Trencín on Tuesday 8 May. The explosion outside the Slovak Gas (SPP) official's home in the village of Poruba broke windows and damaged a set of gates. Nobody was injured.
- A new border crossing has been opened between Slovakia and Austria. A ferry across the River Morava links Záhorská Ves and Angern an der March. The ferry will enable cars and light freight of up to 3.5 tonnes to cross the frontier. It is hoped that the ferry will eventually be replaced by a bridge.
Robin Sheeran, 11 May 2001
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