NATO to extend membership
Slovak politicians have welcomed NATO Secretary-General George Robertson's announcement that the alliance is to invite more countries to join next year. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists: "This means that only we can frustrate our way into NATO." He said Slovakia could complete the process of joining within 18 months of the invitation, and that the 2002 elections should not prove a barrier to the process.
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda said he would do his utmost to ensure that Slovakia is invited to join at NATO's summit in Prague next year. Robertson's decision was welcomed across the political spectrum with the exception of the Slovak National party (SNS) which is opposed to joining NATO and has called for a national referendum.
Illegal immigrants believed drowned
Eighteen illegal immigrants from India are believed to have drowned while attempting to cross the River Morava from Slovakia into the Czech Republic. First reports of the incident came on Monday 11 June and the search for the bodies continued until Wednesday. An Interior Ministry spokesman said eyewitnesses had observed the group of men holding hands and attempting to wade across the river. They were carrying heavy backpacks. Police rescued two men, and recovered one body. Six thousand illegal immigrants were arrested in Slovakia last year on their journey westwards.
Fico offers solution to "Roma problem"
The populist leader of the Smer party, Róbert Fico, has offered his latest solution to the so-called Roma problem. Fico has proposed that only families with three children or less should be eligible for child benefit. "Considering the current rapid growth in population, if we do nothing there could be a million Roma living in Slovakia in ten years' time with no education, qualifications," said Fico. He added that these people would put an intolerable strain on the country's welfare system.
Schuster plans for the future
This week, President Rudolf Schuster gave a broad hint at how he would like to see events pan out after the 2002 elections. He said the current coalition and Róbert Fico's Smer were well-placed to form a government provided they could reach an agreement. Schuster said he could foresee post-election co-operation with Smer, but any such co-operation with Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) would depend on how that party behaves after the elections.
Schuster, who regards making occasional "objective" comments on the domestic political scene as part of his presidential duties also said this week that he was unaware of having made any important mistakes in his two years in office. "I don't remember anything that I would like to take back. If something like that happened I would definitely admit it," said the modest man from Košice.
Set back in drive against corruption
The credibility of the government's drive against corruption has taken a severe knock following the resignation of the head of its anti-corruption unit, Daniel Lipšič. Lipšič quit his post on Thursday 14 June citing the government's failure to take action against the managing director of Slovak Gas (SPP), Pavol Kinceš.
Kinceš, who was appointed to his job as a representative of Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's party, bought a large, luxury flat for a suspiciously low price. The flat had been refurbished at great expense by SPP. Kinceš also admitted being paid Sk200,000 (USD 4,020) per month with an annual bonus of Sk3m (USD 60,314)—the average monthly wage in Slovakia is just over Sk11,000 (USD 221).
Lipšič said there was no proof that Dzurinda's much-heralded drive against corruption had been any more successful than that of the previous government. He pointed out that there had been no cases of bribery being brought before the courts, despite the widespread practise of paying bribes in the health sector. He also criticised the practise of dividing up senior posts in state-owned companies among the coalition parties.
And in other news...
- The new Interior Minister, Ivan Šimko, has ordered police officers to remove identifying name tags from the uniform jackets. In future, officers will wear only ID numbers. The move reverses an order made by Šimko's predecessor, Ladislav Pittner, on 1 April this year. Pittner ordered that the name tags be worn to help prevent corruption in the police force. Stories of police bribery are widespread in Slovakia. In making his announcement, Šimko said forcing police officers to wear name tags was unconstitutional.
- Slovakia successfully closed another chapter of European Union legislation this week. The completion of the chapter on customs union means the country has now completed 17 chapters, placing it sixth out of the 12 candidate countries in terms of chapters closed. The Swedish foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, commented that, "Slovakia is a clear example that the differentiation principle works. It has managed to catch up with the other candidates." The Slovak delegation has opened a further four chapters, on the free movement of persons, financial control, agriculture and taxes.
- An exhibition organised by the Chinese Embassy in Bratislava has closed amid a wave of controversy. Entitled "Tibet in China," and designed to show "the correct way of socialism as practised by the People's Republic of China in Tibet," the exhibition was held at a Slovak government-run exhibition space with the approval of the Slovak Culture Ministry. It included photographs of happy Tibetans enjoying the good life under Chinese rule. The director of the National Enlightenment Centre said the exhibition was organised under contract with the Culture Ministry and in consultation with the Foreign Ministry. He said refusing the exhibition could have had diplomatic repercussions. The Culture Minister, Milan Knažko says neither he nor the cabinet approved the exhibition.
Robin Sheeran, 15 June 2001
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