European Charter approved
The Government approved the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages on Wednesday 17 January. It follows a year of arguments within the coalition about the application of the Charter in public administration.
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Acceptance of the Charter has been one of the central demands of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) before it will consider supporting changes to the Slovak constitution. Its ratification is a prerequisite for membership in the European Union.
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda told journalists he was pleased with the level of consensus within the coalition, and said he believed the Government was now closer to amending the constitution. The Charter will now have to be ratified by Parliament.
Earlier in the week, the national committee of the SMK criticised the former-communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) for blocking its demands within the coalition. On Saturday 13 January, the committee said the SMK could not be blamed for the failure to adopt a new constitution due to the blocking tactics of the SDĽ.
The SMK wants to see the ownership of nationalised land transferred to the local government when the pre-nationalisation owner cannot be traced. It also wants to see a university department established for the training of Hungarian mother-tongue teachers, and a regional government unit to cover the Hungarian-speaking areas of southern Slovakia.
The Government needs the support of 90 of the 150 deputies to change the constitution. It is dependent on SMK votes to push through the amendment. The SDĽ's suggestion that the Government seek support for the changes from the opposition has angered the SMK, which says such a move could destabilise the coalition.
The Deputy Premier for European Integration, Pavol Hamžík, says Slovakia must speed up its reforms aimed at gaining membership of the European Union. Hamžík said if Slovakia squandered its opportunity to join in 2004, it would have to wait until 2010. The acquis communitaire process would have to be completed by the end of 2002 at the latest, he added. Hamžík sees the amendment of the constitution and reform of the civil service as the primary tasks.
Both issues have been the subject of disputes between the SMK and the SDĽ. Slovakia has, so far, made good progress in the accession talks, with 16 out of the 29 chapters opened, and ten successfully closed.
Angola weapon exports legal?
The Slovak Foreign Ministry says it is unaware of any illegal or indirect sales of weapons to Angola. It follows allegations in French newspapers that weapons from a Slovak company were illegally exported to Angola by Jean-Christophe Mitterand, the son of the former French President. A ministry spokesman admitted that Slovakia had supplied arms to Angola in entirely legal fashion, but strenuously denied any breach of UN sanctions.
The allegations were also denied by Ján Valenta, the managing director of OSOS Vrútký, the company named in reports by the French daily Liberation. The company says it never traded with France or Angola.
The Slovak Savings Bank (SLSP) has been sold to the Austrian Erste Bank. The Austrian company will pay 425m Euros for an 87 per cent share in SLSP. The bank will be restructured over the next 18 months to two years. Erste Bank now owns subsidiaries in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia. The takeover makes it the largest retail bank in Central Europe, and puts it into the top-ten retail banks in Europe.
Moves are afoot to privatise the General Credit Bank (VÚB), and the Investment and Development Bank (IRB). The Finance Minister, Brigita Schmoegnerová, says the Postal Bank (Poštová Banka) should be ready for privatisation in the first half of 2002.
Bilingual forms—not enough
The Government has agreed to allow bilingual Slovak-Romani forms to be issued for the forthcoming national census. The forms will be issued in areas where Roma make up more than one fifth of the population. The announcement was made by Deputy Premier Pál Csaký on Thursday 18 January and was followed by protests from Roma activists, since the forms would only be available in Slovak, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian. The Association of Moravians has also complained that a Moravian version of the form will not be issued.
The Foreign Ministry disagrees with Sovak President Rudolf Schuster's recently expressed opinions on the expulsion of Germans from Central European countries after the Second World War. In a letter to a Sudeten German group written at the end of last year, Schuster described the deportations as a mistake, and called on the countries involved to acknowledge their guilt.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel says the Ministry's position remains unchanged. "We respect the decisions of the Potsdam conference and do not intend to question them in any way. We admit that certain unusual actions were committed during the deportation, which may be what President Schuster was referring to," Gandel commented.
The oldest citizen of the eastern Slovak city of Poprad celebrated her 105th birthday on Sunday 14 January. Vilma Slepeková was born in 1896 in Spišská Belá. She has two daughters, 14 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. Mrs Slepeková speaks Slovak, German and Hungarian, and enjoys sleeping and eating.
Robin Sheeran, 19 January 2001
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