SMK supports amendment of Constitution
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The Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) declared on Saturday 27 January that it would support the amendment of the Slovak Constitution. The party made its support for the changes conditional upon the fulfilment of a number of demands, including the approval of the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages and the setting-up of a faculty for the training of Hungarian-language teachers in Nitra. Both of these demands have been met.
Other demands, including the transfer of nationalised land whose previous owners cannot be identified to local authority control, and assurances as to the wording of the preamble of the Constitution have yet to be settled. The changes to the Constitution are a prerequisite for membership of the European Union.
Reforms at stalemate
Hopes that internal government wrangling over the reform of regional government were shattered when coalition members of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) disagreed with the proposal of the Party of the Democratic left (SDĽ) and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) that the reforms should go ahead without changing the current territorial arrangements. The reforms have been stalemated for some months over SMK demands that a new administrative county should be created around Komárno in the predominantly Hungarian region of Southern Slovakia.
Premier Dzurinda in USA
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda set off for the United States with high hopes of a publicity coup. The Slovak media had been primed to expect a Dzurinda meeting with newly-installed US President George W Bush. "By meeting President George W Bush and conducting interviews with congressmen and the media, I want to strengthen our already good position," the premier was quoted as saying before he set off on Wednesday 31 January.
The following day Dzurinda was among three thousand guests at the annual Congressional prayer breakfast in Washington. Although he got to sit near President Bush, the Slovak Premier was not able to engage him in conversation. Attempts to smooth over the embarrassment proved futile. Dzurinda's other important engagement in the US was the opening of a month-long festival of Slovak culture in New York.
The ceremonial launch of "Celebrate Slovakia" at the World Trade Center in Manhattan was marred by the appearance of the former deputy chairman of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, Rudolf Ziak, who is wanted by police in Slovakia on charges of sabotage. Ziak is alleged to have broken the law while working for the Slovak Intelligence Service. He told journalists he did not know when he would be returning to Slovakia. Some Slovak officials described his appearance at the event as a deliberate provocation.
And in other news...
- The leader of the recently formed Smer Party, Róbert Fico, had a half-hour meeting with NATO Secretary General George Robertson in Brussels on Thursday 1 February. The former SDL MP took the opportunity to lambast Premier Mikulás Dzurinda, accusing him of traumatising Slovak society in preparation for NATO membership. Fico, who recently returned from a high-profile trip to Moscow, told journalists that Slovakia's application for NATO membership should not endanger other national-political goals. He claims the Slovak government took steps to try to prevent his meeting with George Robertson from taking place.
- The first day of February saw a host of price increases for the Slovak consumer. Electricity and gas, rail and bus fares, postal charges, phone bills and rents in municipal flats were all affected. It is estimated that the average household will have to pay an extra SKK (Slovak koruna) 500 (USD 11) per month. Tenants in municipal housing will be particularly badly hit, with rent rises of 45 per cent.
- German car maker Volkswagen plans to invest over DEM (German mark) 1 billion (USD 479 million) in Slovakia over the next two years. The company, which already has a substantial production facility at Devinská near Bratislava, will spend the money on developing an industrial park in Western Slovakia and on production of the new off-road Colorado model. The announcement was made by Premier Mikulás Dzurinda at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The investment should create an additional 3500 jobs in Slovakia. Volkswagen's current output represents one-sixth of Slovakia's exports.
Robin Sheeran, 2 February 2001
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