Parliament amends constitution
Parliament passed the long-awaited amendment to the constitution after a marathon debate which ran for almost three weeks. The government says the reforms were required by the European Union and NATO as preconditions to membership. It pressed ahead with the amendment despite angry resistance from the opposition.
The debate finally wound up on Wednesday 21 February, with the vote coming on Friday evening. It brings to an end a tense period for Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, who was uncertain of gaining the necessary constitutional majority of 90 out of 140 MPs. Parliament voted on Friday morning not to include an amendment to the bill banning abortion. MPs from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) agreed to vote for the bill despite their proposal on abortion being thrown out.
Verheugen visits Roma communities
European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen visited Roma communities in east Slovakia on Thursday as part of a three-day visit to Slovakia. The Commissioner was accompanied by Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda when he visited the Luník area of Košice and the villages of Jarovnice and Rudnany.
They observed how EU funds are being used to improve the infrastructure and educational facilities in these areas. Following a meeting with representatives of the Roma intelligentsia, Verheugen commented that the community was suffering from serious discrimination in Slovakia.
Dzurinda was anxious to impress upon the Commissioner the governmant's latest scheme to improve housing in Roma areas (see last week's Slovakia News Review).
Verheugen's stated views on the Roma issue reflected those of the EU's latest report on Slovakia's readiness for EU membership issued last November. He said the Government had come up with good plans for tackling the problems faced by the Roma, but a gap still existed between the plans and their implementation.
European Charter on Regional and Minority Langauges signed
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan signed the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages at a ceremony in Strasbourg on Tuesday 20 February. The Charter has yet to be ratified by Parliament. Kukan claimed that signing the charter could have some influence on Slovakia's entry talks with the European Union.
The Charter defines regional and minority languages, presents rules for recognising them, support for the teaching of languages, and protection from discrimination for their speakers.
Protests against planned Hungarian Education Faculty
Three hundred demonstrators protested against the planned Hugarian Education Faculty at Nitra University on Friday 23 February. The setting-up of the training school for teachers using the Hungarian language was one of a series of measures agreed by the Government in exchange for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition's (SMK) support for the amendment of the constitution.
Those attending Friday's demonstration were reported to be mostly members of the Slovak National Youth organisation, and from the local Nitra branches of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Slovak National Party (SNS). Radio Twist reported the chanting of slogans, including: "Hungarians get back over the Danube" and "Slovakia for the Slovaks."
Jan Korec believed to be murdered
The police are treating the killing of the managing director of the Nuclear Energy Research Institute in Trnava as murder. Jan Korec was shot in the chest with a submachine gun fitted with a silencer at his home in Piešt'any, west Slovakia, on Friday 23 February.
The Institute's biggest customer is the country's main electricity supplier, Slovak Electric, but it has built up an international reputation, with clients in Hungary, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and China. Korec led the Institute from its days as a government research department through its privatisation in 1994.
Tea with rum
One of Slovakia's favourite winter warmers will remain on the bar even after Slovakia joins the EU, freezing drinkers were relieved to hear this week. Tea with rum has long been a favoured method of keeping the icy Carpathian chill at bay. It had been feared that EU regulations would bring a ban on the sale of Slovak-made rum.
According to Brussels' rules only a drink made from sugar cane can be sold as rum. Slovakia has requested a three-year transition period for its distillery industry after the country joins the EU. Once that period has expired Slovak rum will still be available in the local "potraviny," but under a new name which has yet to be invented. Suggestions on a postcard please.
Robin Sheeran, 23 February 2001
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TASR (Slovak Press Agency)
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