Blair visit watched for signs of political support

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Slovakia for the first time on March 9 on a brief 13-hour stopover before flying on to Prague.
In the lead-up to the visit, political analysts speculated on whether Blair might show any signs of support for the country's government or opposition. Slovaks head to the polls for early elections on June 17.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is positive about Slovakia's reforms.
photo: AP

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Slovakia for the first time on March 9 on a brief 13-hour stopover before flying on to Prague.

In the lead-up to the visit, political analysts speculated on whether Blair might show any signs of support for the country's government or opposition. Slovaks head to the polls for early elections on June 17.

According to the Hospodárske noviny daily, Blair supports the reforms and the pro-Western foreign policy of the current right-wing administration of Mikuláš Dzurinda. Blair himself has been trying to push through an ambitious education and health care reform program in Great Britain.

On the other hand, as a Labour politician and an adherent of the "third way" ideology, Blair would seem to have much in common with Slovakia's most popular opposition politician, Robert Fico of the social democratic Smer party.

According to Ivo Samson of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, Blair regards Dzurinda above all as an ally "on an issue in Great Britain that concerns him the most at the moment - the engagement of British troops in Iraq".

Blair is also positive about Slovakia's ongoing reforms. "He has praised them and expects them to produce positive results," Samson said.

Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) returned the compliments. "In domestic policy we especially appreciate his reform of the education system, and in European policy his campaign for reform of the EU," SDKÚ spokesman Martin Maťko said.

Analysts agree, however, that Slovak politicians cannot expect Blair to give any clear political signals to voters ahead of general elections in Slovakia, unlike in 2002 when EU and US officials were frank about the consequences of a return to power by former PM Vladimír Mečiar.

"I don't think he will interfere in the local pre-election fight. He has never done that," said Jan Zielonka, a political analyst with Oxford University.

Apart from meeting Dzurinda, Blair was also scheduled to meet with President Ivan Gašparovič on March 10 and later to attend a debate at Comenius University in Bratislava, where he was to speak on the future of Europe and globalization, while Dzurinda was to describe Slovakia's vision for the future.

The prime ministers are also to discuss EU issues at an EU summit scheduled for later this month.

Dzurinda and Blair were also expected to express their views on the hottest issues in international politics.

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