A procession of military honour guards from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Germany and Slovakia opened the Old Town Summer Plays in Bratislava on June 18. Military brass orchestras performed individually, then joined together for a group concert, only to be dispersed in the end by pouring rain.
photo: Zuzana Vitková
New insurance required for time in mountains
AS OF July 2006, any visitor for whom the Mountain Rescue Service performs either a search or a life-saving operation will now be forced to reimburse the Service for all related costs, a recently-passed amendment to the Mountain Rescue Service Act states.
The original law required only those who had disobeyed Mountain Rescue Service rules and guidelines to pay, but proving a visitor had broken the rules was often too burdensome for the Service.
Mountain Rescue Service Director Jozef Janiga hopes the step will apply the necessary pressure on visitors to take responsibility for their actions.
Four commercial insurance companies in Slovakia have responded to the new law by offering products focused on insuring against the costs of rescue efforts: Allianz-Slovenská poisťovňa, Generali, Union and Kooperativa.
The basic insurance premium ranges from Sk10 to Sk20 per day and is suitable for short-term mountain visits. Annual insurance from Sk390 to Sk500 suits those who visit the mountains more frequently or those living in mountainous territories.
The cost of insurance for winter, risky and extreme sports will be higher, as the insurers must also cover the use of technical equipment in a rescue or search operation, which ranges in cost from Sk300,000 to Sk500,000. Any uninsured tourist will have to pay all costs himself or herself. Therefore, Janiga recommends all mountain visitors attain an insurance policy, SITA wrote.
However, insurance policies should be carefully read before being signed. In one contract, a blood alcohol content of as little as 0.1 per thousands - the equivalent of drinking a cup of tea with rum - could invalidate the coverage.
According to Mountain Rescue Service statistics, the average cost of a simple rescue operation ranges from Sk3,500 to Sk4,000, which usually includes treatment and transportation of the injured party from easily accessible localities. More difficult operations in less accessible terrain usually cost Sk7,500 to Sk13,000.
The most expensive rescues are those involving inaccessible hiking terrain, avalanches or long-term rescue operations, which cost Sk100,000 and more.
The Mountain Rescue Service last year registered 1,585 rescues in Slovak mountains, of which 718 took place directly in highly mountainous terrain. The remaining cases concerned injuries on ski slopes. The number of injuries in highly mountainous terrain and all rescue operations slightly increased last year, but the number of fatalities dropped.
Payments for costs arising from such infringements as straying from a marked path can also result in inconvenience, even for insured tourists. Insurers claim every case will be judged individually and they will pay for the rescue action, but participation by the involved party will vary. However, this type of insurance policy is optional and mountain visitors themselves can decide whether to buy it.
New river service launched
THE MAYORS of Vienna and Bratislava, Michael Haupl and Andrej Ďurkovský, presided over the official launch of the Twin City Liner river line in the Austrian capital on June 14.
In his address, Ďurkovský commented on how much had changed in the last 17 years, saying he could never have imagined the Slovak-Austrian border would one day be free of the Iron Curtain.
"However, residents of Vienna and Bratislava have been visiting each other without barriers since then, and I hope that this fast river connection will further improve our relationship," he said.
Haupl took the opportunity to say that the two cities will inevitably also need a highway connection. The two mayors then traveled on board a luxurious, Norwegian-built hydrofoil to Bratislava, where they signed the Memorial Book of the Slovak Capital to record the launch and note the cooperation between the two capitals.
The liner operates from June 1 to October 29 each year. One-way tickets start at about Sk600 weekdays and Sk950 on the weekend. Return tickets start at Sk1100.
Angolan causes false alarm at airport
A MAN who caused a bomb scare at Bratislava airport on June 11 now stands accused of spreading a false alarm.
The 41-year-old Angolan national with permanent residence in Slovakia announced at the airport that he had an explosive device in an envelope, SITA wrote.
The police immediately took the necessary security measures, but concluded after two hours it was a false alarm. Airport operation resumed soon afterward.
The police did not take the Angolan into custody but, if convicted, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. A psychiatrist was expected to examine the man's mental condition.
Army offers anti-terrorist drill at Lešť training facility
SLOVAK Defense Minister Martin Fedor announced at a press conference on June 12 that what is known as the Soviet town in the military training area of Lešť in central Slovakia's Zvolen district, where Soviet soldiers were accommodated in the past, will be used for anti-terrorist training activities.
"We have started talks with the Interior Ministry. We would like this area to serve for training and coordination of security units active in the fight against terrorism. Other countries need to build new training areas for this purpose. The former Soviet town is suitable with no additional construction work needed," said Fedor.
He added that Slovakia could offer the use of this area for anti-terrorist training to its partner countries. Around 2,500 soldiers and their family members from the former Soviet Union lived in this military training area, with the last leaving in 1991, since which time the premises have been vacant.
The military training facility is the Slovak army's largest military area, SITA wrote.
Quality recognition for tunnel
DURING this year's testing of European tunnels by independent foreign experts for the German Automobile Club (ADAC), 22 out of 52 tested tunnels in 14 European countries got the highest mark "excellent", the www.adac.de/Test/ website reported on June 12.
The Branisko tunnel in the eastern region of Prešov was among the best-ranked tunnels this year. From eight subject categories it received an "A" in five: lighting, transport-control, communications, ventilation and crisis management, TASR wrote.
Among the tunnel's high marks were marks for the closure of the tunnel for transportation of dangerous goods, continuous video surveillance, automatic recordings of malfunctions in operation, automatic activation of air-conditioning in case of fire, and closure of the tunnel, good signalization in the corridors with emergency lights, very good technical assurance of preventing the spread of smoke and heat, regular training of personnel and fire-prevention units, and continuous radio connection with police and firemen.
Branisko, which is 4,975 metres long, is the first tunnel of its kind constructed in Slovakia. It went into operation in 2003.
Nine tunnels out of all tested received the mark "B" (praiseworthy), and a further eight were marked "C" (good). In terms of safety, every fourth tested tunnel failed. The experts gave five tunnels a "D" (sufficient) and eight tunnels even received a failing grade - "E".
The winner this year was the Spanish tunnel M-12, a feeder road to Madrid's airport Barajas. The Italian tunnel Segesta at A 29 (Palermo - Trapani) was named the worst tunnel, described by experts as a "black hole - nothing more".
Nearly 100 people have died in tunnel fires in Europe in the last decade and testing take place annually in the framework of the European project EuroTAP, supported by the EC and 11 European partner clubs.