Year in review: Race, raids, resignations

January 15:
Róbert Fico, head of the non-parliamentary party Smer, suggests an amendment to the Social Benefits Law denying Slovak Romanies their legal right to collect benefits. Calling the proposal a means of curbing the number of Slovak gypsies seeking asylum in western countries, Fico says that "citizens who travel for speculative reasons to a foreign country would on their return to Slovakia have their social benefits payments stopped for 12 months."

January 16:
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by ex-Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, launches a petition drive to hold a national referendum on early parliamentary elections.

January 17:
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda announces that he will form a new political party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ). The move is seen as a dramatic bid by the leader to divide and conquer his political rivals in his SDK mother party and secure a political future for himself.

January 15:

Róbert Fico, head of the non-parliamentary party Smer, suggests an amendment to the Social Benefits Law denying Slovak Romanies their legal right to collect benefits. Calling the proposal a means of curbing the number of Slovak gypsies seeking asylum in western countries, Fico says that "citizens who travel for speculative reasons to a foreign country would on their return to Slovakia have their social benefits payments stopped for 12 months."

January 16:

The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by ex-Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, launches a petition drive to hold a national referendum on early parliamentary elections.

January 17:

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda announces that he will form a new political party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ). The move is seen as a dramatic bid by the leader to divide and conquer his political rivals in his SDK mother party and secure a political future for himself.

January 22:

Košice-born Ján Mazák is named Constitutional Court Chief Justice as nine new Constitutional Court judges are appointed. The selections are hoped to bring stability to the country's highest court, which has a history of controversial rulings. Analysts are disappointed that the new judges appear to have been political appointees.

January 26:

The cabinet of PM Dzurinda promises to return almost three million Slovak crowns ($700,000) in bonuses that ministers received at the end of 1999, which were awarded illegally. The decision is prompted by an article in the January 20-26 edition of the Domino Fórum weekly, in which lawyer Ivan Habaj points out that cabinet members have no legal right to pay themselves bonuses under the terms of a 1993 law.

January 28:

Mob boss Mikuláš Černák is sentenced to 15 years in a maximum security prison in central Slovakiaşs Banská Bystrica after he is found guilty of the 1996 murder of Polish businessman Grzegorz Szymanek and the extortion of local businessmen.

January 29:

A black-skinned man is attacked on Bratislava's main square. Although the square is crowded at the time of the afternoon attack, no one attempts to intervene, leaving international organisations and minorities in Slovakia calling for an end to public apathy towards racism.

January 30:

The accidental release of 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-polluted water from a waste-water reservoir in Romania contaminates rivers in Romania, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia. It is called the biggest European environmental catastrophe since the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986, as the poisonous tide affects a six-kilometre stretch of the Tisza river forming the border between Hungary and Slovakia.

February 3:

Chata pod Rysmi (Rysy Cottage) in Slovakia's High Tatra mountains is demolished by an avalanche in late January. Slovak mountaineering legend Viktor Beránek, who has managed the cottage for 31 years, discovers on climbing Rysy that little more than loose stones and timber survived the disaster. Beránek vows to rebuild in a safer locale not prone to avalanches.

February 15:

President Rudolf Schuster leaves on a pilgrimage to visit Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, leaving critics wondering at the irony of a former high-ranking communist heading a religious mission.

February 15:

Slovakia opens official entry negotiations with the European Union, thus joining five other new applicant countries on an "express train" towards the EU. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan says the Slovak 'train' should pull in to Brussels at the beginning of 2004.

February 15:

Jozef Migaš, Speaker of Parliament and the chairman of the reformed-communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), says that his party might quit the government if more is not done to ease the effect of economic reforms on the average citizen. A January poll gives the SDĽ 5.3% support, far below the 14.7% the party won in September 1998 national elections.

February 17:

Two Japanese tourists are attacked by eight male teenage skinheads in Bratislava. Police detain six of the eight suspects and charge them with hooliganism and causing bodily harm. One of the suspects has a swastika tattoo on his chest. "During the investigation, the boys proudly explained that they were involved with the skinhead movement, which apparently influenced their violent behaviour," says police spokeswoman Marta Bujňáková.

February 17:

City council members in the northern Slovak town of Žilina vote to dedicate a plaque to Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest and president of the 1939-45 fascist Slovak Republic. Tiso, who supervised the deportation of between 60,000 and 70,000 Jews to Nazi concentration camps, was after the war discovered hiding in Austria by American intelligence and executed as a war criminal in 1946.

February 22:

Milan Sládeček, a coalition MP with the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), announces that he has left his parliamentary post and quit the SOP. Sládeček faces charges of fraud in connection with a 22.5 million Slovak crown ($536,000) loan he took in 1998 from the National Labour Office to create 111 jobs at his Centrogel firm. Interior Ministry Chief Investigator Jaroslav Ivor says Sládeček took the money, but shortly thereafter cut the 111 positions and never returned the loan.

February 27:

PM Dzurinda announces the launching of a National Programme to Fight Corruption with Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš, the main author of the programme. Dzurinda says he will allow 40 days of public discussion before producing a final, concrete plan to eliminate the main forms of corruption found in Slovakia.

March 1:

The cabinet launches a 30 million Slovak crown ($700,000) public awareness campaign aimed at drumming up support for NATO membership.

March 10:

A group of eight skinheads, one armed with a baseball bat, attacks two Brazilian and two Angolan students in the Bratislava Old Town. One of the Angolan students escapes unscathed, but his three companions are kicked and beaten by the group of skinheads.

March 12:

Metal detectors and masked police gunmen on the roof of Bratislava's Hotel Danube greet rabbis for the start of their 22nd biannual European conference, which is under tight security because of planned March 14 demonstrations by Slovak skinheads to honour the establishment of the first Slovak state. Originally scheduled for Vienna, the rabbis opt for Bratislava in protest of Austria's inclusion of Jörg Haider's nationalist Freedom Party in the government coalition.

March 14:

The anniversary of the first independent Slovak state created with the backing of Nazi Germany. Supporters of the first Slovak state, approximately 250 elderly citizens and skinheads, meet at Jozef Tiso's grave in Bratislava's Martinský cemetery. Later that evening, some 3,000 anti-fascist supporters gather in the Old Town's Hlavné námestie (Main Square) for a rain-soaked rally called "Concert for Survivors." Participants apologise for the actions of the first Slovak state and urge the audience to reject all forms of intolerance.

March 18:

Mečiar's opposition HZDS holds a 'transformation' conference in Trnava during which it declares itself a standard political party, changes all five of its previous vice-chairmen, and publicly declares its support for Slovakia's western ambitions. Mečiar says that the party is changing its face to become more acceptable to domestic political partners and western countries.

March 26:

On-going police attempts to serve Mečiar with a subpoena forcing him to testify in the 1995 kidnapping case of Michal Kováč Jr. - the ex-President's son - continue to be unsuccessful. After taping a television debate with PM Dzurinda, Mečiar leaves through the STV back door surrounded by bodyguards as a policeman unsuccessfully attempts to stop him.

March 27:

Chief Investigator Jaroslav Ivor publicly calls on Mečiar to testify in the Kováč Jr. case and challenges him to stop "ignoring police requests" for his testimony.

March 30:

The Bratislava Prosecutor General files a lawsuit against Vasil Biľak, the former secretary general of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, who stands accused of 'inviting' the Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the Prague Spring demonstrations.

April 3:

Dzurinda's SDKÚ party begins registering new members, including Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, Culture Minister Milan Kňažko, Health Minister Tibor Šagát, Deputy Finance Minister Viliam Vaškovič, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner and Telecom Minister Jozef Macejko.

April 6:

The Ružomberok women's basketball team defeats CJM Bourges of France 67 to 64 in double-overtime to claim their second straight European Club Championship.

April 13:

In a parliamentary vote of non-confidence against PM Dzurinda, the SDĽ's Migaš shocks observers and causes a governmental uproar when he, as well as four of his party mates, vote against the PM. Dzurinda survives the vote, but Migaš is roundly criticised by coalition partners and political analysts who call the move an act of desperation by a man trying to save his sinking party.

April 20:

Masked commando police units use explosives to blow down the front door of HZDS boss Mečiar's villa in Trenčianske Teplice and charge him with abuse of power and fraud. The charges are related to alleged illegal bonuses totalling 13.82 million Slovak crowns ($321,000) Mečiar gave to various ministers during his last tenure in office from 1994 to 1998.

April 27:

A legal case in which a white man from Banská Bystrica is prosecuted for a racially motivated crime is believed to be the first time in Slovak history a judge specifies that the an attack "was motivated by the fact that [the victim] is a Roma." Observers cautiously applaud the ruling, saying they hope it will encourage police to be more aggressive in investigating racial violence.

May 1:

Two skinheads attack three Slovaks with a knife in front of the presidential palace, then stab Angolan refugee Lambardo Mabu three times on a bus.

May 11:

Michal Kováč Jr. is appointed third secretary at the Slovak Embassy in India. Foreign Affairs Minister Kukan says the move is "moral compensation" to Kováč Jr., who was violently kidnapped in 1996 and smuggled across the border to Austria.

May 14:

The Slovak national hockey team loses the gold medal match of the Ice Hockey World Championships 5-3 to the Czech Republic. Despite the defeat, the silver medal is by far the country's best finish in a major international hockey competition, sparking a massive, all-night celebration of 30,000 elated fans on Bratislava's SNP námestie.

May 16:

Agriculture Ministry officials report that extreme hot and dry conditions in April and May have caused two billion Slovak crowns ($42 million) in lost crops.

May 17:

Parliament approves a bill on access to information. The goal of the law is to give citizens the right to information on state bodies, regional governments and other public entities.

June 6:

Some 15,000 heavy metal die-hards pack a stadium in Banská Bystrica to watch a concert by the legendary British group Iron Maiden.

June 9:

Smer party boss Róbert Fico suggests social benefits be cut for Romany families with more than three children.

June 19:

President Schuster undergoes surgery to heal a perforated colon.

June 28:

Schuster is flown in critical condition to a hospital in Austria, as doctors admit that Slovakia's head of state may die. He is given a tracheotomy, put on artificial respiration, kept in a drug induced coma and flown to Austria for an emergency blood transfusion.

July 3:

PM Dzurinda announces that his proposed anti-corruption plan will be delayed by several months due to a lack of manpower in preparing the programme. The delay prompts accusations that the government is still not taking corruption seriously.

July 4:

Health Minister Tibor Šagát resigns amidst bitter criticism of the poor conditions in Slovak hospitals and the inept medical treatment given to President Schuster; Ivan Hanták, the director of the Interior Ministry hospital also resigns. Roman Kováč replaces Tibor Šagát as Minister.

July 4:

Slovakia's most wanted man, Ivan Lexa, escapes the country. Lexa stands accused of orchestrating the country's most infamous crime - the 1995 kidnapping of then-president Michal Kováč's son. He evades an international warrant for his arrest by escaping to the Paradise Islands, a secluded tropical archipelago in the southern hemisphere, says a July 12 report by the private Markíza TV station.

July 8-9:

Jozef Migaš is re-elected to another term as SDĽ boss at the party's two-day congress in Košice. Many ruling coalition politicians had hoped that the party would choose a less controversial leader, such as Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová or Education Minister Milan Ftáčnik.

July 11:

An earthquake shakes eastern Austria at 4:45. The quake registers a 4.9 on the Richter scale and is felt throughout western Slovakia. No major damage is reported.

July 11:

Several hundred people pay their last respects to Jaroslav Filip, the famous Slovak singer, writer and humourist who died of a heart attack at the age of 51.

August 11:

The Ústredný zväz židovských náboženských obcí (Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia) files a suit against Germany seeking return of the 200 million crowns originally paid to the Third Reich by the Slovak government in 1942 for the deportation of nearly 70,000 Slovak Jews to concentration camps.

August 15:

President Schuster returns to Slovakia from an Austrian medical clinic carrying a 'birth certificate' issued by his Innsbruck doctors in keeping with Schuster's belief that he has been "born again".

August 16:

The campaign to remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin from his post heats up when the cabinet proposes his recall. Harabin, critics say, has damaged the reputation of the Slovak judiciary through his controversial behaviour and his decisions since his appointment in February 1998. Harabin responds that he is being persecuted by the current coalition because he was appointed to his post by the opposition SNS during the last Mečiar government.

August 17:

Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský says that homosexuals should get themselves into treatment and should not expect to see a law passed legalising homosexual marriages at least for the duration of the current minister's term. The chairman of the government coalition Christian Democrats (KDH) party, Čarnogurský says that giving homosexual relationships similar status to heterosexual marriages "degrades the family," while his party-mate Alojz Rakús alleges that homosexuality is curable.

August 18:

The Hungarian Coalition Party's Béla Bugár threatens to take his party out of the ruling coalition if his demand for the planned reshaping of Slovakia's regional governments is not met. The Hungarians have been demanding the creation of a new region in the country dominated by ethnic Hungarians with southern Slovakia's Komárno as its capital.

August 22:

Three unknown assailants armed with baseball bats break into the home of a Roma family in the northern Slovak city of Žilina and attack the youngest children as they lie in bed. As the children's mother, 50 year-old Anastázia Balážová, tries to protect her daughters, she is fatally struck in the head. The murder sparks politicians and the police to vow a crackdown on racial violence.

September 5:

President Schuster announces that a referendum on early elections will be held on November 11.

September 14:

President Schuster in an interview with the German daily paper Süddeutsche Zeitung accuses the coalition of having taken over his presidential powers prematurely in July after he was transported in a coma to Innsbruck, Austria. The aim of the government, he theorises, was to take away his power to call a controversial referendum on early parliamentary elections.

September 19:

Slovak swimmer Martina Moravcová becomes the country's first Olympic multi-medal winner in Sydney after winning a silver in both the 100 metre butterfly and the 200 metre freestyle.

September 21:

Nationalist MP Víťazoslav Moric is stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for charges of inciting racial hatred to be brought against him. A member of the far-right opposition SNS, Moric is charged on October 2 for statements he made concerning the country's minority Roma population in August. He called the Roma "idiots" and "mental retards" and recommended they be put on reservations. If convicted, Moric faces either a fine or a jail term of up to one year.

October 14-16:

Tibetan spiritual leader the 14th Dalai Lama visits Bratislava, but is not officially received by any of country's top executive and legislative officials who not only elect not to meet him, but also refuse to explain why.

October 17:

The murder trial of 23 year-old Mikuláš P. begins; also known as 'Miki', he is charged with the July 7, 1999 double murder in Bratislava's Dubliner Irish Pub.

October 21:

Čarnogurský gives up his decade-long chairmanship of the ruling coalition KDH party and is replaced by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský.

October 23:

Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner announces a "war" on the Bratislava mafia. When pressed for details, he says only that the plan is a secret. Interior Ministry spokesman Jozef Sitár responds to questions the next day by saying "maybe there is something going on, but you know, these things don't usually reach my ears".

October 25:

A forest fire near the village of Hrabušice in Slovenský raj national park claims the lives of six volunteer fire fighters, aged between 16 and 39. The fire, in the eastern Slovak region of Spišská Nová Ves, burns 100 hectares of forest.

October 27:

Blažena Martinková, a former advisor "for everything" to ex-PM Mečiar, attempts to murder her nine-year old son in Vienna, where she has been living with her husband Karol Martinka. Martinka is the former privatiser of western Slovakiaşs Piešťany spas and is wanted in Slovakia for mismanagement and fraud at the spas. After the failed murder attempt, Martinková unsuccessfully attempts to commit suicide by stabbing herself several times in the chest and jumping from a second storey window.

November 8:

Slovak government ministers express cautious pleasure with the findings of the European Commission's annual report on EU candidate countries. The officials say that despite shortcomings fingered by the EC, Slovakia stands a strong chance of catching up to its neighbours in the admission process to the European Union.

November 11:

Fully four out of five eligible voters decide not to participate in a referendum on early national elections. Organised by the HZDS, the referendum falls far short of the 50% turnout required to make the results valid as only 20.03% attend the plebiscite.

November 19:

The KDH quits the coalition SDK party and sets up on its own, leaving the coalition with five members rather than the original four. Dzurinda, who just two hours before the announcement says on a television talk show that his relations with the KDH continue to be "close and correct", is caught off-guard by the move.

November 24:

Vatican state secretary Angelo Sodano and PM Dzurinda sign a treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican. The document is viewed as very general, presaging future sub-treaties promising to be both more specific and controversial.

November 27:

Interior Minister Pittner announces that he would propose banning the opposition HZDS party if its members are convicted of having committed serious crimes while in power.

November 30:

The trial of Oleg Mikhailovich Tkhoryk, the Ukranian national charged with the January 1999 murder of Ján Ducký - a former Economy Minister, head of the SPP gas utility, and HZDS member - is suspended due to lack of evidence.

December 1:

Košice underworld boss Dušan Borzensky, also known as Borza, is arrested in the Czech Republic. Borza is wanted in Slovakia for murder, illegal possession of firearms, and property damage.

December 4:

Six members of the Democratic Party (DS) follow the KDH in walking out of the SDK party. The decision of leader Ján Langoš to leave the SDK leaves Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda with the backing of only 27 SDK members, down from 42 following 1998 elections.

December 7:

Defence Minister Pavol Kanis says that the financing for his 15 million crown home being built in Bratislava's Koliba district comes from bank loans, a loan from "a friend" whom he would not name, and from winnings he has amassed through gambling.

December 11:

At a European Union meeting in Nice, France, member countries agree with hopefuls on how new countries will be represented in the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament. With the 'how' decided, Slovak politicians say, negotiations can proceed on who gets in and when.

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