A surprised Brigita Schmögnerová received an unusual package through the post last week: 50,000 Deutsche marks and 15,000 Swiss francs, accompanied by a letter asking the Finance Minister to donate the money to Slovak child health care facilities.
"This was a wonderful gesture which is very much appreciated," the smiling Finance Minister said February 19 in parliament.
Schmögnerová said that the gift - banknotes worth a total of 1.5 million Slovak crowns ($32,000) in three different envelopes - had been sent to her office with a letter reading, "Mrs. Minister, please give this money if possible to children's health care centres".
The envelope was post-marked Bratislava, the letter written in Slovak and signed by a group calling itself AB Financing s.r.o. and claiming a Bratislava address. However, Interior Ministry checks have revealed that no such company exists.
"When I opened the package and found the money, I took the normal action," Schmögnerová explained. "I called the Interior Ministry, they sent the chief of the financial police over, and with the cooperation of the central bank, found that the money was clean."
The only complication was with the Swiss franks, which were older bills and had to be sent back to Switzerland for new notes. The money was then changed into Slovak crowns and earmarked for various children's health centres.
Slovakia's health care sector can certainly use the boost. According to the 1999 Global Report on Slovakia, published by the IVO think tank in Bratislava, Slovakia spent only 6% of GDP ($235 per capita) on health care in 1998, compared to 7.9% in the Czech Republic ($295) and 10.4% in Germany ($2,363).
When asked if this had been the work of a modern day Jánošík, Slovakia's version of Robin Hood, Schmögnerová shook her head. "No, because Jánošík was a thief. He took money from one person and gave it to another. I don't think that this is the case with this money [that it was stolen] - at least I hope not."
She added that the gesture was particularly admirable in that the donor was apparently not seeking recognition. "What I really appreciate is that the donation was anonymous," she said. "There are many people who give money to charity more or less just because of the fact that they want to be thanked, they want it all to be televised and so forth. But this donor was an exception."
She also offered advice for future donors, noting the risk of sending 1.5 million crowns in hard currency through the post: "Next time, send a cheque," she said with a laugh.