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EDITORIAL

Snubbing the Dalai Lama: The ties that bind

The decision of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš not to receive the Dalai Lama last week was so ridiculous that it deserved to be explained. But since reasons are not forthcoming from these two men, we're going to have to come up with a few theories of our own.
The first theory is that 'trade interests' - specifically a contract awarded to a company with a personal link to a bank that regularly wins 'protection' from Migaš - were at the root of such base behaviour. SES Tlmaee, a power engineering company which established a considerable reputation during the 1970s and 1980s by helping build nuclear plants around the world, signed a contract in late 1999 with Czech firm Škoda Plzen to help reconstruct a thermal energy plant in Shen Tou, a facility in northern China. The contract is worth a total of $250 million, of which SES Tlmaee will receive about $100 million.

The decision of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš not to receive the Dalai Lama last week was so ridiculous that it deserved to be explained. But since reasons are not forthcoming from these two men, we're going to have to come up with a few theories of our own.

The first theory is that 'trade interests' - specifically a contract awarded to a company with a personal link to a bank that regularly wins 'protection' from Migaš - were at the root of such base behaviour. SES Tlmaee, a power engineering company which established a considerable reputation during the 1970s and 1980s by helping build nuclear plants around the world, signed a contract in late 1999 with Czech firm Škoda Plzen to help reconstruct a thermal energy plant in Shen Tou, a facility in northern China. The contract is worth a total of $250 million, of which SES Tlmaee will receive about $100 million.

Pavol Bobok, head of the supervisory board at SES Tlmaee, was elected to the supervisory board of Slovak-Russian-Japanese financial house Devín banka last May, a month before the bank secured a controversial government bail-out (the government had cheerfully allowed four other banks to go belly up before Devín skidded into crisis). Devín banka has won a reputation as the locus of a tight group of nuclear lobby activists, energy sector profiteers and former communists which still manages, through Migaš's grip on the SE energy utility, to squeeze graft from contracts and see its interests represented in cabinet.

SES Tlmaee director of business development Ján Kukueka, while denying that Bobok's Devín banka seat had any political meaning, admitted that the Chinese have always seen Slovak investments from a political as well as economical point of view, making it highly likely that Slovak officials have come to see political relations with China (and Tibet) through the prism of business as well.

But Dzurinda reacted very angrily to questions as to his motives in not meeting the Dalai Lama, so readers have to decide for themselves whether the personal connections outlined above have any bearing on the shameful treatment meted out to the Tibetan leader, who is anathema to China.

The second theory, which may be linked to the first, is that Migaš particularly and Slovak politicians generally are still enthralled with great powers like China and Russia. Those who attended Migaš's October 1999 visit to China, when he had an audience with Tiananmen Square accomplice Li Peng, say that he behaved with consumate servility, a stance in keeping with Dzurinda's meeting with Li Peng this summer and the PM's refusal to say whether or not human rights issue were brought up by the Slovak side.

The third theory is that the Dzurinda government still doesn't view its human rights commitments with any great seriousness.

Slovakia is a member of both the UN and the Council of Europe, two bodies which are considered to be the most significant and influential watchdogs of human rights around the world. But few people in this country know that Slovakia is a signatory to the UN's 'Decade of Education in Human Rights' (1995-2004), partly because neither the former Meeiar government nor the present Dzurinda government have made any effort to sow its principles into daily life in this country (viz. Roma minority, Hungarians etc.).

Few know, too, that the UN General Assembly asked its members to abide by the 1998 Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, to give greater protection to human rights activists around the world. Or that 2001 was declared to be the year of dialogue between civilisations - an edict that must encourage meetings with global spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama, surely? Or did the spirit of the UN resolutions not apply in October 2000?

A US academic, speaking at a recent conference organised by the IVO thinktank in Bratislava, spoke of the 'fatigue' experienced by policy makers in post-communist countries who have so many problems to fix, and so few stars in the heavens to guide them, that issues which are not top-drawer priority often get lost in the crush of the legislative line-up. It's easy to see, in the spirit of this observation, why the government has not made a point of fulfilling the letter of UN resolutions.

But meeting the Dalai Lama - such a no-brainer when he's already had audiences in countries with far more valuable trade irons in the fire with Beijing - was a diplomatic axiom that Dzurinda and Migaš must have had pressing reasons to resist.

Pity Slovakia, so in need of good press, if those reasons turn out to be a misguided attempt to nurture a burgeoning trade relationship with China. Pity the country even more if the cause lies once again in 'Goodfellas' camaraderie with energy sector barons.

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