A state visit to Yugoslavia by four senior Slovak cabinet members and their entourage ended in disaster August 31 when the Serb driver of a black Mercedes car struck three vehicles in the Slovak state convoy while attempting to pass a bus.
The accident, which occured on the road from Belgrade to Novy Sad, left three dead and eleven injured. Among those killed were Peter Jonáši, director of the export section at the Slovak Economy Ministry, as well as Jonáši's Serb chauffeur and the driver of the overtaking Mercedes.
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, Economy Minister 1ubomír Harach, Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová and Transport Minister Jozef Macejko were not injured in the crash. However, Dzurinda's chief of office Viktor Jancošek was taken to hospital in critical condition with head injuries and broken bones, while Schmögnerová's assistant, Ronald Blaško, was hospitalised with punctured lungs and Transport Ministry official Dušan Rizek suffered a broken forearm.
The Slovak delegation immediately aborted their visit, with a shaken PM Dzurinda promising on his return to Bratislava to investigate the country's arrangements for ensuring the safety of government officials.
During a September 3 meeting with Interior Minister Ivan Šimko, Dzurinda charged the minister with scripting new rules for the transport of state officials. He also called for a wider campaign against what he described as "road pirates", people making Slovakia's roads unsafe with dangerous and heedless driving.
"I'm tired of seeing my wife paying fines every month while big bosses in huge cars blow past us on the highways at speeds over 200 kilometres per hour," he said.
Following a July accident involving a colony of vehicles carrying President Rudolf Schuster, in which eight people were injured including seven presidential office employees, the cabinet passed rules capping the speeds of government vehicles at 150 kilometres per hour on freeways and 120 kph on other roads, unless a threat existed requiring greater speeds.
However, political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov said it would be far better if state convoys stopped requiring special treatment on the roads, including the expectation that other drivers yield the right of passage to state vehicles.
"We can see [in the government's state official transport policy] certain elements from the [communist] past," he said.
9. Oct 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson