News Briefs

HZDS launches campaign to "open citizens' eyes"
Media watchdog says minorities get little coverage
Dzurinda testifies in illegal bonuses case
Norway suspends visa requirements for Slovaks
HZDS would win elections if held now

HZDS launches campaign to "open citizens' eyes"

The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) announced on August 15 its plans to launch a 10 day campaign aimed at inspiring citizens to attend the party's proposed referendum on early elections. HZDS vice chairman Jozef Kalman said that the party would try to "open citizens' eyes" by addressing their social and economic problems.
The HZDS said its campaign was motivated by the results of research prepared for the HZDS by an independent agency which the party has refused to identify. According to the results, the party says, 51% of the citizenry would participate in the referendum, with 69.5% voting in favour of early elections.
Indendent polling agencies have put the figures much lower.
Kalman said that the research also indicated that 65% of the population finds the situation in Slovakia has worsened since the 1998 parliamentary elections, while 73.5% believe their situation would improve with a change of government.
President Rudolf Schuster, who gave the go-ahead for the referendum after the HZDS presented him with nearly 700,000 signatures on a referendum petition, told Czech radio last week that he was certain that the required 50% turnout for the referendum required to make the vote valid would not be achieved.

Media watchdog says minorities get little coverage

The findings of a MEMO 98 media monitoring project suggest that from April till June 2000, television and radio media devoted too little time to Slovakia's minorities. The research also suggests that the coverage tended to be neutral or negative.
The monitored media included Slovak Television (STV), TV Markíza, TV Luna, Slovak Radio (SRo), and Radio Twist. The media devoted most of their attention to the Romany minority, and specifically to their asylum seeking travels. Of the 205 hours of reporting monitored, only two hours and 38 minutes concerned minorities, two hours and 23 minutes of which was on the Romanies. The Hungarian minority received the remaining 15 minutes. No broadcast time was devoted to the Czech or Ruthenian minorities.
Of the 220 stories aired, 209 were neutral but with no positive information. There were 10 negative stories about the Romanies, and one negative report on the Hungarian minority.

Dzurinda testifies in illegal bonuses case

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda testified on August 10 in the case of his having distributed bonuses illegally to members of his cabinet. Although Dzurinda paid the illegal bonuses to his ministers, he is not being criminally prosecuted because the investigator ruled that he did not intentionally violate the law.
Former Prime Minister Jozef Moravčík also testified last week, although he never paid illegal bonuses to his ministers. The only former PM accused of abuse of state power with regards to bonuses is former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. According to documents the investigator obtained, from June 21, 1993 to March 11, 1994 and from June 20, 1995 to October 9, 1998, Mečiar violated the law on payment conditions for civil servants, costing the state budget 13,815,625 ($295,000).
Members of the Dzurinda cabinet are ready to return bonuses that they were paid illegally by the end of the year. Some of the ministers have already returned the bonuses.

Norway suspends visa requirements for Slovaks

Visa requirements for Slovaks travelling to Norway were droppped as of August 16, the Slovak Foreign Ministry announced. The move by the Norwegians was credited to a recent visit to Norway by Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, during which he met with Norwegian Justice Minister Oystein Maeland to discuss the problem of asylum-seeking Slovak Romanies.
Kukan and other Norwegian representatives agreed to maintain a close cooperation in monitoring the asylum policy of the Norwegian Kingdom. The visas were introduced for Slovaks on on July 26, 1999 following a similar decision by the Finnish government earlier that month.

HZDS would win elections if held now

A recent poll carried out by the Public Opinion Bureau of the Slovak Statistical Office revealed that once again, the opposition HZDS party of three-time former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar would win elections if held now with 26.1% support, only slightly below the 27% the HZDS took in 1998 national elections.
The non-parliamentary Smer party of independent MP Róbert Fico came second in the poll, at 20.8%, support the party has enjoyed steadily since its founding earlier this year. Fico has not ruled out post-electoral cooperation with the HZDS party, but has said he would not work with Mečiar.
The SDKÚ party of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda took 13.3%, followed by the ruling coalition Hungarian party with 11.9%, the far-right opposition SNS with 8.5% and the leftist governmental SDĽ party with 5.9%.
Collectively, the parties which make up the government would take exactly 41% of the vote, against 55.4% for a HZDS-SNS-Smer bloc.

Compiled by Chris Togneri
from SITA

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