In a year featuring the murder of a former Economy Minister, the first-ever direct election of a Slovak President, the passage of a historic Minority Language Law and the trial of the country's top mafia boss, political analysts say one event stands out above the rest: the decision of the European Union on December 11 to invite Slovakia to begin entry negotiations.
"The decision to enlarge the European Union by including the countries of the former communist bloc was the most important decision since the end of the World War II," said Ľuboš Kubín, a political scientist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. "For Slovakia, the official invitation to begin entry negotiations was the key event in 1999. Our country now has a chance to become part of a civilized circle of European countries."
Michal Ivantyšyn, a former crime and security specialist with the Institute for Public Policy (IVO) think tank, agreed that the EU invitation was a defining moment, but assigned even greater importance to the October report of the European Commisson on Slovakia. "The report marked a decisive moment for Slovakia, because for the first time a report produced by an international organization was similar to the Slovak government's view of itself," he said. "This document was the basis of the decision to allow Slovakia to start entry negotiations."
The Slovak government's more conciliatory foreign policy orientation was also generally recognized by political professionals as a key development in 1999. Miroslav Kusý, a political scientist at Comenius University in Bratislava and head of the Slovak Helsinki Committee, said that Slovakia's improving relationship with its neighbours had been one of the biggest stories of the year.
"Slovakia returned to the original formation of the Visegrad Four countries, and confirmed that our country is an equal partner to our neighbours," Kusý said.
For many Slovaks, however, the fruits of the government's diplomatic efforts were soured by domestic concerns with crime, economic hardship and political instability.
"My evaluation of 1999 is highly positive," said Kusý. "However, for simple people, life remains difficult, and for them the overall positive changes are overshadowed by the uneasy economic situation, and the unhappy scandals on our political scene."