Former Slovak Ambassador Dušan Kerny (left) makes his case.
All five former ambassadors had been political appointees named by the former Mečiar government, and had been protesting to Schuster against the way they were recalled.
Presidential spokesman Michal Stasz said that Schuster had met the former ambassadors on November 5 at their request. "He [Schuster] regards them as citizens of the Slovak Republic, and sees himself as their president," Stasz said, adding that the president has not yet decided if their protest was reasonable.
Foreign policy analyst Ivo Samson agreed that there had been nothing wrong in Schuster's meeting the former ambassadors, but said the president should have put the grievances of the plaintiffs in the proper context. "I criticize the fact that he didn't make a clear statement that during the Mečiar era, 28 ambassadors were dismissed just to free up places for Mečiar's political favourites, like those five," Samson said.
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan did not comment on Schuster's decision to meet the former ambassadors, and officially there has been silence on the issue from both the Foreign Ministry (MFA) as well as the Presidential Office. But one MFA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Slovak Spectator that silence from the ministry didn't mean agreement, and that "the president's activities were undermining Slovak foreign policy, which should be transparent and reform-oriented."
Samson confirmed that the president's latest move had added to friction between Schuster and the Foreign Ministry. "If you look at the people working in the MFA, which is controlled by the SDK [ruling coalition party], and the people working for the president, many of whom come from a communist background, then the positions are clear. Although the president isn't very important for Slovak foreign policy, it still doesn't look well if he acts like this," Samson said.
Although the Slovak Constitution makes the recall and appointment of ambassadors a presidential power, the five former diplomats had lost their jobs last November and December when recalled by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, who served as acting president from November, 1998 until Schuster took office in June, 1999.
Zdenka Kramplová, a former Foreign Minister in the Mečiar government and Ambassador to Canada for several months in 1998, told the SITA press agency after meeting Schuster that the Dzurinda government had defied the Slovak Constitution in recalling her from Ottawa last fall, and had also broken the country's labour law and violated the human rights of Kramplová and her children.
But Kukan said on November 15 that government had been acting in accordance with the law, and that he saw no reasonable justification for Kramplová's charges.
In November, 1998, Kramplová became famous for refusing to return to Slovakia after being recalled by the new government. Rumours even circulated at the time that she would apply for political asylum in Canada, but after she was fired from the ministry and had her diplomatic passport cancelled, she returned quietly and has since remained out of the public eye.
Dušan Kerný, former ambassador to Switzerland, said after the meeting with Schuster that "we didn't complain to the President, but we passed him our protest against the personnel policy of the MFA. I still haven't received my official dismissal. The president said that rules on the recall of ambassadors should be approved," Kerný said on November 24.
Kerný said that the government and the MFA were putting increasing political pressure on Schuster to recall other ambassadors installed under Mečiar, but said that the president represented the entire country, not just the ruling coalition. "Besides, support for this government is falling, so why shouldn't we criticize the dismissal of ambassadors as well?" Kerný asked.
Kerný has recently been chosen by the HZDS to lead the party's new daily newspaper, Nový Deň, which was due on news stands November 15 but still hasn't appeared.
Kramplová and Kerný were joined at the meeting by former Slovak ambassadors to India (Ladislav Lisakş, Croatia (Ivan Stanislav) and the UN mission in Geneva (Milica Suchanková).
According to Kukan, international diplomacy distinguishes between two kinds of diplomats - career diplomats, who don't belong to any political party and who usually aren't recalled after a change in government, and political appointees, who normally submit their resignations after the government that put them in office falls.
"It's normal in our job," Kukan said. "Former Slovak Ambassador to the UN, and now member of parliament for the HZDS party Oľga Keltošová, offered her resignation after the elections and I accepted it. But those people [the five former ambassadors who had to be recalled] weren't capable of such behaviour," Kukan said.
Not only has Schuster annoyed the MFA by appearing to sympathise with the complaints of thr former ambassadors, he has also blocked the appointment of ambassadors that Kukan would like to send to Italy, Poland and Spain, among other countries.
"Frankly, although I know the of names of the ambassadors who will be changed, I can't tell you until these procedures are confirmed by the president and the host country. It's a diplomatic rule," Kukan said, adding that he regularly discusses these issues with Schuster.
"The president doesn't want to change Slovak ambassadors in Europe a few weeks before the Helsinki EU summit [December 10-11]. I respect his opinion, because he has to sign such decisions. But we have agreed that we won't wait with Slovak embassies which are without ambassadors, and we'll name new appointees," Kukan said.
29. Nov 1999 at 0:00 | Daniel Domanovský