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Hunger strike still on, say Mečiar colleagues

It's been almost two weeks since former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar announced that he would go on hunger strike if asked to testify in a trio of criminal cases which have come before the Slovak parliament. Though he has been silent on the matter since, his aides say his desire to starve for justice shows no sign of abating.
HZDS Vice-Chairman for International Relations and Media Policy Rudolf Žiak confirmed that the strike was still on the agenda, though he added he didn't yet know how many other party members would join Mečiar in his fast. "There is no official consensus about it for now," he told The Slovak Spectator September 21.

It's been almost two weeks since former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar announced that he would go on hunger strike if asked to testify in a trio of criminal cases which have come before the Slovak parliament. Though he has been silent on the matter since, his aides say his desire to starve for justice shows no sign of abating.

HZDS Vice-Chairman for International Relations and Media Policy Rudolf Žiak confirmed that the strike was still on the agenda, though he added he didn't yet know how many other party members would join Mečiar in his fast. "There is no official consensus about it for now," he told The Slovak Spectator September 21.

News of the hunger strike was first announced September 14, when HZDS speaker Marián Kardoš said Mečiar would stop eating under the guidance of a doctor if a state prosecutor forced him to testify on three alleged criminal acts; the 1995 kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr., the Slovak Intelligence Service's more general effort to discredit then-President Michal Kováč, and the illegal sale of a religious painting by the Banská Bystrica Bishop's office, an affair which is alleged to have been cooked up by the SIS to discredit the Catholic Church.

Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said last week that he intended the questioning of Mečiar as a witness and possible participant in the crimes to go ahead. He was backed by members of the government coalition.

It is now up to the current chief of the SIS, Vladimír Mitro, to decide if the questioning will take place. Having received an official request from the Interior Ministry on September 22, Mitro is expected to make a decision in late September.

"I suppose within two or three weeks we will receive an answer," said Jaroslav Ivor, the Interior Ministry's Chief Prosecutor.

Mečiar, on the other hand, has said that as a former Prime Minister and Chairman of the National Defence Council, he cannot be questioned on these topics.

In recent weeks, Mečiar has called for "public disobedience" among his supporters to protest the economic cutbacks and other steps being taken by the current government, as well as to bring about early elections. The hunger strike, many observers feel, will be the first signal for citizens to begin their protests.

"It's possible that HZDS supporters will see Mečiar's questioning as an infringement of his human rights, and they will support his [hunger strike] step also with some public actions," Žiak said.

According to an opinion poll presented by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) on September 21, almost 58% of the population is against public disobedience as a method of expressing dissatisfaction with the government, while 32.4% support taking such steps. Nevertheless, general discontent with the government remains high. According to the results of another recent poll, this one by the Polis Slovakia agency, fully 82% of the Slovak public is either "very disappointed" or "somewhat disappointed" with the current government.

Though Mečiar has generally avoided the media spotlight since emerging as a last-minute candidate in May 1999 presidential elections, he is slowly gathering momentum to return to the political scene in greater force, Žiak said. However, the HZDS chairman remains very selective about to whom he speaks.

"Now he meets media almost every day, but of course, he must choose among a high number of requests for interviews," Žiak said.

Mečiar, he added, is now very busy with the HZDS's internal problems as it attempts to transform from the amorphous and changeable "movement" it has been since its 1991 founding into a standard political party with a set ideological platform. In addition, he said, a new name for the party is being considered.

"There are proposals (for the new name), but I can't mention them now. It should be decided at the HZDS meeting at the end of this year," he said.

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