2001: Old ghosts, new friends and constitutional reform

Again a year of contrasts, 2001 saw Slovakia make strong headway in European Union and Nato integration, and yet struggle with racial violence from fringe elements and police ranks. A squabble over introducing yoga to Slovak schools may have been the nadir, while getting agreement on Constitutional reform and regional elections will be remembered as major successes for the Mikuláš Dzurinda government. But as the year ended, fears over a comeback in 2002 by former PM Vladimír Mečiar remained.
January 1: President Rudolf Schuster criticises the government in his New Year's address to parliament, attacking the coalition for internal bickering and slowing the pace of key reforms.

The authors of Constitutional reform are all smiles as the amendment passes February 23.
photo: TASR

Again a year of contrasts, 2001 saw Slovakia make strong headway in European Union and Nato integration, and yet struggle with racial violence from fringe elements and police ranks. A squabble over introducing yoga to Slovak schools may have been the nadir, while getting agreement on Constitutional reform and regional elections will be remembered as major successes for the Mikuláš Dzurinda government. But as the year ended, fears over a comeback in 2002 by former PM Vladimír Mečiar remained.

January 1: President Rudolf Schuster criticises the government in his New Year's address to parliament, attacking the coalition for internal bickering and slowing the pace of key reforms.

January 3: Jozef Stank, the Slovak Ambassador to the Czech Republic, is appointed Defence Minister. He replaces Pavol Kanis, who resigned December 16, 2000 after failing to explain how he had financed the construction of his luxury villa in Bratislava.

January 5: On appeal, charges are dropped against Slovak National Party (SNS) Member of Parliament, Víťazoslav Moric, for inciting national and racial hatred. Moric was charged in October 2000 after calling for Roma to be put on reservations and saying that when it came to crime "it is necessary to punish the gypsies severely, extremely severely".

January 12: The Foreign Ministry denies knowledge of illegal arms salesafter the French newspaper Liberation names the Slovak arms firm ZTS OSOS in an international scandal surrounding supplies of weapons to Angola. According to French investigators, who are studying the role played in the case by French citizens Pierre Falcone and Jean-Christophe Mitterand, son of the former French president, over $633 million worth of former Czechoslovak weapons were sold to Angola, Congo and Cameroon from 1993 to 1994 by Russian national Arcadi Gaydamak, who claimed to own OSOS.

January 22: The Agriculture Ministry announces plans to set up a crisis centre overseeing Slovakia's efforts to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or 'mad cow disease') from entering the country. No BSE cases have yet appeared in Slovakia.

January 23: State-run Slovenská Televízia (Slovak Television, STV) announces that 350 of 2,500 employees will be fired. The station is over Sk700 million ($17.5 million) in debt.

February 6: Approximately 2,000 trade unionists block traffic in Bratislava to protest the failure of the Slovak government to meet its 'general agreement' with labour, in particular commitments to reduce unemployment (then over 18%) and increase real wages.

February 6: Pavol Rusko, Slovakia's most powerful media figure and owner of the private station Markíza TV, launches his Ano party. He promises not to use his popular station to boost Ano's fortunes. "I pledge on my honour that no manipulation through Markíza in favour of my party will ever take place," he says.

February 7: The Supreme Court confirms mob boss Mikuláš Černák's 8.5-year prison sentence for extortion, but returns guilty verdicts for murder and kidnapping to a lower court in Banská Bystrica after witness Alexander H. twice changes his testimony during the appeal. Černák is later acquitted of murder.

February 9: The criminal prosecution of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar for paying out illegal bonuses to ministers from 1994 to 1998 is halted. Mečiar cannot be charged individually because his cabinet as a collective body paid out the bonuses, totalling Sk13,815,625 ($293,000).

February 17: An armed attacker in central Slovakia's Martin opens fire in a local disco, leaving three injured and one dead.

February 19: An anonymous donor sends 50,000 Deutsche marks and 15,000 Swiss francs (totalling $32,000) to Finance Minster Brigita Schmögnerová with a letter asking her to donate the money to Slovak child health care facilities.

February 22: Slovakia bans imports of British livestock and animal products in an effort to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

February 23: A series of major amendments to the Constitution are approved after the longest parliamentary debate in Slovak history, with speeches stretching 105 hours over three weeks. The reforms are vital to Slovakia's western integration ambitions, and establish an independent Judicial Council, strengthen the powers of the Supreme Control Office and the Constitutional Court, pave the way for public administration reform, and bring Slovak legislative principles into line with those in the EU.

February 23: Ján Korec, the director of Slovakia's Nuclear Energy Research Institute, is murdered in the garden of his home in the western Slovak spa town Piešťany. "This murder was related to the nuclear lobby," says Alexander Duleba, an analyst specialising in Slovak-Russian relations with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association in Prešov. "There are plans from the Russian side to be involved with the Slovak nuclear sector, and these plans could bring in as much as $2 billion to Slovakia. So this is good motivation to be involved in this lucrative state business."

March 1: A gang of 20 men demolish the interiors of four Bratislava bars, leaving eight injured. At Regina Café in Bratislava's Old Town district, the men drag two Albanians outside and shoot them in the legs. Police fear an outbreak of underworld violence in the capital between rival Slovak and Albanian gangs.

March 1: The Košice Roma Office accuses local police of brutality during January raids on the village of Hermanovce. Among the accusations, it is alleged that Frederik Kaleja, a Roma suspected of theft, was forced to perform oral sex on a male officer.

March 2: The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) threatens to leave the government after its suggestions for the reform of Slovakia's public administration system are ignored. The conflict stems from the proposed creation of a 'Komárno Region' in southern Slovakia. The SMK wants the region to comprise the most populous Hungarian districts, thus giving Hungarians a majority in the region; Slovak parties say this would be tantamount to dividing Slovakia along ethnic lines.

March 4: Slovak actress Anna Šišková wins the Lion award, the Czech version of the Oscars, for best leading actress in the film Musíme si pomáhať (Divided we Fall). When awarded the Lion, Šišková says she is honoured that a Slovak won, to which emcee Jaroslav Dušek quips: "I'm sure the Czech actors are pleased as well".

March 13: During the first official dialogue ever between Slovak members of parliament and gay rights leaders, Slovakia's homosexual community says that Slovak gays and lesbians need legislation to protect their human rights. The meeting comes after MPs refuse to include laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in constitutional reform.

March 14: Two hundred demonstrators on a 'March for Tolerance' clash with 75 skinheads in Bratislava on the 62nd anniversary of the first Slovak state. While skinheads honour Jozef Tiso, the president of Slovakia's World War II Nazi puppet regime, in front of the Presidential Palace, anti-fascist marchers stand in the street chanting "Never again a Fascist state".

March 14: The Slovak Veterinary Authority bans imports, exports and transfers of livestock, sperm, embryos, meat, and meat products to and from all countries hit by foot-and-mouth disease. Movement between farms is prohibited, and zoos are closed.

March 20: Eva Csiszárová, a 38-year-old Roma woman from Košice, says that a group of 15 skinheads beat her and her 10-year-old daughter Ivana, doused them in gasoline and tried to set them aflame. The skinheads allegedly left after they were unable to find matches. Ľubomír Kopčo, head of a Košice district police department, says: "In my opinion, she made it up. The Košice Roma think that everyone whose hair is shorter than five centimetres is a skinhead."

March 20: President Schuster refuses to sign an amendment to the Law on Fines for Air Pollution. The new law would bring Slovakia's legislation into line with EU emissions norms, but could cost 4,000 coal miners their jobs.

March 26: During a ceremony in Poprad commemorating the first deportation of Jewish women and girls from Slovakia to Nazi concentration camps, an unknown culprit throws an explosive device near the gathering of 100 people. No injuries are reported. The first transport of Jewish women from Slovakia left the Poprad railway station March 25, 1942. Of an estimated 1,000 women deported that day, 20 are believed to have survived.

March 28: A trial in the murder of Anastázia Balážová, a Roma mother of eight who was killed in her home in Žilina on August 20, 2000 trying to defend her sleeping children from an attack by intruders, begins in Banská Bystrica. One of the accused, 26-year-old soldier Peter B., confesses to the murder, saying: "It was a stupid attack, I don't know how we got the idea to do it."

March 28: A suit brought by representatives of Slovak Jewish Holocaust survivors against the German government is thrown out by a Berlin district court because the organisation does not have "the right to represent" Slovak Holocaust survivors. The legal action stems from the 500 German marks in 'deportation fees' the Slovak government paid to Germany for each of the 58,000 Slovak Jews deported during the Holocaust.

March 28: Tomáš Bugár, a 17-year-old skinhead, is found guilty of committing a racially-motivated crime, but is given no sentence. Presiding judge Ladislav Piros explains his decision by saying: "Bugár did not look like a skinhead. He had grown his hair out."

March 30: Peter Bandur is sentenced to seven years in prison for the murder of Roma Anastázia Balážová. Three other men involved in the attack await trial.

April 2: Paul Oglesby, the US embassy spokesman, denies that the US has offered asylum to former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. In an interview with Playboy magazine the month before, Mečiar had claimed the offer had been made, although he said he could not remember by whom.

Government official Roland Tóth faced hard questions after allegations surfaced of EU funds abuse in April.
photo: TASR

April 6: The European Commission freezes funding for new development projects in Slovakia based on suspicions that over 330 million euro in funding since 1998 was not distributed fairly. Roland Tóth, 28, a Slovak Government Office employee who played a lead role in development project funding from the EU, is suspected of corruption.

April 9: The Slovak Veterinary Authority (ŠVS) loosens guards against the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Disinfectant mats are rolled up at border crossings and restrictions on the movement of people between farms are partially lifted, allowing animals to be moved within Slovakia.

April 10: The ŠVS announces that it is loosening its beef import ban, but that it still applies to Great Britain, Ireland, France and Holland.

April 17: Anna Malíková, the head of the opposition Slovak National Party, marries Russian businessman Alexander Belousov in the Russian city Ivanovo. The relationship causes a stir in Slovak media when it is discovered that Belousov had in the past been charged with fraud in Russia. The charges were later dropped.

April 19: Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš joins Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's non-parliamentary SDKÚ party, ending months of speculation on the popular economist's political future.

April 24: The NGO Professional Women calls for the introduction of a quota setting the minimum representation of women in parliament at 30%. Only 19 of 150 Slovak MPs (12.7%) are women.

April 27: The EC cancels sanctions against Slovakia for the alleged misuse of EU funding, but sends a team to investigate the situation.

May 4: Pavol Hamžík, Deputy Prime Minister for Integration, is fired over the possible misuse of the EU funds.

May 9: Vincent Danihel, the Cabinet Plenipotentiary for Solving Roma Issues, is recalled for his passivity, lack of support among the Roma minority, and inability to communicate with the Council of Europe and the EC.

May 14: Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner resigns. Calling himself a "thorn in the eye" of his ruling coalition colleagues, Pittner says he was a barrier to stable government. Some of his colleagues say Pittner talked too much, and failed to deliver on promised jailings of suspected former privatisers.

May 15: A new Waste Law is passed in an unprecedented show of parliamentary unity when 115 out of 119 present MPs vote in favour of the bill. It makes Slovak waste legislation "88% identical with EU standards".

May 17: Slovakia closes four 'chapters' of the EU's acquis communautaire - a document laying out the legislative changes prospective members must make in 29 areas - giving the country 16 closed chapters. Slovakia is now ahead of the Czechs (15) and Poles (15), but behind Hungary (18) in chapters closed, and has thus caught up to the front-runners for EU entry who began negotiating well before Bratislava.

May 25: President Schuster delivers his state-of-the-nation speech. He is again critical of the government and complains that Prime Minister Dzurinda often ignores him. In response, Nový Čas reporter Aleš Krátky writes an editorial calling Schuster incapable of leading a country, and saying that the president's speech "was from a puffed-up egomaniac who last experienced real life during his early childhood, and who now smiles at thunderstorms under the illusion he is being photographed". The President's Office promptly sues the journalist for disparaging the president under an old law forbidding public defamation of top state officials. If found guilty, Krátky faces two years in prison.

May 28: A team of American law enforcement experts begins 'sensitivity' training with Slovak police.

June 8: Slovakia bans the import and transit of cattle, beef, and beef embryo products from the Czech Republic after officials in Prague confirm the first case of foot-and-mouth disease outside western Europe.

June 9: Some 800 anti-globalism protesters block traffic in downtown Bratislava. More than 100 police officers with tear gas are needed to restore order.

June 13: Klára Orgovánová, the director of the InfoRoma NGO, is selected as the new Cabinet Plenipotentiary for Solving Roma Issues.

June 15: President Schuster's motorcade of six cars is involved in an accident while the president travels to the western Slovak town Modra. Eight people are injured. The president's car avoids the pile-up, but the driver of a Škoda Felicia is hospitalised with serious injuries.

June 18: Seven Indian illegal migrants drown when a rope they are using to cross the Morava River into the Czech Republic snaps.

June 30: The prosecution of former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) boss Ivan Lexa, on charges of orchestrating the 1995 kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr. to Austria, is suspended because of the March 1998 amnesty granted by then-PM Mečiar to anyone ever found to have been involved in the case.

July 3: The farm Agro Coop slaughters its entire herd of 612 pigs in western Slovakia's Klátova Nová Ves after reporting an outbreak of swine fever, a highly infectious pig disease transmitted by direct contact.

July 4: Parliament votes to create eight new self-governing regions in passing the Law on Higher Territorial Units. The governmental Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) is displeased that its call for 12 regions was defeated by an alliance of ethnic Slovak government and opposition parties.

July 5: A proposal to introduce yoga as an optional course in Slovak elementary schools is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. Priests deliver Sunday sermons nationwide opposing yoga. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) adds its disapproval, calling yoga "an attempt to eliminate Christianity in Slovakia".

The death of Karol Sendrei, a Roma from eastern Slovakia's Magnetizovce, after spending a night in police custody, resulted in torture charges against seven officers.
photo: TASR

July 6: Roma Karol Sendrei, 50, is found dead after spending the night in police custody in the eastern Slovak town of Revúca. According to police admissions, Sendrei was beaten and then chained to a steel bar for 12 hours at a local police station.

July 6: Three men suspected of links to the Real IRA, a terrorist splinter group from the IRA, are arrested in the western Slovak city Piešťany. The three are identified as Michael McDonald, Vincent O'Farrell and Declan Rafferty. They allegedly claim to have worked directly with Osama bin Laden's European finance director.

July 9: Daniela Hantuchová, 19, becomes the first Slovak ever to win a major tennis title when she and Czech team mate Leoš Friedl win the mixed doubles championship at Wimbledon.

July 25: President Schuster is hospitalised in Brazil suffering from dehydration while on holiday in the Amazon rainforest.

Late July: More than 100 municipalities in eastern and northern Slovakia are struck by serious flooding.

August 3: Rybárská brána (Fisherman's Gate), one of four original Bratislava town gates dating from the 14th-15th centuries, is unearthed during reconstruction of Hviezdoslavovo námestie (Hviezdoslav Square) in the Old Town district.

August 10: Milan Daniel, an 18-year-old Roma in the western town Holíč, is severely beaten by three men with baseball bats. He is hospitalised in Bratislava with serious head injuries.

August 18: Over 200 skinheads commemorate the anniversary of the death of Jaroslav Bahna, a white Slovak who was killed by a local Roma in 1997, at a cemetery in the central Slovak town Prievidza.

August 25: The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) issues an ultimatum to the Slovak government: pass a law in parliament ceding central state powers to newly created regional units by September 30, or lose the SMK as a coalition partner.

The SMK later decides to stay after the government hastily pushes the required measures through.

August 31: A state visit to Yugoslavia by four senior Slovak cabinet members ends in disaster after a serious car accident involving the Slovak mission leaves three dead and eleven injured. Among those killed are Peter Jonáši, director of the export section at the Slovak Economy Ministry.

September 8: Ladislav Fízik, the chairman of the Slovak Roma Parliament, is recalled from his post after failing to deliver a list of Roma candidates for regional elections within the set time limit.

September 10: Blažena Martinková, erstwhile advisor to former PM Mečiar, commits suicide in a Vienna hospital. Martinková had been interned at the hospital following her October 2000 murder attempt on her nine-year-old son.

September 11: Slovakia reacts with sympathy and words of solidarity after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon kill thousands in the US. The country later opens Slovak airspace to Nato over-flights for any counter-measures deemed necessary.

September 13-14: Over 2,000 Slovaks sign a book expressing their condolences for the US terrorist attacks at the Foreign Ministry in Bratislava. In front of the US embassy, locals erect a monument with wooden crosses and flowers.

Czech media baron Vladimír Železný enters the Slovak market in the autumn, but later spends a night in jail on fraud charges.
photo: TASR

September 16: Czech media baron Vladimír Železný purchases a 70% stake in Slovak Mac TV. Pavol Rusko, owner of Slovakia's most popular station TV Markíza, derides his potential competitor station as a "trash can for the unsuccessful programmes" of Czech TV Nova, a Železný-owned station in the neighbouring Czech Republic.

September 21: Bratislava's first attempt at alternative public transportis declared a failure one week after its launch. The Biely Bicykel (White Bike) initiative was to provide the Old Town district with free public bicycles, but one week after the launch all bikes are missing or destroyed.

September 29: A shipment of 504 anti-tank missiles is seized at Bratislava airport during an apparent attempt to transport the arms from Iran to Angola.

September 29: Police stop an illegal neo-Nazi concert near western Slovakia's Považská Bystrica, attended by 500 skinheads from across Europe and the US; 89 skinheads are arrested.

September 30: Six Roma youths are beaten by skinheads after police break up a neo-Nazi concert in central Slovakia's Prievidza. Three men are arrested, including Miroslav B, 25, who tells police: "I am a skinhead and I hate gypsies."

October 4: Slovakia's first case of foot-and-mouth disease is confirmed in the village of Dolná Ždaňa in central Slovakia.

October 9: Independent media monitor Memo 98 says Markíza TV is biased towards the Ano political party, headed by station owner Pavol Rusko.

October 11: Seven policemen are charged with torture in the death of Roma Karol Sendrei. If convicted, the police face 8 to 15 years in prison.

October 11: Mikuláš P., the man found guilty of the Bratislava Irish Pub double shooting murder in 1999, is acquitted on appeal by the Supreme Court.

October 16: An anthrax scare closes government offices after PM Dzurinda receives a suspicious package. Several other cases are reported across the country, including one at the Piešťany post office where two envelopes are discovered to contain an unidentified white powder. Twenty-four people are sent to a special isolation ward in Trnava hospital, but none test positive for the disease.

October 17: A UN report identifies Slovak Peter Jusko, and his arms trading firms Joy Slovakia and Pecos, Guinea, as part of an international arms trading group that has defied a UN embargo on military shipments to Liberia. He allegedly supplied false end-user certificates to a gang of international arms dealers.

October 24: PM Dzurinda's three year programme against corruption culminates in a four-page manual appealing to bureaucrats not to take bribes. Emília Sičáková, head of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Slovakia, says her organisation at first thought the manual was "a joke".

October 25: The European Parliament freezes 15 million euros in funding to Slovakia for 2002, apparently to send a message to Slovak authorities to act more quickly to resolve a spring scandal involving possible misuse of EU funds.

October 25: The US embassy in Bratislava is partially evacuated after receiving a "suspicious package" in the mail. It is later determined that the package, sent from the US, contained only a book: Facts About the 20th Century, by George Ochoa and Melinda Corey.

October 29: The surgeon who allegedly botched an operation and nearly killed President Schuster in the summer of 2000 is charged with causing bodily harm.

November 5: Nato Secretary General George Robertson advises Slovak voters to cast their votes in September 2002 general elections "with eyes wide open", noting that the elections fall just one month before 19 Nato member nations decide the fate of nine applicant countries, including Slovakia.

November 13: The EC issues its annual reports on candidate countries, noting that corruption is "widespread" in Slovakia and that the government must take further steps to root it out, but otherwise casting Slovakia's progress towards entry in a positive light.

November 13-14: Vladimír Železný, the Czech media owner who recently entered the Slovak market, is jailed overnight after being questioned by police over 900 million Czech crowns he is suspected of defrauding from the creditors of his CME company

November 16: Three out of seven policemen charged with causing death through torture to Roma Karol Sendrei are released from custody.

November 17: Agriculture Minister Pavel Koncoš is elected leader of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) on the 12th anniversary of the fall of communism.

November 21: Police begin investigating Peter Jusko's alleged illegal arms trading; although Jusko is reported jailed December 6, he is released a week later.

December 1: Elections are held in eight new regions, giving a large margin of victory to candidates supported by the HZDS opposition party. Only 26% of voters participate. Many complain that they had little information on the candidates.

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