1998: "I never hurt any of you" (the year in news)

January 20: Premier Vladimír Mečiar's spokesman, Jozef Krošlák, announces that the government office has received a warning from an unspecified Slovak diplomatic source abroad that Mečiar is to be assassinated before February 25. Krošlák says that the would-be assassins have already been paid 1 million Deutsche marks.
January 20: The ruling coalition, consisting of Mečiar's HZDS, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and the leftist Workers' Party (ZRS), votes against an opposition bill to have ousted parliamentary deputy František Gaulieder reinstated, defying a Constitutional Court ruling.

President Michal Kováč managed to stay afloat during five years of stormy political seas.
Peter Brenkus

January 20: Premier Vladimír Mečiar's spokesman, Jozef Krošlák, announces that the government office has received a warning from an unspecified Slovak diplomatic source abroad that Mečiar is to be assassinated before February 25. Krošlák says that the would-be assassins have already been paid 1 million Deutsche marks.

January 20: The ruling coalition, consisting of Mečiar's HZDS, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and the leftist Workers' Party (ZRS), votes against an opposition bill to have ousted parliamentary deputy František Gaulieder reinstated, defying a Constitutional Court ruling.

January 23-24: Eleven heads of central European states gather for an annual summit, this time in the northern Slovak town of Levoča . The summit is an important show of support for embattled Slovak President Michal Kováč, having been moved from its customary May-June date. Kováč is scheduled to leave office on March 2, and the Mečiar government shows no desire to elect a replacement. "I firmly believe that at next year's summit, Slovakia will be represented by a democratically elected president," says Czech president Václav Havel.

January 4: Police seize 12.9 tons of Colombian marijuana in the western Slovak town of Nitra. The haul is the largest in Slovak history, and has a street value of some $60 million.

February 2: A poll of voter opinion gives the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), a five-party opposition grouping, a 32.5% preference rating, while Mečiar's HZDS trails with 22.7% support.

February 3: Michal Kováč Jr., son of the sitting president, is arrested on a 1994 international warrant for fraud in the Czech Republic. Kováč is trying to get to Bavaria to answer fraud charges in a case involving the Slovak company Technopol, something he has been unable to do since the Slovak authorities confiscated his passport in 1996. He must now wait for the Czech authorities to extradite him.

February 4: President Michal Kováč delivers his annual state of the nation speech in parliament. For the fourth year running, it is boycotted by the government and all but eight coalition party MP's. "May people capable of mutual understanding and cooperation take over the administration of public affairs in our fatherland," pleads Kováč.

February 16: A new chief justice - Štefan Harabin - and a new deputy chief justice - Jozef Štefanko - are inaugurated to the Supreme Court. The nominations are opposed by all three of Slovakia's most important independent judicial bodies, which say that the government did not consult the changes with them as it is required to do by law.

February 20: President Kováč calls a re-run of a referendum on direct presidential elections and NATO membership for April 19. The move comes after a February 6 Constitutional Court verdict proving that the fundamental rights of Slovak citizens were violated by the Interior Ministry in May 1997. The Ministry had struck a crucial question from all ballots after being warned not to do so by the Constitutional Court.

March 2: Premier Mečiar arrives at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava to take over the powers of outgoing President Kováč. Mečiar inherits all but four of the Presidential powers. A crowd of several thousand people is on hand to bid Kováč farewell.

March 3: Premier Mečiar uses his newly-inherited powers to recall 28 of Slovakia's 42 ambassadors and to grant amnesty to those involved in the 1995 kidnapping of President Kováč's son and the Interior Ministry's marring of the May 1997 referendum. Cabinet also cancels the re-run of the referendum that Kováč called for April 19.

In a bizarre September 30 television address, Premier Mečiar bids voters farewell - with tears and a song.
Vladimír Hák-Profit

March 5: The political opposition calls a demonstration against the government's actions. Over 15,000 people listen to politicians denounce "culprits granting pardons to themselves." The demonstration coincides with the arrival of strongly worded criticisms of Mečiar's actions from the US State Department and the European Union.

March 5: Parliament again fails to elect a successor to President Kováč in the first ballot of the second round of voting. With his inherited presidential powers, Premier Mečiar can represent Slovakia abroad and grant amnesties, but no-one is empowered to sign laws into effect or appoint or recall ministers, putting Slovakia effectively in a state of constitutional crisis. The government, however, refuses to cooperate in electing a successor to Kováč.

March 5: Cabinet unveils a controversial proposal to amend the country's election law. The new bill would require all parties in political coalitions to score over 5% of the popular vote in order to secure representation in parliament. The measure takes aim at the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), which is polling 32% support, and the Hungarian Coalition, with around 10%.

March 14: Hockey legend Dušan Pašek commits suicide in his office. At 37, Pašek was chairman of the Slovak Ice-hockey Association, having enjoyed a long career with Bratislava's Slovan hockey club.

March 25:Over 30,000 people gather on Bratislava's SNP Square to promote a petition demanding a fair election law and direct presidential elections. Meeting on the 10th anniversary of a candle-light rally for religious freedoms - the first anti-regime demonstration in post-1968 communist Czechslovakia - the crowd cheered vigorous denunciations of the government by ex-President Kováč and leaders of the SDK opposition bloc.

March 31: The SDK coalition announces that it has elected a new leader - Mikuláš Dzurinda - and streamlined its decision-making process. The impetus for the move is the Mečiar government's new election law amendment, which would prevent three of the SDK's five member parties from entering parliament following September elections.

April 18: The three parties of the Hungarian Coalition vote to merge into a single party. Béla Bugár, leader of the MKDH faction, is the hottest candidate for leader of the new party.

April 19: 47% of eligible voters turn out in the southern Slovak town of Štúrovo to participate in a referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections. The plebiscite was called by Štúrovo city council in defiance of the Mečiar government, which had cancelled a nationwide vote on the same questions. In the days leading up to the referendum, the government mounted a concerted campaign to intimidate voters into staying home, including an appeal in the government daily Slovenská Republika for the army to be put on high alert and the police to be mobilised.

April 27: Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant in central Slovakia begins loading fuel rods at its first two reactors. Greenpeace demonstrators, many of them from nuclear-free Austria, chain themselves to the plant's entrance gate, delaying loading for about one hour.

May 1: Two international organisations which monitor press freedoms issue reports rating Slovakia as "partly free." While the government protests, a journalist is beaten up in eastern Slovakia on May 9, and another two reporters wake up on May 14 to find that hundreds of leaflets accusing them of being homosexual pedophiles have been distributed around the capital.

May 6: A poll shows that Mečiar's HZDS party has regained the lead in popularity (at 24.8%) over its opposition rival, the SDK (20.5%).

Leaders of the four former opposition parties celebrated the signing of a coalition agreement on October 29.

May 19: The banner of Mečiar's HZDS party is carried to the top of Mt. Everest by a team of Slovak climbers funded by the state. The leader of the expedition , Vladimír Ondruš, says that the climb is symbolic because "the leader of the HZDS will lead our country to the summit of prosperity." Mečiar himself writes a letter of congratulation to the team in which he says "my secret desires have been fulfilled to the last wish."

May 22: Participants at the Psychiatrists' Conference in Košice sign an open letter to Premier Mečiar, expressing concern over his mental health and asking him to leave politics for the good of the country. Doctors cite Mečiar's "compulsive urges to govern and manipulate others even at the cost of repressing their personal freedom."

May 25: The controversial amendment to the election law is passed by parliament. In addition to clauses designed to make it tougher for coalitions to contest elections, the law also prevents private media from carrying election ads or material promoting any particular party, leaving this task to government-controlled media.

May 28: A birbery scandal explodes around the opposition SDK party, implicating party officials in a plan to pay journalists to provide sympathetic coverage of the SDK. Jozef Paczelt, the leader of the party's campaign staff, resigns over the affair on June 5.

June 5: Players of the Sparta Prague soccer club are forced to wear jerseys bearing the emblem of Mečiar's HZDS party during a friendly match with the Slovak team Tatran Prešov. The order comes from Alexander Rezeš, HZDS campaign leader and majority owner or Sparta Praha.

June 8: The first reactor of the Mochovce nuclear plant is activated, bringing to a head a six-week dispute over the plant's safety. Austrian environmentalists and politicians say the facility is dangerous, but an international team of experts which examined Mochovce in early May refutes these claims.

June 12: Thousands of Hungarian children across the south of the country stay home to protest a proposed bill on minority education. The new bill would restrict the number of subjects that could be taught in Hungarian. Rastislav Šepták, a deputy for the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), which proposed the bill, calls the protesters "terrorists."

June 29: General Jozef Tuchyňa, Chief of the Slovak Army General Staff, quits his post to enter politics on the ticket of the SDĽ reformed communist party. But Tuchyňa cannot leave his post until he is released by the president, which Slovakia still does not have.

June 30: Thousands of Hungarian pupils hand back their year-end report cards in a massive protest against the government's moves to restrict the use of their mother tongue at schools.

July 9: Otto Tomeček, Premier Mečiar's candidate for president, falls four votes shy of being elected to the post in a parliamentary vote. Tomeček, the rector of Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, drew 86 votes as the presidential deadlock entered its fifth month.

July 14: Parliamentary deputies approve an amendment transfering key constitutional powers to the speaker of parliament and moving Slovakia back from the brink of constitutional crisis. The bill hands speaker Ivan Gašparovič three of the powers not assumed by Premier Mečiar when former president Kováč left office on March 2.

July 20: Floodwaters crash through the eastern Slovak village of Jarovnice, killing 42 Romany residents of a slum. By August 7, 48 victims of the flash flooding have been recovered as damages mount to over 2 billion Sk ($58 million).

August 7: The newly formed election commission bars two of 18 parties from contesting elections, citing mistakes in their candidates' lists. At the same time, the major opposition party, the SDK, is allowed to contest elections by a margin of one vote. The decision is appealed to the Supreme Court by the ruling HZDS party.

August 18: More than 20 armed men storm the headquarters of Slovakia's largest private TV station, TV Markíza. The reason turns out to be a court order issued the previous day removing the right of Markíza boss Pavol Rusko to act as the legal representative of the company. Having ignored a legal claim against him held by the unknown company Gamatex, Rusko is finally brought to earth when the court rules in favour of Gamatex.

42 Romanies in Jarovnice were killed by a flash flood on July 20, including 28 children.
Petra štubendeková

August 20: Marián Mikluš, the new Slovak Army Chief of Staff, is sworn in by parliamentary speaker Ivan Gašparovič. However, the outgoing army chief, Jozef Tuchyňa, says the new chief has been appointed illegally, and refuses to leave, telling soldiers instead not to obey Mikluš's orders.

August 24: The opposition daily paper Sme is fined 4.25 million Sk ($125,000) by a Bratislava court for libelling members of the ruling HZDS party.

August 26: The election campaign begins.

September 9: Another 5 ambassadors are appointed by the Mečiar cabinet, raising to 16 the number of ambassadors dispatched abroad since Mečiar assumed presidential powers on March 2.

September 10: Supermodel Claudia Schiffer arrives to help Premier Mečiar open a stretch of highway and impress voters with his star-drawing qualities. Schiffer is joined in the coming days by other actors and personalities, including French actor Gerard Depardieu, who appears with Mečiar at a Košice campaign rally on

September 15: Private TV Markíza is stormed by armed men for the second time in a month as a power struggle between Markíza General Director Pavol Rusko and the Gamatex firm continues. Gamatex claims that a court ruling from August 17 gives them title to the station, but Rusko refuses.
The Markíza 'invasion' prompts spontaneous demonstrations across the country, as thousands of people rally against what they interpret as political interference with private media. Opposition politicians make the most of this golden opportunity, appearing on Markíza programmes to "defend" the station.

September 23: The government-run station STV defies a warning from the country's official media watchdog and broadcasts an illegal pre-election address to voters from Ivan Gašparovič, a senior deputy with the ruling HZDS coalition. Slovak law places a moratorium on political broadcasts within 48 hours of elections.

September 25-26: The four parties of the former opposition win 93 out of a possible 150 seats in parliament, spelling the end of Mečiar's HZDS party's rule. Although the HZDS received the greatest share of votes, at 27%, the opposition parties vow to band together and prevent Mečiar from again holding power. 84.5% of citizens turn out to vote in the two day elections.

September 30: With tears in his eyes, Premier Mečiar bids goodbye to voters and to politics. In a televised address on STV, Mečiar blames an ungrateful electorate for his ouster. "I can't take my seat [in parliament] when you've taken everything from me," he scolds voters. Mečiar closes his bizarre appearance with a song, crooning to viewers, "I never hurt any of you."

October 7: The British government announces the introduction of a visa requirement for Slovaks travelling to Great Britain. Home Secretary Jack Straw explains that the measure is meant to stem the tide of Romany asylum seekers who have made their way to British shores.

October 7: Five more ambassadors, including Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplová, are accredited and sent abroad by Premier Mečiar, despite warnings by the opposition parties that the new appointees will be recalled when a new government is formed.

October 14:The HZDS party announces it is giving up efforts to form a government, leaving the way clear for the parties of the former opposition.

October 15: The Constitutional Court rules that the municipal election law muscled through parliament by the Mečiar government in July is invalid, meaning that municipal elections set for November 13 and 14 must be postponed until the law can be fixed.

October 27: Premier Mečiar recalls Ivan Lexa from the post of the head of the Slovak secret service, the SIS. Lexa is instead awarded Mečiar's parliamentary seat, which carries immunity from prosecution.

October 29: A coalition government agreement is signed between the four parties of the former opposition. The deal unites Hungarians with Slovaks and former communists with right-wing reformers in a patchwork government.

November 5-6: New Slovak Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda leads a diplomatic mission to Brussels, where he meets top EU and NATO officials. Dzurinda pleads that his government should be given a chance to move back into the group of front-runners for integration into both alliances, and is rewarded with the promise that a "special working group" be established with the European Commission to speed integration.

November 11: STV Director Igor Kubiš is recalled, and on November 17 replaced by Milan Materák, former programme director of Rádio Devin.

November 16: A law on direct presidential elections is presented to parliament by the cabinet. Direct elections are set to take place as early as March, 1999.

November 19: The new cabinet presents its government programme to parliament for debate. The main points of the programme are lowering social tensions, ridding the country of corruption and respecting the rule of law.

November 23: Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský votes against his own government's programme, leading to speculation that tension within the ruling SDK party may shake the unity of the government.

November 27: The Schools Ministry promises that pupils attending Hungarian schools will get bilingual report cards by the end of the school year.

December 3: The European Parliament in Brussels recommends that Slovakia become a front-runner for EU integration.

December 3: The campaign period for municipal elections kicks off. Elections are scheduled to take place

December 8: Premier Dzurinda revises the amnesties issued by his predecessor, Vladimír Mečiar, on March 3. Investigations will now proceed into the kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr. and the botched May 1997 referendum, the Premier says.

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