Leaders of the government coalition parties (l to r) - Rudolf Schuster (SOP), Mikuláš Dzurinda (SDK), Jozef Migaš (SDĽ) and Béla Bugár (SMK).
"[Premier-elect Mikuláš] Dzurinda says he is fighting for the citizens of this country, but he doesn't have to fight for me," said one old lady who refused to give her name. "I've never respected him. He looks like Hitler."
The elderly group had come to Parliament, they said, to support outgoing Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar, who entered and left the building rapidly after resigning his function. "He founded independent Slovakia, and for that he should be given the Presidency for life," said one man.
But neither Mečiar nor his aged supporters could steal the thunder of the new government, which is says it is ready to move ahead quickly with economic reforms, European integration and restructuring of state organs.
Pavol Hamžík, vice chairman of the smallest government party, the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), said that no time would now be wasted in moving Slovakia back towards western structures and alliances.
"Everything is going as we expected," he began. "The passions are gone, and the hard work lies ahead. This government is a milestone for Slovakia's foreign policy. We have a great team of people involved in foreign policy. We know what has to be done to catch the train towards EU integration, and we expect Slovakia to get into the first wave of countries to be accepted within a couple of months."
Ladislav Pittner, a deputy with the largest government party, the SDK, and the new Minister of the Interior, told The Slovak Spectator that the new government would also make haste to correct the mistakes of the former Mečiar administration, particularly with regard to state institutions. For Pittner, the most pressing task was restoring Slovakia's secret service officers and civil police forces to public control.
"We have to return the police and the intelligence service to a normal state," Pittner said, "which means ensuring their independence from political interests." Pittner also suggested that he had evidence that the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) had been involved in criminal activities in the past. "With respect to the SIS, all our complaints in the past have proven to be valid," he said without elaborating.
The SIS and its chief, Ivan Lexa, have long been accused by the opposition of involvement in high-profile cases like the 1995 kidnapping of the former President's son, Michal Kováč Jr.. Lexa, who was number 49 on the candidates list of Mečiar's HZDS party, failed to win a parliamentary seat, but on October 29, Mečiar himself gave up his seat to allow Lexa to enter Parliament and claim immunity from prosecution. "If Lexa is found responsible for assisting in or committing criminal acts, he can be deprived of his mandate and prosecuted," said Pittner simply.
The optimism and businesslike manner of the new government figures contrasted sharply with the mood of deputies from the HZDS, now in opposition. Ján Cuper, the party's legal expert, said that he had "mixed feelings" about the new Parliament, and warned that the new government had no interest in serving Slovak citizens.
"This government won't uphold the interests of the Slovak Republic, it will fight for the interests of those groups which got into Parliament. It's silly to expect that someone like [new Finance Minister Brigita] Schmögnerová will protect the interests of the Slovak Republic."
Cuper added the opinion that "this government will last a maximum of one or two years," and said that the HZDS would hasten the cabinet's fall by appealing the new coalition's procedure for drafting laws to the Constitutional Court. "This is a mine that coalition deputies will step on in the future," he said.
The 40 to 50 old men and women who came to support Mečiar were even more pessimistic about the new government, primarily because it would include representatives of the Hungarian SMK party. "Nothing worse could happen to Slovakia than having Hungarians in the government," said one old lady, interspersing her remarks with pungent vulgarities . "They will close Gabčíkovo [hydro dam] and Mochovce [nuclear plant] and everything and then we will be screwed."
2. Nov 1998 at 0:00 | Ivan Remiaš