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Tragedy sparks political sniping

While the residents of Prešov and Košice regions were beginning to repair their flood-damaged homes and lives, many Slovak politicians were using the disaster to score pre-election points. A media skirmish was fought over how much each party was donating to victims, while dozens of politicos turned up on site to express sympathy and lend a hand.
The first Slovak politician to visit the stricken area was Mikuláš Dzurinda, the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) leader. Accompanied by a few party colleagues, Dzurinda arrived on July 22, bringing food, medical supplies and clothing for the survivors. After his visit, Dzurinda appealed through the media to the SDK election campaign committee in Prešov region to interrupt its campaign activities and provide vehicles and technical equipment for the rescuers operating in the stricken areas. Hard on Dzurinda's heels was Jozef Migaš, chairman of reformed communist SDĽ party.

While the residents of Prešov and Košice regions were beginning to repair their flood-damaged homes and lives, many Slovak politicians were using the disaster to score pre-election points. A media skirmish was fought over how much each party was donating to victims, while dozens of politicos turned up on site to express sympathy and lend a hand.

The first Slovak politician to visit the stricken area was Mikuláš Dzurinda, the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) leader. Accompanied by a few party colleagues, Dzurinda arrived on July 22, bringing food, medical supplies and clothing for the survivors. After his visit, Dzurinda appealed through the media to the SDK election campaign committee in Prešov region to interrupt its campaign activities and provide vehicles and technical equipment for the rescuers operating in the stricken areas. Hard on Dzurinda's heels was Jozef Migaš, chairman of reformed communist SDĽ party.

Meanwhile, TV Markíza and Radio Twist, major independent media stations in Slovakia whose coverage favors the opposition, ran news pieces on July 22 that sharply criticized Mečiar's cabinet for not responding adequately to the crisis. Brigita Schmognerová, an SDĽ deputy, told the press she was surprised that Premier Mečiar had not interrupted his government session and had not toured the afflicted area. "It clearly expresses the HZDS priorities," Schmognerová said, referring to the fact that Mečiar's HZDS party had provided only 100, 000 Slovak crowns (US$ 2900) to the victims.

The government struck back in a July 23 official statement. Government spokesman Milan Kardoš blasted the media for taking a "biased and grossly distorted approach" to the government's handling of the aftermath of the floods. Kardoš deplored both Schmognerová for criticizing Mečiar and the media for providing her space to do so.

On July 24, Mečiar said in his regular interview on Slovak Radio (SRo) that "we are aware of our responsibilities and know our commitments towards citizens, and for four years' time we have demonstrated it." He accused opposition politicians of making an ostentatious display of helping the flood victims, and of abusing the disaster for political aims. "Let the showmen and those who took pictures of themselves at the disaster continue doing so. We would be ashamed," Mečiar said.

But from August 5 to 7, the Premier himself visited the site of relief operations, and was photographed first embracing a weeping 90 year-old resident of Jarovnice village, and the next day with his arm around an octogenarian.

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