As Premier Vladimír Mečiar is changing his rhetoric on NATO, claiming that Slovaks would first have to approve the possible accession in a referendum, and while his coalition partner is organizing a "No to NATO" petition, public support for joining the Alliance is growing, an opinion poll published on May 5 revealed.
The poll, conducted by the independent Public Affairs Institute (IVO) among a representative sample of 918 respondents during the first two weeks of April, showed support for NATO membership at 58%, up from 51% in a similar IVO poll conducted last October. Opposition to NATO fell to 31% from 35% recorded six months before.
Support for NATO membership was strongest among those who would vote for the main opposition party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition, the poll revealed.
The Slovak government lists NATO membership as a top foreign policy priority, but recent weeks have cast a long shadow of doubt over its committment to joining the alliance.
Mečiar's coalition partner, the ultra-right Slovak National Party (SNS), last month launched a petition campaign calling for Slovakia's neutrality. Defense Minister and SNS Vice-Chairman Ján Sitek was among the first to ink his signature on the petition.
Mečiar himself said last month that he would not favor NATO membership without a prior referendum. "If we are invited [to NATO] there must be a referendum," Mečiar said at his party congress in Košice, adding that all countries should be allowed to join international security systems, but only with the support of a majority of the people.
Slovakia, once a member of the Warsaw Pact as part of communist Czechoslovakia, was the only country excluded last July from the first round of NATO enlargement because of failings in its political system. But the government rejected the criticism as misguided and based on a misinterpretation of events in Slovakia, and reiterated its unreserved commitment to NATO membership.