Although the two-day visit of NATO Secretary-General, Javier Solana, was supposed to have been a cordial affair, the government's March 3 decision to cancel a planned referendum on NATO accession and to extend amnesty to those involved in marring last year's NATO referendum left Solana with little option but to add his voice to a chorus of western criticism.
"I came here to say to this country that the decision on NATO membership will be made in Slovakia, and if there are any problems, these problems are not in Brussels but...in Bratislava," Solana said at a press conference on March 6. "The door to NATO will remain open but the requirements to be part of the alliance have to be complied with. All the member countries have to share the same basic criteria and the same values," he added.
Solana would not comment directly on Slovakia's current political crisis, but said domestic problems in general remained.
The two-day visit began with a two-hour meeting between Solana and Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. "[The meeting] was a dialogue between two mutually understanding politicians [about] Slovakia's fulfilment of NATO entry criteria, and also broadly about the European security structure," reported Ivan Gašparovič, Slovak Parliament's Speaker, who also took part in the talks.
But Miroslav Wlachovský, the Director of the Slovak Center for Foreign Policy, said Solana was unlikely to have been happy about the current state of affairs in Slovakia. "The fact that the referendum has been cancelled will not have affected him greatly," he said. "He knows that was more about the President than about NATO. But he is probably quite concerned about the state of the Slovak army."
As Wlachovský explained, a February 17 bill passed by the government on social welfare for the army raised the retirement age for soldiers to 55. Of the 2,267 soldiers previously eligible for retirement this year, only 252 would now be allowed to leave, prompting the army's Chief of Staff, General Jozef Tuchyňa, to resign effective July 1, 1998.
"I received tens of applications yesterday from soldiers who want to be discharged, and who want to leave before this new law comes into effect" said Tuchyňa on February 19, in explanation of his decision to leave. "If the present situation continues, then from the point of view of its leadership structure the army will be unfit for combat by April 1 of this year."
"This bill created big divisions in the army," Wlachovský said, "and that will have a big impact on NATO officials. But things like the cancelled referendum are difficult for Solana and foreign visitors to understand."