FORMER prime minister Vladimír Mečiar continued on a low-profile tour of the United States last week that included meetings with some Senate and Congress officials, but no high-level US government audiences.
Mečiar has recently been singled out in warnings by Western diplomats that Slovakia has no chance of being invited to join Nato if he and his HZDS party return to power in September elections. In 1997, Slovakia was dropped from Nato's first post-Cold War expansion round over concerns about his heavy-handed rule.
In an interview with the TA3 television channel on his arrival at Newark Airport on March 15, Mečiar said he had come to the US to try and bridge the gulf between himself and the US government.
"There have been lots of reservations and doubts but no direct contacts. We wanted to take our message directly to America. Go-betweens haven't worked in the past," he said.
However, by the time The Slovak Spectator went to press, no member of the US government had met with Mečiar. A spokesman with the US embassy in Bratislava said: "We took no active part in arranging his visit, but neither were we contacted." The spokesman would not comment on the state department's view of the trip.
According to Mečiar's Slovak opposition HZDS party, which on March 19 revealed the first details of the visit, Mečiar the day before had met "a team of experts" from the International Relations Committee of the Congress, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Sub-Committee for European Affairs of the House of Representatives.
Later in the day Mečiar held talks with the head of the Senate Committee for the Armed Services, Senator Ben Nelson.
The Sme daily paper reported that Mečiar also met the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives of the US Congress, Henry J. Hyde, on March 19. Hyde, the paper said, had told Mečiar that he personally represented a barrier to Slovakia's Nato entry.
The paper quoted a Hyde spokesman as saying the congressman had met the former leader at the urging of his Illinois constituents, many of whom have Slovak roots.
Mečiar had received an official invitation to speak at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles on March 25. The Council's web site is offering tickets for Mečiar's lunch-time address at $35, while a speech by Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman on April 3 costs $45.
On Saturday, the day after his arrival in Washington, Mečiar had dinner with leading members of the Slovak-American community including Ľudovít Pavlo, head of the Slovak League of America, and the Vice-President of the World Congress of Slovaks, Stefanie Siegel.
Paul Rusnak, head of the World Congress of Slovaks, when asked if he had met Mečiar said: "No, and I don't intend to. His past record speaks for itself. The majority of Slovak-born Americans, although giving him credit for Slovakia becoming independent, did not approve of the direction he originally took in aligning himself with Russia, rather than the West, thus creating a 20 year set-back for the country in its first decade."
Another Slovak opposition leader, Smer party head Robert Fico, was also in the US meeting Senate and state department officials, said Smer spokesman Marek Maďarič, adding that it was "pure coincidence" the country's two most popular politicians had decided to visit the US at the same time.
25. Mar 2002 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson