On May 23 - 24, Slovak citizens were asked to participate in a referendum to decide whether they think the country should join NATO and whether or not they agree that the Slovak president should be elected directly by the people. The Slovak Spectator's Daniel Borský and Daniel J. Stoll asked a leading member from each political party represented in parliament how they would answer the four questions put to the public and why. The questions on the referendum ballot are:
Question 1: Are you in favor of Slovakia joining NATO?
Question 2: Are you in favor of nuclear weapons being placed on Slovak territory?
Question 3: Are you in favor of military bases being placed on Slovak territory?
Question 4: Do you agree that the Slovak president should be directly elected?
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)
Questions 1 & 4: "There are in fact two referenda. One was agreed upon by parliament concerning foreign policy. It has nothing to do with the Constitutional Court. On the other hand, there is a new question which concerns the election of the president directly. It is a political question and it wasn't decided by parliament. And there is a question in front of the Constitutional Court whether or not a question on a referendum can change the constitution or not.
However, nobody from the HZDS, from the government, is afraid of direct presidential elections. In any case, I can be a prophet for a penny - there is no way the current president could ever be elected. The opposition also wants to make the impression that they are the only ones in favor of joining NATO. The HZDS's highest political body said that all party members should answer yes to NATO.
The answer why is clear. We wanted to show Western politicians that Slovak citizens want to join NATO. We know already that it is of course not a sufficient sign for them and that it depends on them. We are so often offended by reports that Slovakia wants to become unified politically and militarily with Russia. A 'Yes' answer to joining NATO should show that we are similarly aligned as our neighbors.
2 & 3: "No, and no, because there are countries in Europe such as Norway and Denmark that have decided to say 'No' to military bases and nuclear weapons on their territory. Therefore we think that since we are so beautiful a country that we don't want to be destroyed. Because as you know there is a notion in Russia that those countries that become members of an expanded NATO and who place nuclear weapons on their soil will become targets of Russian missiles. We don't want to be targets."
Slovak National Party (SNS)
Question 1: "Definitely not! SNS does not think that Slovakia is in danger from any side or from anyone. We are convinced that after the Warsaw Pact ended, NATO's existence is worthless and should be cancelled soon. I don't know what would be solved by entering NATO. Who is this organization really against?
I would really like to find that out. We don't have any interest in Zaire, Somalia, India, or anywhere else and for that reason it makes no sense for our boys to fight under the command of the USA or Great Britain in these countries. America might have such an interest, but we don'tÉ So I don't see a reason for our guys to die for some fat jerk in America or England. I personally think that if there is to be some kind of a defense organization, or a group of countries that will speak about security matters in Europe, it should be strictly European, and I do not think that the USA is a part of Europe. It is thousands of miles away and I don't see any reason for America to play the first and main violin in this organization's orchestra."
2 & 3: "It is an absolute no for us. I can't even imagine a citizen of this country answering yes to these two questions. SNS also wanted a fourth question - a question of neutrality. If we could have decided about what should have been asked in the referendum, it would be just one question: "Do you want Slovakia to be a neutral country, Yes or No ?" I think this is the best question for a referendum for this nation and for SNS too."
4: "I am convinced that the constitution should not be changed by a referendum, and if the Constitutional Court agrees with this kind of a change, SNS will immediately initiate a referendum on capital punishment."
Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS)
Question 1: "Yes, because I think that Slovakia today doesn't have a choice for neutrality. The price to rearm will be much cheaper if we join NATO compared to if we had to pay for everything ourselves. NATO rearmament for everyone is much more cost efficient. Therefore I think that it is advantageous for us to join NATO so that we have someone to turn to if we are in danger."
"My stance is different than my party's, which recommended answering 'No,' because we never were clearly against NATO in our party program. We have always said that there should be a referendum about this matter. Party leaders decided to take a negative stance toward NATO despite the fact that a referendum will indeed take place."
2 & 3: "I am decisively against both building military bases or deployment of nuclear missiles onto our territory. We are too small a country to waste money on creating new military bases. I believe both bases and missiles could be abused. However NATO has declared that neither nuclear weapons or military bases will be deployed on new member states territory. That's why these two questions are totally unneeded and confusing."
4: "As far as direct presidential elections are concerned, I am in favor of it. But this change in the constitution should be achieved through normal legal procedures. Since presidential elections are a constitutional matter, the laws that deal with it should be changed in the parliament. I don't agree that it is possible to change the constitution by a referendum. Therefore my answer will be no, because changing the constitution by a referendum is an unlawful procedure."
What the opposition is saying...
Christian Democratic Party (KDH)
Question 1: "Yes, because it is important for Slovakia's development toward Europe and the democratic values it holds."
2 & 3: "No answer. It's not relevant now, but it could be in the future pending further negotiations if the time and situation arose."
4: "Absolutely yes. Direct presidential elections would lead to a deepening of democracy in Slovakia. It would also stabilize the political situation right now. The president would be stronger politically if he was elected directly and the unbalance of power that exists right now would equal out."
Democratic Union (DU)
Question 1: "Yes, the DU is in favor of Slovakia's integration into NATO because we see a connection with NATO to our integration into the EU. It is a political question the way I see it. We are closely related to Europe in our history and in culture. We see our roots here. For us it is necessary to be a member of such an orgainization which would guarantee the democratic values we would like to base our society on."
2 & 3: "I am indifferent because the second and third questions are not prerequisites to our NATO membership. I have nothing against the creation of military bases on our territory if it is necessary for the common purpose. But as far as I know, NATO has no intention to create military bases or put nuclear weapons in any of the new member states."
4: "We initiated the fourth question so our obvious answer is yes. I am convinced from taking into account our experiences from the last two years that the head of state should have authority based on the confidence of a majority of citizens which would happen if the president were directly elected. In central Europe, it is a tradition to have a symbolic figure. For us, the president would be an important symbol of our statehood and for our unity. The current constitution does not prevent a referendum from initiating an amendment to it. But I am not sure if this is a good thing."
Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ)
Question 1: "Our party answers yes to this question, which corresponds to our political program. It is the best solution for solving Slovakia's security needs. For us in the SDĽ, it is also a question of European democratic values and Slovakia's integration into Europe. Entering NATO means gaining economic advantages, because then foreign investors will, among other things, feel secure.
2: "According to Slovakia's defense doctrine and according to NATO leaders - who said there would be no nuclear weapons on the soil of any new NATO members - we suggest answering no to this question. In Slovakia's defense doctrine, it is written clearly that Slovakia does not want nuclear weapons on its soil."
3: "We suggest answering no, because this question makes absolutely no sense. There has been no discussion or definition as to what kind of NATO bases this question refers to."
4: "We suggest people vote yes. But I personally have my doubts about whether or not the constitution can be changed by a referendum - not only doubts on the legality of such an action - but also from a political strategic point of view. Is it smart to create the precedent of changing the constitution by a referendum? On the other hand we have to respect the will of more than 500,000 people, 1/6 of the electorate. "
Hungarian Coalition (MKDH)
Question 1: "We are clearly in favor of joining NATO because we believe it is the right direction for Slovakia to take, meaning integrating into transatlantic structures. Let me justify it with one simple reason. Usually in crisis situations, for example after 1948, or 1968, our citizens fled the country westward, toward countries who at that time were already members of NATO. In these countries there has been peace and security.
One alternative is to turn to the East, a region of corruption and instablility. Another is to choose neutrality. But, economic results from 1991 to 1995 show that Sweden, as a neutral country, has increased its defense expenditures by one percent. Whereas European NATO states decreased military spending by 13 percent in that same time period. That means that in an alliance such as NATO our military expenditures will decrease."
2: "I am not an advocate of nuclear weapons and feel very secure in saying that. We know that NATO never stated as a condition for new members that they had to deploy nuclear weapons. Our party gave our voters a free mandate to choose how they want because among some of my party colleagues, there are those who say, 'Why shouldn't I have a nuclear warhead in my garden?'"
3: "Although NATO didn't state it as a condition, I think that as a new member of NATO, we have to take into account this possibility. There may be a time ourselves, when we might ask NATO to deploy military bases here in Slovakia."
4: "The answer is yes because it seems to be the will of our citizens. Let us not forget that by direct presidential elections we will prevent the dictator to reign or chaos to occur. If the president is elected by citizens these meaningless wars between prime minister and president will cease. So the president will be elected by citizens and can only be impeached by referendum again. Not by 150 parliamentarians or by even 90 parliamentarians as it is now."
22. May 1997 at 0:00