Slovak Speaker of Parliament Ivan Gašparovič (left) shows around his visiting German counterpart Rita Süssmuth.
"This referendum has only one goal: to show the world's public that Slovakia wants to be in NATO,'' Dušan Slobodník, a member of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, told the chamber during the debate.
At the HZDS's regular monthly rally with its supporters a week before the vote, HZDS Chairman and Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar promised the 2,800-strong crowd they now can decide whether the country should join the trans-Atlantic military alliance. "You tell us what to do, and we'll do it,'' Mečiar said.
The referendum, proposed by Mečiar, will take place by June, since the president must set its date within 120 days after the parliamentary vote. The survey will have three questions:
1. Do you support Slovakia joining NATO?
2. Do you favor placing nuclear weapons on Slovak territory?
3. Do you favor placing military bases on Slovak territory?
A January 28-February 4 poll carried out by the Focus agency showed a majority of the public favoring the country's accession into NATO. Out of the 61 percent of the public who answered they would vote in a referendum, 65 percent favored Slovakia joining the military grouping, while 35 percent were against.
Opposition deputies argued against the referendum, calling it a nonsensical, populist move. "This referendum does not bind anyone to anything, not the Slovak government nor Washington, nor Brussels,'' said a member of the opposition Christian Democrat Movement, Gabriel Palacka. "It's just a very expensive public opinion poll which in any case will not affect our chances [of getting in].''
Opposition representatives also accused Mečiar of playing politics by using the outcome to cover those concerns that NATO leaders have expressed with the Slovak government, some of which are not placing a proportionate number of opposition deputies on key oversight committees in parliament, and failure to act on its promise to enact a minority language law.
"The referendum's result will in no way change NATO's critical attitude towards the Slovak government,'' Béla Bugár from the Hungarian coalition said. "If the outcome of the referendum is 'yes,' the government will tell the people: 'See, you wanted to be in NATO, but they rejected us. If the result is 'no,' the government will say: 'We defended the interests of our people.'''
27. Feb 1997 at 0:00 | Jana Dorotková