Slovak Parliamentary deputies witnessed the first speech by a foreign lawmaker in their own chamber when Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House of Commons in the British Parliament, paid an official visit to Slovakia from September 15 to 18.
Though her sojourn included a brief overview of Slovak culture in the High Tatras, a meeting with Juraj Švec, the rector of Comenius University in Bratislava, and a sitting for Verdi's "La Traviata" in the Slovak National Theater, Boothroyd's speech on the floor of Parliament was the centerpiece of her visit.
While exceedingly careful not to lecture, Boothroyd, a Labour party member who was the first Speaker elected from the opposition benches since 1835, clearly described the roles of the majority and the opposition in the British legislative chamber.
"Government and opposition each recognize and respect their own and the other's legitimate constitutional role: the opposition recognizes the government's right to govern; the government recognizes the opposition's right to oppose," Boothroyd said. "Governments in the end must have their way. But in a democracy, oppositions must have their say."
"She talked of the minority's right to express its views and the right to participate and monitor," said Ján Figeľ, a member of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). "A member of the opposition can be loyal to the country even though he or she is in the opposition."
Coalition deputies had an entirely different take on the discourse. "For once, the opposition was told how to behave towards the government," Alicia Bieliková, an MP for the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said for Slovak Radio. "I hope they'll understand it."
Boothroyd also relayed the opposition's role in British political life, explaining that though they may vote against government-led initiatives, "there's no disloyalty...if they believe them to be contrary to the interests of the country as a whole."
"Indeed, it is the duty of the opposition to oppose, to test, to question, and to criticize the government of the day," Boothroyd concluded. When asked to comment on the above remark, HZDS deputy Irena Belohorská replied, "Hmm, you know, I liked another part," and she read aloud another section of the speech: "Governments in the end must have their way."
Boothroyd also spoke about the challenge of central European countries' reintegration into "their rightful place in the European family" and assured that Britain "is an enthusiastic supporter of the enlargement of both NATO and the European Union as a means of extending the peace and prosperity enjoyed by western Europe over the last 50 years to the countries of central Europe." However, she did press the point that "at the same time, countries wishing to join must prepare themselves to enter these institutions."
Before her departure, Boothroyd, who in 1992 became the first woman to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons in the office's 600-year existence, met with Premier Vladimír Mečiar. The discussion focused on Slovakia's entry into EU and NATO, according to the government press office. No further details of the meeting were made available.
She addressed the National Council's MPs to realize that they bear a vital responsibility in the process of integration to world economic and political structures. She started her political career working as a secretary at Labour Party headquarters and as personal assistant to a number of leading politicians. In 1959, she went to the United States for five years to gain experience of American politics working in the Kennedy' presidential campaign.
After she returned, she fought four parliamentary elections until she was elected as MP in 1973. Then, meanwhile being appointed a member of the European Parliament, Boothroyd was made a Deputy Speaker of the Commons in 1987. At present, besides her Speaker's office she is also president of the United Kingdom Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The visit, however, concerned mostly political issues and mutual relations between Slovakia and Britain. Boothrooyd paid a visit to the Slovak parliament as well as had a short discussion with highest representatives of the Slovak government. On Tuesday, September 17, as a first representative of a foreign lawmaking body, Boothroyd gave a speech in the Slovak parliament' ground. She appreciated long standing relations between British and Slovak nations and emphasized development of new relations : "Links of the past are being matched by new activity, building links for the future these include our growing trade, up to 42 percent this year, the efforts of the British Know How Fund working with you (Slovakia) to build the framework of a modern market economy and a pluralist democracy, active in fields from finance to public administration, the work of the British Council in spreading the English language teaching and training across Slovakia and the Slovak language programmes of the BBC World Service, which during the bleak years of the War and period of Communism offered a vital link with free world and which are now an everyday part of Slovak broadcasting."
24. Sep 1996 at 0:00 | Alexandra Tomová