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Parliament fails to adopt anticipated changes

The substantive changes in key parliamentary committees and oversight boards that were sought by a unified group of opposition parties did not materialize as Parliament wrapped up business at its September session. Opposition parties had banded together to lobby for their long-sought inclusion on a committee monitoring the activities of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), and on boards overseeing the state privatization agency National Property Fund (FNM) and radio and television. Perhaps more important, opposition deputies wanted to remove Prosecutor General Michal Vaľo, who they see as having abused his position, especially for not investigating the August 1995 kidnapping of President Michal Kováč's son.

The substantive changes in key parliamentary committees and oversight boards that were sought by a unified group of opposition parties did not materialize as Parliament wrapped up business at its September session.

Opposition parties had banded together to lobby for their long-sought inclusion on a committee monitoring the activities of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), and on boards overseeing the state privatization agency National Property Fund (FNM) and radio and television. Perhaps more important, opposition deputies wanted to remove Prosecutor General Michal Vaľo, who they see as having abused his position, especially for not investigating the August 1995 kidnapping of President Michal Kováč's son.

Sipping coffee in the second floor coffee bar located right outside Parliament's main room, deputy chairman of Parliament from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Augustín Márian Húska, said that changes could not take place because şşthe opposition didn't want to cooperate.'' "Such things are impossible without a previous agreement,'' Húska continued. "The opposition failed to come up with a date for a meeting that would suit us, and they never could meet when we proposed.''

Húska's party boss, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, had a different explanation why the changes did not occur. Speaking at HZDS's regular political rally for its supporters in the Pasienky sports hall in Bratislava on September 12, Mečiar said the coalition agreed to the opposition's ideas to change the system.

şşHowever, we told them: 'O.K., let's do it but let's start from where it stinks the most. First, we replace the President,''' Mečiar said. şşOf course, the opposition refused. So we got stuck.''

These changes have a long history of not being carried out. At an almost all-night sitting at Parliament's first session after the fall 1994 elections, deputies allied in a new coalition made up of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), The Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS) essentially rammed through a wish list of proposals effectively giving the m decision-making control over political, economic and social life in Slovakia.

Opposition parties helplessly watched as the coalition shut them out of committees supervising the state radio and television, the oversight council of privatization's new (at the time) decision-making body, the FNM, and installed hand-picked personnel in top posts at the national radio, TV and press agency and the prosecutor general, to name a few.

That session later was dubbed the "Night of Long Knives." Mečiar's government absorbed démarches from both the US and the European Union soon after the session ended and was reportedly visibly angered by the actions. But almost two years later, despite constant yet not forceful pressure from the West, the government continues to drag its feet on altering the makeup.

Apparently in vain, Western diplomats are trying to get this message through to the government: the opposition has to be respected, otherwise democratic development fails. And democracy is one of the fundamental conditions for NATO and EU membership, the diplomats continue to press.

Visiting Bratislava before this past summer, Herbert Bosch, chairman of the EU-Slovak joint parliamentary committee said the EU would like to see action taken in the opposition's favor when the committee visits Slovakia in late October. şşIf the changes do not happen, our reaction will be very negative,'' Bosch said.

Bosch added, though, that he was not worried about Slovakia losing its chance to get into the first group for EU and NATO membership.

Time bonus

The basic agenda for every parliamentary session is prepared by the Speaker. Before the final vote to approve the agenda at the opening day of the session, deputies may introduce their own proposals or suggest that some points be cancelled or postponed.

Ivan Gašpárovič from HZDS, the current speaker, said he saw no reason to put the changes on the agenda this time. In early September, Gašpárovič visited the US, where he learned that NATO will not expand before 1998 or 1999. "Nothing will happen until then," Gašpárovič reasoned. "There will be plenty of time to solve certain problematic issues in Slovakia.''

When asked whether the visit in the US did not influence him to initiate changes in Parliament, Gašpárovič said he does not travel abroad to be told what to put on Parliament's agenda. "Everybody whom I talked to expressed the will and need to have Slovakia in the EU and NATO. We also spoke about things that still would be necessary to do to achieve that,'' Gašpárovič said. şşBut nobody told me to include changes in the FNM on the agenda.''

Meciar and his coalition saw the worries of their western partners as misunderstaning of the Slovak reality, so they did nothing to reverse the situation. Slowly, despite surprisingly good economic results and government's procalaimed interest to join the Euro-Atlantic structures, Slovakia began to fall behind Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Gašp. then told the journalists that he hoped they were not so naive as to believe that "Slovakia's membership in NATO would be decided over this or other set up of the FNM.''

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