Of all five CEFTA prime ministers, the Czech Republic's Vaclav Klaus was probably the easiest one to approach. Striding across a hall at the Hotel Grand, Klaus halted and fielded questions when the press hordes ran up to him. Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, on the other hand, was shielded by troops of security personnel, and did not stop to talk shop with the media. Instead, Mečiar dispatched Magda Pospíšilová, his spokeswoman, to brief the curious about what he had to say.
Even though some of the leaders were accessible, in general it wasn't easy to fish for information. That's because security officers flooded the premises of the Hotel Grand, barring journalists from entering certain areas and some reporters from the press conference room when they arrived late. Two snipers perched on the roof monitored the proceedings around the clock.
An invisible line divided the hotel lobby into two sections; one part where the officials would hang out waiting for the next bilateral meeting or for the document signing ceremony, and the second part for the press. Journalists who managed to cross this mystical border were often interrupted in the middle of an interview and escorted several meters aside by eager bodyguards.
Klaus scales Chopok with staff in tow
Vaclav Klaus strong-armed all the members of his delegation on a less-than leisurely hike at the top of Chopok, the second tallest peak in the Low Tatras. It seemed like the Premier didn't check the weather reports, for when reaching the summit via the furnicular, it was cold, foggy and the visibility hovered close to nil. Undeterred by the inclement weather, Klaus and his staff hiked at least partially down the 2,024 meter mountain. Said Šedivý, deputy chairman of the economy in the Czech government: "Lucky for me I brought my hiking shoes."
Klaus, a big outdoors enthusiast who is particularly fond of tennis and skiing, has a history of making fellow ministers and staff accompany him in a variety of athletic pursuits. Once he organized a bicycle competition where he and his aides had to ride their bikes 20-odd kilometers over the Czech hills.
Mečiar hosts a descent into Slovakia's depths
In contrast to Klaus, Prime Minister Mečiar must have heard the weather forecasts. Shunning the great outdoors, Mečiar led Lithuanian Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevichius and several members of the CEFTA delegation underground to visit Demänovská cave, a few minutes drive north of Jasná. Not many details were available of the trip, but it's doubtful they walked the entire length of the ice kingdom.
24. Sep 1996 at 0:00 | Jana Dorotková