"For us, the biggest effect of the new law (Territory Arrangement) is that the place where all the decisions (on the environment) are now being made is quite far away."
Roman Havlíček Slatinka Association
This, despite people in the environment field who gave Vágner high marks for his work as an environmentalist and as a manager. "In Vágner's person many skills were combined. He was sensitive to the environment and highly talented as an administrator," said Pavel Mišiga, a fundraiser for the Banská Bystrica office of the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe (EPCE), an international non-profit organization of community-based environmental activists.
The new law has downsized and restructured local government in Slovakia by combining district authorities into "integrated" administrative spheres - while slashing the number of local government workers. According to Yvonne Hollá, a spokeswoman for Environmental Minister Jozef Zlocha, today there are 94, down from 121 local environmental offices in the country.
Vágner said the downsizing will negatively impact the environment. "The environment as an issue will no longer have uniqueness or importance," he said. "Environmental problems will be lost in a number of other regional problems."
Roman Havlíček of the Slatinka Association, a civic association opposed to a joint state-local proposal to build a large dam reservoir at Slatinka, a village south of Zvolen, echoed Vágner's reservations about the new law.
"For us, the biggest effect of the new law is that the place where all the decisions are now being made is quite far away," Havlíček said. "The former arrangement was more friendly to us. Now, there is much more centralization. We are still trying to contact the people currently responsible for the kinds of decisions that were once made in Zvolen."
Hollá countered Havlíček's misgivings that the new law makes it harder for local issues to be handled. "We've trained the employees of environmental offices, so they know how to do things," Hollá said. "I don't think that the changes will affect employees' professionalism. People were reduced in all departments, not just in the environmental section."
But she added that changes are to come. "My personal opinion is that although the numbers [of administrative personnel] were reduced, the head of the [environmental] department will see very soon that the work can't be done with only a few employees," she said. "I think that they'll admit them again. It's just a question of time and it'll come up that they need the people."
Whether Vágner will be included in any rehiring does not seem very certain, though. The former district officer's "resignation" was not the first occasion that Vágner, a member of the Democratic Party (DS), ran afoul of the HZDS-dominated governing apparatus at the local level.
"It was just a natural end to the process, which I see in political terms," Vágner told The Slovak Spectator. "I was not the only person to be dismissed. Despite the decent way we said goodbye, there has been an intention to get rid of the people who have different opinions about government policy."
"The only criterion for selecting people [for the new regional administration] was loyalty to HZDS," Mišiga said. "These officials just began working on September 1, so nobody knows much about them yet. [But] they will work very smoothly, because their offices won't have internal conflicts."
24. Sep 1996 at 0:00 | Tom Reynolds