Government meets with EU parliamentarians

The Slovak government got the direct communication it was asking for when European Union parliamentarians visited Slovakia in November. Whether that communication had the desired effect of quelling western concerns was less clear. After receiving scoldings in the form of a démarche from the European Union and a critical resolution from the European Parliament, voices in the Slovak government insisted they were not being given a chance for dialogue with their counterparts to the west. And, they claimed, once such an opportunity arose, western Europe would get a more complete and accurate view of circumstances in Slovakia.


Daniel Borský

The Slovak government got the direct communication it was asking for when European Union parliamentarians visited Slovakia in November. Whether that communication had the desired effect of quelling western concerns was less clear. After receiving scoldings in the form of a démarche from the European Union and a critical resolution from the European Parliament, voices in the Slovak government insisted they were not being given a chance for dialogue with their counterparts to the west. And, they claimed, once such an opportunity arose, western Europe would get a more complete and accurate view of circumstances in Slovakia.

The chance came when nine EU MPs came to Bratislava for a three-day joint parliamentary committee session and heard from both coalition and opposition members of the Slovak Parliament about the tensions and triumphs of the young state. Following the series of speeches and meetings with 23 Slovak MPs, the visiting legislators were cautiously optimistic about the Slovakia's chances of joining the EU.

After the European Parliament's resolution, passed just a week before the MPs' visit, Stanislav Haber, the spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's party, compared the EU's behavior to that of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. On the eve of the visit from Brussels, Mečiar announced Haber's dismissal. (Haber was soon hired as a deputy editor of the pro-Mečiar daily Slovenská Republika.)

So the causes and effects of the warnings were a major topic on the tongues of Slovaks both in the coalition and the opposition.

In his opening speech, Ivan Gašparovič, speaker of the Slovak parliament, accused the EP of bias and of basing its actions towards the Slovak government on misinformation. "Instead of evaluating the facts and sensitively judging the approaches of both sides in the conflict, western countries have taken the president's side, which is incomprehensible to us." Gašparovič, a member of Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said this is "not a sign of objectivity, just stereotypical repetition of single-colored half-truths."

In contrast, members of the opposition defended the European warnings and accused the coalition of breaking rules in parliament, such as denying the opposition access to state media supervisory councils and bodies controlling the Intelligence Service. David Hullam, a British deputy, said the Slovaks were "washing their dirty linen in public," which made him "very sad."

At Thursday's session, Mečiar reiterated his government's interest in EU membership, while acknowledging Slovakia "was having problems." He admitted that "there is tension" between the president and "other constitutional bodies." But he stressed that "nobody in Slovakia is imprisoned for political opinions."

The deputies from Brussels did not sound fully satisfied. Hullam said Mečiar made him feel "uneasy." Sipping hot wine in Bratislava's Café Gremium late after Mečiar's speech, Geoffrey Harris, another British deputy, said he put great importance in an intangible mood or "feeling." "And the feeling is of concern for the evolution of a democratic system in Slovakia for the time being. There is nobody saying that 'So and so is a dictator and somebody is a saint.'"

Another British MP, Roy Perry, said he was "impressed that there seems to be a very genuine and vibrant democracy. And when we think of the past 40 years the people in Slovakia have experienced, the fact that it is a very new republic, I think ... people on all sides do argue their case and that's good."

On the session's last day, Herbert Bosch, an Austrian deputy who was named chairman, said at a press conference that the EP mission's report to their colleagues in Brussels was going to be "very positive." "We started to work out the problems causing mutual misunderstanding," Bosch told the press. But when asked when he estimated Slovakia could join the EU, Bosch raised his eyebrows, gave a broad smile and said nothing.

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