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Slovak builders to help Chechenya rise from the rubble

With $200 million needed to rebuild the bombed-out Russian republic of Chechenya, and a Slovak construction industry working at a mere 30 percent capacity, a match seemed natural. And it's such a perfect fit that when the Slovak Ministry of Construction sent out feelers for interest in reconstructing Chechenya, 38 firms jumped at the offer. Considering the Slovak construction market has "hit bottom" after several years of governmental neglect, the intense interest is not surprising, according to Karol Balog, director of the ministry's foreign relations department. He said that crossing borders is the best option for firms looking for cash.


Chechen workers work amid unexploded shells in the rubble of Grozny
TASR

With $200 million needed to rebuild the bombed-out Russian republic of Chechenya, and a Slovak construction industry working at a mere 30 percent capacity, a match seemed natural. And it's such a perfect fit that when the Slovak Ministry of Construction sent out feelers for interest in reconstructing Chechenya, 38 firms jumped at the offer.

Considering the Slovak construction market has "hit bottom" after several years of governmental neglect, the intense interest is not surprising, according to Karol Balog, director of the ministry's foreign relations department. He said that crossing borders is the best option for firms looking for cash.

Milan Kubovský, a deputy director at the ministry, said that although building opportunities exist in western Europe, paradoxically the more lucrative markets lie in the east, because countries there need not only trained workers, but also materials and machinery. Kubovský said that from Slovakia, 11,000 workers and at least 28 companies are already doing business in the former Soviet Union - mostly in Russia. Currently, one Slovak firm is working on a $200,000 project to rebuld Chechen sewage systems.

The opportunities in Chechenya can be divided into three categories, Kubovský said: Residential construction of homes, schools and stores with a gross value of $120 million; Engineering construction, including roads, pipelines, and water treatment facilities valued at $50 million; and industrial construction of plants like electrical power stations valued at $30 million. Financing for these projects will come from the Russian government and from the sale of Chechen crude oil, Balog said.

Although the Chechen-Russian war has largely died down, Balog suggested that Chechens are unlikely to trust Russians to reconstruct buildings that were destroyed by Russians in the first place. In the search for help from abroad, he said Slovakia is logical for reasons of history and language.

"It is important that Slovaks and Russians can communicate," Balog added, stressing the Slavic linguistic brotherhood. "For example, if you send Italians there, it would be impossible to communicate." Balog surmised that although other countries may also want Chechen contracts, "The Russians would rather not have the work split among nations, but rather have it under one roof and have a general contract with one country." Although Balog said his ministry and the 38 firms are "waiting for the green light," they are not about to rush into a situation of uncertainty.

"No construction company of sound mind would go [to Chechenya], unless their people are guaranteed against danger," said Štefan Pavlikan, director of construction market development at the ministry.Yet ministry officials are confident that Slovak firms will move eventually into Chechenya. "It's a question of when," Balog said. "Maybe in half a year, maybe in one year, maybe in five years. But we cannot set aside the capacity forever."

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