Slovakia's nation-wide bash celebrating the country's first 1000 days as an independent nation has ended in a hangover. The twin doses of reality came in a quick succession of démarches from both the European Union and the United States singling out Slovakia for engaging in actions that run counter to the country's Constitution and jeopardize its entry into Western institutions such as the EU and NATO (See the full text of the EU and US démarches on page 12).
The EU démarche was its second such proclamation to the current administration of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. The last one was sent in November 1994 after the so-called parliamentary "night of long knives," when coalition deputies replaced the directors of the country's TV and radio stations, [etc. - fill in the rest]. But, sources in the EU said, new events dictated a second one.
"It was useful and urgent to express our concern again," said Nico Wegter, an EU Commission spokesman in Brussels. "We are entitled to show our concern with human rights and democratic developments there."
The prime minister also said the EU and the US were judging Slovakia by a different standard. "We told [the EU] that they have problems with democracies in other countries," Mečiar said. "In Italy, the premier stands in front of the jury along with his ministers. In Spain, the premier is being sued by the Constitutional jury. And recently, Willy Claes [NATO Secretary-General and Belgian deputy who was forced to give up both posts because of fraud suspicion] resigned, and no one else is saying that democracy doesn't exist [in those countries]. You should use the same yardstick that you have for other countries."
Mečiar's accusation drew a sharp response from Wegter. "That's certainly not true," he said. "We treat each country on its own merits. There's no particular reason to single out Slovakia."
Old times or new times
Eduard Kukan, Slovakia's foreign minister in the interim government that served from March to December 1994, said the EU picked the right time to air its concern. "The timing was very good," Kukan said, because Slovakia is now deciding "whether we want to enter the EU. The démarche forces us to decide to behave accordingly. It is about democracy in Slovakia or a return to the old times."
However, unlike the first EU note, sources in Brussels said, this démarche was sent with the people in mind. "They [high-level EU representatives] wanted public opinion in Slovakia to be aware of it and bring to the prime minister and the president's attention that this is not according to democratic principles. Sometimes it's better to do it in public, and it will have more weight because of the repercussions from public opinion."
Both the EU and the US Embassy said that the Slovak government had not officially responded to the démarches as of November 3. But Mečiar wasted no time pinning President Michal Kováč as the scapegoat. In his regular address on Slovak Radio October 27, Mečiar said, "In fact, one could say this is his child. His declarations about democratic developments in Slovakia are the only known example where a head of state speaks for himself at the expense of the whole country. It casts shame on us."
Kováč did not take the allegations lying down. "Who is truly discrediting the reputation of the country and the good name of Slovaks and Slovaks around the world?" the president asked in an address on Slovak Radio and Radio Twist on November 2. "EU member countries and the US, who aired their stances in the démarches, should know best. Through their diplomatic missions on our soil, the world is watching closely the unfortunate battle for power that recalls the return to a totalitarian regime where liquidating its chief opponent was the ruling principle."
Kováč and Mečiar battle draw scrutiny
Both démarches made specific references to "actions taking place against the president of the Slovak Republic," a clear reference to the ongoing battle between Mečiar and Kováč. It is no secret that the two political heavyweights have been fighting each other ever since Kováč inspired a parliamentary no-confidence vote in March 1994 against Mečiar's second administration, causing it to fall.
Mečiar, who sources in Slovakia say rarely forgets a wrong, has been plotting to return the favor ever since. In addition to directing parliamentary maneuvers stripping the president of several powers and giving them to himself or allies, Mečiar's appointee as chief of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), Ivan Lexa, has been allegedly linked to the kidnapping of Kováč's son, a bizarre incident that has been universally condemned.
"They need us"
For a time after the démarches were delivered, lower-level officials played spin control with what to label them. But Mečiar stayed out of the name game and confronted the issue head on. "We are strategically important to the EU," he told a packed house at the sports arena in Košice the day between the two diplomatic warnings. "If someone else is saying that they will or will not accept us, don't worry about it. They need us."
The Foreign Ministry watered down the premier's fire and brimstone, reassuring EU member countries that Slovakia "will settle its political and economic problems in accordance with the Constitution and relevant legislation."
Kukan, the former foreign minister, guessed that if government officials do not follow the ministry's course of action, there won't be a third chance. "I don't think that a third démarche will be sent," Kukan said. "Instead, we will receive an announcement that the EU asks the Slovak government to negotiate the associate country agreement and either terminate it or justify how it stands now. That will express the reality here more publicly."