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Mečiar has plans to move central bank to central Slovakia

At the FINEX financial fair in Banská Bystrica in September, the second largest banking exhibition in Central Europe, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar intimated that National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) could find itself moving to Banská Bystrica at some point in the future. The news, though perhaps surprising, is part of the prime minister's two-year vision of having three, distinct centers in Slovakia. According to this vision, Bratislava would remain the country's nerve center, just as it has been for various rulers and empires throughout its history. Košice would expand the web of companies that support existing dominant industries such as VSŽ there. The new twist would be for Banská Bystrica to be transformed into Slovakia's banking and financial hub.


At home in Bratislava, governor of the National Bank of Slovakia, Vladimír Masar (left), may have to conduct business in Banská Bystrica.
Slovakia Magazine

At the FINEX financial fair in Banská Bystrica in September, the second largest banking exhibition in Central Europe, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar intimated that National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) could find itself moving to Banská Bystrica at some point in the future. The news, though perhaps surprising, is part of the prime minister's two-year vision of having three, distinct centers in Slovakia.

According to this vision, Bratislava would remain the country's nerve center, just as it has been for various rulers and empires throughout its history. Košice would expand the web of companies that support existing dominant industries such as VSŽ there. The new twist would be for Banská Bystrica to be transformed into Slovakia's banking and financial hub.

"I personally think he [Mečiar] will accomplish it," said a source at the NBS who preferred to remain anonymous. Recent events show that this city of 85,000 in Central Slovakia may be up to the task. Last August, Bank Slovakia, of which the state holds 60 percent through the National Property Fund, was established in Banská Bystrica, the first Slovak banking institution to set up its headquarters there. The project was believed to have enjoyed strong support from Mečiar.

Also significant is that Bank Slovakia won't stay an orphan in Banská Bystrica. It will be joined shortly by Dopravná Banka (Transportation Bank), another banking child of the state.

But Mečiar doesn't want to stop there; his vision goes beyond two banks in Banská Bystrica. His plan is to move Slovakia's entire capital market to Banská Bystrica by moving the main stock exchanges from Bratislava there, sources from both cabinet and parliament said.

Not surprisingly, Presperín stated that his city "would welcome" the shift in the balance of financial power. "Whether they decide to come here or not is their business," Presperín said. "On behalf of the city, I can only say that Banská Bystrica is ready to accommodate them. There are enough sites here for future investment and development. Moreover, our offer is probably interesting also moneywise."

The mayor touched on a theme that may be his biggest selling point. Renting office space in Bratislava costs three times as much as in Banská Bystrica. The annual rent for a square meter of office space ranges from 9,900 to 11,000 Sk in Bratislava, but only from 3,300 to 3,900 in Banská Bystrica.

Despite the lower leasing bills, NBS governor Vladimír Masár said his bank was not moving anywhere soon. "The NBS sees no reason for moving to Banská Bystrica," Masár said. "We just bought a plot in Bratislava [in July] to put up a new NBS building there."

The cabinet's last try to engineer a change in scenery brought less than glamorous results. Earlier this year, the cabinet decided to move the Bureau of Industrial Ownership (ÚPV) from Bratislava to Banská Bystrica. The decision was strongly backed by the chairman of the Association of Workers (ZRS), Ján Ľupták.

But it wasn't backed by ÚPV employees. They simply refused to follow their office to Banská Bystrica. Mayor Presperín did his best to apply spin control to the fiasco. "The problems with moving ÚPV's office were not caused by the city of Banská Bystrica but by the Bureau itself," the mayor said. "The city didn't have any problems with the move. We offered flats for the employees and a building for the office."

Mečiar apparently had similar thoughts. Last week, ÚPV's director was fired by the cabinet. The official reason: "Failure in moving ÚPV to Banská Bystrica."

But employees not willing to follow their jobs probably is not the only flaw of the plan to move the NBS to Central Slovakia. The problem is that the NBS's new building is the subject of an intense public competition among 50 urban architects, Ján Onda, the NBS's spokesman said.

But the whole competition may be worth nothing at the end of the day. Since the NBS is established by law as a central state institution, the law on where it has its headquarters can be amended by a simple majority in parliament. So if Mečiar decides to move the NBS to Banská Bystrica, no one will be able to stop him. "Since the NBS is established by law," Onda said, "any defense from its side is out of the question."

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