Wholesale ambassadorial changes likely

Signs indicate that Slovak embassies, consulates and permanent missions across the world will soon suffer a storm of personnel changes. Mária Klímová, the personnel director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced that "the first batch of ambassadors is ready to be recalled" at an October HZDS rally, and the daily Národná obroda reported that 22 ambassadors are on a list to be recalled. The sheer volume of the reportedly impending diplomatic turnover had the opposition predictably crying foul, with Ján Čarnogurský, chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), talking about a "political purge."

Signs indicate that Slovak embassies, consulates and permanent missions across the world will soon suffer a storm of personnel changes. Mária Klímová, the personnel director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced that "the first batch of ambassadors is ready to be recalled" at an October HZDS rally, and the daily Národná obroda reported that 22 ambassadors are on a list to be recalled.

The sheer volume of the reportedly impending diplomatic turnover had the opposition predictably crying foul, with Ján Čarnogurský, chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), talking about a "political purge."

In an attempt to portray the personnel changes as a fresh breeze through Slovakia's foreign service, Jozef Šesták, the state secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said on Slovak Radio that the changes are routine and shouldn't be "blown up." Šesták said the cabinet hasn't recalled anybody yet. "It is only an exchange of people, which is always very individual," Šesták said. "The aim is to improve the professionalism and quality of our diplomatic service," he added.

It seems as though the cabinet is looking to blame ambassadors for recent articles critical of Slovakia's democratic development that have appeared in the international press. Klímová said some ambassadors didn't react to "scandalous" newspaper articles that had been published on Slovakia in the countries of their appointment. She then suggested a way to improve Slovakia's image abroad.

"Let me organize a press conference," Klímová said. "I won't be stingy, buy everyone sausage and beer, and I guess at least one of those 40 journalists will write positively about Slovakia," she added. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Juraj Matejovský, in a written statement, said the changes are not definite. But Národná obroda reported that among 22 ambassadors listed to be recalled were diplomats in crucial posts such as Japan (ambassador Miroslav Lajčák), Great Britain (Ján Vilikovský), Switzerland (Ábel Kráľ) and Hungary (Eva Mitrová).

Čarnogurský pointed to Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar as being directly responsible for the potential changes.

"Mečiar is not sure if the ambassadors are loyal enough," Čarnogurský said. According to the KDH leader, Mečiar has every reason to doubt their loyalty, for on his trips abroad, Čarnogurský said Slovak embassy officials "are criticizing Mečiar's government privately, and surely they [in the present government] know about it."

The Slovak foreign service now includes 41 ambassadors and 19 chargé d'affaires. But with the procedure of appointing them, their ratio can change soon. Ambassadors are appointed by the president on the cabinet's proposal. If President Michal Kováč refuses to appoint any newly nominated ambassadors, they will not be posted and their tasks will be carried out by chargé d'affaires, according to Klímová.

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