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EDITORIAL

The last presidential speech? What Schuster's addresses say

PRESIDENT Rudolf Schuster's New Year's address was his fifth and possibly the last. It provides a good opportunity to look back at the things the president has told the nation on the first days of each of his years in office.
National unity was a dominant idea of his first speech in 2000. "Even today we are witnesses of disharmony, division, and hatred. This divide in society is the greatest threat on our road to prosperity and stability," Schuster said.

PRESIDENT Rudolf Schuster's New Year's address was his fifth and possibly the last. It provides a good opportunity to look back at the things the president has told the nation on the first days of each of his years in office.

National unity was a dominant idea of his first speech in 2000. "Even today we are witnesses of disharmony, division, and hatred. This divide in society is the greatest threat on our road to prosperity and stability," Schuster said.

In order to overcome these problems the entire nation should come together and leave behind political, ethnic, or religious disputes, advised the president.

A year later Schuster declared he was satisfied with the reaction his initiative received among the people. It was not only church representatives who, in Schuster's opinion, responded to his call.

"My initiative of national unity was joined not only by members of the Association of Slovak Towns and Cities, various NGOs, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but even by many labour unionists and individuals. For example - a one-handed wood carver from Uhrovec, who carved an ecumenical altar to celebrate unity and dedicated it to the president," Schuster said.

Since 2001 was the first year of the new Millennium, Schuster briefly touched on global issues and expressed his hope that all evil "remain forever locked" in the old century. Although he noted that "much can be said about the direction taken by humanity," Schuster focused in this, as in all other speeches, mainly on domestic issues.

Interestingly, in 2000 Schuster praised citizens for their approach to the referendum on early elections initiated by the opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which failed due to low attendance. He suggested that the early elections would have thrown Slovakia back to the time before the year 1998 [when the HZDS, led by the authoritarian PM Vladimír Mečiar, was in power.]

This time around, Schuster seems more enthusiastic about early elections, which is becoming an urgent topic. The reasons are obvious - in 2000 the party Schuster helped to build and get into government, the Civic Understanding Party, was in power. Since then it has dissolved and recommended its members join the opposition party Smer, which could possibly back Schuster's candidacy and will benefit from early elections the most.

At the start of 2002, just months after September 11, Schuster touched on the problem of global terrorism and stressed Slovakia's involvement in the war on terror.

There were some surprising turns in that address, as Schuster observed that Slovakia should not only build good relations with NATO and EU countries, but "must not forget its good ties and mutually beneficial collaboration" with other countries, such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Syria, and Chile.

The head of state often uses the opportunity of the address to defend himself and criticize others. In 2002 Schuster made a reference to his earlier state of the country address, in which he heavily criticized the cabinet and which, he believed, led to his persecution.

"With the aid of some media, government members and coalition MPs started a witch hunt, which resulted in personal attacks on me and my family," said Schuster at the beginning of 2002.

"For the future it would be best if the cabinet were more attentive to the warnings of independent experts or institutions, but also to the warnings and suggestions of the president," he added.

However, history seems to be repeating itself and the developments of this year drove the president to make similar remarks again.

"It's not been even a month since I presented the parliament with the annual report on the state of the republic. I expected disapproving reactions. They came," Schuster said.

At the start of 2003, ten years after Slovakia gained independence, the head of state reminded Slovaks of their history and of the events that led to the creation of the Slovak Republic.

Many heads of state use their New Year's speeches to present their visions of the future course of their country. The Slovak president is somewhat of an exception. In every one of his addresses, Schuster has called for such a vision to be created by someone else.

This year, instead of just declaring the need to debate Slovakia's future he also suggested the questions that discussion should answer.

According to the president, the topics Slovakia should start talking about include Slovakia's role in the common European market, the country's economic strategy, corruption and crime, and finally the stability of Slovak democracy.

Those are just some of the things the president, who recently turned 70, said in his almost 15 minute speech. Noticeably, Schuster did not use the opportunity to say goodbye to the citizens, which might well be a sign of his hope that in a year he will again be addressing the nation.

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