European Union achieves historic enlargement; Slovakia returns to the European family
"On this day we, the citizens of the Slovak Republic, became citizens of the European Union," said Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda in a public address on May 1.
"We have been enriched by a new, European identity," he continued.
The recent round of enlargement is by far the most robust in the history of the union, whose foundations were laid in the 1950s. Besides Slovakia, the expansion included Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Malta, and the Greek part of Cyprus.
"Slovakia's entry into the EU is perhaps the greatest challenge we will go through in our lives," said Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský at a ceremonial session of the legislature on April 30.
"It is certainly among the four key events of our most recent history, along with [the fall of the communist regime in] November 1989, the creation of an independent Slovakia [in 1993], and NATO entry," he said.
Interestingly, one MP that did not attend the meeting was Vladimír Mečiar, a former authoritarian PM and head of the opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). In the years 1994 to 1998 his government had been the main obstacle to Slovakia's hopes of participation in this round of enlargement.
SLOVAKS took a turn at dressing Belgium's famous statue.
photo: Rick Zednik
Insiders suggest Mečiar has still not recovered from the defeat he suffered in the second round of presidential elections held on April 17.
"I really don't know. Yesterday he said he would be coming," HZDS vice-chairman Viliam Veteška told the SITA news wire when asked about the reasons for Mečiar's absence.
After proving their ability to set their own country on the right course, Slovaks now have the opportunity to have their say on what is right for the whole continent, EU optimists say.
"For the first time in history, Slovakia can decide not only about its own future, but take part in deciding the future of Europe. It will be up to us to decide how to seize this opportunity," said Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan as the EU flag was raised in front of his office.
The gold and blue flag of the union flying on Slovak state and administration buildings is among the most visible signs of Slovakia's new identity.
3. May 2004 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila