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SLOVAK GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS DEMOCRACY IN "HANDS-OFF" APPROACH

Ukraine court decrees re-run

A SLOVAK-funded organization will reprise its role as election observer in Ukraine on December 26, when citizens recast their votes for president. The Slovak government hopes that the second round will unfold more democratically than the first, in which its agency reported a carefully planned campaign to disturb free elections in Central Ukraine, and fraud in eastern polling districts.
The December 26 presidential re-vote comes on the heels of the Ukranian Supreme Court's decision to annul the contentious results that declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the winner over opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

A SLOVAK-funded organization will reprise its role as election observer in Ukraine on December 26, when citizens recast their votes for president. The Slovak government hopes that the second round will unfold more democratically than the first, in which its agency reported a carefully planned campaign to disturb free elections in Central Ukraine, and fraud in eastern polling districts.

The December 26 presidential re-vote comes on the heels of the Ukranian Supreme Court's decision to annul the contentious results that declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the winner over opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. The court seeks to end more than two weeks of mass unrest on the streets of the ex-Soviet state.

The Slovak Foreign Ministry welcomed the Ukrainian Supreme Court's decision as a legal way to solve the mounting political crisis. The ministry's representatives are convinced that the current Ukrainian leadership will create the necessary conditions for the electorate to vote freely in this second round.

"The Ukrainian people are devoted to democratic values. They have demonstrated their readiness to choose their own destiny through endurance and non-violent protest," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Juraj Tomaga told the SITA news agency.

Tomaga added that Slovakia is set to help international observation missions ensure that the second round run-off between Yanukovich and Yushchenko takes place in an atmosphere of fair and democratic elections.

Prior to the court's decision, the Slovak government forwarded letters to Ukraine's ambassador in Bratislava expressing uneasiness over the developments of the first presidential election and the desire for a non-violent solution.

According to Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, it is vital that Ukraine select a leader in free, objective and democratic elections.

But Kukan indicated that Slovakia would not intervene beyond expressing its support for democracy. "I believe that by doing nothing [Slovakia] is doing the right thing. These are issues for Ukraine to deal with, and Slovaks will be sensitive to that," said Kukan.

In addition to calling for a new presidential run-off election on December 26, the Supreme Court backed changes to the electoral law to prevent a recurrence of fraud that hit last month's presidential vote.

Election observers from Občianske oko (Civil Eye), financed by the Official Development Assistance of the Slovak Republic (SlovakAid), an organization headed by Foreign Minister Kukan, charged that the initial November 21 elections in Ukraine were sullied by violence, threats, attacks on election offices and even bomb alerts.

Short-term agency observers in the Zakarpatska region nearby the Slovak border recorded that voting results varied dramatically in the eastern and western parts of the country.

According to Alexander Duleba, a Slovak political analyst, the Ukrainian elections are globally important because it is the first time Ukrainian voters have had a real choice between an ex-communist leader backed by the out-going regime (Yanukovich) and a fresh candidate with democratic values (Yushchenko).

"Considering the latest news [about the re-vote], it is possible to say that Ukraine society is ready for radical changes," the analyst said.

Ukraine's presidential election is important to Slovakia as well.

When Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda travelled to Ukraine in June, he met with Viktor Yushchenko. According to Duleba, this meeting signalled the Slovak government's interest in democracy in the region.

The Slovak government has allocated Sk10 million (€250,000) to support democratic movements in Ukraine and Belarus. While neighbouring countries have discussed donating money to support democratic efforts in the region since the dissolution of the Eastern bloc, few have followed through with cash .

Says analyst Duleba, "This is a year of change for Slovakia, in its reception of a democratic Ukraine and its involvement in international politics."

In March, PM Dzurinda said that his government would focus on international politics in Ukraine and the western Balkan regions.

Still, Slovak leaders see a need for real diplomacy as it presses forward with its democratic agency.

Current president Ivan Gašparovič said that "the situation in Ukraine is not easy for us. Not only because Ukraine is our neighbour and a potential candidate for membership in the European Union, but also because of its relationship with NATO."

According to Gašparovič, it is imperative that democratic principles dominate in Kiev.

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