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ANALYSTS SEE PRESIDENT'S NEW YEAR'S ADDRESS AS BALANCED AND ENCOURAGING

Speech takes middle path

PRESIDENT Ivan Gašparovič delivered a traditional New Year's address to the nation on January 1, 2005, ensuring citizens that he would keep their well being in mind and encouraging them to feel as proud of their nation as he is.
Gašparovič said that Slovakia is a newly respected, trustworthy partner and an attractive state in the eyes of the international community.
"I had the opportunity to represent [Slovakia] at a meeting of NATO representatives in Istanbul as well as in the headquarters of the top European institutions in Brussels, including the UN. I want to tell you that I had a reason to feel proud. Today, the Slovak Republic is seen as a reliable partner and we cannot complain of any lack of interest in us. We have made ourselves visible by our work. Slovakia is talked about with respect as never before, as a prospective business partner and attractive country," said the president.

PRESIDENT Ivan Gašparovič delivered a traditional New Year's address to the nation on January 1, 2005, ensuring citizens that he would keep their well being in mind and encouraging them to feel as proud of their nation as he is.

Gašparovič said that Slovakia is a newly respected, trustworthy partner and an attractive state in the eyes of the international community.

"I had the opportunity to represent [Slovakia] at a meeting of NATO representatives in Istanbul as well as in the headquarters of the top European institutions in Brussels, including the UN. I want to tell you that I had a reason to feel proud. Today, the Slovak Republic is seen as a reliable partner and we cannot complain of any lack of interest in us. We have made ourselves visible by our work. Slovakia is talked about with respect as never before, as a prospective business partner and attractive country," said the president.

As a former opposition politician with the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia before forming his own Movement for Democracy, Gašparovič has a reputation for being relatively unpredictable. For that reason, ruling coalition politicians as well as the country's pundits awaited his first national address with suspense.

Gašparovič's speech nonetheless pleased most of Slovakia's political observers, who labelled the address as balanced and void of personal political interests.

Soňa Szomolányi, political analyst with the political sciences department at the Comenius University in Bratislava, said the ruling coalition politicians should be satisfied with the president's speech.

"Although Gašparovič is not from the ruling parties' camp, his speech was consensual towards the cabinet. He clearly recognized and appreciated the results of the coalition's work," she said.

The president warned of persisting regional differences in the country and appealed to the cabinet to consider alternatives when carrying out its right-wing reforms.

He admitted, however, that reforms were necessary.

According to Szomolányi, Gašparovič has shown that "he wants to be the people's president" by appealing to a broad audience.

The president maintained a "non-conflicting tone" when speaking of the impact of the cabinet's reforms on the population.

Analysts also compared the speech to those delivered by Gašparovic's predecessor, Rudolf Schuster, welcoming the fact that the current president avoided the opinionated and self-centred approach observed in Schuster's presentations.

"Gašparovič is not self-absorbed like Schuster, who was often focusing on himself, his personal opinions, and his own political presentation," said Szomolányi.

According to Luboš Kubín, political analyst from the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Gašparovič's speech was "sober in comparison to those delivered by Schuster".

"It seems President Gašparovič is stylizing himself as someone who does not act as an extreme pole on the political scene. People would consider such a polarized position to be inappropriate," Kubín said.


What did the president say?


In his January 1 address, President Gašparovič:


* Showed appreciation for Slovakia's achievements and its growing respectability abroad

* Mentioned the 12th anniversary of the independent Slovak Republic

* Acknowledged Slovakia's national minorities as contributing to the country's spiritual richness and the nation's cultural values

* Congratulated people's efforts to help in the November 2004 wind calamity that destroyed forests in the High Tatras

* Recognized regional differences in Slovakia and the social and economic problems of many of its inhabitants

* Appealed to the cabinet to bear in mind the consequences of its reforms on the people, urging it to look for alternatives if possible

* Stressed the importance of improving education and creating more opportunities for young people so as to put their talents to use

* Acknowledged the country's growing crime rate and the increasing brutality of those crimes

* Thanked people in various professions, including workers, teachers, researchers, soldiers and police, for their work.

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