NEWS IN SHORT

Radičová’s team takes shape; a priest will be her top adviser

WHAT IS traditionally regarded as the most influential position in the Government Office – i.e. the prime minister’s office – will be held by Franciscan priest Ján Krstiteľ Balázs. He was named chief adviser to Prime Minister Iveta Radičová for media and church affairs. Balázs will lead a team of six internal and six external advisers to the prime minister.

WHAT IS traditionally regarded as the most influential position in the Government Office – i.e. the prime minister’s office – will be held by Franciscan priest Ján Krstiteľ Balázs. He was named chief adviser to Prime Minister Iveta Radičová for media and church affairs. Balázs will lead a team of six internal and six external advisers to the prime minister.

“The appointment is not only an honour for me, but also a challenge,” Balázs said in an interview with the Sme daily.

Radičová said, as reported by Sme, that it was natural for her to choose Balázs as her main adviser, since he has been a friend of hers and her late husband since the 1990s. Radičová added that Balázs had also acted as her adviser during the recent election campaign.

After the announcement, Balázs at first refused to make a statement about his future within the Catholic Church. A spokesperson for the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia, Jozef Kováčik, admitted that the situation was unusual and said it would be up to the Franciscan order to solve it.

On the same day, however, public broadcaster Slovak Radio reported that Balázs had left the order and the priesthood, saying that the reason was not his new post in Radičová’s team, but rather the situation in the Church.

“It’s my private decision,” Balázs said, adding that the main reason for his departure was a growing feeling of enchainment, criticism and lack of understanding in the circles of the church, as well as the silence of bishops when values are at stake in public discourse. He also said that Radičová’s offer accelerated his decision to leave the church as a monk and priest.

Balázs has long been an outspoken and active member of civil society in Slovakia. He’s well known to the Slovak public from his regular columns in the Sme daily. He has also been consistently critical of controversial former archbishop Jan Sokol.

Last year Balázs acted as the main spokesperson for the Franciscan order after the police raised charges of paedophilia against three members of the order. The boys who were the alleged victims later said they had been abused by someone else.

The names of the other advisers in Balázs’ team have not been revealed yet.

The Sme daily also announced on July 12 that its commentator Rado Baťo had left after only three months to become the prime minister’s spokesperson. Baťo will also head the government press department.

Viktor Nižňanský, director of the M.E.S.A 10 think tank and a former government plenipotentiary for public administration decentralisation from 1998 to 2001, will serve as head of the Government Office.

Radičová has not yet decided on another key appointment, the head of the Slovak Information Service (SIS), Slovakia’s secret intelligence agency. The Prime Minister is reported to be looking for a nominee outside the party.

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