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Politics and the doctors' protest

WHILE hospitals were trying to cope with the critical situation in which they found themselves as hundreds of their doctors prepared to leave on December 1, political manoeuvring and personal attacks increased in intensity.

WHILE hospitals were trying to cope with the critical situation in which they found themselves as hundreds of their doctors prepared to leave on December 1, political manoeuvring and personal attacks increased in intensity.

The Medical Trade Unions’ Association (LOZ) and many of the protesting doctors have been posting their reactions to the latest developments on the LOZ website and Facebook page, accusing the cabinet and the media of lying about the progress of talks, the salaries offered to the protesting doctors and also about the numbers of doctors who have withdrawn their resignations.



Uhliarik’s resignation


demanded



The LOZ called on the prime minister to dismiss Health Minister Ivan Uhliarik after marathon talks on November 29 brought no tangible results.

“He has underestimated the situation for a long time, he did not communicate and mainly he did not deal with the demands of the doctors through which they offer a solution to Slovak health care’s problems,” LOZ head Marián Kollár said, as quoted by the Sme daily, adding that all this led to the declaration of a state of emergency for which Uhliarik should take responsibility.

The opposition Smer party has been critical of Uhliarik throughout the protest. Uhliarik’s
predecessor and Smer’s current shadow health minister, Richard Raši, has repeatedly accused Uhliarik of mishandling the situation and failing to communicate with the protesting doctors in an appropriate way.

“They were unnecessarily provoked and they therefore act in the way they do,” Raši said about the union members, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that the cabinet had made a fatal mistake.

Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), a governing party that fell out with the rest of the coalition in October, used the occasion to criticise its former ruling partner, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which nominated Uhliarik as minister.

“The incompetence of the KDH and their minister meant that gradually the government is backing off in the face of the LOZ,” SaS caucus chairman Jozef Kollár said. He also criticised the attempt by KDH MP Alojz Přidal to inject €112 million into the health-care system through an indirect amendment to the law on road traffic.

SaS also called on the prime minister and the president to “proceed in the same way as they did in the case of the SaS minister”, a reference to the dismissal of SaS-nominated defence minister Ľubomír Galko over a wiretapping scandal a week earlier.

On the last day before the resignation notices of hundreds of doctors became effective President Ivan Gašparovič admitted he had been urged from several sides to revoke Uhliarik’s mandate to lead the health department, but said he still believed Uhliarik had “a couple of hours” to make it clear whether the situation in hospitals would be stabilised.



Kollár: media suggest political links



Uhliarik has in turn accused the LOZ leader Kollár of politicising the protests. He said that while the protesting doctors who were about to lose their jobs on December 1 were risking practically everything, Kollár earns his living by running a private gynaecological clinic and therefore has little at stake personally.

The Slovak media reported on November 29 that Kollár has been involved in several protest actions before now, always against ministers of centre-right governments. Kollár previously ran as a parliamentary candidate on the slate of the Movement for Democracy (HZD), a now-defunct party founded by President Gašparovič around 10 years ago, the Sme daily reported. The HZD, now dormant, officially backs Smer.


Former health minister Rudolf Zajac, who also faced protests by doctors led by Kollár during a previous centre-right government, also suggested a connection between the LOZ head and Smer.

“After he took power [in 2006] Fico did none of what he had promised them, and did not raise their salaries, but Kollár kept silent for three years,” Zajac told the Sme daily.

The tabloid Nový Čas daily reported that Kollár’s wife runs a ski centre, Orava Snow, that received a €184,000 grant from the Labour Ministry under Smer. Kollár denied any such connection and called the reports an attempt to personally discredit him.


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