The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has accused the Slovak police of mounting "punitive raids" with dogs on Roma settlements, and of beating their inhabitants while searching for criminals. In its annual report on human rights protection, Amnesty says the police physically abuse Roma, limit their movement, and enter their houses without permission. The report mentions one particular incident last year at a Roma settlement near the village of Žehra in eastern Slovakia, where, it claims, hundreds of people were ordered to stand in front of their houses, the police used rubber bullets, and one teenager was shot in the leg.
The allegations were rejected by the Ministry of the Interior, which said the raid was conducted to locate seven people accused of inflicting bodily harm, robbery and breach of the peace. The police said the seven had used firearms and baseball bats in an attack on people at a disco. Three people were severely injured. During the subsequent search a shotgun, tear gas, bats, iron bars, a machete and a bayonet were seized, and seven people were arrested, the Ministry said. Deputy Prime Minister for human and Minority Rights, Pál Csáky said he would like to discuss the issue with Amnesty International representatives in Slovakia.
Belgium has decided to impose a visa requirement on Slovak citizens as of 13 April 2000. The Belgian foreign ministry said the decision was taken in the light of the growing number of asylum applications from Slovak citizens - up from 54 in January to 191 in March. Slovak politicians were quick to react, fearing that the decision might have an adverse effect on Slovakia’s moves to join the European Union. President Rudolf Schuster was reported to be "puzzled" by the move. He said he was particularly surprised given that Slovakia is taking great pains to meet all the criteria for EU accession. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said the imposition would not make the solution to problems in Slovakia, or anywhere else, any easier. Opposition politicians blamed the Government. The Chairwoman of the Slovak National Party, Anna Malíková, said it was naive to think that the temporary imposition of visas would resolve the influx of Romani asylum-seekers.
The US President, Bill Clinton, has sent a letter to Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda congratulating him on the recent deal between US Steel and the ailing Eastern Slovak Ironworks (VSŽ). Clinton praised the Premier for putting time and effort into the achievement of the agreement, and assured him that the US will continue to develop its cooperation with Slovakia. "Slovakia contributes to the building of a free and prosperous Europe even via the activities of Premier Dzurinda’s cabinet in the support of common values in the Balkans and elsewhere," Clinton wrote. Dzurinda has described the Ironworks deal, clinched on 24 March, as a milestone of extraordinary importance for the whole Slovak economy.
Slovakia’s envoy to the European Court for Human Rights, Róbert Fico, has objected to plans for his removal from the Strasbourg post. Fico’s recall was proposed by the Justice Minister, Ján Čarnogurský, and approved on Tuesday 4 April by the Foreign Minister, Eduard Kukan. According to a report by Rádio Twist, both ministers believe the post should not be held by the chairman of a political party. Fico’s party, Smer, was established last year and is currently riding high in the opinion polls. "I will not hang on to the post of envoy by force," Fico commented, "my professional honour means more to me than all these pathetic political games."
Fico’s Smer is the second most popular party, according to the latest opinion poll from the Focus agency, with the support of 19 per cent of Slovak voters. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by Vladimír Mečiar has the biggest support with 27.9 percent. The senior government Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) took 11.6 percent, followed by the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) with 8.8 and the Slovak National Party (SNS) with 8.2. The Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) at 6.4 percent and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) with 5.3 percent would both cross the 5 percent threshold required to take seats in Parliament.
President Rudolf Schuster has said that he is proud of his work under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Schuster was mayor of the eastern Slovak town of Košice, and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was re-elected mayor of Košice in free elections following the collapse of the communist state in 1989. The President was speaking after a meeting with members of the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS), who presented him with a bottle of "Stalin’s Tears" vodka. Schuster denied that he had discussed the question of granting a pardon for the former senior communist official, Vasil Biľak, who is currently facing a charge of treason.
Robin Sheeran, 7 April 2000
Useful links for Slovak news:
TASR (Press Agency of the Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)