Books on Slovakia
Update No: 116 - (25/01/07)
The new government has sustained its popularity, which is some
Slovak voters renewed their legislative branch in June 2006. Final results
placed Party Direction - Third Way (Smer)-led by Robert Fico-as the top party in
the country with 50 seats. In July, Fico officially took over as prime minister,
in a coalition encompassing Smer, the SNS and the HZDS.
Fico's SMER Keeps Dominating in Slovakia
The governing (Smer) remains the top choice for voters in the Slovak Republic,
according to a poll by UVVM. 42.4 per cent of respondents would support Smer in
the next parliamentary election.
The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) is second with 11.8 per cent,
followed by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) with 11.4 per cent,
the Slovak National Party (SNS) with 10.6 per cent, the Party of the Hungarian
Coalition (SMK) with 9.2 per cent, and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH)
with 8.8 per cent.
Parties require at least six per cent of the vote to earn seats under the
country's proportional representation system. The Slovak Communist Party (KSS),
the Free Forum (SF), the Movement for Democracy (HZD) and the New Civic Alliance
(ANO) fall below this threshold.
Fico marks out his own Third Way
Western Europe has diverse economic models ranging from the United Kingdom's
free market to the French social market, and it is a political decision which
one a new member should adopt. To demand "reforms" begs the question
of which direction the reforms should be heading. Robert Fico, Slovakia's
leftist premier since July, is working towards a synthesis of the two, a Third
Way. If he succeeds he will belie the dictum of the Thatcherite Vaclav Klaus,
President of the Czech Republic: "The Third Way is the way to the Third
Before applauding reforms one must also examine the content, to see if they are
really needed and well prepared, as well as the timing, because it can sometimes
be better both politically and economically for governments to take their time
introducing complex and painful changes.
Fico has suffered more than most from this simplistic misperception of reform.
His rightwing predecessor, Mikulas Dzurinda, a soulmate of Klaus, pushed through
the most radical reform programme in the region. Economists and business people
were so enamoured that they cited Slovakia as a model for sclerotic Western
Europe. Conversely, Fico was disparaged as the anti-reform candidate who would
try to turn the clock back.
Business was therefore shocked by the scale of Fico's victory and his decision
to opt for the "worst case" scenario of a coalition of his Smer
movement and two nationalist fringe parties.
Fico's initial lukewarm commitment to adopting the euro in 2009 led to a plunge
in the value of the Slovak crown at the end of June. The central bank spent more
than 3 billion euros - around one quarter of its reserves - trying to arrest the
crown's fall before Fico and his business-friendly finance minister, Jan
Pociatek, were able to restore confidence in the euro timetable.
Since that inauspicious start the worst fears have not been realized. Many of
Fico's campaign promises have been cut back and the reform framework has been
preserved. For example, the flat income tax has been maintained, though personal
allowances have been reformed to force high earners to pay more tax.
The crown is now at record levels and the rating agency Moody's even increased
Slovakia's credit rating in October to A1. The country is likely to be chosen as
the site of a huge new LCD plant by Samsung, demonstrating that foreign
investors remain bullish.
Economists and business people now damn Fico with faint praise, commending him
for making only minor changes to Dzurinda's reforms, as if anything his
government did would necessarily be negative. They now either see his government
as a giant waste of time or, if they are charitable, as a period when the
country treads water and catches its breath before another giant wave of
Tried and failed
This overlooks first of all the problems with Dzurinda's reforms. Many were
successful but others, notably in the more complex areas of health care,
education, and welfare, either failed or created huge discontent or both.
For example, long-term unemployed - primarily Roma - were forced to do unskilled
manual work just to receive a lower level of benefits than they had previously
been entitled to. The aim was to cut welfare spending and improve incentives to
work. However, given that many Roma live in areas of very high unemployment and
discrimination, this simply deepened poverty and alienation.
The reforms were also shallow because the Dzurinda government did not tackle the
issue of how they would be administered. The impact of the reforms was eroded by
a state administration and local government that remained overstaffed,
inefficient, and obstructive. Ironically for a government that liked to boast
about attracting foreign investment, a good example of this is Sario, the
investment promotion agency, which remains a pale shadow of CzechInvest, its
The reforms also ignored the chronic unemployment and poverty in eastern
Slovakia. Bratislava and western Slovakia boomed, but for those in the east
migration was the only way out. Only at the very end of his government did
Dzurinda target investment incentives at eastern Slovakia and accelerate
motorway building to link it to the west.
Using the healthy economy he has inherited from Dzurinda, Fico plans both to
improve the reforms and address problems that have been neglected. For example,
social benefits are being increased to tackle poverty, while Pociatek plans big
cuts in state administration through an ambitious e-government revolution.
In other fields Fico's party - true to its Slovak name - plans to go in a
different direction altogether. The flawed and unpopular health-care reform has
already been cancelled, while next year the Social Affairs Ministry should
reform Dzurinda's liberal labour law, aiming to restore workers' and trade union
rights and to maintain the flexibility that employers crave.
Overall, Fico's reforms will be much more modest than Dzurinda's, but it is
often essential to pause in order to assess and correct the impact of reforms
and to build popular support for the next step.
It should not be forgotten that Dzurinda never really had a popular mandate for
his bold reform programme. Most of the reforms were at best sketchy before his
coalition's narrow election victory. His government rushed the implementation of
the reforms because it knew it would never have a second chance.
By contrast, Fico now enjoys record electoral support and is in a strong
position to win the next election and push through further reforms at a time and
pace of his own choosing.
Slovak slams archbishop for fascist remarks
For some reason World War Two right now is stirring people up again in the
former fascist and communist countries. The war in Iraq might be the
explanation, to which Slovakia sent a consignment of troops, who are now being
Slovakia was remarkable in the Second World War for having a leader who was both
a Catholic priest and an ardent pro-Nazi, Josef Tiso. Its prime minister has
condemned an archbishop who praised this fascist wartime leader.
"Tiso was responsible for the deportation of 70,000 Slovak Jews and for the
crackdown on the Slovak resistance movement... he decorated members of SS
troops," Robert Fico said in a statement, referring to Jozef Tiso,
Slovakia's president during World War II.
Fico added that "anyone who participated in such things deserves
condemnation." Fico issued his statement after Jews, Gypsies and others
were outraged when Jan Sokol, archbishop of Bratislava, told a local television
station that Tiso's rule was a time of well-being without mentioning the
president's persecution of minorities.
Tiso was the only wartime leader to pay the Nazi regime money for every Jew
Slovakia deported to concentration camps, where nearly all of the nation's Jews
The new minority to be persecuted in Slovakia, as well as other Central European
countries, are the Gypsies. The following is self-explanatory:-
Gypsies put Europe to the test
With the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the European Union, there's
cause for celebration in the streets of Bucharest and the courtyards of Sofia.
For two of Europe's poorer countries, inclusion in the EU brings innumerable
benefits, not least roads, recognition, grants, travel access and a sundering
with the Soviet past, wrote the International Herald Tribune.
Yet for other members of the EU - in Paris, Dublin, Brussels and perhaps even in
Bucharest and Sofia - it also spells the inclusion of what they see as 3 million
potential problems: the Gypsies.
The word still holds freight, even among those to whom it applies - the Roma.
Newspaper editors are still stumped by how they should address the largest
minority on the European continent. Town mayors in the former Soviet satellites
still talk of "whitening out" their inner cities. Skinheads are happy
to call for flamethrowers in rock songs on the radio.
If a society recognizes itself, and ultimately critiques itself, on how it
treats its most downtrodden, then surely the acid test for the Union is its
ongoing treatment of the Roma.
They can be found living in the housing projects of Paris; the toxic dumps of
Kosovo; the ruined outskirts of villages in eastern Slovakia; the grey flatlands
of Dublin. Each place has its own, sometimes tiny, community, but collectively
these groups form a 10-million-strong mosaic of poverty and exclusion.
There are, of course, Romani doctors, ethnographers, poets and scholars who have
called for a new era of consciousness. They point to Romani contributions to the
arts, politics and music by figures of Gypsy descent as diverse as Picasso,
Django Reinhardt, Bob Hoskins, Charlie Chaplin, the Polish poet Papusza, Carmen
Amaya and even Bill Clinton.
But for the large part, theirs is an echo chamber that doesn't pierce the old
cliché's of lying, cheating, stealing, and breaking curfew with violin.
"The persistent, relentless portrayal of Roma as rootless, lawless,
immoral, childlike thieves...will ensure that anti-Gypsy prejudice will remain
firmly a part of Euro-American attitudes," says Ian Hancock, a Romani
scholar from the University of Texas.
In Bratislava one afternoon, while researching the situation of the Roma in
Slovakia, I was engaged by a young intellectual in a debate on American civil
rights. He knew of the Weathermen, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael.
He was an eloquent defender of the marginalized.
But when I asked him about contemporary issues of sterilization, school
discrimination and burnings of Romani houses in his own country, he said without
rancour, "Of course, yes, but they're just Gypsies."
Malice is sometimes another name for silence.
First Kia cee'd cars roll off Slovak production line
The first Kia cee'd family cars destined for customers in Europe, have began to
roll off the production line at Kia's all-new manufacturing facility in Zilina,
Slovakia, DuoMotori reported on December 21st.
The first cars were given a ceremonial 'send-off' recently by Euisun Chung, Kia
Motors Corporation President and CEO and Jan Slota, Mayor of Zilina. "Today
is truly a fantastic landmark in Kia´s development as a major automotive
company," commented Jean-Charles Lievens, Senior Vice President Kia Motors
Europe, speaking at the Zilina event. "We know the Kia cee'd will be our
best-ever challenger for C-segment honours." Kia Motors Slovakia (KMS)
employees and component suppliers responsible for Kia cee'd production took part
in a 'quality pledge ceremony' and promised to build the best quality vehicles
in the world by following the KMS Quality Charter. From October 2005 to July
2006, more than 600 KMS employees completed intensive training in Korea to
ensure the quality of the cee'd.
Kosice airport reports 321,800 passengers in 11 months
Airport Kosice served 321,820 passengers over eleven months of this year, up
almost 28 percent year on year, Hospodarske Noviny reported on December 20th.
Within international transport the airport was used by 212,789 passengers while
109,031 people used it for local flights. Company's executive director Marta
Horvathova said that from January to November, 236,923 people used regular
flights to Bratislava, Prague and Vienna.
New Holiday Inn to open in Slovakia later this month
A four-star Holiday Inn is to open in Zilina in late January, TASR has reported.
Zilina Company Panorama Sport Hotel was commissioned to build the new hotel by
the InterContinental Hotels Group, and borrowed funds from UniBanka and other
financial institutions to invest in the project itself.
"We increased our original investment by 50 million Slovak crowns to 350
million crowns (10.2 million Euro) in order to provide safety for our guests in
line with Slovak and European standards. The hotel is conveniently close to the
town centre, football and hockey stadiums, and a link to the main road between
Bratislava and Kosice. It was designed by Zilina and Bratislava architects
according to the parameters of international hotels of this category,"
Panorama Sport Hotel CEO Jozef Mihalik said.
The hotel can be used as a congress centre. It offers 133 top-class rooms and
two restaurants serving Italian and global cuisine. "We will employ a total
of around 100 people from Zilina and the surrounding area," said Mihalik.
The InterContinental Hotels Group already owns a Holiday Inn and the Crown Plaza
Hotel in Bratislava. It has some 3,600 hotels worldwide, including around 600 in
Europe, said the Group's representative Ulrich Widmer.
National Motorway Company to complete 40 kilometres in 2007
According to the country's motorway programme for 2007, the National Motorway
Company (NDS) plans to complete around 40 kilometres and begin construction of a
further 50 kilometres, said NDS director, Juraj Cermak, at a news conference in
Bratislava, Tasr-Slovakia reported on December 20th.
Construction of all motorway sections that NDS wants to begin in 2007 should be
completed in 2010. However, some of them should be completed earlier. According
to NDS, the expenses for these motorway sections represent a sum of 21 billion
Slovak crowns (606 million Euro), while their preparation phase has cost almost
24 billion crowns. In 2007, NDS will run 13 projects - six motorway sections and
seven highway sections. Cermak said the construction of a bridge through
Povazska Bystrica, motorway section between Mengusovce and Janovce, an R1
highway section between Zarnovica and Sasovske Podhradie (Banska Bystrica
region) and the R3 Trstena (Zilina region) by-pass road will belong among the
most expensive. Construction of the motorway sections between Mengusovce and
Janovce, and Matejovce and Janovce, representing the longest (12 kilometres)
motorway section, is due to start in January. In March, NDS will start with the
motorway section D1 between Sverepec and Vrtizer (Zilina region), and the
Trstena by-pass. According to Cermak, the Sitina tunnel in Bratislava, and part
of the motorway section D1 between Vrtizer and Hricovske Podhradie should also
be completed in 2007.