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EDITIONS
Friday, 28 June, 2002, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Testing times for Slovak politics
Schuster Slovak TA3 TV 28 Jun 02
Mr Schuster has appealed for a high turnout
Slovak President Rudolf Schuster has warned his countrymen that elections in a few weeks time could have far-reaching consequences for the nation's ambition to join the European Union.

He said that since the current centre-left social democrat coalition came to power in 1998, Slovakia had gained in prestige during talks with European and world institutions.

"However, we must not underestimate the concerns about our political development after the elections," Mr Schuster said in his state-of-the-nation address.

"The best way we can alleviate these concerns is by the highest possible turnout."

Nato entry

The worry in September's elections is that Vladimir Meciar, who cobbled together a succession of governments between 1992 and 1998, will be returned to power if his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia wins more votes than the fragmented opposition.

Elvis News Stills
Meciar remains popular with many voters

Latest polls suggest a stable level of support for Mr Meciar's party running at between 25% and 30%, with an array of smaller parties all running at less than 15%.

Mr Meciar has been roundly condemned both at home and abroad for authoritarianism.

His critics said he failed to embrace the values and policies of a modern democratic government.

There were also allegations of cronyism, and concern at his government's lack of respect for media freedoms and the treatment of the country's ethnic minorities.

The US ambassador to Nato, Nicholas Burns, told the Austrian daily Die Presse that the US did not believe Mr Meciar had changed.

"If his party were to return to power in Bratislava, that would be a fundamental obstacle to Slovakia's entry into Nato," Mr Burns said.

No alternative

Latest polls say some 60% of Slovaks are in favour of Nato membership, and Nato chiefs are meeting in Prague in November to decide which countries they should invite to join in the next phase of enlargement.


We have no doubt about the objectives, but we believe that that Slovakia could have made greater progress

Vladimir Meciar

Support for EU membership runs even higher, at 70%, but European Union officials have also made clear their reservations about the return of Mr Meciar.

Mr Meciar himself is also in favour of joining Nato and the EU.

"Slovakia has no other alternative," he told the Narodna Obroda daily.

"We have no doubt about the objectives, but we believe that that Slovakia could have made greater progress, and many steps have been carried out the wrong way."

Mr Meciar has substantial support, and brushes aside criticism from abroad as interference in Slovakia's democratic process.

"I cannot accept that Slovakia will only get into Nato if it causes itself a deficit in democracy, and gives up free elections," he said.

Broken promises

President Schuster acknowledged that many people were disappointed at the pace of reforms, fearing that voter apathy could be the country's downfall.

"Many of you are disillusioned with the performance of this and past governments, and with the unkept promises," he said. "But we have to understand that we cannot manage without these reforms."

Slovakia's strategy was to draw level with the most developed countries in Europe, he said "but we cannot join the club without meeting the relevant admission criteria."

We have arrived at a point where we alone bear responsibility for the destiny of our country," President Schuster said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Links to more Media reports stories are at the foot of the page.


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