Prime Minister of Slovakia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 26 June 1996

Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, ladies and gentlemen, 30 June will mark the third anniversary of the Slovak Republic’s accession to the Council of Europe. We have arrived as free among the free, equal among the equal, in the name of humanity, the best values of mankind, in the interest of the rights of man, a nation, a state. We confirm our interest in participating in the building of a new Europe with shared values of democracy, human rights and freedom, while respecting the right for an individual path towards the achievement of these values. The Council of Europe is seen by us as a symbol and guarantor of the development of these values, and has rightly been dubbed the conscience of Europe.

Our ancestors developed a powerful state from the sixth to the ninth century. The first diocese in central and eastern Europe was situated in our territory. It was here that patron saints of Europe, St Cyril and St Methodius were engaged in their proselytising activities, and Christianity spread further to the east as a result. Our forefathers’ language was recognised as the fourth liturgical language. I do not want to lecture on history, but rather to suggest that if Europe is now developing for the second millennium under Christian influence, then we have always been an integral part of that process.

The Slovak Republic is developing as a democratic state of citizens with equal rights, duties and opportunities. The democratic evolution is irreversible. Shortcomings are faults which can be attributed to the evolution, rather than to the substance, of democracy. The economy is evolving into a socially- orientated market economy, with a dynamic growth of the gross domestic product exceeding 7,3% for the second consecutive year; inflation is now under 1% and a stable currency with external convertibility of the current account has been achieved since 1995. Foreign currency reserves have increased, and unemployment has fallen by 4% in the previous eighteen months. The search for the social acceptability of the transition process has led to a situation in which, up to the present day, no instances of unrest or strikes whatsoever have been noted in our country. The values system of the people is in the process of changing. The many years of struggle between ideas of collectivism and individualism return us to the original values of Christianity and humanism. In practice, we have succeeded in defending our way, the Slovak way, of transformation of society.

The changes under way in our country are being undertaken both with regard to civilising trends in a post-industrial society and in view of the European integration processes. Our endeavours towards approximation and equalling with the most advanced countries speed up the efforts of our evolution.

Respect for human and civil rights is guaranteed in Slovakia through the legal system, the activities of public institutions, an independent judiciary and by international guarantees. Particular protection is provided in the area of minority rights. Ethnic minorities make up 13,8% of the population. We have adopted the international standard for minority rights. The Slovak Republic has also ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. We regret that the convention is not yet in force owing to the failure of a sufficient number of countries to ratify it. We understand that the conflict in the Balkans, when viewed simply as an ethnic one, has focused attention on national minority policies. Restricting minority problems to only ethnic ones would not be correct. The protection of the rights of people belonging to national minorities should not be confused with the nurturing of nationalism on the part of minorities, or efforts towards irredentism, language ghettoisation and separation. Two different standards should not be applied for the assessment of the protection of human and civil rights.

After the friendly separation from the Czech Republic, Slovakia has rearranged the relations with all its neighbours, and has also this year ratified the Basic Treaty with the Republic of Hungary. The prerequisites for the stability and co-operation between regions are beginning to materialise. New possibilities are envisaged by us in the extension of economic co-operation within CEFTA.

The Slovak Republic has clearly declared its commitment to, and is taking practical steps towards, the integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, thus seeking guarantees of its security. Many noble words and toasts for eternal peace and co-operation have been said, although the number of conflicts and failures still remains high. It is, therefore, justifiable to ask the following question: “Are we ready to seize the opportunity given to Europe after the collapse of the opposing blocs? Shall we manage to convert the balance of fear and power into a balance of interests?” Europe will be secure when everybody in it is secure. Security for everyone, not against someone. We, therefore, consider the future development as a summary of different co-operation activities between the countries integrated in Nato, and their co-operating partners, too. We are interested in membership of Nato. Issues concerning security and guarantees are of crucial importance to central Europe. Security in central Europe cannot be conceived of only as a space between Nato and the Commonwealth of Independent States, but rather as an integral part of the global security architecture.

A more rapid and better organised co-ordination in combating international crime is another area which we consider to be of great importance for the security of citizens. While national bureaucracies are trying to find ways for co-operation, crime has become internationalised since the fall of the iron curtain.

The Slovak Republic is a country associated with the European Union and has submitted its application for membership. We welcome development aimed at setting objective criteria as well as the attempts to start talks with all the applicant countries simultaneously, and we realise that these talks may not necessarily be completed at the same time with all the countries concerned. The associated countries thus face a duty to accommodate the future situation in the European Union and prepare also for the conditions of monetary union.

Assessments of chances for integration through the use of various popularity polls, yet without any objective criteria, have a rather counter-productive and demotivating effect.

The preparation for integration is taking place in the area of legislation, compatibility of economic conditions for co-operation, technical linking of infrastructures, and also through increasing the output of our economy. The major problem is not investment, it is rather the training of people.

We greatly appreciate the Council of Europe’s assistance in the strengthening of democracy, the protection of human rights, the development of legislation and in the democratic building of the public administration. Your experience has helped our republic to arrive within a few years at a point for the achievement of which you needed decades. Democracy is a way of life and a way of thinking rather than just law and institutions. There are no alternatives to it. We apply the experience of advanced democracies to our condition and to historical evolution. What matters at present is the instruments for the development of democracy rather than the fundamental character of democracy itself.

Development of democracy is a never-ending process of getting acquainted with social evolution and relations. And that is also one of the continuous missions of the Council of Europe. It is necessary to analyse the mechanisms leading to the formation of European institutions, large and small states, the roles of direct and representative democracies, relations concerning the citizen, the state, self-government; the position of political parties, of the family, and of human relations; issues concerning the sovereignty of states and integration, regional relations and similar questions. Answers are to be given to questions regarding cultural development as well as the whole comprehensive set of social rights of man, not only in terms of the protective function of these rights, but, first of all, the motivating function.

Quite often, I am asked what is the most difficult task I have had to solve in my life. Life has taught me the lesson that it is only the tasks that we have not yet dealt with which can be much more difficult than the ones we have already resolved.

The Slovak Republic greatly appreciates its membership of the Council of Europe. It is not free from minor mistakes, although it is and will remain a reliable partner for everyone to co-operate with. We stand at the threshold of a new millennium, at the threshold of a new, post-industrial co-operation. We stand at the threshold of a new Europe of shared fundamental values and opportunities.

Let us prove that we are worthy of our time and that we have not wasted our chance.

Ladies and gentlemen, it will be an honour for me to answer your questions.


Thank you very much, Mr Meciar, for your most interesting statement. Several members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I would remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and must be as short as possible – not as long as yesterday’s. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. In order to ensure that as many colleagues as possible are able to put their questions, I do not propose to allow supplementary questions. The first question is from Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (translation)

Prime Minister, I should like to ask you the same question that I asked your colleague, Prime Minister Klaus of the Czech Republic, with regard to what you described as peaceful separation from the Czech people. I should like to ask you whether the fact that when this separation took place the desire of 20% of the citizens of both states to vote on the issue was ignored by both governments is responsible for the political, cultural and psychological atmosphere in these two countries and how the two governments see this. Thank you very much.

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that the two states had a customs union but internationally distinct personalities. They had considered whether the separation could be carried out by a constitutional referendum but the Czech Republic had not wanted this to happen.

The separation was, however, conducted through federal, democratically elected parliaments. The two states sought to draw up agreements on points of international law and there was no hatred between them. The Slovak Republic might have lost Prague, but had gained a door to the whole world.

Mr LORENZI (Italy) (translation)

Prime Minister, I speak to you as a Senator of the Italian Republic and a member of the Lega Nord group for an independent Padania. My question is the following: could you say a little more than you have already about your own experience of handling demands for greater federalism and autonomy in terms of the problems you have or have not been able to solve, your approach to such issues, the risks and therefore the advantages and disadvantages? You may have suggestions to make to other countries and in the light of what is happening in my own particular country, Italy.

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that one ambassador he saw early in the life of his country had said that the Czech and Slovak Republics would spread a virus of peaceful separations. It was not, however, the intention of the Slovak Republic to provide any patent for such separation. It should be an individual, internal matter. There had been many problems in the separation. These were political, economic and humanitarian.

He gave the example of the establishment of the Slovakian Central Bank. It had been the original aim of the two republics to maintain a single currency for six months after the separation. In the event, change had to come after only six weeks.

He stressed that the advantages of the separation now outweighed any drawbacks.

Mr TRIBUNOVSKI (“the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) (translation)

Prime Minister Meciar, my question is: the war in a number of countries of the former Yugoslavia has led to a disturbance in Slovakia’s traditional relations with the Balkan states. What is the Slovakian Government’s policy on the expansion of co-operation on economic and other matters with the countries of the region, one of which is the Republic of Macedonia?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that Slovakia had sought a peaceful solution to the conflicts in the region. Losses had been incurred because of the Danube embargo, and it had proved hard to re-establish links which had been broken. Slovakia sought integration and wished to co-operate to foster stability.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

As a Hungarian, Mr Prime Minister, I welcome your words of confirmation about your commitment to joining Euro-Atlantic structures. Hungary wants to do the same thing and we should do it together, if that is possible.

More and more critical voices can be heard about the way in which democracy is conducted in Slovakia. The bad news is that some suggest that Slovakia may lose its chance to be included in the first phase of enlargement. What is your response? What are your plans for convincing the international community that Slovakia intends to meet requirements and believes that it should be part of the first phase of enlargement?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said the Slovak Republic was not behind other emerging democracies. The treaty which had been agreed with Hungary showed that the two countries had a common objective and sought to move forward together. Slovakia was leading the post-communist countries in terms of development, and the problems which had been detected by monitoring organisations were being resolved.

Mr ANTRETTER (Germany) (translation)

Slovakia is a young state, but the Slovaks are an old European nation who for many centuries had no opportunity to conduct their own affairs at international level. Now they are in the process of shaping their own identity. The task facing them is sometimes much more complicated at a time when people in the traditional nation states of western Europe are beginning to talk about a European identity. Prime Minister, do you believe that this signals the actual beginning of a new era in Europe in which nation states will attempt to move away from their tradition of unbridled national rivalry, or was it just a passing phase in Europe’s history, based on uniting against a common enemy?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that self-determination was a basic right, and although the decision to create a new state might seem irrational in a European Union context, the purpose of acquiring sovereignty was to provide the legal basis for greater integration. Being a separate state had advantages over being part of a federation.

A collection of small countries should not prove a problem for European integration or for the European Union. States were states; their size was irrelevant. In January 1993 Germany had been one of the first countries to recognise the Slovak Republic.

Mr MOTIU (Romania)

Firstly, did Recommendation 1201 prove to be an absolutely necessary element of cohesion and stability for the Slovak- Hungarian pact, and have relationships improved since the pact was ratified? Secondly, how do you explain the fact that although the tendency in Europe nowadays is to unite, Czechoslovakia split up? Are you against a united Europe?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

replied that in Europe there were no countries without minorities. He recalled the divisions over Alsace. Recommendation 1201 as adopted by the Council of Europe had several possible interpretations. Both Slovakia and Hungary had agreed that there should be no collective rights for minorities. An addendum had to be adopted to Recommendation 1201 to this effect. The Council of Europe had not intended to establish a principle of collective human rights but rather individual rights for citizens.

The Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities had been ratified by Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, but needed twelve ratifications before it would apply across the board.


Mr Prime Minister, the Slovak Government has proposed a new division of administrative districts, whereby the traditional areas in which minorities were in the majority are being divided into new districts, so that the minorities become real minorities in all the new districts. Would you say that that is in line with the principles on the treatment of minorities as enshrined in the framework convention?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said the situation was not as Mrs Jaatteenmaki had described it. In 1990 a new administration system for the regions had indeed been instigated, but complaints made to the Council of Europe were based on poor information. Although a north-south divide might have reduced the number of Slovakian and Hungarian citizens in each region, in practice the number of Hungarian citizens had increased relative to the Slovak population in some areas. A document had been drafted in 1993 and an assurance had been given to the Council of Europe that there would be a proper ethnic composition in all districts. There was no cause for complaint.

Lord FINSBERG (United Kingdom)

I wonder whether you, Mr Prime Minister, would tell us what will happen to the law on amendments to the criminal code. Will they be modified to take into account their effect on freedom of expression and other democratic rights? When can we expect the promised minority language legislation?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that the amendments to the criminal code were now in the process of being approved. Their purpose was to try to protect the territorial rights and the sovereignty of the state. Given that the Slovak-Hungarian Treaty had been ratified simultaneously, all attention had at the time been focused on that. However, Chapter 1 of the criminal code had been presented to the court for inspection, and independent experts had also been called in from the Council of Europe and from Austria. Their opinions had been respected.

The law did not contradict the European Convention on Human Rights. It was understood that the law was limited by the need to achieve harmonisation between the criminal code and the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. Analysis of the law continued. Once this process had been completed the proceedings of the National Committee would be concluded, probably in the autumn.

There was no legal void in the matter of minority languages. Their use was guaranteed by the constitution and other national laws. The most important question was about what standard or standards to adopt. The government’s first step had been to decide to preserve the status quo, since the right to speak in any language was already established. Its second step was to adopt and ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Its third step was to adopt the minority languages themselves.

The Slovak charter was intended to protect the individual rather than the language. An example was the need for instructions in the minority language on medicine bottles. It was instances such as these which had led to the promotion of the law.

In his opinion, the law in its current form was unlikely to be accepted. However, the process by which the law was examined was the same as in many other European countries. The question of the protection of minority languages remained under consideration.

Mr NEMETH (Hungary)

Mr President, you have mentioned the position on the language law accepted in November 1995. You say that it does not include any minority provisions. How is it possible, then, that, to my knowledge, language inspectors may fine young couples if their official marriage ceremony is heard in Hungarian? To my knowledge, the word “yes” in Hungarian may cost a couple a year’s salary.

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

replied that Mr Németh had been misinformed. Marriage ceremonies could be carried out in any language since the freedom to speak any language was enjoyed by all. However, it was possible for a manufacturer to be fined if goods were produced which did not bear instructions for safe operation or use in the national language.

It was also the case that in the army, the police and some defence institutions Slovak was considered the command language. He was happy that this was a legitimate practice.

He noted that there were two approaches in Europe to education in minority languages. The first was to offer teaching, in the language, the second was to offer teaching of the language.

The Slovak Republic had chosen the first option and had guaranteed that every child had the right to be educated in a minority tongue. It was the parents’ decision whether to take up this opportunity. It remained important that all children should also learn the language of the country in which they resided. This was a question of freedom of opportunity which would be diminished if ghettoes were allowed to be established. All were citizens of the one country.

Mr SZALAY (Hungary)

Mr Prime Minister, a couple of days ago the President of the Slovak Republic made an official visit to Hungary. He delivered a very constructive and remarkable speech at the plenary session of our parliament, which was highly esteemed and hailed by the overwhelming majority of Hungarian politicians, the public and the media. The presidential visit, in its integrity, proved to be a valuable contribution to the improvement of Slovak- Hungarian relations. Nevertheless, some official Slovak reactions were far less favourable. For example, the presidential visit was roundly condemned by your Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Yuraj Schenk. How do you personally evaluate the visit? What importance do you attach to the presidential diplomatic mission?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that the visit had not been a revolutionary step. The government and the President disagreed on several issues but he did not wish to speak at length on an internal matter.

It was, however, true that the visit had not been discussed with ministers. This should not be allowed to obscure the fact that it was an important part of the process of increasing co-operation between the two countries.

Sir Anthony DURANT (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, will you comment on the position of the media in your country? Are they impartial? Who controls the television, radio and press? I understand that there are committees to oversee television and radio. Who appoints the members of those committees, and are they independent of the government?

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

replied that a free press was the cornerstone of democracy. Many criticisms had been made of the Slovak Republic in this field. He had spoken about this and offered any journalist $US 10 000 if he felt he was not free to publish what he liked, but no one had taken up the offer.

The media was not under state administration. The group of which Sir Anthony spoke was composed of artists, specialists and journalists who were answerable to parliament, not to the government.

Mr SCHWIMMER (Austria) (translation)

Prime Minister, as one of the three rapporteurs who recommended Slovakia’s admission to the Council of Europe and as rapporteur for the monitoring procedure, I should be very interested to know how things are developing in Slovakia.

I have heard with great satisfaction that it has already been possible to make provision for the participation of the opposition in the control mechanisms and that negotiations are taking place on how the opposition can put forward proposals to the members of the council of the public television and radio corporation.

As the interplay of the government and the opposition are an important aspect of the functioning of a pluralist democracy, I should like to ask you to tell us something about the fundamental relationship between the government and the opposition.

Mr Meciar, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said it would be abnormal for relations between the government coalition and the opposition parties to be too close. In the Slovak Republic attitudes had been determined by the choice to found an independent state and the decision to become a democracy, and there was a divide between those who had supported these changes and those who had opposed them.

The former group had greater domestic support while the latter had more quickly gained support outside the republic. Greater co-operation with left-wing parties was now sought. The opposition was represented in the National Council but had complained that it could not participate in the Council of Europe. However, these were internal matters which did not undermine the republic’s democratic basis.


That concludes the questions. Thank you, Mr Prime Minister. On behalf of the Assembly I thank you warmly for your statement and for your answers to our questions. I now understand why our rapporteurs are keen to meet you personally when they visit your country.