Prague, March 27 (RFE/RL) - Speaking three days ago
at a political conference in the town of Zwolen, Slovakia's Prime
Minister Vladimir Meciar appealed to the West to be tolerant of his
government's policies and the behavior of his allies in the political
"The European Union countries," he said, "should not see only moves
against democracy in our search for the new (system of government)
and in the mistakes that we make."
Yesterday, Slovakia's parliament, which is dominated by the
Meciar-led coalition of populist and nationalist groups, adopted an
anti-subversion law, effectively limiting freedoms of expression,
assembly and information.
Meciar's political opponents have denounced the law as a throwback
to regulations used during the Stalinist era of communist rule, and a
major blow to Slovakia's international image. They also said that it
could provide ground for arbitrary moves by the government to silence
Under the new law, Slovak citizens face up to two years in prison if found guilty of "disseminating false information" about the state.
They also risk stiff punishment - six months to five years and/or
fines - for organizing public rallies with the intention of
"subverting the constitutional system, territorial integrity of
defense capability of the state."
The law was sponsored by the radically nationalist Slovak National
Party, a junior member of the ruling coalition. It passed with 77
votes in favor, 57 against and six abstentions.
Immediately after the vote, groups of young people staged a protest
in front of the parliament building.
The country's Catholic Church yesterday issued a statement in which
it said that some articles in the new law "could be compared with
(the Stalinist law) of 1948 under which hundreds of thousands of
innocent people were persecuted and even tortured to death."
Some western observers have suggested that the law contained
language "typical of dictatorship."
All critics have agreed that the passage of the law is likely to
compromise Slovakia's image abroad and make it more difficult for it
to join the European Union and other western institutions.
Last year, representatives of the union as well as NATO, including
U. S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, publicly expressed concern
that Slovakia had not strengthened its democracy enough for
eligibility for membership.
Meciar's defenders hinted yesterday that the passage of the
anti-subversion law might have been a trade-off for the nationalist
party's support for the ratification of a friendship treaty with
That treaty provides for Hungary's acceptance of the inviolability
of Slovakia's borders. In return, Slovakia pledged to provide basic
guarantees of ethnic minority rights for Hungarians residing in
Slovakia. The treaty was regarded as a prerequisite for the two
countries' success in their effort to join the European Union.
The treaty was signed by the Slovak and Hungarian governments last
year. It has already been ratified by Hungary, but the Slovak
approval was held up in the parliament by the nationalist groups.
Yesterday, this approval was given with 119 votes in favor, one
against, and 19 abstentions. But the nationalist groups succeeded in
adopting resolutions restricting the scope of the treaty's provisions
in Slovakia that ruled out granting any collective rights - including
the right to autonomy - for ethnic groups.
Whether this step will bring Slovakia any closer to the long
sought-after membership in the western institutions remains
uncertain. The increasingly restrictive character of the country's
political system, again demonstrated by the passage of the
anti-subversion law, clearly complicates the situation.
Meciar might have, perhaps involuntarily, recognized that when he
said at the Zwolen conference three days ago that "we ourselves, from
ignorance, stupidity and often out of spite are sending out many
negative signals, which are assessed differently in western European
countries that have other standards."