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Meciar Defends Slovak Democracy

Strasbourg, June 26 (RFE/RL) -- Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar today rejected widespread criticism that Slovakia may fail to be accepted into NATO and the European Union (EU) because of shortcomings of democracy in his country.

Warnings have come from the United States, the EU, and most recently NATO, that Slovakia risks falling behind other central European countries in the race for acceptance into important western institutions.

But speaking today at the Council of Europe, Meciar said the development of democracy in Slovakia is, in his words, "no worse than any other post-communist states."

As for economic and social development, he said Slovakia leads other ex-communist countries of the region.

Meciar was questioned by council deputies for nearly an hour, primarily about freedom of the press and treatment of the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

He argued that minorities in his country enjoy even more rights than required by Council of Europe standards. He also said he had offered ten thousand dollars to any Slovak journalist who felt he or she could not freely write and publish his or her articles -- but that no one had yet claimed the money.