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Slovakia: University Fears Government Clamp-Down

Trnava, Slovakia; 9 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Slovak authorities' decision to establish a second university in the western city of Trnava has led to expressions of concern that the government is trying to interfere with academic freedoms.

The vice-rector of the existing Trnava university, Peter Cernansky, told RFE/RL that his institution feels its future is threatened by the government's plans. Trnava University was founded only in 1992, just half a year before the division of the former Czechoslovak Republic.

Cernansky said yesterday that attacks on the independent-minded staff and professors of the University were launched by Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's ruling HZDS party almost immediately after its foundation.

Cernansky said that judging by the sustained criticism from this quarter, Meciar has a strong dislike for the university on account of its anti-government positions.

An RFE/RL correspondent reports that Slovakia's parliament approved the establishment of a new university in Trnava to be called Cyril and Methodius (C&M) on June 27th. The city has a population of some 70,000 people, and Cernansky says there is no need for a second university there. He calls the establishment of the C&M a "political decision" so that Premier Meciar will be able to rein in anti-government professors and lecturers.

Cernansky says he fears that Trnava University with its 1,400 students would be allowed to dwindle away, or might have to unite with C&M University, with the prospect that anti-government professors would be vulnerable to weeding out.

Last month parliament's approval of the university was greeted with criticism also from opposition parties and Slovakia's Catholic bishops. Many questioned allocating funds for the institution when state coffers are empty, or said the money could be put to better use.

Trnava University receives about $1.3 million annually in funds from the Slovak government. It also has rent-free use of facilities in downtown Trnava. According to Cernansky, C&M has been slated to receive $1.8 million from state coffers for the first 4 months of its existence.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Meciar (Ludmila Bulakova) told RFE/RL today that the new university will not interfere in any way with the existing institution. She denied in full the assertions made by Cernansky.

Our correspondent reports that Slovak President Michal Kovac must still sign the bill setting up the new university. If he chooses not to sign, it will be returned to parliament where Meciar's ruling party have the numbers to again approve the bill.

The C&M university is the latest of several newly-established institutions of higher learning in Slovakia. Others include the Arts Academy in Banska Bystrica and a university in Trencin, a city north of Bratislava. Both have been established during Meciar's tenure as Premier.

There are some 20 universities in the Slovak Republic, and Cernansky warned of the general dangers of Slovakia's universities losing their independence and becoming pro-government institutions.