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Slovakia: The Levoca Summit Endorsed European Unity

Levoca, Slovakia; 27 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Some of Slovakia's closest neighbors will support the country's bid to enter the European Union (EU). Austria, Hungary and Poland all agreed to support Slovakia's desire to integrate into Western structures at a summit of eleven - mostly Eastern European Presidents in Levoca, Slovakia - that concluded over the weekend.

"We can not imagine Europe without Slovakia," Austria's President Thomas Klestil said. "We're going to support Slovakia," he said, adding that Slovakia is one of the "core countries" in Europe.

EU officials in December in Luxembourg, decided Slovakia would not be among the first to begin accession talks. The EU and others Western institutions have criticized Slovakia's commitment to democratic principles. But, Slovakia's President Michal Kovac, trying to remain upbeat during the summit, said those gathered are "interested in Slovakia becoming an integral part of Europe." It shows, he said, that Slovakia is "not shunned and ignored and that there is no international conspiracy against Slovakia," Kovac said.

Bulgaria's President Petar Stoyanov said the main significance of the meeting was, "these Presidents share the same philosophy -- the philosophy of a united Europe," Stoyanov said.

Hungary's President Arpad Goncz said Europe "can not be complete" without Slovakia. "Slovakia has its place in Europe," Goncz said.

Poland's President Alexander Kwasniewski said Slovakia had confirmed its desire to be part of European structures. "From the Polish position, we will support Slovakia wanting to be part of EU and NATO," Kwasniewski said.

Discussion at the summit concentrated mostly on integration of all Central European countries into Western structures such as the EU. The theme of the summit was "Civil Society -- the Hope for a United Europe."

Italy's President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro said citizens should not expect society to give them "stimulus" to get moving and get things done.

Romania's President Emil Constantinescu warned that a civil society "has to be on its guard." He singled out corruption as a problem. And, he also emphasized the need to reach harmony with ethnic minorities..

Among those attending the summit for the first time was Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma, who said his country's long history of totalitarian domination left it farther behind other countries. Kuchma said that the transition process and "what to do next" will be more "painful" in his country than in others, and will "take more time." Speaking of this week's Moscow meeting with Russia's President Boris Yeltsin, Kuchma said he would deliver "greetings" from all eleven presidents to the Russian leader. We all want to have "normal relations" with our eastern neighbor, Kuchma said.

During the summit, Presidents also found time to meet representatives of Slovak non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who posed tough questions.

Germany's President Roman Herzog said the problems addressed by the NGO's are "identical with ours--with Europe's, with Germany's."

Czech President Vaclav Havel observed that without input from citizens, political parties begin to live in a "vacuum" and the political system becomes "alienated."

Although Slovakia's Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar had been invited to attend the summit, he did not do so. His absence only served to highlight the strained relations between Meciar and President Kovac, the summit's host. Kovac, who has fewer than 40 days remaining in office, was praised at the summit.

Hungary's President Goncz reminded summit participants that this was the last such conference with Kovac. "We see in him (Kovac) a person of great determination. His personality is closely linked with the spirit of Europe," Goncz said.

As Slovakia begins to elect a new president this week, those attending the summit said they would be closely monitoring the situation. Czech President Havel took time during his visit to meet representatives of Slovakia's opposition, including representatives of the ethnic-Hungarian minority. Havel told reporters that Czechs are interested in having better relations with their Slovak neighbors.

Hungary is also hoping to improve relations with Slovaks. President Goncz met President Kovac a day before the summit began for unofficial talks. On that same day last week, in Budapest, Slovakia's and Hungary's Foreign Ministers met. Their talks focused on concerns about ethnic minorities and the Danube dam dispute between the two countries.