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Slovakia: Three Prominent Personalities Seek Presidential Position

Bratislava, 13 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Up to 11 candidates are running for president of Slovakia. The first round of elections is scheduled for May 15.

Here are profiles of the three leading candidates following the closure of the candidate list last Friday and the announcement just hours before of the candidacy of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

RUDOLF SCHUSTER: Rudolf Schuster, an ethnic Carpatho-German, is the candidate of the ruling coalition. The coalition is backing Schuster as the result of a deal worked out last autumn that enabled the formation of a broadly based government of the winning opposition parties ranging from the Party of the Democratic Left and Schuster's Party for Civic Understanding to the Slovak Democratic Coalition and a coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties. Support for Schuster was one of the conditions for allowing the Hungarians to join the government.

Schuster is a populist bureaucrat who, in the final years of Communist rule, served as head of the East Slovak regional council. During the Velvet Revolution he was appointed speaker of the Slovak parliament, a post he held until free elections in June 1990, after which he was dispatched to Ottawa as Czechoslovak ambassador. He later returned to Kosice to head the East Slovak Steel Works.

MAGDA VASARYOVA: Magda Vasaryova, though best known as an actress/film star, is a sociologist by training. Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel appointed her ambassador to Austria in 1990. She quit two years later, certain she would be unable to work for Meciar's government in the new Slovak state. Vasaryova then founded the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, an NGO that is active in promoting public discussion of foreign affairs issues, but has succeeded in avoiding controversy on the domestic scene.

She is charismatic, dynamic, and fluent in many languages. Unlike most of the other candidates, Vasaryova was never a Communist or a supporter of Meciar's HZDS. She has never held elected office. Since declaring her candidacy, she has said that her goal is "to become the defender of the rights of all people in Slovakia -- to support their views and plans and to help them when in need." She has promised "new issues, a new culture of expression, and new solutions that will lead Slovakia to success."

Vasaryova points to Havel and Hungary's President Arpad Goencz as examples to be followed as head of state, providing a stable element on the political scene that can inspire confidence among non-speculative foreign investors.

She recently told the Viennese daily Kurier that she must avoid appearing too dominant, since this might result in a sympathy vote for Schuster. That was before Meciar's candidacy was announced last Friday.

VLADIMIR MECIAR: Vladimir Meciar, a one-time boxer, started out in politics as a Communist youth activist in the Czechoslovak Union of Youth (CSM). He fell from grace for his outspoken criticism of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. He spent much of the next two decades as a company lawyer. He gained a reputation for having close contacts with the Soviet military occupation forces. He is also alleged to have been an agent for the Communist secret police (StB).

Meciar was reported to have been on the verge of political rehabilitation when Communist rule collapsed 10 years ago. He succeeded in getting himself appointed as Slovak Interior Minister in late 1989. Within weeks of his appointment, Meciar led a nighttime police raid of StB archives, taking his own file and allegedly the files of his political rivals.

Meciar then used elements of these files in a successful bid to become head of the broadly based ruling movement in Slovakia, Public Against Violence (VPN), and eventually prime minister of Czechoslovakia's Slovak Republic.

Meciar abruptly became a pronounced nationalist after being a fervent supporter of Czechoslovak unity as late as 1990. When parliament recalled Meciar as prime minister in March 1991, his supporters stormed the legislature building. Emerging from convalescence in a sanitarium six weeks later, Meciar announced the formation of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), a populist nationalist movement with strong ties to former Communists. HZDS became Meciar's vehicle for his political comeback the following year when he swept to power in Slovakia and promptly opened talks with his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, on Slovak sovereignty and the future of the federation. The talks led to the breakup of the Czechoslovak state less than six months later, much sooner than Meciar had counted on.

During Meciar's tenure as prime minister, his critics charged that privatization became thoroughly corrupted and that the secret police was misused for political ends at home and abroad. Slovakia's relations with western democracies suffered serious setbacks.

But under Meciar, Slovakia's relationship with Russia experienced a renaissance. Russian President Boris Yeltsin -- when receiving Meciar at the Kremlin one year ago -- said he really hoped Slovaks would re-elect Meciar as prime minister. Although HZDS won the largest number of votes of any single party last September, a coalition of opposition parties won a two-thirds majority, forcing Meciar out of office.