New star in the reform skies
of eastern Europe
As late as the 1990s Slovakia was still regarded as the
kid from the wrong side of the eastern European tracks.
Starting in 1993, when the Czech and Slovak Federal
Republic broke apart, Slovakia’s nationalistically inclined
autocratic prime minister, Vladimir Meciar, whose
power rested largely on nepotism, had the little nation
tightly under his control. The country’s socialist, i.e.
state-owned, assets were used to provide for his protégés.
When the Hungarian minority, which accounted
for ten per cent of the population, demanded protection
for its minority rights, the prime minister proposed a
“population swap” with Hungary. One event that raised
international eyebrows in 1995 was the kidnapping
of the son of the Slovak president — an adversary of
Meciar’s. Thanks to a — preventive — amnesty decreed
by the prime minister, the case was never solved.
The European Union repeatedly called on the Slovak
government to respect the rules of democracy, and in
the summer of 1997 the Union declined to engage in
accession talks with Slovakia. It was only in 1998 that a
government coalition made up of opposition parties set
the stage for a rapprochement with the European Union.
The new prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, turned out
to be a high-power modernizer, and Slovakia soon had
a reputation as one of Europe’s most reform-minded
countries. In 2007 the “Tatra Tiger” was growing at a
rate in excess of ten per cent, the highest rate of economic
growth in all of Europe.
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