Bratislava. Photo: flickr/Martin H 1985
Bratislava. Photo: flickr/Martin H 1985


In 1997 US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously called Slovakia "the black hole of Europe". Ivan Krastev described it as "a beer-drinking version of Belarus." The country was ruled by Vladimir Meciar who is remembered for his spurning of democratic procedures, his contempt for market-oriented reforms and his idea of forming a customs union with Russia. Reformist opposition leaders had to watch passively as in 1997 Slovakia's neighbours were invited to join NATO and to start accession talks with the EU. "It seemed like the Czechs were going west and the Slovaks east or nowhere," remembers Jan Figel who later became Slovakia's chief negotiator.

The turning point came in 1998. A broad coalition, unified by opposition to Meciar and the fear of falling further behind Slovakia's neighbours, won the parliamentary elections. Despite the coalition's heterogeneous composition, including free-market liberals, former communists and Catholic conservatives, prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda managed to keep the government together for a full four-year term. He pushed through ambitious economic reforms including the introduction of a flat tax and a big privatisation programme. After parliamentary elections in 2002 Dzurinda could form another reform-oriented coalition government. Under his leadership the country acceded to both NATO and the EU in spring 2004. Read more …


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