WASHINGTON (May. 23)
The prime minister of the Slovak Republic, in a meeting here this week with American Jewish leaders, vowed that his new country would have “nothing in common” with the World War II-era Slovakian state, which was a Nazi ally.
Vladimir Meciar, whose country split from the Czech Republic on Jan. 1, said Friday through an interpreter that his government is “doing all we can” to create “a rebirth of the Jewish religion, and freedom to those who practice it.”
The meeting, organized by the American Jewish Committee, came just weeks after an emotional meeting between the Slovak president, Michal Kovac, and a number of the same Jewish leaders.
In the April meeting, Kovac, who had been in town for the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, broke down in tears when recalling the fate of Jews in his village during the Nazi Holocaust.
He pledged to ensure that young Slovaks learned about the tragic events of the World War II era.
While less emotional, Meciar also pledged to institute educational programs to combat anti-Semitism in his country.
He said his country would respect minority rights.
“Legal guarantees for freedom and democracy,” he said, “should be put in place no later than one year’s time.”
NEGATIVE ATTITUDES TOWARD JEWS PREDOMINATE
An AJCommittee survey released in the Slovak capital of Bratislava last month showed negative attitudes toward Jews predominating in the economically troubled country.
Over a quarter of respondents said that “many important events take place as a result of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy.”
Sixty-three percent believed that “Jews are mainly concerned about themselves — their money and their profit.”
But 83 percent believed that “Jews are no better and no worse than other people.”
Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of European affairs for the AJCommittee, said after the meeting Friday that he thought certain minority rights would be quickly put into place in the Slovak Republic.
In order to become a member of the Council of Europe — a largely Western European group — a country has to meet certain minimal standards.
But Baker said that some of the other issues Meciar discussed in the meeting, such as property restitution to Jews and educational programs, would probably take longer to implement.
“It will require prodding,” Baker said of the educational programs.
He noted that with all the economic problems now facing Slovakia, such programs would not be “first on the agenda” for the Slovak leadership.
The Jewish community in Slovakia, numbering 135,000 before World War II, now consists of only 3,000 to 4,000.
During the Holocaust, 60,000 to 70,000 Slovak Jews perished, Baker said.