For the first time in their history, Slovaks woke up on September 27, 1998 to find themselves living in an independent state with the real prospect of rule by a fully democratic government. The euphoria which greeted the crushing defeat of Vladimír Mečiar at the general elections at home was matched by praise from abroad. A massive 84 per cent of those eligible to vote had turned out at the polling stations, most with the aim of telling the world outside and the government at home that their aspirations were the same as their counterparts' in the rest of Europe. No band of crooks and cronies was going to rob the Slovak people of its birthright. The elections were hailed as an affirmation of the democratic spirit in the face of adversity, and so they were.
The primary beneficiaries of Mečiar's defeat were the Slovak people themselves but the significance of the elections to the rest of the region should not be underestimated. When US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned of Slovakia becoming a 'black hole' in the middle of Europe1 she was not merely lamenting the country's democratic record. With a 500,000 strong population of ethnic Hungarian's and a location between Ukraine and Austria to the east and west and Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the north and south, events in Slovakia had geopolitical significance as well.
With aberrations such as the politically motivated kidnapping of President Michal Kovač's son in mind, Slovakia had already been demoted from the first wave of European Union and NATO candidate countries, and official hostility to the Hungarians raised the prospect of ethnic disturbances at the very heart of Europe.