Slovaks get new college

October 13, 2000

Slovakia's first non-state university opened last month in Ruzomberok in central Slovakia.

Formally termed a Catholic university, it has been established only after years of political wrangling.

Former Slovak prime minister Vladimir Meciar had wanted to found a Catholic university in Trnava, western Slovakia. But the Slovak Catholic Bishops' Conference was not willing to support his initiative, which it saw as politically inspired.

Trnava already had a new university, which was opened in 1992. But its lecturers and students were proving highly critical of the Meciar regime. Although some European cities (notably Louvain and Lublin) do house both a Catholic and a state university, the bishops feared that Mr Meciar did not see the proposed Catholic university as a healthy competitor to the existing institution, but as a pretext for closing it down. They therefore declined the offer.

Undaunted, Mr Meciar founded what he called the Christian University of Sts Cyril and Methodius in the town, an institution that, so far, has had little impact on the academic scene.

With Mr Meciar now out of office, and the Slovak government willing to provide some no-strings finance, the Catholic university in Ruzomberok has been able to go ahead.

Slovakia is a predominantly Catholic country and its bishops were anxious to have a Catholic university. They doubtless hoped it would become a worthy rival of the prestigious Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, the only such institution to survive under communist rule in the Eastern Bloc.

Most of the initial financial outlay has come from the Slovak Catholic Bishops' Conference, which has issued a pastoral letter (to be read out in all Catholic churches in the country) urging the faithful to contribute to its costs. Some funds will also be provided by the Slovak government.

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