by Wu Liming
BRATISLAVA, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- In a symbolic act, Slovak Prime Minister
Robert Fico drew euro notes from a cash machine close to the well-known
Bratislava Castle as the clock chimed in the new year.
Fico's move signaled the start of circulation of the euro currency in the
central European country.
At zero hour on Jan. 1, 2009, Slovakia officially joined the eurozone,
becoming the 16th member of the single-currency family.
To mark the new euro era as well as the new year, thousands of Slovakians
gathered at downtown Bratislava for a gala celebration.
Colorful fireworks illuminated the sky above the Donau River where crowds
counted down to the new year, and the music, Ode to Joy, was repeatedly played.
At the same hour, cash machines in Slovakia started to dispense euro notes
instead of korunas, and all koruna accounts were automatically switched to euro
accounts at the fixed exchange rate of 30.126 korunas to one euro.
A public opinion poll showed that the usually cautious Slovakians welcomed
the switch, with about 58 percent in favor and35 percent against.
The central bank of Slovakia estimated that 188 million euro notes and 500
million coins would be needed to replace the korunas in circulation and in
Brano Rosinsky, a bank clerk in his 30s, celebrated the euro era by buying
some koruna commemoration coins.
"I think it is nice to remember the disappearance of the Slovakia koruna.
Maybe it will become valuable in the future, and something to show my children
in the future," he said.
Brano believed the elderly will need time to get used to the new currency.
"I think the elderly might have some problems with the exchange rate," he
The public poll also showed that around 65 percent of the Slovakian people
were worried about soaring prices following adoption of the euro, as had
initially happened with other eurozone members.
A restaurant owner told Xinhua the adoption may change the consumption
habits of the people in the short term.
As the exchange rate between the koruna and euro is pegged at 30.126,
people will feel their wallets have become a lot lighter, he said.
However, in the long run, joining the eurozone will definitely benefit
Slovakia. It will boost international trade and foreign investment.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Slovak Prime Minister Fico said the
adoption of the euro would help Slovakia to better tackle the global financial
crisis, and attract more investment.
"We have joined the European Union, the Schengen Treaty, and now we have
joined the euro club, it is another achievement for Slovakia," he said.
Jan. 1, 2009 also marks the 10th anniversary of the euro. With Slovakia,
the eurozone now covers more than 320 million people.