New Slovak Leader Dines With Homeless to Fight Inequality

Andrej Kiska, the philanthropist and founder of two consumer-credit companies sworn in as the Slovak president today, pledged to focus on reducing inequality in the euro-area member’s economy.

Kiska, who defeated Prime Minister Robert Fico in a March 29 presidential runoff ballot, promised in his inauguration speech to support those who stand up against corruption and injustice in the third-richest post-communist European Union nation. In an effort to highlight social disparities, the 51-year-old invited some homeless people and children living in orphanages to celebrate his first day in office at a lunch in the garden of the presidential palace in Bratislava, the capital.

“On average, people have never been better off than today,” Kiska, Slovakia’s first president with no communist past, said after taking the oath. “Never in our history have we been more free, and, as a state, safer. Despite this, the majority of people in Slovakia aren’t convinced we are going in the right direction. They don’t feel that they are part of the success.”

Slovakia’s economic growth accelerated in the first quarter thanks to an increased demand for exports, including cars made at factories of Volkswagen AG, PSA Peugeot Citroen SA and Kia Motors Corp.

In a June 11 interview with Bloomberg News, Kiska said the EU’s ability to take a united stance to confront Russia is being undermined by a narrow-minded pursuit of business interests by some member states.

United Response

His call for more EU unity in its response to what he called aggression against Ukraine is at odds with the government’s opposition to tougher sanctions on Russia.

“What is weakening the European Union project is also weakening us,” Kiska said in his speech today. “It’s mainly egoism masked as pragmatism, which is in a direct contradiction with the basic meaning of an united Europe.”

Soon after the 1989 fall of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia, Kiska went to mop floors in Delanco, New Jersey. Later he created Slovakia’s biggest consumer-loan business in the mid-1990s.

He co-founded two consumer-credit companies, which he sold to the Slovak unit of Intesa Sanpaolo SpA in 2005. Kiska collected about 10 million euros ($13.5 million) for his stake.

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