ROBERT Fico hopes that time is slowly healing the schism separating his ruling party Smer from the Party of European Socialists (PES). Smer was denied membership in the European party after its political marriage to the Slovak National Party (SNS), whose leader Ján Slota is known for his controversial statements on Hungarians, Roma, homosexuals and other minorities.

Perhaps the Smer boss is hoping that European Socialists have gotten used to Slota's face appearing next to his in ruling-coalition photographs.

Deputy Chairman of PES, Hannes Swoboda, fed some crumbs to Fico during his last visit to Bratislava in early February, when he said that he is optimistic about the Smer's prospects. However, Swoboda did not concretely say whether the door that PES slammed shut in June 2006 would definitely reopen and, if yes, when. However, Slovak MEP Monika Flašíková-Beňová of Smer has been spreading optimism and has said that the grand return might take place as soon as Valentine's Day.

No one really is under the impression that Slota has turned into a minority-friendly politician. There are times when he watches his tongue, but Slota's verbal self-control is most certainly only short-term and there is no reason to believe that anything has changed on the SNS front.

Fico has been trying to persuade his socialist partners that Slota and his politics have so far not been as harmful as his opponents had described. Yet, if the prodigal son ends up being taken back into the fold, one will really have to wonder what has changed in the ruling coalition's inner sanctum, because it will not be Slota, that's for sure.

Less than a month ago, Slota came up with a "grand plan" to build Lorraine crosses, the symbol of Slovakia's statehood and the country's standard, all across the country and, most importantly, in regions that have a large Hungarian population.

"We will build Slovak Lorraine crosses all over Slovakia, even in the south, so that we do not have to see those idiotic Hungarian Turuls (a giant falcon from Hungarian mythology) flying over southern Slovakia," Slota said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The influence of Slota's SNS party was also evident in the Slovak parliament when they passed a declaration on the inalterability of the Beneš Decrees, a document drawn up after the Second World War that applied the collective guilt principle and deported thousands of ethnic Germans and Hungarians from the former Czechoslovakia for their alleged cooperation with the Nazi regime. The recent parliamentary discussion and declaration served to aggravate Slovak-Hungarian relations once again.

It was also Slota's SNS that came up with a proposal to produce a law glorifying Andrej Hlinka, a Catholic priest and, from 1918 to 1938, chairman of the Slovak People's Party, which he renamed as Hlinka's Slovak People's Party. After Hlinka's death, Jozef Tiso took over the party and went down in Slovak history as the controversial president of the wartime fascist Slovak State.

A law on the Protection of the Slovak Republic, through which the "enemies of the nation" could be prosecuted, has also been one of Slota's bizarre legislative dreams. He left no one in doubt as to who would be the targets of such legislation.

"If we all fall asleep here in Slovakia, when we finally wake up we will all be speaking Hungarian," Slota said last July.

Journalists have observed that over the past couple weeks, Slota has been more careful with his statements concerning Hungarians, Roma and other minorities.

"Do you have the impression that someone might have ordered me to do so?" Slota responded to the Slovak tabloid Nový Čas, which asked Slota about his reasons for practicing a bit of verbal self-control.

Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Le Pen has been trying to form a pan-European far-right party, which would fight against Turkey's entry into the European Union and immigration, the daily Sme reported. While the new party has not been officially established, its working name is the European Patriot Party.

Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria, told the Die Presse daily that the party of patriots would also offer membership to Slota.

However, the SNS has said that they haven't received any offers of membership, and SNS MP Rafael Rafaj has said that membership in the Union for Europe of the Nations is a current priority for the party.

In September 1997, the SNS was still open to discussing a "new arrangement of Europe" with Le Pen. It was in fact the SNS who invited the French ultra-nationalist leader to visit Slovakia. In fact, then education minister Eva Slavkovská as well as defence minister Ján Sitek, SNS nominees, met with Le Pen.

"In the past, nomadic Huns, predecessors of today's Hungarians, settled here," said Slota at a joint press conference with Le Pen, as quoted by major Czech newspaper Mladá Fronta Dnes. "They were ugly and very cruel soldiers. They killed young children and cut open the stomachs of pregnant women. The fact that they still live in Europe is unfortunate."

It is true, however, that in 2006 Slota distanced himself from cooperation with Le Pen after Smer was showered by criticism for allying with the SNS party boss.

Slovak politics too often lets bygones be bygones, but hopefully the Party of European Socialists will not to quickly forget Slota's verbal excesses. Everything that is said in the political sphere matters to someone. And that does create a kind of responsibility, even if politicians do not always acknowledge it.