IVAN Gašparovič is leaving the presidential seat that he occupied for a decade without any fond memories of the media, and he made sure everyone was made aware of this during his exit speech to parliament.

“Most of the media are no longer an objective mediator of information and opinion, but far too often also its politicised manipulator,” said the 73-year-old Gašparovič just days before he was to become a former president. Citizens often aren’t informed but rather are influenced and misled and that development is heading towards a kind of ‘mediacracy’, he said.

Gašparovič, who will be remembered more for occasional foul language and slips of the tongue than for any significant contribution to the public discourse, indeed has been a frequent target of media criticism. If he happens to read the coverage of his departure from the presidential seat, that will likely only deepen Gašparovič’s convictions that journalists use their acid-pens when reporting on Slovakia’s third-ever president.

The media, rightly so, has a habit of reminding Gašparovič of his political roots. He was the right-hand man of controversial three-time prime minister Vladimír Mečiar and a frequent defender of Mečiar’s often indefensible policies. He split from Mečiar only after the boss scratched him from an electable position on the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia’s (HZDS) candidate list for the parliamentary elections in 2002.

Gašparovič’s departure from the HZDS was not so much guided by a genuine disagreement with Mečiar’s policies, but rather that of a damaged ego and thirst for public office – neither of which is a good reason for staying in politics.

The public did choose Gašparovič over Mečiar when the two faced-off in the second round of the presidential elections in 2004, imbuing him with trust that he did not deserve given his previous political performance. In fact, the most positive aspect of his presidency occurred right at the beginning: he prevented Mečiar from regaining a significant public post after 1998.

The way Gašparovič treated the case of Jozef Čentéš, who was lawfully elected by parliament to the post of general prosecutor but left un-appointed by the president without any substantial explanation, clearly showed the kind of political culture that Gašparovič nurtured: laws, rules and integrity mattered little when personal political gain was at play.

Gašparovič has never been an adept orator and the media often had a laugh at his slips of the tongue. This was particularly the case during his second term when he became a rather popular object of jokes on social media sites. But these would have seemed like minor issues had Gašparovič been able to live up to his promises of being an independent president and serving first of all the people of Slovakia.
“We are alone here, so I can say that I am practically a member, and my failure would be the failure of Smer,” Gašparovič commented on his prospects in the 2009 presidential elections during a Smer party meeting in Košice, according to a video recording published by the SITA newswire.

When The Slovak Spectator invited two notable political scientists to list some positive contributions Gašparovič has made to the presidential office, they struggled to come up with any.
Over the past decade the expectations from the public for the country’s president have sunk considerably low. So low that many merely hope that the head of state can call countries and organisations by their actual name and avoid diplomatic scandal. This is a rather sad commentary on a man who had been in politics for more than two decades.

With that said the expectations laid on the shoulders of Slovakia’s next president, Andrej Kiska, are high. Should he fail to meet these expectations the damage to the public trust will be considerably more serious.

Slovakia can no longer afford to waste years on the personal ambitions of individuals who treat the presidency only as a tool for staying close to power or conserving a poisonous political culture that has lingered for more than two decades now.

Here’s hoping that the presidency can again become an office that prioritises the public interest over personal or party interests.