THOSE who thought Radoslav Procházka, the right-leaning political star with an inflated ego and lofty ambitions, would bring a new, distinctive political culture to Slovakia, were wrong. His brief performance as caretaker of the non-parliamentary party Sieť suggests that he too believes that whatever is cooking with financing political campaigns is best kept locked away in the kitchen.
Voters don’t need to know how the sausage is made so long as they like the taste, the thinking goes.
If there were ever a requirement for somebody espousing a new way of doing politics it would be to change this practice. The tradition of an open and transparent political sponsorship is almost non-existent and in Slovakia, the quagmire of campaign finance has dragged down even politicians who actually make contributions to the country’s progress through reforms. But they are always remembered for failing to keep the books of their parties clean and transparent.

Thus far, Procházka has only aided and abetted that familiar type of political melodrama, playing into the hands of Igor Matovič, the leader of the opposition Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) party. Matovič claimed that Procházka attempted to purchase advertising for his failed presidential campaign from Matovič’s family-owned company, Regionpress, off the books.
Procházka was unable to provide any solid explanation or response that would prove he only spent the declared €250,000 on his presidential campaign. That race saw him prove sufficiently popular to beat the candidate of his former party, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), in the polls, and launch his own new party amid a great deal of public enthusiasm.

A recording published anonymously on the internet on July 22 features Procházka’s voice saying “half-a-million euros” in response to Matovič’s question about the costs of his presidential campaign. The recording contains segments of a discussion between Procházka and Matovič, which Procházka has since insisted was heavily cut and edited by “DJ Matovič”.

The confrontation between Procházka and Matovič, known for extensive political exhibitionism, has been dragging on for weeks and only deepened the conviction that in Slovakia politics are most often a field for playing out petty personal fights, shady deals and quests for power. Though Procházka has said that he is now quitting Matovič’s circus, he can hardly do so without first offering a solid explanation for what he says on the tapes.

What puzzles many, however, is whether Procházka really has such an acute lack of judgment that he entered the whole campaign ad debate with Matovič and sought to do business with the man who once entertained the media by suggesting that he had been offered millions of euros to destabilise a then-fragile coalition government, only to toss aside his claims later, saying it was a joke.

The Matovič-Procházka discourse is silly, but is also emblematic of the country’s biggest problem: a lack of transparency. The country remains in acute need of a change of the political culture and it is not something that can be put aside for another decade. As for now, the Procházka tapes have done little to clarify or improve these issues and their ultimate end: corruption.

Corruption robs Slovak taxpayers of approximately €1 billion annually, according to estimates of two Slovak businessmen who recently launched a foundation to assist whistleblowers. Even ambitious attempts like this will fail to bring the desired fruits until Slovakia’s judiciary goes through its own transition to transparency. Thirty percent of newly appointed judges have close family ties to others within the judiciary – so claims the legal ethics watchdog Via Iuris, arguing that the criteria for the selection of judges needs to be specifically stipulated and standardised.

Society’s approach to corruption can hardly change in a political environment where transparency is selective and where politicians find justifications to twist the meaning of these principles whenever a need emerges. Procházka might rightly feel that he is being judged more strictly than others, but it was he who raised expectations by insisting he would initiate a different political culture. For now, he has failed before he began. According to recent Polis opinion poll, more than 17.2 percent of the electorate believed that he actually would, but that seems far from clear now.