Gašparovič, Ivan

IF THERE were ever an instance of Sophie’s choice in reverse, it was in the second round of the Slovak 2004 presidential election. How do you choose between two men, neither of whom you want? In the end, Ivan Gašparovič beat his former boss Vladimír Mečiar and managed to hold the office for two terms. On June 15, Gašparovič will enter political retirement. What will he be remembered for?

IF THERE were ever an instance of Sophie’s choice in reverse, it was in the second round of the Slovak 2004 presidential election. How do you choose between two men, neither of whom you want? In the end, Ivan Gašparovič beat his former boss Vladimír Mečiar and managed to hold the office for two terms. On June 15, Gašparovič will enter political retirement. What will he be remembered for?

1 - “Gusto, come finish it. They’re calling me to see that old d--k.” Gašparovič always claimed that he said “starého uja” (old man) not “starého chuja”, when he asked Augustín Marián Húska to take over the parliamentary session so that he could go welcome president Michal Kováč. But most remained unconvinced, and the incident from 1996, when tensions between Gašparovič’s HZDS and the head of state were extremely high, has become legendary.

2 - Throwing František Gaulieder out of parliament. Foul language was not the only way Gašparovič got into trouble as speaker of parliament. The unconstitutional ousting of an MP who dared to leave the HZDS was another. Even this disregard for the rule of law didn’t prevent him from furthering his career.

3 - Defeating Mečiar. It wasn’t the abuse of secret services, wild privatisation or breaches of the constitution that eventually drove Gašparovič away from Mečiar. It was the fact that in 2002 he wasn’t going to get a good spot on the party’s election ballot. So began a rivalry which reached its peak two years later, when Gašparovič surprisingly made it into the second round of the presidential elections, which he then won thanks in great part to the votes of people who resented what Mečiar (and Gašparovič with him) did to the country in the 1990s. The victory ensured Slovakia’s smooth entry into NATO and the EU.

4 - “Out of the way!” In another display of good manners Gašparovič shoved PM Iveta Radičová by an elevator following a hockey game. His spokesperson later called it “a joke”.

5 - Blocking Jozef Čentéš. The most significant decision of Gašparovič’s second term came when he refused to appoint Čentéš for general prosecutor. The move redefined the role of the president in what is traditionally a parliamentary democracy and later helped Smer take control over the prosecution.

Otherwise, there is not much to go into the history books and encyclopaedias. Let’s hope Andrej Kiska does better.

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