The grand age of political simulation

POST-MODERNIST philoso-phers say we that live in a time of "simulation," an era of facsimiles of things rather than the things themselves, of ideas and political concepts that no longer spring from an original reality.

POST-MODERNIST philoso-phers say we that live in a time of "simulation," an era of facsimiles of things rather than the things themselves, of ideas and political concepts that no longer spring from an original reality.

The same is surely true of Slovakia's political scene, which is replete with ephemeral parties simulating the unfettered pursuit of political ideas, while they are in fact controlled by unseen powers, and their "ideas" are a smokescreen for the naked pursuit of special interests.

Certainly, the Slovak political scene is not the only one whose parties no longer stand for what their programmes state, and where politicians practice a parody of politics.

Ivan Šimko gave observers a good laugh when he announced the birth of his Mission 21 party after failing to win the leadership of the Free Forum party that he had established with Zuzana Martináková.

No one in politics or anywhere else has ever taken Šimko's zero-popularity party seriously, as Mission 21 has limited its activities to occasional laments about political ethics.

A similar fate probably awaits the new party established by Economy Minister Jirko Malchárek, Culture Minister František Tóth and former Deputy Health Minister Alexandra Novotná. The trio christened their new political baby Nádej, meaning "hope", again bringing a smile to the lips of everyone who sees how hopeless their enterprise really is.

These parties with their pathetic names are interesting only for what they say about the poverty of politics.

In Šimko's case it was evident that his bruised ego was the decisive factor in his decision to establish a party that even his closest allies failed to take seriously.

Malchárek, a former racing driver, also obviously wants to stay in politics, and hopes to derive some advantage from holding, at least symbolically and probably temporarily, the helm of the ship of state.

Given the record of Culture Minister Tóth, whose political execution has been demanded by the cultural community, he is unlikely to bring voters flocking to the Nádej label.

Ever the optimist, as befits the name of the party, Malchárek says Nádej's new members will not be known for their careers in politics, but instead will be professionals with successful business careers.

Malchárek may try to create a party of entrepreneurs - an idea at times favoured by Vladimír Mečiar, who tried to turn his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) into a party of businessmen.

However, Malchárek is in a different situation. He doesn't have the power or the resources that Mečiar did in promising a share in power in return for support for his party, although Malchárek could still do some favours for businesses as economy minister.

Still, those with the capital to spare probably also have enough sense to invest into a party or a political idea that is so empty of content.

Malcharek's Nádej has been dubbed by political analysts as a "truly hopeless" project, and may not even serve as a means for financial groups to take the government's pulse.

Another theory suggests that Nádej was designed to meet the needs of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, as the party could lure votes from the Free Forum, founded by defectors from Dzurinda's SDKÚ party, which at the moment has enough support to win seats in parliament.

However, Malchárek is right in at least one thing: Slovakia currently has few parties contesting the liberal vote.

The father of Nádej has some experience of politics as he was there when former President and Košice Mayor Rudolf Schuster was selling his Civic Understanding Party (SOP) to the public with the ardent help of Pavol Rusko's Markíza. After Schuster won the keys to the presidential palace, his party fell apart.

Malchárek's next venture was with Rusko's ANO party, which floundered for a political direction before seizing on liberalism. ANO, also, fell apart after its leader crashed out of government under a conflict of interest cloud.

Malchárek is unlikely to brag of his political credentials, and like others of his colleagues who have changed political sweaters many times, will be hoping that voters' memories are strictly short-term.

Slovakia is burdened by both the quality as well as the quantity of its political parties. In August 2005 there were around 120 parties registered with the Interior Ministry. Many of these were short-lived springboards designed to elevate individuals to power in national or regional elections and then disappear, leaving behind only annoying billboards and a sense of political disillusionment.

Even the country's "mainstream" political parties have an annoying habit of recycling their programmes and changing their names to give the impression of growth, evolution and self-reflection. Thus did the HZDS acquire the suffix "People's Party", and Smer the misnomer "Social Democracy".

Many of these parties are like toy houses inhabited by dolls. If you draw back the façcade or take off the roof, you see something that looks "just like" a real house, but that lacks a spark of true political life, and smells of failed ambitions. And we're left to wonder - who designed the dollhouse, if not the dolls themselves?

Nádej's fate will be the same as that of Ivan Švejna's Vpred or Šimko's Mission 21. Before being carted off to the scrapheap of history, for a brief season it will agonize over the loss of ethics in Slovak politics - a loss that parties like Nádej have done so much to cause.

Beata Balogová

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