SOME politicians after a time turn into political holograms, three-dimensional images that simulate their presence in the political arena. While people are deceived into believing they are still active in politics, making speeches and giving promises they cannot keep, in truth they no longer have any political substance or power.
Many wonder whether the boss of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has turned into such a hologram, and what role Vladimír Mečiar actually plays in Slovak politics today.
There is probably no aspect of Mečiar that has not been explored and commented on ad nauseam. Thousands of yards of newsprint have been devoted to Mečiar, that authoritarian democrat or democratic autocrat, that strange hybrid that only a society on its way from Communism to democracy could have produced.
Hundreds of editorials have wondered what might have happened if Mečiar had left Slovak politics in 1998, right after crooning his famous good-bye song and giving his pathetic little wave on national television. Would he have managed to preserve the political myths about him as a man who sleeps only a few hours each night, "a walking brain that occasionally stops for nutrition," as he told the German magazine Stern?
Some also say that by staying in politics, Mečiar has managed to soften the controversy that surrounded him, and that by supporting some of the pro-European moves of the Dzurinda government he has redeemed at least part of his past.
Nevertheless, it is highly doubtful that any belated show of goodwill could reimburse the nation for the damage caused to its international reputation by the notorious cases that occurred under Mečiar's watch, and that have lost their power to shock by being repeated so many times: the abuse of the country's intelligence service to harass the media and political opponents; the suspected involvement of the Mečiar government in the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr, the son of the former president; the murder of police go-between Róbert Remiáš 10 years ago on April 29, 1996; the manipulation of privatization to feed a glut of robber barons who made fortunes almost overnight, etc.
But almost eight years after leaving power, and still threatening a comeback, Mečiar poses an interesting question: What role does he really play in contemporary Slovak politics?
The international community no longer asks nervous questions about what might happen to Slovakia if Mečiar returned to power; a possible government led by Robert Fico is the source of far more analysis and unease.
Only a few years ago, political debate programmes stood to double their viewer numbers if they managed to get Mečiar on the screen. His five-to-ten minute sentences fascinated, annoyed and shocked at the same time. Today, annoyance best captures the effect of most of Mečiar's media performances.
However, for a large group of Slovaks, Mečiar has become a parody of himself, and not a funny one at that. His rhetoric contains no remorse, honest or feigned, for his personal performance as PM and that of his party between 1993 and 1998. The furthest he will go is to say that his party has gone through a metamorphosis and that the people who did wrong have left already.
Mečiar continues to tell the public that it will be impossible to form a future government without him after June 2006 elections, and he seems to be believed, at least in some quarters. Over the past several years the local media have fallen over themselves to figure out which parties are open to the idea of forming a coalition with Mečiar.
Now, eight weeks ahead of the elections, Mečiar says that he could cooperate with both the right-wing parties and the left-wing Smer - even that he is holding talks with both sides.
However, in one and the same political statement, Mečiar also said that the Christian Democratic Movement and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) have little to offer in terms of governing skills - not exactly an invitation for talks on the next ruling coalition.
Political analysts say that while the SDKÚ is more open to using Mečiar to make up the necessary numbers for a coalition, the KDH is more open to relying on Fico.
The truth is, however, that everything will be decided by the election numbers. Pre-election rhetoric will be swept aside by political pragmatism, which is not necessarily a positive thing.
Mečiar may indeed play a role at the post-election negotiation table, but he is unlikely to be calling the shots, a bitter prospect for the three-time PM who has already suffered several tough election defeats.
What will happen to Mečiar after the elections if again he is unable to satisfy the hunger for power of those who have not yet left the sinking HZDS ship?
He will probably remain a "ghost deputy" in the Slovak parliament, missing most of the voting and keeping his title as the biggest absentee.
Several years ago, analysts were saying that Mečiar would continue to have an important and perhaps even a polarizing role in Slovak politics. Today, it is no longer so. The political ship will just sail on, with or without him.
By Beata Balogová
1. May 2006 at 0:00