JOURNALISTS are hunting high and low for the election programmes of political parties barely a month before the country holds general elections, and are clearly more nervous about the absence of elaborate political plans than the parties themselves. The more optimistic newsfolk are still clinging to the belief that the parties have a plan for bringing the nation to Elysium at a cost that will not dismay the taxpayer.
The truth is that when the public grumbles about politicians, they rarely complain about the fact that parties present far too general election programmes without explaining how they intend to fulfil their promises.
Slovak politicians tend to share the opinion that that nobody apart from a few eager journalists and political analysts would read a 20-page document on a party's agenda.
Undoubtedly, spin-doctors, PR agents, analysts, forecasters, therapists, media gurus and experts of all kinds have hinted to the parties that people are simply uninterested in anything longer than 10 basic points. It's a vision of Slovakia that resembles the "Brave New World" described by novelist Aldous Huxley: "people are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get."
While for many it is hard to believe that the inane rhymes and silly slogans that many parties offer on their billboards are what people really want to hear, it obviously works for the core voters of some parties. "Vráťme pokoj do nemocníc, to sa nám vždy oplatí, nech je šanca pre pacienta, že sa skoro uzdraví - Let's return peace to hospitals, this is what always pays, let's give the patient a chance to get better quickly," reads the nursing rhyme on a billboard for the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). To cap the effect, the sign is decorated with a little lion, the new mascot of the party.
The New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) offers the word play "Ona? ÁNO" (Her? Yes) on its billboards featuring all of Pavol Rusko's ladies-in-waiting, including the former anchor of Rusko's former Markiza TV station, Aneta Parišková, as well as Rusko's wife, Viera. Several journalists have reflected that the Smer party billboard announcing that Smer is "turning towards the people" (Smerom k ľuďom) reminds the older generation of the communist slogan "turning to the masses" (Čelom k masám).
For all their cute suggestiveness, these slogans in fact mean nothing beyond a reminder to people that it is political show-time.
The campaign Slovakia is experiencing now will neither win nor lose elections for any political party, and indeed, the mundane slogans are part of the country's political folklore.
In a noticeable change from the campaigns in 2002, parties have largely avoided confrontation and sharp attacks on political opponents. However, before anyone starts thinking this is a sign of improving ethics in politics or higher standards of political conduct, we should stress that it is more a product of the fact that every party is mortally afraid of repelling a possible political partner or closing doors to potential coalitions.
Besides, even if the memory of the public is strictly short term, politicians know that it is not short enough to forget a condemnation of a party or a politician before elections, and an enthusiastic embrace after the vote.
In the current situation, even arch-enemies have softened their election rhetoric, with the exception of nationalist leader Ján Slota, who knows he would only confuse his core voters if he stopped banging on about the Hungarian threat and gypsy parasites.
If Slovakia's election campaigns are part of its political folklore, so too are parties spending scads of cash they could never have raised through transparent fundraising.
The Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), the successor of the Communist Party, has settled on a bourgeois method of campaigning. The TA3 news television reported that the SDĹ has promised Sk500,000 to municipalities that help the party get into power. Jirko Malchárek's Nádej (hope) party, which in fact has little hope of reaching parliament, also promised Sk500 to everyone who participates in its campaign.
While in the past, non-governmental organizations have been massively involved in mobilizing especially first-time voters, this year the get-out-the-vote campaign has been left to political parties.
In 1998, the election turnout was at 84.54 percent, while 70.2 percent cast ballots in 2002. According to recent polls, about 57 percent of voters plan to cast ballots in 2006.
There is substantial apathy among Slovak voters, who feel they can only change a few figures on the stage, not alter the script.
By Beata Balogová