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EDITORIAL

A grand coalition for Slovakia?

OF ALL the coalition possibilities that have opened up in the wake of the June 17 parliamentary elections, one of the most intriguing is that between the populist-socialist Smer party and the neo-liberal SDKÚ of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. This is not to say that such a coalition is likely - to do so would be to ensure that it was definitively rejected on the day this newspaper hit the stands. Rather, it is to suggest that such a cooperation would contain two ingredients of what the nation most needs today.

OF ALL the coalition possibilities that have opened up in the wake of the June 17 parliamentary elections, one of the most intriguing is that between the populist-socialist Smer party and the neo-liberal SDKÚ of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. This is not to say that such a coalition is likely - to do so would be to ensure that it was definitively rejected on the day this newspaper hit the stands. Rather, it is to suggest that such a cooperation would contain two ingredients of what the nation most needs today. The first need, given that it is a forward-looking one, might be expressed in the modern terms of hardware and software. Slovakia definitely does not need a change in its hardware - the democratic and economic institutions that have been created since 1993, and especially the reforms that have been launched since 2002. Instead, what it needs is a change in its software - in people's way of thinking and looking at the country they live in. During the next government's term the country will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. That may not make quite a generation, but it's long enough that we might expect people to have learned the basic facts about how the economy works, and why it's bad to keep pouring money into passive welfare programmes, unre-formed health care systems and infrastructure mega-projects without first making sure that the money is improving the situation. This understanding cannot be delivered by the right-wing parties of the outgoing government, because they are seen as the enemy by the two-thirds of the country that did not vote for them. When these parties preach lessons on reforms, they preach to the cities and to the educated; they preach to the converted. They have no way of reaching the heathen. For all the objections that any reasonable person must have to Robert Fico's Smer - its populism, its dodgy backers, its lack of professional talent and political experience, the fact it was created for the sole purpose of gaining power - the fact is that only Fico, were he to develop a political conscience, could convert the pagans, could explain the facts of life to his voters. Only Fico has it in his hands to change the national software and coax Slovaks into accepting what has to be done to make the economy more competitive. It's more than certain he won't take the chance. Not only would he not know how - doing such a flip-flop would require considerable artistry - he would also certainly face a rebellion from those of his supporters who, like the KOZ union umbrella group, are gleefully waiting for him to make good on his promise to take an axe to the most sensible things that have been done since independence in 1993. Still, were Fico a statesman - "if ye Moone is made of grene cheese", in the words of a 16th century rhymester - he might consider that his electorate, the youngest of any of the major parties, is the one that most needs to be led in the right direction, rather than filled with socialist and populist tripe about "solidarity" (which in his parlance means soak the rich to satisfy the Slovak weakness for envy). It's interesting that the only foreign politician who consistently meddled in Slovakia's elections this time around - Czech Prime Minister and socialist party leader Jiří Paroubek - called for a coalition between Smer and the SDKÚ on June 18. While saying he didn't want to "hand out any advice", Paroubek went ahead and did just that, saying that were he in the place of his good friend Robert, the first party he would be talking with would be the SDKÚ. "Personally, I would start my first talks with former Prime Minister Dzurinda. I think it could be a good government, a grand coalition government in Slovakia," said the Czech PM. Fico, for his part, said on post-election day that the SDKÚ would probably be the most difficult partner for Smer, "given the enormous differences in our views of the state and of society." Dzurinda, on the other hand, was sounding a more conciliatory note. "In looking for common ground in our programmes we should stop worrying whether something is left-wing or not. I no longer know whether being responsible with your household finances and not indebting your family is right-wing or left-wing - I have come to think of it merely as responsible." Who knows whether the twain shall meet. But were they to do so, it might provide the second thing Slovakia needs right now - a national consensus on where the country is heading. After some painful economic repairs under the 1998-2002 Dzurinda govern-ment, and then a wholesale reconstruction over the last four years, it's been a long time since the people not represented by the neo-liberal elite have really had a say in the governance of the country. The fact they are deceived as to what is necessary after years of being badly represented does not mean their point of view should not be heard. Who, if not a grand coalition, and one involving the fewest parties of any government in Slovakia since 1993, could deliver such a consensus? The three right-wing parties of the outgoing government, who have been working together and snapping at each other since 1998, henceforth propped up by the ageing despot Vladimír Mečiar? Or a teeth-rattling combination of Mečiar, Fico and far-right blatherer Ján Slota? We're not saying a Smer-SDKÚ coalition is likely or even possible, given their programme differences. We're just saying it might satisfy some perceived needs. By Tom Nicholson

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