The finger pointing begins

ALL "worst-case" political scenarios contain an element of thrill. Political analysts can unleash their imaginations and warn of the potential damage a certain government could cause the country. The prospect that these scenarios might become reality helps to reduce moral dilemmas for voters, who are able to take comfort in voting for the lesser evil.

ALL "worst-case" political scenarios contain an element of thrill. Political analysts can unleash their imaginations and warn of the potential damage a certain government could cause the country. The prospect that these scenarios might become reality helps to reduce moral dilemmas for voters, who are able to take comfort in voting for the lesser evil.

But what is there to say when the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, and the country prepares to be led by two parties that between 1994 and 1998 pushed the country to the verge of international isolation?

Perhaps that the proposed coalition between the leftist Smer, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement of a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) grew from the soil of free and fair parliamentary elections.

Cynics say each nation gets the government it deserves, and that Slovaks can't complain they weren't warned about Mečiar, Slota and even Fico. Optimists hope that such a ruling coalition will lack stability and will crumble before the year is out. But an even larger group of Slovaks hopes that this constellation will bring them better times.

Robert Fico's prime ministerial dream was so close to coming true that he may have chosen what he thought was the path of least resistance, just to make sure. In choosing the HZDS and SNS, however, he may just have settled on parties that will turn his dream into a political nightmare.

Instead of continuing negotiations with the conservative Christian Democrats, who skittered like frightened horses, and the Hungarian Coalition Party, which might have been opposed by Smer's nationalist element, Fico opened the gates wide to Ján Slota and Vladimír Mečiar, who would have promised him the stars in the sky in return for a taste of power.

The SNS has a history of being an unreliable partner, while the HZDS has become so unreadable that even the boldest of political analysts don't dare predict how the metamorphosed Vladimír Mečiar will act within this strange union.

Fico was quick to announce that Slota, known for his inability to contain himself on his favourite topics, the Roma and the Hungarians, and Mečiar, whom the international community will always remember as an autocrat, will hold no public posts.

But at this point that is almost irrelevant, as the two men are the parties they represent. The SNS without Slota at the helm did not even win seats in parliament during the 2002 elections.

The HZDS, meanwhile, has never been able to truly reform. It has spun off several defector formations, such as the Movement for Democracy, led by people who for different reasons started to see blemishes on the face of their leader. However, these dwarf parties gradually sank into political oblivion.

The HZDS suffers from a strange schizophrenia, as it is unable to walk without Mečiar on its shoulders, a burden that is becoming increasingly heavy to bear.

Does it really matter whether the two leaders will hold any public post? Not really. Their ministers are likely to be the extended hands of Slota and Mečiar.

Smer projects confidence when it comes to its future coalition partners, represented by two men whose names are linked to the most scandalous events in post-revolution politics.

Fico's situation is not enviable, however. He will face a united opposition that knows how to rule and that will be holding a magnifying glass over his tiniest missteps.

The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, the SMK and KDH will have the tools to make political life tough for Fico, who will only be learning how to act as prime minister.

While this time around the foreign community will likely not be issuing demarches and letters of protest, it will be listening carefully to each statement that the new government officials make, be it on Slovak troops in Iraq, the relationship with Russia, human rights issues, or any statement that suggests a deviation from the foreign policy line introduced by the Dzurinda team.

Diplomats are certainly not going to like Slota's statements on the Roma or his peculiar solutions to the problems of this ailing community; he will not get away, as he did in a recent interview with this paper, with having a few drinks and comparing the Roma to Kosovo Albanians, claiming they are "multiplying like mice".

Nor will the foreign community enjoy Mečiar's denials that anything was amiss from 1994 to 1998, a wild privatisation era when a loyal few got rich overnight.

There is no way that Fico can disguise these two as modern European politicians, or hide them just by keeping them out of public posts.

And how long will Fico's new coalition partners be able to discipline themselves after their euphoria over sharing power has passed?

Nor will Fico be getting help in any of this from the media, with whom he has a troubled relationship. Smer members have complained on several occasions that they have to operate in a media-hostile environment, with journalists peddling stereotypes such as the idea that Smer does not have enough professionals to carry out its policies.

There is a lot of uncertainty concerning the Fico-Mečiar-Slota trio among at least half of the population. Some blame the Christian Democrats for not acting more promptly during ruling coalition talks and for taking too long to decide whether to join or reject a Fico government.

Some blame the Dzurinda government for having given voters so much to criticize, such as corruption and cronyism.

Others blame Fico for missing the chance to assemble a credible ruling coalition, while still others blame the Slovak voter for giving Slota and Mečiar another kick at the can.

In the end, there are many more urgent questions to answer than who is to blame. But until those questions get answered, the country will likely have to sit through a few weeks of finger-pointing over how it could find itself, politically speaking, almost back where it was in 1994.

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