IF NOTHING else, Robert Fico has already made it into the history of European socialist parties. His Smer will become the very first political party to have its membership in the Party of European Socialists (PES) suspended.
Fico made great efforts a little more than a year ago to push his party into the PES so he could present Smer as a standard internationally recognised party pursuing a standard social democratic agenda.
However, his power marriage with the Slovak National Party (SNS) is something that the PES will simply not digest, no matter what interpretation Fico attaches to the union.
For the PES, the SNS is a xenophobic and nationalist party with a history of collaboration with French ultra-nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen and of making infamous statements addressed to the Roma and the Hungarians.
Fico had hoped to soften hearts in the PES with the argument that with the SNS and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) as partners, it would be much easier to push through a socialist agenda.
But if Fico thought that the image of the SNS was a matter of discussion, he was wrong, as was his assumption that the PES was worried about the SNS due to a lack of information.
Slovakia has had political representations in the past that claimed that international organisations criticised them because they lacked objective information, and because their opinions were based on ill-willed comments made by journalists and analysts who diligently worked on “denigrating the country”.
The former three-time prime minister, Vladimír Mečiar, quite often used this argument during the times of the deepest international isolation of his government.
Another notorious Mečiar statement was that “if the West does not want us, we will turn to the East”. Analysts suggest that if knocked by harsh criticism from the West, Fico too might try to seek international partners in parts of the globe that are less demanding and that do not mind his union with a far-right party.
Smer indeed is the SNS’ first serious partner; after 1998 and the end of its role in the Mečiar government, the SNS was left with no partner with whom to cooperate. Mečiar himself said that the SNS caused more evil than good to his former government. But this obviously was not enough to stop him from joining Fico and Slota in order to get back into power.
The SNS did enjoy times when its former chairwoman, Anna (Malíková) Belousovová, who temporarily ousted Slota from the top position, tried to present the party as a modern and democratic body with international contacts. She even ended contacts with Le Pen, a move that did not appeal to the hard core of SNS voters and did not seem sincere.
Smer party members have tended to react carefully to the European socialist criticism and to argue that the PES should have waited to see the actual steps of the new government.
Dušan Jarjabek, for example, said it was really all about the vocabulary that the SNS used, a vocabulary that it would have to change radically.
As for the party and most importantly its boss’ potential to change, many remain skeptical.
The head of the socialist fraction in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, told Le Monde that to expect Ján Slota to change was like believing “the wolf when it claims that it wants to become a vegetarian”.
In a way, making scandalous statements was often the only way for Slota to get media attention, and many doubt his ability to contain himself now that the attention is unwaveringly fixed on him.
The PES sent out a clear signal that politics is not only about declared government programmes but also about unions and partners, statements and declarations, in the same way that the future is about the past.
While Slovak politics often took the approach of letting bygones be bygones, well-established western political circles have longer memories and obviously a limited appetite for metamorphosis by political parties with bad reputations.
However, Smer’s suspended PES membership has another dimension as well, and opens up the question of whether Smer is truly a social-democratic party.
It took time for Smer to make up its mind where to move from its “third way” beginnings, which politically meant only that Smer had emerged as a power party to fulfill the ambitions of its boss.
Even the daily SME recalled in its July 7 issue that PES Deputy Chairman Jan Marinus Wiersma had doubted Fico’s sincerity as a social democrat at the time when Smer was struggleing to join the PES.
During the pre-election campaign, Fico’s opponents often pointed at Smer members and their links to business, suggesting that they were not really convincing examples of social democratic politicians.
And yet, Smer is only one of Fico’s two major problems. The second is obviously Vladimír Mečiar, who has already begun calling for “the civil and political rehabilitation of Ivan Lexa,” the former boss of the Slovak Intelligence Service who is suspected of involvement in the abduction of the son of former president Michal Kováč to Austria.
Mečiar is not the darling of the international community either, and those who believed in his metamorphosis, now after his call for Lexa’s rehabilitation, can see that he is the same old Mečiar with a little bit less energy, fewer supporters and fewer things to say.
Fico said he only needed three months to prove that his government is a standard European government with respect to minority rights. The PES needed only three days to tell him to get stuffed.
10. Jul 2006 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová