ROBERT Fico has apparently ignored the lesson that his ruling coalition buddy and former three-time PM Vladimír Mečiar had to learn through the pain and turmoil of international isolation: international condemnation of doubtful political decisions made by a party or a government should not be taken as an assault on the nation as a whole.
Now though the Smer boss rejects comparisons to Mečiar, who during his most infamous times between 1994-1998 found it almost impossible to find European leaders willing to meet with him, Fico has demonstrated with his testy reaction to Smer's proposed suspension from the Party of European Socialists (PES), that he is following Mečiar's path.
It is clear to almost all analysts that the PES's criticism was entirely based on Fico's decision to include the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) in his coalition.
Fico instead of making conciliatory comments that his government will try to dispel concerns stemming from his union with these parties, lashed out at PES, accusing them of acting under the influence of international lobby groups who now will not have such a convenient means to channel away Slovakia's wealth as they had under the Dzurinda government.
He also identified the enemy who is always at hand when any populist party wishes to harvest some grain in the gardens of nationalist voters: the Hungarians. Fico accused the Hungarian deputies to the European Parliament in Brussels of campaigning against his government.
Then he promptly picked several internal enemies to slap for causing Smer to lose its key to the doors of PES, which had provided Fico with a patina of international respectability.
He wagged a disparaging finger at European Parliament deputies nominated by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), suggesting that they never found anything good to say about the new government.
Meanwhile, the country's president, whom Fico had wholeheartedly supported during his campaign for that office, Ivan Gašparovič, stood up in Fico's defense and criticized deputies from the SDKÚ, Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) in the European Parliament who called on the strongest political faction in the EP, the European People's Party, to monitor events in Slovakia.
Gašparovič also suggested that the Slovak media should give the government a 100-day tolerance period when journalists should not dip their pens that deep into acid.
The local media has already smelled out some potential conflicts between Smer's MEP Monika Beňová and Fico, who together established the party.
Beňová, who has publicly declared her ambition to become the foreign affairs minister, today says she would have great difficulty defending a government that involves the SNS.
On July 13 she told daily SME that "the SNS has nothing to do in the government. My grandparents from one side were Hungarians, my uncle was in a concentration camp and my grandfather from the other side was a partisan. I know very well what attitude Mr Slota has towards the Slovak National Uprising [against the fascist regime] and the Slovak wartime state."
Now journalists eagerly await Beňová's fate. Some Smer members have suggested that she is removed from Slovakia's problems, sitting in Brussels with a cushy job and a lavish EP salary.
It is hard to believe that her salary and the distance from Slovakia would prevent Beňová from standing up for the union with Slota. By now probably every EP deputy has received an 11-page compilation of Slota's most juicy statements.
Of course, advocates for the coalition say that one should not pay that much attention to what Slota says. None of it, they say, will end up in action and it is better to note what Slota accomplished in Žilina. A short-sighted argument, indeed. Politics is about words as well as deeds and carelessly formulated statements can cause irreparable harm.
Also it is hard to believe that Slota would take back any of his statements about Hungarians being a cancer on Slovakia's body.
Fico, who prior to the parliamentary elections in Slovakia, had been involved in a hunt for foreign allies, is left even more desperate than he was before.
On April 19, he said British Prime Minister Tony Blair had looked with understanding on Fico's plans for the next Slovak government. But does anyone imagine that Blair would have the same feelings after learning of Fico's union with a far-right party?
Fico with Slota in his camp will lose even those international allies that he managed to make so far; the PES will continue to remind him that social democrats simply do not unite with far-right parties and that the European Parliament will not have a sympathetic ear for someone in league with the likes of Slota.
By Beata Balogová