By Štefan Hríb
During the long years before elections when support for the Smer party was rising, most of Fico's opponents warned the public above all of the danger that reforms would be rolled back. This was the main argument used with voters not only by the ruling SDKÚ party but also by most economic experts. If you vote for Smer, the argument went, prosperity will be longer in coming, because those socialist dinosaurs don't understand the market and believe in outmoded socialist recipes. There was some truth in that warning, but its effect was to reduce public debate to the economic dimension. For the first time since 1989, the elections became a battleground of people's pocketbooks, while justice and truth were virtually banished.
There was a certain logic to this - the right-wing reformers had launched good reforms but had practiced unethical politics, which is why calls to the nation to abandon its conscience suited them just fine. But Slovakia made yet another huge mistake in listening.
The greatest fears regarding these elections were not related to eight years of arrogant right-wing government, nor the Smer party chairman's diffidence regarding 1989, the return of Mečiar to government, the character of Ján Slota, or even the rehabilitation of former SIS secret service director Ivan Lexa. No, the greatest fear was that GDP growth would slow down, that our adoption of the euro would be delayed, that taxes would be raised, and that the state would again nationalize health care and pensions. It was as if Slovakia had adopted Bill Clinton's materialist mantra, "It's the economy, stupid!"
The current government is indeed damaging almost every reform that was launched, because it sees the role of the state differently than the previous administration. But this will not be the government's greatest sin, because for one thing they are entitled to a different view, and for another they lack either the courage or any viable alternative. The Fico government's fear of changing reforms is good news for the economy, but it is also proof that the elections were not mainly about the economy, but about pushing truth and justice to the sidelines of the political battlefield.
In our faith that the elections were not about character but about the economy and money we made a fatal mistake. We protected reforms but foolishly lost sight of far more important things. Police Vice-President Jaroslav Spišiak was given the boot because he was too much of a barrier to the mafia, Štefan Harabin became justice minister, Ján Slota ruined relations with Slovakia's Hungarians, Vladimír Mečiar got his man elected to the head of the National Security Bureau, and the National Memory Institute and the Special Court are under threat.
The mistake we made has caught up with us. It wasn't the economy, stupid.
9. Oct 2006 at 0:00