By Marián Leško
It was quite natural for the leader of the ruling coalition's strongest party [Smer] to use fighting words at its weekend congress. After all, it is one of the duties of a general to motivate his people on such occasions.
But it's another matter if the head of a party and the leader of the cabinet uses such a meeting of party delegates to define enemies, as Robert Fico did on September 30.
To his assertion that the problem does not lie in the fact that Smer is in government with the HZDS and SNS, but rather that the parties of the current opposition are not in government, Fico added: "This is how we have to define the campaign that has been declared against the ruling coalition." By using the expression "campaign", Fico defined his first enemy: The parties of the opposition, who have allegedly tried to isolate Fico's government abroad.
Fico speaks of "clear" attempts to isolate his government based on the fact that some opposition MEPs called for post-electoral developments in Slovakia to be monitored. The MEPs came up with these demands right after elections and dropped them very quickly (mainly after criticism from their party headquarters). The propagandistic claim that the government defeated attempts to isolate it would be harmless if it didn't serve as a means of declaring the opposition as the enemy.
Within his hard words for the opposition, Fico devoted special mention to the SMK and its chairman, Béla Bugár, whom he accused of "abusing invented cases of intolerance to repeatedly attack the government on the international stage". Here again Fico is exaggerating, because these "attacks" began when he decided to accept the SNS as part of his government. This decision was also attacked by the Party of European Socialists, and even more harshly than by Slovakia's opposition Hungarian politicians. Martin Schulz, the head of the club of socialists in the European Parliament, said: "[Smer's decision to ally with] a racist, nationalist, intolerant and clearly extreme right-wing party is unacceptable." Apart from that, from the moment it became clear that one of the cases of alleged extremism in Slovakia was probably made up, Bugár has been very muted, so Fico's complaints of being "attacked" are unfounded. Fico nevertheless included Bugár as an enemy "who will have to explain the contents of his interview on August 21 in Budapest".
Fico did not restrict himself to politicians in his search for enemies, adding that the government had taken up a fight with the foreign shareholders in the SPP gas utility. The PM claimed that the SPP's demand for a price rise is groundless, and that therefore "it was a political gesture. Someone wanted to send a message to this government to the effect - do what you will, we are going to have our way with you."
By saying that "we are going to pick up this gauntlet", Fico included SPP in the ranks of the enemy.
It's fine if the prime minister is trying to keep gas prices as low as possible, for as central bank governor Ivan Šramko said, "governments even in developed European countries try to influence the behaviour of monopolies and dominant players". The difference is that in those countries, the head of the executive branch does not speak at party congresses of "picking up the gauntlet" and fighting energy companies as political enemies.
Some statesmen are trying to turn politics into a special technical form of decision-making on public affairs; others continue to see politics as contests in which an enemy has to be defeated. In the latter form, finding enemies is the key to everything, and there can only be one winner.
The first to use this concept in Slovakia as prime minister was Vladimír Mečiar. Once anyone sets out on the path he laid down, they have no option but to follow where the path leads - to the generation of new conflicts, and the definition of new enemies.