THE SUPRISINGLY restrained performance of Robert Fico's Smer party since taking power after June elections has complicated life for pragmatists in the opposition who claimed that given the nature of the current government, any alternative - even joining up with Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS - was to be preferred. For the good of the country, of course.
That argument worked while the liberal and neo-conservative elite were in a lather about Fico's pre-election promises to roll back reforms and turn Slovakia into a worker's paradise. But this hasn't happened. On the contrary: Rather than battling to preserve the flat tax and fighting other brave campaigns, the opposition finds itself rather moodily defending lesser causes like the two percent of corporate taxes that NGOs receive.
This is also why recent overtures by former PM Mikuláš Dzurinda to Mečiar, such as agreeing to work together on the two-percent campaign, suddenly seem far more tawdry than they did in June, when even those who remember the Father of Slovakia's brutish 1990s excesses were hailing him as a necessary evil if the country was to be saved from Fico's left-wing populism.
So too does the return to top politics of Christian Democrats founder Ján Čarnogurský seem less than heroic, with his immediate criticism of the party leadership for not having embraced Mečiar after elections and foregone its silly "fundamentalist" objections to a man whose government was suspected of involvement in a political kidnapping and murder in the 1990s.
Even if Fico were a greater threat to Slovak democracy than Mečiar - and he's not - these opposition rethinks would reek of cynicism. As it is, with no economic disaster on the horizon, and reforms in relatively decent shape despite some saber-rattling, Dzurinda and Čarnogurský sound like they have lost touch with reality, not to mention their voters.
Politics above all requires that its actors go with the flow, and adapt to changing circumstances. With Fico having at least half-convinced financial markets of his sincerity about adopting the euro and maintaining fiscal discipline, the opposition has to come up with something new, not keep peddling its shrill pre-election scaremongering. Rather than snuggling up to Mečiar, Dzurinda should be taking the high road and decrying the fact he is back in power, along with former sidekick Ján Slota. Because Slovak politics, like the rest of the country, will continue to mature, and the electorate will eventually start rejecting such coarse leaders. Provided, of course, that more sophisticated alternatives haven't already blown it by joining forces with the Neanderthals in their haste to return to power.
The opposition's strategy isn't just foolish, however - it's a disservice to the country. Dzurinda has to finally come to terms with the fact that the electorate didn't choose him this time around, and must give the hugely more popular Fico a chance to lead. By constantly offering a political alternative to Mečiar, however, he is only making the HZDS leader stronger in his dealings with Fico's Smer, or in other words increasing his destructive potential.
Judging from the performance of his party and his ministers so far, Mečiar is still as ill-intentioned as ever. By truckling to him, Dzurinda is giving him an even greater scope to damage important institutions like the Constitutional Court and the Special Court for organized crime. And even if Dzurinda got what he seems to want - another crack at power thanks to Mečiar - he would be even more vulnerable than Fico is now, with 43 percent in the polls, to Mečiar's antics.
But at least he would be back in power. For the good of the country, of course.
By Tom Nicholson