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EDITORIAL

The bitter fruits of being in opposition

WHAT seemed to be a "worst-case" political scenario with an element of intrigue back in June 2006 has been a reality in Slovakia for more than a year. And about 40 percent of the population seems to be absolutely fine with a government made up of Smer and two parties that pushed the country to the verge of international isolation between 1994 and 1998.

WHAT seemed to be a "worst-case" political scenario with an element of intrigue back in June 2006 has been a reality in Slovakia for more than a year. And about 40 percent of the population seems to be absolutely fine with a government made up of Smer and two parties that pushed the country to the verge of international isolation between 1994 and 1998.

The popularity of Smer boss and Prime Minister Robert Fico appears almost unshakable. He survived the scandal surrounding his labour minister, Viera Tomanová, without a single scratch on his trustworthiness in the eyes of his supporters. Tomanová's former employer acquired state support based on false information and later had to return the subsidy. Fico defended Tomanová's honour by attacking private pension fund management companies in a rather weird manner: revealing the salaries of their top managers and displaying a private video featuring a top manager dancing in a wig.

Cynics say that each nation probably gets the government it deserves. Those optimists who last summer fantasised that any ruling coalition involving notorious politicians like Vladimír Mečiar and Ján Slota would lack stability and crumble before the year is out are now eating the bitter fruits of being wrong.

The current opposition parties have not fully recovered from the shock of seeing Fico march into the Cabinet Office.

While wise opposition parties are careful not to bleed out in petty and meaningless spats, and instead conserve their strength and political weapons for the significant battles, it seems that Slovakia's current opposition has not yet figured out what the meaningful fights might be.

It seems that the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) are still licking their wounds and trying to make sense of what happened. While the parties have certainly understood by now that being in opposition in 2007 is quite different from being in opposition between 1994 and 1998, they have not figured out how to do it yet.

While analysts and journalists kept repeating that the SDKÚ, SMK and KDH had the tools to make political life tough for Fico, who was just learning how to be prime minister, it seems that the opposition is the last thing bothering Fico today. He is more concerned about the media, which according to him "has directly entered the political arena as participants of a political confrontation and competition and become an open political opposition against the government".

Some people still blame the KDH for not acting more promptly during ruling coalition talks, and for taking too long to decide whether to join or reject a Fico government. Others say Fico's conquest of Slovakia's political stage is the fault of the Dzurinda government for giving people so much to object to, such as corruption, cronyism and petty fights.

Several years ago, Mečiar gave journalists a memorable quote when he said that the KDH functioned in opposition like a woodworm, systematically working on the decay of the ruling coalition. Today, the characteristics of a woodworm could hardly apply to the KDH, which has been paralysed by its internal troubles and an inability to properly explain to the public - let alone the party's sympathisers - the essence of the conflict.

The SMK has been bleeding from several wounds, which seem like scratches on the surface but actually reflect a long-lasting antagonism between the moderate and more radical wings of the party. The departure of Béla Bugár, who was the most popular politician of Hungarian ethnicity among Slovaks, from the chairman post seems to have weakened the party.

On one hand, the SMK has never made a secret of wanting to defend the interests of the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia. But on the other hand, the party has been struggling to neutralise claims that it has no agenda to drive it forward outside of its fight for Hungarian minority rights and education. Recent statements by the radical wing, however, make this goal more difficult.

But it seems that there is a hope rising for the SDKÚ, because former labour minister and party member Iveta Radičová has climbed the highest among all the opposition politicians on the popularity charts. Without trying to attribute too much importance to popularity polls, the fact that Radičová is the most popular opposition politician is good news for a party whose boss, Dzurinda, is the least trusted politician of the country.

Radičová does not yet know what to do with this popularity, but the sooner she and her party figures it out, the sooner the opposition will wake from its post-election apathy and excessive self-involvement.



By Beata Balogová

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