Slota and Fico: Political soulmates?

AS LONG AS the world of Prime Minister Robert Fico is inhabited by politicians like Slovak National Party boss Ján Slota, it will be a world of schisms rather than a world of bridges - at least when it comes to the country's minorities and its southern neighbour, Hungary.

AS LONG AS the world of Prime Minister Robert Fico is inhabited by politicians like Slovak National Party boss Ján Slota, it will be a world of schisms rather than a world of bridges - at least when it comes to the country's minorities and its southern neighbour, Hungary.

Slota's presence in a government is a political anomaly, and as such it will continue upsetting not only the Party of European Socialists - a family that Fico had been dying to belong to - but the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, and essentially everyone who still believes that political taste and decency has not died out completely.

When confronted last summer with worries that Slota's presence would inspire xenophobia not only in the Slovak nationalist camp, but also among far-right Hungarians, Fico brushed aside the concerns with claims that he would keep the SNS boss under control and Slota would not get any state post. Yet Slota obviously doesn't need a post to rub salt in the wounds of Slovak-Hungarian relations, which have received a couple hard blows from both the Slovak and Hungarian sides.

Anyone who is surprised by the tensions between Hungary and Slovakia should not be, really. What is worrisome, though, is not that Ján Slota has not changed since he called on Slovaks to get into tanks and level Budapest in an alcohol-fuelled speech. It's the fact that Fico does not seem to mind having the SNS boss around - not even when, because of Slota, the Party of European Socialists decides it would mind having Fico's Smer around.

Political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov said Fico might not be trying to influence Slota, and perhaps he has some sympathy for the way Slota acts and talks.

"I am not even sure that Fico minds Slota's statements and style," he said.

Fico would certainly have found a way to silence Slota, if silencing him was the path he had wanted to walk.

Fico does not seem to understand why he cannot just march back to the PES gardens hand-in-hand with Slota, and he lashed out at PES chairman Poul Nyrup Rasmussen for not keeping the party's doors wide open for him. Rasmussen said that he wanted to give Smer more time to eliminate extremism from the government.

"Those are serious accusations to make about the government of a European Union member country, without any evidence," said Fico.

He even suggested, according to the Sme daily, that Rasmussen should have first asked for Smer's position and should not have made its decision immediately after meeting Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, the head of the Hungarian socialists.

Slovak MEP Monika Flašíková-Beňová of Smer was quick to explain that the PES "praised the economic and social policies of the government," and that Ján Slota's aggressive statements were the only reason for the freeze-out. According to the TASR newswire, Flašíková-Beňová said that Fico has failed to effectively muzzle Slota so far.

At times, Vladimír Mečiar also complained that the West had completely misunderstood him, and that enemies of the nation were lurking everywhere, sharpening their knives to harm the young Slovak nation. And he was set to protect it.

Unfortunately, there is nothing more dangerous than politicians who are convinced that they have been chosen to protect the nation from all kinds of enemies, but somehow forget to protect the nation from themselves.

Also, nationalist forces need "enemies". It is their life-giving force, the blood in their veins.

Some political analysts have suggested that Fico might no longer truly desire PES membership. Right now, he needs Slota more than he needs a European group that sticks to its principles and has actually recorded Slota's infamous performance over the past 15 years in its long-term memory.

Journalists have sometimes suggested that if after the last parliamentary elections, let's say, the Party of Slovak Wine Makers or the Party of Never-Seen-Fortune would have helped Fico form a government and finally grasp the long-desired power, Fico would have grouped with them. Slota happened to be around and he happened to have 10-percent support.

But at this point, it seems that Slota is ideologically not as foreign to Fico as it first seemed to some.

No one would ever associate with Slota's name a single law, move or statement that would happen to benefit minorities. Actually, Smer is the first serious partner that SNS has had since 1998. The third ruling coalition leader, Mečiar, has said that Slota's SNS caused more evil than good to his former government.

The PES is just saying openly what most Slovaks with even a little knowledge about politics should know: the SNS is a nationalist party with a history of collaborating with French ultra-nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen and nefarious statements about the Roma and the Hungarians.

Smer also keeps singing Mečiar's notorious song about international criticism: they do not have enough information and the only information they have is supplied by the enemies of the nation.

Recent developments only show that Fico's world is getting deserted - not as deserted as Mečiar's world back in 1997, when basically any decent international political figure avoided Slovakia, and the country was driven to the edge of international isolation.

At least not yet.

By Beata Balogová

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