IT SEEMS that the chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Pál Csáky, has been bleeding out in fights that neither he nor the voters of his party have been prepared for. He has been losing his political blood in rhetorical exercises that neither support Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation nor strengthen his party.
Those who said that taking over the post from Béla Bugár, who led the party for more than a decade and struck a political chord with even some Slovaks, was a Herculean task were probably right. It would have been difficult even without radical MP Miklós Duray gaining a freer rein and a louder voice.
Those who thought that the presence of Ján Slota's nationalistic Slovak National Party (SNS) in the ruling coalition would lead to more radical policies and tougher rhetoric on part of the SMK, and that beefed-up policies and rhetoric would appeal to voters, were wrong.
Csáky's performance as SMK chairman has actually made not only some of party members, but also its voters uneasy. What should be more worrisome to him is that his name has been associated with the term, "radicalisation".
In a country where a party led by someone who once drunkenly called on the nation to get in tanks and level Budapest is part of the government, radicalisation of rhetoric is not necessarily a good or wise move for a party. Especially not when most of these fights are a verbal exercise to lure voters.
And in a region where some people dress like the forces of oppressive political regimes and swear to protect their land with their blood, radical rhetoric is just as dangerous as explosives in children's hands.
To be fair, Csáky did try hard to wear the mask of a reasonable politician who is uncompromising in issues close to Hungarian voters, but open to compromise in affairs that are more about rhetoric than real actions. And while serving as deputy prime minister for national minorities, Csáky was often very convincing in this role.
Yet the popularity of the SMK has been dropping. When the ethnic Hungarian party was losing only one or two percent, the new leadership of the party said the turbulence was just a natural part of the Csáky team's launch.
But in a recent poll, the party scored 4.5 percentage points lower than in the last parliamentary elections. For a party that has had more-or-less stable support of 10 to 12 percent over the past decade, a popularity loss exceeding four points is something that neither Csáky nor his internal opponents can ignore.
Political scientist László Öllős told the Sme daily that the drop was caused by Slovak voters turning away, problems at the regional level and changes at the party's top level.
Csáky came up with a diplomatic comment, saying every politician must take a drop in popularity seriously, but at this point one poll should not prompt action.
The media immediately started speculating about the grand return of Bugár, who might now feel obliged to reconsider his partial political retirement and play a more active role.
But would Bugár's return move the party towards reconciliation, or would it rather work like a publicity stunt, using someone who people happened to like because he has never really crossed the line of political decency?
The question remains as to whether Bugár could balance the perceived "radicalisation" of the SMK, which is often just a toothless response to the presence of the SNS in the government. Would his "return" to the centre of SMK politics give more weight to the politics of reconciliation?
And which of the ruling coalition parties would join him down this road? The SNS? The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) led by Vladimír Mečiar, who will never really escape the fact that he pushed the country to the verge of international isolation back in 1997? Or Smer's Robert Fico, who has been in an intensive hunt for all kinds of enemies?
It is not certain at all that giving Bugár a stronger role would lure back the fleeing voters and mend connections with political allies. The political atmosphere has changed, the rhetoric has heated and the tone of voices has sharpened. It will be challenging to re-enter this discourse using the tone of the past eight years.
Former agriculture minister Zsolt Simon has pushed the alarm button that the current policy line of the SMK has been paralysing its cooperation with opposition parties. However, it is not necessarily only the SMK's mistake.
If opposition parties have no problem lifting their hands for a law that would have lifted Andrej Hlinka, a Catholic priest with a controversial role in history, to the pedestal of the father of the nation, it shows they have been struggling with political spine problems. It would be tough for any political party to find partners, let alone an ethnic Hungarian party.
By Beata Balogová
12. Nov 2007 at 0:00