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Price of power: PM then and now

Leading the country's coalition government for three years has left visible traces on Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.
The enthusiastic sportsman, once a cheery opposition politician whose long wavy hair flowed in the wind as he zigzagged the country on his bike campaigning before the 1998 parliamentary elections, looks graver these days, rarely without circles under his eyes.
During his three years in power six ministers left their posts, four of them members of Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKÚ) party. A left-wing coalition party leader supported a non-confidence motion against him in parliament last year, and local media were hard on the cabinet's lack of effectiveness in fighting corruption.


2001: A man under pressure.
photo: TASR


"If I want to know where he is, I turn on the TV."

Eva Dzurindová on how she has given up trying to keep track of her husband's global whereabouts


Leading the country's coalition government for three years has left visible traces on Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.

The enthusiastic sportsman, once a cheery opposition politician whose long wavy hair flowed in the wind as he zigzagged the country on his bike campaigning before the 1998 parliamentary elections, looks graver these days, rarely without circles under his eyes.

During his three years in power six ministers left their posts, four of them members of Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKÚ) party. A left-wing coalition party leader supported a non-confidence motion against him in parliament last year, and local media were hard on the cabinet's lack of effectiveness in fighting corruption.

Only a few months ago the cabinet went through a serious crisis with the ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party threatening to leave the ruling coalition over belated public administration reform laws.

Before the 1998 elections Dzurinda had been promising "change" - punishing Mečiar era privatisers, speeding up economic reforms, lowering unemployment and effectively doubling people's wages.

But by May 1999 Dzurinda had apparently realised how dauting were the tasks he had set. Defending his cabinet he said: "Results couldn't have come so early even if each of us were David Copperfield."

Today, although his cabinet managed to attract Sk79 billion in foreign investment in 2000, compared to the former government's Sk41 billion total between 1994 and 1998, unemployment is almost 20%, and many dubious Mečiar-era privatisers have avoided prosecution.

Political analysts say his vocabulary has become less radical in its word choice. Body-language expert Oľga Škvareninová, a teacher from Comenius University in Bratislava, says that the PM's gestures have mellowed from a "clenched fist and a pointed finger" to a friendlier "open palm directed at his partners," she said.


Fresh-faced on the campaign trail in 1998.
photo: Spectator Archives

Over the years Dzurinda's popularity with the voters has also dropped. In November 1998 Focus polling agency said the PM was the most popular politician with 24% voter support. In August 2001 Dzurinda ranked fourth scoring 8.6% in a poll carried out by the Public Opinion Research Institute. What is more, he is also the country's least liked politician, topping 40% in recent surveys asking respondents which politician they least trusted.

Kept constantly on his toes by turbulent domestic politics, Dzurinda and his foreign affairs team have managed to "improve the country's international image, and substantially progress in Slovakia's Nato and European Union membership processes," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, political analyst and head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank in Bratislava.

Eva Dzurindová, the PM's wife, herself recently admitted she had given up on trying to keep track of her spouse's global whereabouts.

"If I want to know where he is, I turn on the TV," Dzurindová said.

Observers believe that Dzurinda is able to achieve foreign recognition also because of his improved English and French language skills. "When he speaks in English he's really good now. He's clear, sophisticated and confident," said Mesežnikov.

Dzurinda's November trip to the US, where along with a series of official meetings he spoke on the popular Larry King show on CNN and ran the New York marathon, impressed many of his countrymen.

"I'm sure he had stage fright before the show, but as soon as he appeared on air, you couldn't see that," said Miriam Fiťmová, Dzurinda's former spokeswoman.

Fiťmová also told The Slovak Spectator that although the PM was a "hardworking and demanding boss, who could take criticism from his political colleagues" there had been situations when he wasn't able to tame his temper.

Fiťmová, a former journalist, said she sometimes felt that journalists tried to provoke the PM with their questions.

"They may have thought at times they had achieved their goal."

Despite those flaws, Mesežnikov thought Dzurinda deserved credit for "acting responsibly at times when interests within his left to right wing coalition clashed".

"He tries to mediate agreement. In his post, he has to be a clever manager," said Mesežnikov. "It's a shame he doesn't communicate his policies to the Slovak electorate as clearly as he does abroad."

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