Hungarian Coalition Party deputy Pál Csáky (foreground) was all smiles during a parliamentary non-confidence vote, but he and party chairman Béla Bugár were later displeased to find that eight of their SDĽ coalition mates had refused to vote in support of Csáky.
Perhaps the most serious dispute was over a government proposal to sell off state-owned monopolies and utilites, known as 'strategic companies.' The refusal of the former communist SDĽ party to support the proposal on August 30 infuriated deputies with right-wing coalition parties, who called the leftist SDĽ "a brake on economic development." The SDĽ stance caused the government to withdraw the proposal temporarily.
Even before the 'strategic company' dispute, however, the SDĽ had sparked a feud with the Hungarian minority party by refusing to politically defend a Hungarian government member accused of incompetence by the opposition.
Despite the growing anger of other coalition parties, SDĽ deputies would not admit to having been in the wrong. "Our coalition partners do not respect the SDĽ, and they are organising pressure and tyranny against it," said SDĽ Vice-Chairman Peter Weiss.
According to Ján Budaj, a deputy with the SDK ruling party, the government's thinking on what to do with state-owned firms like gas utility SPP, energy utility SE, the SLSP bank and pipeline firm Transpetrol, has changed considerably since it took office last November. Once the cabinet became aware of the poor state of the economy, Budaj said, it decided to sell off state-owned firms to boost inflows of foreign capital and bolster the state budget.
The SDĽ, however, is still demanding that the government keep a 51% share in most state-owned firms, something guaranteed to dampen the interest of foreign investors. "This SDĽ resistance has already cost the government a lot of money," said Budaj, adding that if the SDĽ had supported the government proposal when it first surfaced in June, the country could already have sold off several state companies.
Weiss denied that his party was acting as a brake to progress, and argued instead that the other coalition parties were departing from the government's original programme. "According to the consititution, parliament must have control over state companies," he said. "We just want the law to reflect the national interest."
Luboš Kubín, a political analyst at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said that although the SDĽ's stance was in keeping its left-wing political orientation, it did not make any kind of economic sense. "They are doing this because of their political profile," he said. "But the SDĽ is still working from the notion that the state is the ideal controller of big companies and monopolies, even though 100 years of experience have taught us that the state is in fact the worst owner of these properties."
In many ways, the strategic companies quarrel fed on animosities generated by several days of wrangling over the SDĽ's behaviour towards Hungarian minority politicians.
On August 25, eight SDĽ deputies refused to support cabinet member Pál Csáky, who was facing a non-confidence motion sponsored by the opposition. Csáky is the Deputy Prime Minister for Human and Minority Rights, and had been accused by the opposition of failing to stop a recent exodus of Slovak Romanies to western countries.
In the parliamentary vote on Csáky, which he survived by a margin of 65 to 40 in the 150-seat chamber, six SDĽ deputies abstained from voting while another two did not participate.
The Hungarian SMK party, of which Csáky is a member, interpreted the SDĽ deputies' behaviour as an open snub towards a government colleague. "If any of our deputies had acted that way, they would have immediately been kicked out of the party," SMK leader Béla Bugár told The Slovak Spectator. "The SDĽ is playing a dirty game towards the SMK."
But the SDĽ's Weiss said that the eight deputies had been acting on their own, and that the party did not endorse their behaviour. "The six deputies who abstained had been hurt by Csáky's comments about the Slovak National Uprising," he said.
A controversial book published last month quoted Csáky as saying that the 1944 anti-fascist uprising, a landmark in Slovak national history, was a case of fratricide rather than a heroic fight for freedom.
On August 28, the national holiday celebrating the Slovak National Uprising, the SDĽ again picked a quarrel, this time with Bugár. Speaking to a crowd of about 200 people at a Hungarian youth camp in the southern Slovak village of Madarász, Bugár used Hungarian throughout his address, despite the fact that he is a Slovak government official. He also failed to attend a traditional government celebration at SNP square in Bratislava.
Accusing Bugár of a "great lack of tact," Weiss said that "Mr. Bugár confirmed my theory that many SMK deputies have not realised they are responsible for the development of all of Slovakia, not just the region in which Hungarians live."
Bugár replied that he had been invited to speak as leader of the SMK, not as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, which would have required that he speak in Slovak.
Kubín said that the SDĽ's resurgent anti-Hungarian behaviour, just like its objections to privatisation, were a function of its political programme and were not unduly worrying. SDĽ voters, he said, tended to be either nationalist or socialist in their orientation, a division equally true of the party's leadership.
"I was not suprised by how those [eight SDĽ] deputies voted, " he said. "A large part of their electorate feels animosity towards the Hungarians."
6. Sep 1999 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová