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Electorate displays growing maturity in censure of MPs' barbaric behaviour

In the past month, one Slovak parliamentarian has punched a colleague, another has been involved in a drunken scuffle with police after crashing his car into a taxi, and still another has proposed that Slovak tanks flatten Budapest. Although the Slovak government has boasted a new, westward orientation since its formation last November, the political culture of parliamentary deputies seems to be at low tide.
Viewed from another angle, however, the public response to such oafish behaviour shows that the electorate has begun to mature. Political scientist Luboš Kubín, for example, argues that the media outcry and public disgust over boorish MP's is a good sign, in that voters no longer seem willing to accept what they tolerated in the not-so-recent past. Far from harming Slovakia, Kubín said, the recent outbursts may in the end indirectly improve the country's image abroad.


SNS leader Ján Slota, the bad boy of Slovak politics.
photo: Ján Kuchta

In the past month, one Slovak parliamentarian has punched a colleague, another has been involved in a drunken scuffle with police after crashing his car into a taxi, and still another has proposed that Slovak tanks flatten Budapest. Although the Slovak government has boasted a new, westward orientation since its formation last November, the political culture of parliamentary deputies seems to be at low tide.

Viewed from another angle, however, the public response to such oafish behaviour shows that the electorate has begun to mature. Political scientist Luboš Kubín, for example, argues that the media outcry and public disgust over boorish MP's is a good sign, in that voters no longer seem willing to accept what they tolerated in the not-so-recent past. Far from harming Slovakia, Kubín said, the recent outbursts may in the end indirectly improve the country's image abroad.

"It is accepted faith in political circles that this country has had a different political culture since [September 1998 national] elections," said Kubín, who does political research at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. "It's not that politicians behave so much differently than in the past, but now the public pressure on these individuals to act differently is very strong. The media has become a powerful weapon against bad behaviour, which is a very good signal."

Comparisons to the past notwithstanding, some Slovak politicians have shown a spectacular lack of judgement and dignity over recent weeks. The most notorious incident involved a speech by Ján Slota, leader of the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), in which he argued that "all Slovaks are racists," and that they should "get into their tanks and go flatten Budapest." Slota later told Rádio Twist that he had not been entirely sober at the March 5 SNS rally, and that "maybe the words I used were a little hard, but those were my inner feelings."

Slota is no stranger to controversy, having at various times in the past flung vitriol at Hungarians, Gypsies and other social "parasites," a term used by his SNS party in their election campaign last year to refer to 'undesirable' elements of society. More recently, Slota has called on Russia to protect Serbia from NATO airstrikes in the name of Slavic brotherhood.

Positive signs

Slota's outburst was denounced by all political parties including the SNS, whose vice chair, Anna Malíková, told the daily paper Sme that Slota "should think about what he says." On March 10, the government dismissed Slota from his seat as chairman of the parliamentary body which oversees the Slovak secret service. Hungarian leader Béla Bugár, who is vice-chairman of the parliament and a pillar of the government, said "this post belongs to the SNS, so let them find some other candidate."

For Kubín, the fact that condemnation was universal "is a very good signal that the bar has been raised on what the public is willing to accept from politicians."

Less than a week before Slota's drunken speech, the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) party had expelled a deputy from its ranks for drunkenness and assault. Peter Ďuračka, under investigation by police for drunk driving and assault stemming from a February 22 car crash with a Bratislava taxi, was asked by senior party officials to resign his seat in parliament. Ďuračka agreed to step down, effective March 16, but not before telling TV Markíza on the "Na Telo" programme that he was embittered to be leaving politics "while other deputies who have done far worse things remain in parliament."

For Kubín, the Ďuračka episode was another minor triumph for Slovak politics. "The Ďuračka case shows that democracy is working," he said. "Whether you are from the SDK, the SNS or the [opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar] HZDS, the pressure on such people [who are guilty of misbehaving] to leave politics is immense."

"Of course, people like Slota and Ďuračka don't give Slovakia a good name abroad, but it's a very positive signal that politicians are no longer getting away with what they used to," he added.

Another good sign is the readiness of parliamentary disciplinary committees to censure their own. Peter Baco, a former Agriculture Minister and now a HZDS deputy, stands accused of punching a colleague in the face in the parliamentary deputies' lounge on February 23. Baco claims he was provoked by comments made by Ľubomir Andrássy, a 25 year-old MP for the former communist SDĽ party, over illegal wheat shipments made in 1996.

The incident provoked considerable humour in the press, as Andrássy had appeared on TV Markíza following the blow apparently close to tears. "[Baco] said if I mentioned the wheat case once more he would punch me. I told him to just try it, and he did," Andrássy had said.

The Parliamentary Mandate and Immunity Committee is taking the matter seriously, however, and is considering disciplinary action against Baco if Andrássy's charges are proven to have any foundation.

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