With the opposition HZDS party at over 30 per cent in the polls, and support for its opponents withering, it's time that Western powers started thinking seriously about what happens if the HZDS wins September elections and forms a government.
We've all grown accustomed to categorical rejections of the HZDS and leader Vladimír Mečiar from bodies Slovakia is trying to enter, such as Nato and the European Union. We've all heard optimistic statements from politicians like Deputy PM Ivan Mikloš that the parties of the current government will somehow pull the fat out of the fire and score another election victory in 2002.
But it's childish to go on insisting that Mečiar will not return this September to trouble his country and the world. While a potential coalition of right wing parties might stand a chance of defeating the three-time former Prime Minister, two of them - the increasingly radical Christian Democrats and the unreadable Ano - have refused to play ball. Mečiar, meanwhile, continues to gain support as the government enters the terminal phase of its squabbling disease.
On the other hand the West, and particularly the EU, faces a dilemma: It wants to see Slovakia a member of international alliances, but it is now politically impossible for foreign governments to back down on the issue of Mečiar.
Unless, that is, the HZDS could offer a solution which would allow it to form a government acceptable to the West.
Something of the sort is definitely afoot, although it's impossible at the moment to get confirmation from those involved. The idea being shopped around is that the HZDS would nominate to a possible post-September government only 'respected' Slovak business people with no party affiliation, although naturally with the confidence of Mečiar's crew.
That might mean, for example, former National Bank of Slovakia Governor Vladimír Masár as Finance Minister, or Slovnaft refinery head Slavomír Hatina as Economy Minister. As a source privy to the plan explained, "just look around you, find business figures who started out under the HZDS from 1994 to 1998 but who didn't blot their copybook too badly, and you have the makings of the possible next government."
Key to the mix would be not having former HZDS politicians in key places, particularly that of Prime Minister, but as the source said "you will not find the nominee for PM anywhere on any list of the top 100 Slovak personalities. He'll be a complete surprise."
One source does not make a story, but diplomatic channels have confirmed that the idea is gaining credence. Key, they say, would be support for such a 'government of experts' from credible parties in parliament, which might allow Western powers to sell the deal to their own legislatures.
The Slovak Spectator did some digging in the Bratislava parliament last week, and while none would confirm, nor did anyone scoff.
Former HZDS Speaker of Parliament Ivan Gašparovič: "I concede that we could have such a situation as you have described, that someone like Masár for example could be a member of the government. While he was central bank governor he was not a member of the HZDS, but his opinions were close to ours. We'll have to consider not only the interests of political parties, but also the interests of the entire country. And Mečiar is an experienced and prudent politician. We are ready to do everything Slovakia needs."
HZDS MP Vojtech Tkáč: "I really think the next government should be made up of pro-reform statesmen. I think Slovakia needs a government of reformers in order that by 2006 it could be a member of Nato and the EU, and more tolerant as well."
HZDS Vice-Chairman Sergej Kozlík: "Industrialists like Hatina and Masár and others have great credit with the HZDS, but we can't at this point specify people who might be direct members of the government. It's more a question for us of how to accept certain tendencies in integration demands. We have to accept these demands, but the makeup of the government is a sovereign state matter."
Opposition PSNS MP Rastislav Šepták: "I personally believe there are all kinds of discussions going on as to what kind of government we will have and who will be in it. It's high time we had a government of people who will say 'where next' in Slovakia."
Ruling coalition SDĽ party leader Pavol Koncoš: "Slovakia stands before a very difficult task - the HZDS is unacceptable abroad, but the current government, on the basis of its voter popularity, will be unable to form the next government. This means that non-traditional solutions will be sought, one of which could be a government of experts."
There are a number of problems that leap to the eye in a 'government of experts'. First, no one would be fooled - political power would simply switch from the executive to the legislature, where politicians the West has long called unacceptable would largely call the shots. Secondly, financial markets, which are not under the strategic and political pressures that diplomats face, might punish the country for what they read as a cynical move. Nor would Slovak voters who cast ballots for the HZDS be excited about having their heroes retreat from power at the West's bidding. Finally the Nato alliance, whose security risk is relatively higher than the EU's where former kidnappers and privatisation buccaneers are concerned, might prove a tough sell.
But the important thing is to talk, and think, about Slovakia's future with a clear vision of current political reality. Western diplomats are fond of telling Slovaks to vote with "open eyes" this September. It would be well if Washington, and Brussels, kept their own eyes open to political bargains which may be in the offing.
18. Feb 2002 at 0:00