That Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský is a smart fellow. Just as cabinet prepared to give citizens the bad news - that food, energy, transport, gas and housing prices are going to skyrocket in the new year - Čarnogurský staged a clever piece of impromptu political theatre to distract people from their financial worries.
The Čarnogurský skit went like this. One fine November day, a Justice Minister in a young central European country votes against his own government's programme because it doesn't include guarantees to fund religious schools equally (the Minister is the boss of the Christian Democrats). Equal funding was included in his own party's pre-election platform, but was dropped from the government programme after elections because of pressure from the godless SDĽ party, the Minister's new coalition partner.
Granted, the premise sounds unlikely - a Christian right wing party in government with an atheist former communist party! - but that's nothing to what comes next.
After the Minister votes against the programme of his cabinet colleagues, and as November gives way to December, it turns out that his SDK party is on its last legs. It was originally built as a coalition of five different parties, and only changed itself into a party when the Evil Wizard Mečiar cast a spell to hurt the SDK's election chances.
But elections are over, the Wizard is gone and his spell broken. Now the Minister looks like a Prince, standing up for his beliefs, while his SDK colleagues squabble like jealous frogs. And who should come along next but one of the Evil Wizard Mečiar's closest allies, disguised as a beautiful Princess! The Princess, who is also known as Peter Brňák, is from the rich old HZDS family that has always hated the Minister and his relatives. But the Princess manages to convince her brothers and sisters that the Minister can help them all to live happily ever after.
With the support of her family, the Princess proposes to parliament that the Minister's demands be included in the government programme, and lo and behold, the Minister and many of his SDK friends join the HZDS in voting in favour of the proposal! At a celebration in the HZDS club in parliament afterwards, the Minister and many of his colleagues join the HZDS in a toast, while the SDĽ party people gnash their teeth and promise vengeance.
As impromptu theatre, the Čarnogurský skit isn't bad, even though many loose ends remain. Will the Minister marry the Princess, or will he patch things up with his SDK friends? If things can't be patched up, will the Minister continue to cooperate with the godless SDĽ, now his arch-enemy? And if he won't, what will become of the fine government that was erected a month ago?
Slovak voters, who face a winter and several seasons of empty cupboards, are lucky to have such gifted political actors and entertaining theatre. They are lucky, too, that it's all just theatre. For if it were a real story, what would become of their little country?
7. Dec 1998 at 0:00