Salting Slovakia's wounds

Not content to leave Slovakia an economic cripple after four years of misrule, the outgoing government of Premier Mečiar is using its last days in power to revenge itself on the academic community and fritter away scarce state funds before a new cabinet takes control.
These childish and spiteful gestures go beyond the honoured tradition of making a political opponent's seat hot for him. Freezing funds for universities and making last-minute renovations of embassies inhabited by party allies make no political sense whatsoever. These acts are the equivalent of a temper tantrum thrown by a child who for once hasn't had everything his own way. Mečiar himself said it best in his final television appearance on September 30, when he scolded the public for voting in an opposition majority. "You've taken everything from me," he sulked.

Not content to leave Slovakia an economic cripple after four years of misrule, the outgoing government of Premier Mečiar is using its last days in power to revenge itself on the academic community and fritter away scarce state funds before a new cabinet takes control.

These childish and spiteful gestures go beyond the honoured tradition of making a political opponent's seat hot for him. Freezing funds for universities and making last-minute renovations of embassies inhabited by party allies make no political sense whatsoever. These acts are the equivalent of a temper tantrum thrown by a child who for once hasn't had everything his own way. Mečiar himself said it best in his final television appearance on September 30, when he scolded the public for voting in an opposition majority. "You've taken everything from me," he sulked.

One of the targets of this tantrum is the academic community. Long a foe of Mečiar's HZDS party and its autocratic ways, Slovak universities have in return had their budgets squeezed steadily since 1993. In recent national elections, only 8% of people with a university education voted for Mečiar's crew, which may explain why the government has refused to release the 8% of funds it has been withholding from the schools budget. The funds could be released by a new government as early as Christmas, but many schools say that would be too late to avoid the cancellation of the spring semester.

But the main target of Mečiar's pique is the average Slovak citizen, who dared to reduce the HZDS' Parliamentary strength from 61 to 43 seats. Even though the HZDS has no real chance of forming a government, it is taking every minute of the 30 days it is allowed by the law to attempt the impossible. This means that the next government will miss the November 15 deadline for submitting the 1999 state budget, and will have to prepare a provisional budget instead. As a result, the country's fiscal problems and its troubled health care, education and agriculture sectors will take even longer to revive.

And having reduced the state to penury with his megolomaniac infrastructure programmes, the Premier is now busy squandering the little money that remains on sending squadrons of HZDS appointees to diplomatic missions abroad. The opposition parties have promised to recall the new ambassadors the day the new government takes office, but since every recall will cost the Slovak taxpayer double, Mečiar may consider it money well wasted.

The HZDS has always been a party that reflects the mind and mood of its leader. But now that the Mečiar mind is apparently in the grip of a vengeful spirit, the party has lost whatever political sense it once had.

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