Until Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar hit the campaign trail for his ruling HZDS party on September 6, the party's election campaign meetings consisted of sedate, sparsely attended events in town and village halls across the country.
The Slovak Spectator attended one such gathering on September 2, in the Bratislava suburb of Rača, better known for its vineyards and winemaking tradition than its political activism.
The meeting was held at the House of Culture, an old communist building that hosts community cultural events. The meeting drew approximately 90 people, most of whom came to meet the keynote speaker, Agriculture Minister Peter Baco, and to air their grievances over land reform.
Many of the guests arrived with canes and hearing aids, and sat in chairs arranged closely around Baco in order to hear what the HZDS deputy had to say. The room was approximately two-thirds full.
Before opening the meeting, Baco laid out the themes that he thought should be discussed. "It would not be good to start a discussion on what used to happen in the past, and how it was," he said, eyeing his elderly guests. "I would like to focus on agriculture, wine making and very little on politics."
The Minister clearly knew his audience. People rose to ask about vineyards, how agricultural land had been divided, what restitution awaited those who had expected the return of confiscated property.
Only one visitor, a woman in her late sixties, raised her voice at the Agriculture Minister.
"Restitution is not happening as it should. Our home was never returned to us. It is also your fault, because the ministry is not working as it should," she screamed at Baco. But the minister gave her an even and reasonable reply, listing all of the institutions responsible for restitution.
In all, the meeting had none of the bombast that opposition politicians had been warning the population of. Even small presents, plastic bag and cheap pens with the HZDS logo on them were nowhere to be found. There was no HZDS flag, no picture of Mečiar.
The only false and jarring note of the day was Baco's security guard, who paced to and fro outside the drab building in purple pants and a beige jacket. The Minister's shining silver Mercedes, too, was an eye-opener, parked down the street from the old and dented Škodas which lined the parking lot.