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SKALICA WINE CELLAR HOSTS SDK OFFICIALS

Dzurinda sets sights on Premier's job

The top brass of the largest opposition party, the SDK coalition, took time out of their hectic campaign schedules to drop in at a small wine cellar on September 4. The thirsty deputies drank burčiak, a typical sweet Slovak wine, and steeled themselves for a late afternoon rally in the western Slovak town of Skalica
During the informal meeting, SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda spoke of his goal to become the next Slovak premier.
"I have never considered my personal interests to be the most important, but if SDK wins, I will certainly apply for this position," Dzurinda said to a journalist from the leading German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel.


Post-rally drinks. SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda shares a glass of cheer with wife Eva.
Daniela Rážová

The top brass of the largest opposition party, the SDK coalition, took time out of their hectic campaign schedules to drop in at a small wine cellar on September 4. The thirsty deputies drank burčiak, a typical sweet Slovak wine, and steeled themselves for a late afternoon rally in the western Slovak town of Skalica

During the informal meeting, SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda spoke of his goal to become the next Slovak premier.

"I have never considered my personal interests to be the most important, but if SDK wins, I will certainly apply for this position," Dzurinda said to a journalist from the leading German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

But beyond Dzurinda's brief acknowledgement of his political ambitions, the wine cellar meeting was a flop. The SDK leader arrived 90 minutes late for his scheduled rendezvous with journalists, leaving his guests and his nervous regional organizer sweating in the close atmosphere of the cellar.

And until Dzurinda breezed in with his two body guards and the two Spiegel correspondents in tow, there were precisely two journalists in the cellar - the two Slovak Spectator reporters who had faithfully shown up to interview the SDK boss.

"There are so few people here, it's not even worth playing," said Jaroslav Riha, leader of the three-piece band and an SDK candidate. Riha is the Skalica region SDK organizer, and when his two guests first arrived had been wreathed in smiles and confidence. "We want to welcome our top representatives and show the way this region treats them," Riha said.

Riha explained that the band, which was made up of three regional SDK representatives, had never played together before. "It only took us half an hour to tune our instruments," he marvelled.

After an hour of lonely song and drink, Dzurinda walked in for a 15 minute visit. Andrzej Rybak, the Spiegel correspondent, spent almost the entire time quizzing Dzurinda privately, and later said that he was cautiously optimistic about the SDK leader's chances. "The problem of Dzurinda, especially in foreign countries, is that he is not such a well-known personality as Mečiar," said Rybak. "But he has already travelled to the United States and Germany, which indicates that the path he has chosen is the right one."

Dzurinda was also accompanied by Slovakia's most famous photographer, Karol Kálay, who is known throughout the world photo community.

Kálay said that no special significance should be attached to his covering Dzurinda. "I am here just as a Der Spiegel photographer, and I am accompanying Mr. Rybak, who is covering the whole campaign, not only the SDK," said Kálay at first, but then added the opinion that Dzurinda was "not one of the dishonest and conceited people who do not want to leave the game even when the team they coach is losing."

And then it was time for the SDK rally on Skalica's main square, where the party attracted some 1,500 people (Skalica has a population of 15,000). After 30 minutes of sloganeering, Dzurinda and roughly 10 of his SDK colleagues returned to the wine cellar for another unofficial chat.

The extra SDK drinkers made up in spirit for the lack of journalists. A drinking game, in which people had to quaff burčiak when the month in which they were born was called out, warmed up the atmosphere. Eva Dzurindová, the SDK leader's wife who is following her husband's steps on the campaign trail, said she was surprised how spontaneous the people of Skalica were. "This gives us a kind of impetus for the next part of campaign," she added.

Slovak entertainer and political satirist Rasťo Piško, who is a speaker at SDK rallies around the country, admitted to a fondness for burčiak as well. Asked if he thought his input would help the SDK win, he paused for a moment. "You know, that's such a basic question, but nobody has asked me it before."

Sipping his drink, Piško said that "I count on my popularity and the trust that people have in me. Certainly, there are some who hate me, but I know the majority of Slovaks like me and believe me. That's why I know my presence on stage will help SDK to win the election fight."

On the way out of the cellar, en route to another rally in Senica later that same evening, SDK economic expert Viliam Vaškovič was asked for a ride by SDK press officer Pavol Prikril. Vaškovič, who was about to take a young female photographer to the meeting, looked at his companion in mock exasperation. "You see? This is the kind of guy I have to take around in my car," he joked.

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