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SDK rings bells for Mečiar's defeat

Slovakia's strongest opposition party, the SDK led by Mikuláš Dzurinda, touched off its 1998 campaign vowing to remain positive and decent. But the party's first campaign rally, staged on August 26 in Zvolen, spent much of its time ridiculing Premier Vladimír Mečiar and his ruling HZDS party.
"We basically just want to point out the bad things that have been done here and offer ways out," said Dzurinda after the meeting to The Slovak Spectator. The Zvolen rally, which attracted over 4,000 party faithful from across the country, was to Dzurinda's mind "happy, dignified and optimistic."


Tired jokes. SDK leader Mikulaš Dzurinda speaks in Zvolen.
Slavomír Danko

Slovakia's strongest opposition party, the SDK led by Mikuláš Dzurinda, touched off its 1998 campaign vowing to remain positive and decent. But the party's first campaign rally, staged on August 26 in Zvolen, spent much of its time ridiculing Premier Vladimír Mečiar and his ruling HZDS party.

"We basically just want to point out the bad things that have been done here and offer ways out," said Dzurinda after the meeting to The Slovak Spectator. The Zvolen rally, which attracted over 4,000 party faithful from across the country, was to Dzurinda's mind "happy, dignified and optimistic."

While the rally indeed featured little pomp and circumstance, no undignified fireworks or large-screen TV images and prancing majorettes, the youth-oriented show relied mostly on political satire designed to deflate the reputation of the HZDS and Mečiar. Even the few political speeches that were made devoted more time to criticizing the current government than advancing the SDK's own platform.

Greetings, comrades

At five o'clock in the afternoon, Zvolen's main Square was almost full. Seventeen SDK representatives were nervously standing under the stage, waiting for their turns at the microphone.

"Zdravstvooyte tavahristchy!" (greetings, comrades!) cried Štefan Skrúcaný, one of Slovakia's best-known showmen, to open the meeting. Given our current political culture, he deadpanned, the Russian greeting was as appropriate to Slovakia as to Russia.

After the Russian gag, showman Rasťo Piško grabbed the mike and began mimicking Mečiar. As the bells on Zvolen's main church suddenly started to ring, Piško intoned "there is only one Mečiar, and the bells have already started to toll for him." Piško, reckoned the best imitator of Slovak politicians, used Mečiar's gruff baritone to invite the leaders of the two strongest SDK member parties onto the stage - Jozef Moravčík, leader of the Democratic Union (DU), and Ján Čarnogurský, leader of Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH).

Čarnogurský reminded voters briefly that the SDK's campaign was "the only one that can save Slovakia." Moravčík also begged people for help. "Support the SDK with your voice," he said. Following these tepid appeals, which made no mention of the SDK's specific platform, another well-known actor dressed in the costume of a Slovak folk hero took over the stage to accuse Mečiar of robbing the country.

Finally, after about an hour of anti-Mečiar mirth, SDK politicians got a chance at the mike. Sixteen of the party's main representatives formed a semi-circle on the stage and waited for their turn. But only two of them actually spoke to the crowd. Dzurinda, encircled by his security detail, waited nervously under the stage for his big moment.

One of the best speeches of the afternoon was delivered by SDK legal expert Ivan Šimko. "Let the bells ring for the end of the arrogance and corruption of the ruling power," he said. Almost immediately the church bell began to ring once again.

After another interval of earthy satire and anti-Mečiar jokes, Dzurinda finally popped onto the stage. "It's getting hotter, I can feel the change, my friends," he began.

But Dzurinda, like his colleagues, couldn't resist the lure of anti-Mečiarism. "Do you want to beat the HZDS?" he bellowed to the audience. "Yes," they shouted back. "The only party able to do it is the SDK!" Dzurinda yelled, adding in softer tones that after his party wins the election, Slovakia will have a real chance for change. Doubling wages, erecting new flats and building a legal state were the principal changes that the SDK leader promised to introduce.

The last person to speak at the first SDK election rally was Dzurinda's wife Eva, who spoke of her stage-fright and of the support she gives her husband. Her address and the Slovak national anthem, sung by the politicians lining the stage and the audience on the square, closed the big day in Zvolen.

Every political meeting in Slovakia is to a certain extent a free-beer party, and the SDK's rally was no exception. But in keeping with Dzurinda's concern for dignity, only one truck was on site to dispense the liquid. Ľudovít Černák, the SDK's election campaign leader, noted that the HZDS usually has many beer trucks and booths at its rallies, and said the SDK's temperance was proof its campaign would not be as bombastic and expensive as that of its opponents.

Besides the scarce beer, people were given free T-shirts with an SDK logo, balloons and flags. Several groups of red-faced men went up for repeated giveaways and to have their glasses filled.

According to Jozef Mikuš, local SDK representative and chief organizer of the Zvolen rally, preparation for the event had taken about a month. He said that the SDK had chosen Zvolen as its launching pad because "the HZDS is stronger in Zvolen," and the SDK had wanted to show its strength even in a city "ruled by the enemy."

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