Only 200 people bothered to show up on Banská Bystrica's main square on August 27 to show their support for the second largest opposition party, the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP). Few onlookers listened to the uninspiring messages delivered woodenly from the podium, and focused instead on the cultural program and free T-shirts on offer at the rally.
"I think that this is what the campaign should be like," the party's vice chairman, former foreign minister Pavol Hamžík, told The Slovak Spectator after the event. "It is critical, but not offensive. Some things were done [during the last four years] that we agree with. But some things happened that we disagree with."
Hamžík added that the SOP wanted to run an exciting campaign. "The billboards of the other political parties seem sexless, with no message," he said. The left-of-centre party, which has consistently been scoring around 15% in opinions polls over the last several months, has used a billboard campaign featuring the question "How did you vote last time?" superimposed on fake newspaper stories highlighting the party's five main platform ideas: European integration, an improved health care system, affordable housing, a law and order crackdown and cheaper food.
But the tiny crowd at the rally appeared unmoved by the SOP approach to campaigning. Ten minutes before the meeting, which started at six p.m., there were exactly 11 people on the chilly square. After two girls in tiny skirts clambered onto the stage along with a female singer wearing sunglasses, a crowd slowly gathered.
Following a few minutes of booming music, the political meeting began, featuring Hamžík, Banska Bystrica's mayor Igor Presperin and Bratislava trade union expert Marián Masiarik. Each made a speech, and offered a short summary of the main political goals of the party: The whole meeting was over in an hour.
The rally was led by the musical group and a famous Slovak showman, Jožo Pročko, who called on the people in the crowd to sing a song for a T-shirt.
The only moment of excitement arose from the presence of a cameraman from Bratislava's Štúdio Koliba, which cooperates with the state-run Slovak Television. The cameraman had filmed a previous party meeting in Trnava which had been broadcast on STV in an edited version with a commentary that the party was dissatisfied with.
The cameraman was pushed out of the crowd, complaining loudly that his "camera was broken by a member of the security service." Clothes and hair in disarray, the cameraman said "I was just filming. This will be history one day. I am not responsible for STV's broadcasts, and I was not the one that signed the agreement with STV."
7. Sep 1998 at 0:00 | Andrea Lörinczova