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HZDS, SDK BRING FIGHT TO COUNTRY

Gladiators take up arms

August 26 may have marked the official opening of Slovakia's national election campaign period, but the country's two biggest political rivals are already well into their appeals to the voters.
Premier Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) are the only parties in the country that have more than 20% support among voters, and in substance if not style represent the opposite poles of Slovakia's bitterly divided political world.
"Both Mečiar and Dzurinda are populists. But there is a fundamental difference in their message," said Luboš Kubín, a politologist with the Slovak Academy of Science. "What will be very important during the election period is if the common man can tell the difference between truth and lies."


Saddle sore. SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda campaigns.
Courtesy of SDK

August 26 may have marked the official opening of Slovakia's national election campaign period, but the country's two biggest political rivals are already well into their appeals to the voters.

Premier Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) are the only parties in the country that have more than 20% support among voters, and in substance if not style represent the opposite poles of Slovakia's bitterly divided political world.

"Both Mečiar and Dzurinda are populists. But there is a fundamental difference in their message," said Luboš Kubín, a politologist with the Slovak Academy of Science. "What will be very important during the election period is if the common man can tell the difference between truth and lies."

Different campaigning

"The fight will be like the ones at the Roman colosseum," said Ján Čarnogurský, a member of the Central Election Commission, and chairman of the Christian Democra-tic Movement, an SDK member party. "There will be two fighters with different weapons. Dzurinda will speak the truth, and Mečiar will impress with greatness."

The Slovak Spectator accompanied Dzurinda on one of his last pre-campaign whistle stops, a visit to the northern Slovak city of Poprad on August 15 to 16. The HZDS's Ivan Mjartan, however, cancelled an arranged interview with The Specta-tor, pleading a busy schedule.

The pre-campaign strategies of the two opponents have already betrayed the vastly different approaches they are taking to elections. Dzurinda has bicycled through more than 200 villages and towns over the past five weekends, accompanied by other party colleagues and curious knots of onlookers. The HZDS, on the other hand, sponsored a meeting for the party members in Trnava on July 20 which was estimated in the Slovak press to have cost over 10 million Slovak crowns ($290,000). Mečiar's party has also held a massive petition drive that collected a purported 600,000 signatures in early August.

Of course, one of the greatest differences between the two campaigns is the amount of money at the disposal of the two parties. According to Slovak law, only 12 million Slovak crowns ($343,000) can be spent during the campaign. "But these 12 million crowns represent only the amount that can be checked - advertising spots on radio and television. The real expenses for the elections are a lot greater," said Čarnogurský.

The HZDS campaign team leader is Alexander Rezeš, chairman of the Supervisory Board of the eastern Slovak steelmaker VSŽ, Slovakia's largest company. Fourth on the HZDS candidate list is Ján Smerek, head of VSŽ's board of control. The Slovak media have repeatedly cast the HZDS campaign as funded by VSŽ, but the company's representatives would not comment when contacted by The Slovak Specxtator. "It will be a slight handicap for Dzurinda," said Čarnogurský.

The HZDS's deep pockets have allowed Mečiar's party to make a play for the support of Slovak, Czech and foreign celebrities. Names such as the French actor Jean Paul Belmondo, German Formula 1 racer Michal Schumacher, Czech singer Lucie Bílá, Slovak singer Peter Nagy, and Slovak groups such as Senzus and Elán have cropped up in the press as having been offered several million crowns to plug the HZDS's campaign.

The SDK's Dzurinda, on the other hand, has opted for a low-cost, low-profile bike tour around the country. In some villages, he has been welcomed with the traditional borovička (Slovak hard alcohol) and bread and salt, while in other places he has been pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes.

Too clever to be understood

Beyond the money factor, the most important campaign issue will be the credibility factor - which of the two Slovak politicians will be more successful in convincing common people of their messages. "Both Mečiar and Dzurinda have the disposition to be easily understood. What will be the crucial factor is the amount of sincerity they put into their message," said Kubín.

But the SDK's Čarnogursky admitted to feeling unsure of his leader's rhetorical skills. "The SDK has not gotten rid of talking [to people] in a complicated way," he said. "But the situation in Slovakia is very complicated, and if you over-simplify it, the message is going to be deceiving. The SDK does not want to lie, and you can't simplify the message for the voters and not lie at the same time."

According to Kubín, the outcome of elections will not only depend on an emotive and convincing campaign, but also on last-minute swings in public mood. The latest polls by the independent agency Focus show that 18.2% of Slovak voters are undecided. "This group of people decide mostly on the basis of their emotions, not rational thinking," said Kubín, and warned that last-minute ploys by either party to arouse voter sympathies could determine the results of the vote.

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