Ignác Prno, economic adviser to the Slovak National Party (SNS), wants to distance his party's policies from those of its government coalition partner, the HZDS of Premier Vladimír Mečiar. After four years of close cooperation, Prno said, "the coalition wasn't and isn't united on economic issues," especially on the questions of privatization and foreign investment.
Given the junior partner role of the SNS, Prno continued, the party could not be held responsible for the current state of the economy. "The SNS was allowed to act just as a younger brother to its older brother - the HZDS," he said.
But in ducking responsibility for the past, the SNS has not shirked planning for the future.
Prno, who is also the vice-chairman of the Office of State Material Reserves, explained that "this government drowned while trying to carry out its decisions. The next government needs a lighthouse. Otherwise it's all just improvisation." According to Prno, the guiding light of the next government should be restrictions on foreign direct investment, combined with a hefty tax cut, industrial restructuring funded by foreign borrowing, and a narrowing of the wage gap between Slovakia and the rest of Europe.
The SNS takes umbrage at speculative capital and foreign investors with "geopolitical interests" who buy out troubled Slovak companies and them let them go bankrupt, all in the name of expanding their own market share. "Who looks after the unemployed and their families?" demanded Prno.
Indeed, for Prno, the whole question of foreign investment should be re-examined from the point of view of the Slovak business community. "There isn't any money in this republic now, and there won't be anytime soon," he said. "The SNS is strictly against the sale of land and infrastructure to foreign investors [who can't] prove that they really intend to increase production in Slovakia, to invest new and progressive technology and then to give us access...to their foreign markets."
But given the scarcity of such well-meaning investors, Prno said, the government's policy of favoring domestic buyers in the privatization process had been proven correct. "It was necessary to create a group of home capitalist owners," he said. "The home group. This a political question."
In the absence of foreign investment, Prno continued, foreign borrowing should be used to help fund industrial restructuring. Slovakia's overall indebtedness, he said, currently stood at roughly 24% of GDP, a relatively healthy figure given the 60% standard applied by the Maastricht Treaty to European Union countries. "The aim of the SNS is to push ahead, in a wider sense than before, with the process of restructuring of domestic industry by using foreign sources. [But] foreign borrowing makes sense only when we use those foreign dollars to buy the technologies and know-how we don't have here."
One misleadingly right-wing plank in the party's platform is a plan to enact a handsome tax cut of "30 to 35%," and to replace the lost state budget revenues by adjustments in property and indirect taxes. But the SNS's plans to revamp the capital market and the financial sector - with "complex state controls" - are more revealing of its economic credo.
Revealing, too, is the SNS's approach to the "more than 600 billion Slovak crowns [$1.7 billion]" in economic and environmental debt that Prno said had been inherited by Slovakia from its communist predecessor . "We have to invest this amount into the Slovak economy, so that its international competitive ability is enhanced," he said. "But leaving this process to unrestrained market forces could lead to the destruction of the national economy."
In the end, the SNS is concerned primarily with increasing the wages and living standards of ordinary Slovaks, and in proitecting citizens from rapacious foreign market forces. "Without complex restructuring we will not be able to reach the level of the world economy," said Prno. "And unless we have a position equal to others in the world economy, then we can't speak of entering this world as equal partners, but as poor relatives."
27. Aug 1998 at 0:00 | Soňa Bellušová