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THE SDKÚ PARTY'S VICE-CHAIR SAYS POST-ELECTION CO-OPERATION WITH ROBERT FICO'S SMER WILL BE "A BIG PROBLEM" UNLESS SMER CHANGES ITS "RADICAL POLICY"

SDKÚ's Martináková: "Mečiar is a man of the past"

THE RULING Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ) party, led by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, has entered the official campaign period for September general elections with the public overwhelmingly blaming the party and its leader for the cabinet's perceived failings.
Zuzana Martináková, 41, is the party's vice-chair and its top woman at number five on its list of election candidates. She admits that the cabinet, in which the SDKÚ held 8 of 20 posts, failed to fulfil several promises made to the electorate in 1998. She believes, however, that before votes are cast September 20-21, people will realize the cabinet did its best to achieve everything "within human power" in the broad-spectrum five-party coalition.
A former correspondent for the BBC's Slovakia service, Martináková spoke to The Slovak Spectator on August 15.


MARTINÁKOVÁ said that "no one in the SDKÚ will be happy" to see Fico as Prime Minister.
photo: Ján Svrček

THE RULING Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ) party, led by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, has entered the official campaign period for September general elections with the public overwhelmingly blaming the party and its leader for the cabinet's perceived failings.

Zuzana Martináková, 41, is the party's vice-chair and its top woman at number five on its list of election candidates. She admits that the cabinet, in which the SDKÚ held 8 of 20 posts, failed to fulfil several promises made to the electorate in 1998. She believes, however, that before votes are cast September 20-21, people will realize the cabinet did its best to achieve everything "within human power" in the broad-spectrum five-party coalition.

A former correspondent for the BBC's Slovakia service, Martináková spoke to The Slovak Spectator on August 15.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The cabinet, led by your party chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda, recently presented an evaluation of its four years in government, and admitted the score-card was mixed. Good grades for Western integration and macro-economic recovery, worse marks on corruption and economic reform. To what extent does the SDKÚ, which has the most ministers in this cabinet, take any blame or praise in the offing?

Zuzana Martináková (ZM): First we need to remember that the past four years have been very dynamic, and that members of the SDKÚ party and the PM himself worked in a very uncertain political environment.

The SDKÚ was created two years ago in the middle of the election term, a really unusual political situation that resulted from the fact that every party which was part of the SDK [the SDKÚ's predecessor] saw its future differently.

At that time many voters who believed in the SDK were disappointed because they felt that it was too busy with its internal problems. After creating the SDKÚ, PM Dzurinda gained political legitimacy and was finally able to rely on his own parliamentary caucus.

I think the SDKÚ can confidently face people and tell them that we tried to do the most we could. Slovakia now needs the continuation of a democratic cabinet. We need to prevent partial mistakes that occurred from leading people to start thinking of changing the direction of Slovak politics. We can't start experimenting. Slovakia should continue on the path it set out on four years ago.

TSS: Let's go back to the original question. In areas such as health care, social security and pension system and many others, reforms have not even begun. Is this really due entirely to the breadth of the coalition?

ZM: It's hard to say whether we could have done more or not. Co-operation with the left-wing parties was very difficult. Most of the [problem] areas - health care, social policy, education and agriculture - were not in our hands but in theirs. In most of these areas reforms were not even articulated.

TSS: Despite experience of the drawbacks of a politically broad coalition, the SDKÚ is saying that it is willing to form another broad coalition after the September elections. Why?

ZM: Because it's inevitable. As long as we have this election system and we have voter preferences that show whom people want to support in elections, we have two options. Either we disagree with developments and stand outside political events, or we try to achieve the most we can in the existing situation.

Right wing politics has never been in such great shape in Slovakia as it is today. I think that these parties and their programmes now have a chance to prevail in the next cabinet. But our biggest fear is the programme of [Robert Fico's non-parliamentary] Smer party. We want to decentralise the state, but in Smer's programme we see a strong appetite for centralisation and the return of a strong state. If Smer insists on this line it will be very difficult to co-operate with them.

TSS: You once said that it was both positive and negative that many people identified the current cabinet's record with the SDKÚ. What did you mean?

ZM: That we can show people the results of our work while our competitors, such as Smer, have no results. The negative side is that people tend to identify everything they feel in their lives to be negative with the party and with the PM.

At rallies we simply say to people that if they really think that Smer or Ano are better equipped to defend Slovak interests in the EU than [Foreign Minister, SDKÚ deputy chair] Eduard Kukan with his team, there's nothing we can do. People are listening to this. Having a team of experienced leaders, five of whom have proven their authority and skills, is our advantage in the campaign. The closer to the elections the more people think about this.

TSS: Could the current cabinet have shown greater leadership in fighting corruption? Dzurinda and other cabinet members have told people many times that to root out corruption the whole society must change. At the same time we saw many corruption scandals in which top officials were involved.

ZM: I can only agree with this. Nobody is trying to hide the fact that corruption exists here, and I would be the last to say we've moved ahead in terms of rooting out corruption. It exists even in the smallest things. People have a tendency to look for an acquaintance to open doors for them even when they need to organise the tiniest things. Our entire society is soaked with this. Corruption at higher levels may be better concealed, but there's definitely big money flying around.

But many important steps have been taken under this cabinet. Just take the free access to information law, something we hadn't even dreamed about four years ago. Government licenses, funding and cabinet decisions are all available on the Internet, privatisation decisions are published in the media, and so on.

By allowing public control, inviting experts and NGO's to oversee cabinet moves, officials who once didn't fear anything and who just made all the decisions by themselves are today forced to be very careful.

Ministers and deputy ministers are under immense pressure, and under this cabinet they have become accustomed to the fact that they'll get sacked and nobody will cover up for them [if they make a mistake]. The people who haven't got used to this are the lower bureaucrats, through whose hands many decisions and requests go. We haven't got that far yet.

But the next cabinet will not be able to continue doing what the [1994-1998 Vladimír] Mečiar cabinet did. If individual ministers appear to be in conflicts of interest they will automatically be required to do what was done under this cabinet.

TSS: Why has the cabinet never stopped the political division of state posts, whether in the civil service or state owned companies?

ZM: When the coalition was created there really was an effort by parties to divide political influence and to put their people in these posts.

But the trend today is unambiguous. [In privatised companies] the new owners are putting their own people in the management, such as Slovak Telecom or [gas utility] SPP, and parties have absolutely no influence over this.

Our goal is to privatise every company that can be privatised because it's the best way not only to supply the state budget [from taxes] but also to eliminate these links.

TSS: Some of your potential coalition allies, such as the Smer and Ano parties, have said that they will not work with Dzurinda or Deputy PM for Economy Ivan Mikloš. Robert Fico told us that he would leave the post-election negotiation table if the SDKÚ proposes these people to cabinet posts. What will you do?

ZM: (sighs) Such attitudes are very unfortunate. After elections party leaders will have to sit down at one table, and Mr Fico won't be able to do anything about it.

I can't imagine how Mr Fico wants to state his requirements at this meeting, and how far he wants to go in terms of interfering into the internal affairs of another party. We can't permit that.

We have massive objections towards Robert Fico's policies, but they're factual objections, not emotional ones. Their programme is something that absolutely doesn't correspond with our ideas in philosophical terms.

I'm just waiting for Robert Fico to say that after the elections he'll only negotiate with a party that says it will announce martial law with him. His politics are radical, and have no place in Slovakia. We assume it's just their way of gaining votes, and that after the elections they won't follow it through. If they do then it's a big problem.

But Robert Fico and the SDKÚ won't be the only ones sitting at that table. There'll be the SMK, KDH and Ano parties, and all their interests and priorities will be put on table.

It's not a problem for us to say that we won't accept Robert Fico in any function because he introduces elements that we think are dangerous. It's not difficult to say, but on the other hand why would we say such things if it could block the road to positive development in Slovakia?

TSS: Based on his recent statements and political campaign ads, Fico is already preparing to take the PM's seat. Is he acceptable for the SDKÚ in this post?

ZM: Well, that's the difference that we're talking about. No one in the SDKÚ will be happy if Fico becomes the PM, that's for sure. I'm not saying this in relation to him as a person, but to his party's programme and what it represents.

Objectively speaking, Robert Fico doesn't seem suitable to lead a coalition government. But we are not issuing any conditions [to Smer].

TSS: During this cabinet's term, former Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová and Deputy PM for Economy Ivan Mikloš were seen by foreign financial markets as figures which offered a certain level of security in Slovakia's economic development. With Schmögnerová out of political life and Mikloš' future questionable, how will the next government retain market confidence in Slovakia? What new faces will reassure foreign investors that Slovakia is in trustworthy hands?

ZM: That's exactly what we are asking Robert Fico. Will the cabinet set as its priority completing negotiations with the EU and Nato without opening any previous agreements and without bringing in elements that might destabilise the country? Can the country offer trustworthy personalities who will be the face of the cabinet and keep the trust of western institutions?

If Smer has such a personality, such a guarantor of economic reforms, then let them present him and we can discuss where these people can be used.

We need to make sure that there are no doubts about Slovakia's completing its EU negotiations. Can we then say that [Smer's foreign policy expert] Monika Beňová is a better and more trustworthy person for the West than Eduard Kukan? We will ask these questions at that [negotiation] table.

TSS: Do you fear a return by Vladimír Mečiar to top politics?

ZM: Vladimír Mečiar is a man of the past. During the past four years he has lost touch with reality. He lost contact with developments in his own party and in the country. This can be seen in every one of his public appearances. I can't imagine what would he be representing after these four years. Slovakia has changed, whether he realises it or not.

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