DZURINDA touched off the SDKÚ campaign by painting the Modra house that Ľudovít Štúr died in.
After an hour's wait in vain for an SDKÚ pre-election rally in the small north Slovakia town of Rajec, a 38-year-old female factory labourer said angrily: "It's not nice. They've been misleading people for the last four years, and now they're doing it again."
The party is now running at below 10 per cent in the polls on a right-wing platform, having been blamed for many of the perceived failures of the Dzurinda government such as corruption and lack of reform.
The SDKÚ's Rajec faithful, all 20 of them, were left waiting on the town square without a trace of the party's representatives. The meeting had been announced by a few scruffy posters around town.
Further afield, in the northern Orava region, things panned out better, at least according to Slovak PM and SDKÚ leader Mikuláš Dzurinda.
"Our 45-kilometre bike trip in Orava was great. The squares were full everywhere. What could be better and nicer for a politician than such an attendance at our meetings?" asked Dzurinda on the evening of Sunday, September 8, as he wheeled into Dolný Kubín with his 50-strong bicycle entourage of fit young Slovaks.
However, during The Slovak Spectator's survey by car of Dzurinda's planned bike trail the day before, this reporter found little awareness of the upcoming rallies. The majority of people questioned said they had no idea that Dzurinda was to visit their villages.
"I know nothing," said a middle-aged man in Horná Lehota.
"He's probably having bad luck," added a waitress in the espresso bar in Oravský Podzámok.
But after an apparently quiet trail through the Orava area, Dzurinda hit the main regional city of Žilina, a Slovak nationalist bastion, for a genuine election rally.
A crowd of a few hundred people of all ages and occupations was kept amused by rock bands, while beer and hundreds of blue balloons bearing the party's logo were given out for free.
The bursts of applause grew louder and the crowd thicker as little-known local party officials were replaced by Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, Interior Minister Ivan Šimko and Deputy PM for Economy Ivan Mikloš.
In the breaks between the stage performances, the SDKÚ politicians mixed with the crowd, flashed smiles, signed party leaflets and talked with supporters.
"I made a bet at work that I would get your signature," said a middle-aged lady to Mikloš, who drew a small heart next to his signature, adding: "Here's a little bonus."
The slow-escalation meeting kept many people on hand for the two major draws - PM Dzurinda's speech and a concert by the popular rock band Gladiator.
"I came because of the concert. The campaign will not influence me much, I've already made my decision. I'm going to vote for someone else," said a 21-year-old man, who said he was unemployed, but like others refused to give his name.
"I'm not here just because of the SDKÚ, more out of curiosity. We'll see what the Prime Minister says," added a 50-year-old female sales assistant.
The Prime Minister, unlike the speakers that preceded him, was not saying much. In a 10-minute speech he described the successes of his ruling coalition party, which he eventually admitted was "not perfect".
After Dzurinda's speech, the long-awaited Gladiator finally hit the stage. SDKÚ leaders formed an uneasy-looking semicircle behind the singer's back, all chiming in with a rock version of their pre-election hymn, "Blue is Good."
Blue has been the party's election colour, as well as its advertising gimmick.
"My jeans are blue too," sang the rocker, who in fact was dressed in black jeans.
People left the rally in the falling dusk with what they described as mixed feelings.
"Dzurinda promised all kinds of things, and see what we have now. I've been working my whole life, and I have shit now. They are shouting like idiots over there - they should play some real music instead," said a retired man.
On the other hand, a 55-year-old Health Ministry employee said: "They made a very good impression on me. I respect these experts very much, and I will vote for them."
16. Sep 2002 at 0:00 | Miroslav Karpaty