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Finding Fico

On June 6, 2002, less than four months before September's parliamentary elections, Fedor Flašík openly admitted that his role in politics may be more active than just that of a campaign advisor.
Flašík was one of the guests at a conference on marketing organised by the magazine Trend. In a very relaxed manner he described how he and an undefined group of his associates had looked for a person to lead a new political generation in 1998, someone who was not tarnished by past mistakes.
Research Flašík's group carried out showed that Robert Fico, who at that time was a prominent member of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), had the best chances.

On June 6, 2002, less than four months before September's parliamentary elections, Fedor Flašík openly admitted that his role in politics may be more active than just that of a campaign advisor.

Flašík was one of the guests at a conference on marketing organised by the magazine Trend. In a very relaxed manner he described how he and an undefined group of his associates had looked for a person to lead a new political generation in 1998, someone who was not tarnished by past mistakes.

Research Flašík's group carried out showed that Robert Fico, who at that time was a prominent member of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), had the best chances.

Here is what Flašík said at the conference:

* On selecting candidates

"It is naturally very important in a campaign that I choose whom I want. Several politicians had come to see me after Smer was established. I will not name them, they are respected politicians sitting in parliament [Parliamentary elections have taken place since - ed. note]. Some wanted to be president, some asked me about starting new parties and similar nonsense. It's hard. One feels sorry for such politicians and it is difficult to tell them that even if I had a billion [crowns] I would not be able to make anything out of them."

* On the "three figures" of Slovak politics

"I've always said that there are three figures on the Slovak political scene, and they are Mečiar, Fico and [chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party Béla] Bugár. In my opinion, these three people have something natural in them that I cannot define at this point. But again, it doesn't matter whether it is positive or negative."

* How "we" found Fico

"Not everyone has the gift [to lead people]. One can be a great expert, great scientist, great artist, and still be unable to lead a group. After 1998 I had some time to stop and think. We had an analysis of the political market done, of what the market offers, and Fico came out completely successful in all areas.

Our basic aim was to implement the exchange of political generations and we were aware that Fico did not represent a new political generation in the real sense, so we faced a dilemma. Under our definition of a 'new political generation' we did not care whether someone was young or old; we just needed a person who had never been in the executive [branch of government].

But again we stopped to think and had research done. We found that if we brought out the best and most clever unknown person, we had no chance of pushing him [to the top] without owning the media. It's just not possible.

And as I say, it doesn't matter [who it is]. He could be a doctor or even an astronaut; he could be from a different field. So we decided to find a person known in the political field who had the ability to attract new faces. He should be the one governing this country. And [we hoped that] maybe through this model it would be possible to introduce a new political generation in Slovakia, because that was the whole point of this project."

* On what the people want

"Basically people don't give a damn about election programmes, they don't give a damn whether they will go to school for free, or move forward at all. I think people don't read it. They just need something to identify with."

In an interview with The Slovak Spectator on November 26, Flašík was less explicit about his tactics. When asked how he came to work with Fico, Flašík replied that their collaboration was "natural and mutual".

He denied he was behind the founding of Smer, stating, "Today I don't even remember who said we should start a party or when it happened."

He continued: "There were four people - Fico, [former Rádio Koliba director and current Smer vice-chair Monika] Beňová, [Fico's current personal assistant František] Határ and myself, who started to lead more serious discussions at the end of 1998 and beginning of 1999. That's when [the idea of a new party] began to take shape.

Flašík admitted that he wanted to pursue his goal to power a new political generation while still working with the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), but internal structures thwarted his plans.

"I had the idea of an exchange of political generations long before, during my work with the HZDS. I wanted the old generation of HZDS politicians to make room for new people. I was sorry that it was not possible in the HZDS at that time and it is still impossible now. But I think a lot of people had a similar idea. Maybe no one else said it as loudly as us, when we started Smer," he said.

Even though elections did not bring Fico the expected victory, polls consistently name him as the most trusted politician, and his party also leads the popularity polls.

"[Smer's popularity] is the result of a team effort. It would be difficult to say whose achievement it is. It is certainly not only Fico or only Flašík. I don't claim that it is just my doing at all," Flašík said.

- Lukáš Fila

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