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HZDS falls apart as dissenters leave club

THE MOVEMENT for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is no longer the biggest opposition force in the Slovak parliament, after a number of the party's leading figures left the caucus in protest at the authoritarian practices of HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar.
A group of 11 MPs led by HZDS rebel and former deputy chief Vojtech Tkáč on February 7 officially announced plans to form an independent caucus in parliament and invited all HZDS MPs who shared their belief that the party has no future with the current leadership to join their group.
"Under the current leadership, the HZDS is on the way to becoming a sect where the decisions of one man are worth more than the decisions of the whole party put together," said Tkáč.


MEČIAR has always led with a firm hand.
photo: File photo

THE MOVEMENT for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is no longer the biggest opposition force in the Slovak parliament, after a number of the party's leading figures left the caucus in protest at the authoritarian practices of HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar.

A group of 11 MPs led by HZDS rebel and former deputy chief Vojtech Tkáč on February 7 officially announced plans to form an independent caucus in parliament and invited all HZDS MPs who shared their belief that the party has no future with the current leadership to join their group.

"Under the current leadership, the HZDS is on the way to becoming a sect where the decisions of one man are worth more than the decisions of the whole party put together," said Tkáč.

The controversial founder of independent Slovakia, Mečiar has led the party for more than a decade, and has remained unchallenged throughout the whole period. When he served as Slovak prime minister between 1994 and 1998, the country slipped into international isolation. It was excluded from NATO and EU integration tracks because of the cabinet's perceived lack of dedication to the democratic principles prized in Western democracies.

With the creation of Tkáč's parliamentary group, expected to be formally approved by the legislators on February 25, Mečiar's massive influence in the legislature will be considerably cut down from 36 to 25 MPs. Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union will become the strongest caucus, with 28 MPs.

In an act that Tkáč's group described as "party disobedience", the MPs called on the HZDS leadership to account for past mistakes and for the disappointing election results in September 2002.

Tkáč has argued for several months that the leaders should step down. His stance gained support among a number of influential HZDS figures, such as Ivan Kiňo, Ján Gabriel, and former interior minister Gustáv Krajči. To the surprise of many, HZDS deputy chief Rudolf Žiak, who had been considered one of Mečiar's faithful, has also decided to join Tkáč's independent caucus.

Žiak's decision to join Tkáč was all the more surprising because only three days before he joined the rebels, he criticised Tkáč's activities and even called them "the betrayal of a friend".

For the independent group, Žiak's turnaround is "proof of the gap between what people in the party really think and what they are forced to say in public," said Jozef Brhel, a member of Tkáč's coterie.

Many are wondering why Tkáč has surrounded himself with people like Žiak, who under the previous Mečiar government worked in the infamous Slovak Information Service (SIS), suspected of involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of the former president's son and plots to prevent Slovakia's entry into NATO. In addition, Krajči was criticised for foiling a 1997 referendum on NATO entry.

Krajči officially apologised for the thwarted referendum for the first time on February 7, but many still doubt the genuineness of the act.

HZDS MP Dušan Jarjabek said: "I feel like some people are using this [opportunity] to rid themselves of the guilt that is part of their coalition past."

Some political analysts think it likely that the formation of Tkáč's group is the first step towards the creation of a new political party, although the rebel MPs themselves have called that "an extreme solution".

Tkáč said he was convinced that changes in the party's leadership must take place, and that in addition, the leaders, including Mečiar, should reflect on and apologise for past lapses. If that process took place, Tkáč believes that the HZDS would still have "the potential to play an important role on the Slovak political scene".

The splinter group has said it will wait for the HZDS's planned party summit in July this year before deciding on a further strategy.

Until then the group wants to continue to work in parliament in line with the HZDS programme and to be a "hard yet constructive opposition force," even though they will not be part of the HZDS, Kiňo said.

While Mečiar refused to comment on the latest developments, those who remained in the HZDS proper thought the calls for change from Tkáč's group were now "merely calls from 'behind the fence' [insignificant]," according to deputy chairman Sergej Kozlík.

According to him, Mečiar is not going to be replaced in his post in July because "he still has enough energy and the ability to mobilize party structures".

But to analysts, as well as some political parties in parliament, the latest events are a signal that the end is nigh for the HZDS.

"HZDS voters are losing their party", said Smer opposition politician Robert Kaliňák.

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