SLOVAK politicians received an early-morning wake-up call on Sunday April 13, when the results of the Hungarian referendum came in. Although the Hungarians had voted for entry to the European Union by the decisive margin of 84 per cent to 15 per cent, the majority had simply decided to stay at home.
The 46 per cent turnout was enough to meet Hungarian requirements for 25 per cent voter participation to validate the referendum result, but that would not have been enough to satisfy the stricter Slovak requirement of 50 per cent.
The turnout was low despite the fact that the Hungarian government had spent almost 10 million euro on a campaign to get voters to the polling booths. The Slovak cabinet on the other hand has made just 1.2 million euro available for its campaign.
Research by Slovak Radio in February showed that 80 per cent of Slovaks intended voting in the referendum, but an Office of Public Opinion Research poll in March put the percentage at 67. That people have good intentions to vote is not enough, they also have to cast their ballots on the day.
After months of complaining by most political parties that not enough has been done to rally voters to the polls, the television referendum campaign has finally begun - and so far, it is not very impressive.
One ad spot shows the head of the European Commission delegation to Slovakia, Eric van der Linden, telling us in halting Slovak that Slovakia should join the EU. That is it: just van der Linden talking. How exactly is that going to persuade Slovaks to go to the poll? Voters need more than that to get up off their backsides and into the polling booths on May 16 and 17.
How about this for an alternative campaign: Show pictures of empty polling booths (any video footage of previous Slovak referenda would be suitable) and Slovaks sitting at home or sunning themselves outside their cottages.
Next, show them television reports of a failed referendum - use the 46 per cent turnout figure from Hungary - and finally, show images conjuring up a Slovakia outside the European Union with a failing economy and even higher unemployment.
If the campaign organisers insist on having foreigners speak Slovak in the TV ads, then why not show us foreign investors saying that they came to Slovakia because it should be part of the EU, and that they'll take their money elsewhere if Slovakia doesn't join the union?
The daily Pravda is running a more effective campaign than the government. Each week it is including an EU supplement to inform the public about the countries in the EU and Slovakia's place among them, including interviews with politicians and a competition for students.
Coalition ANO party MP Ľubomír Lintner has said that the government should go if the referendum fails. Perhaps he is right, but that will be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, when the stable itself is on the verge of collapse. Let us hope it doesn't come to that.
21. Apr 2003 at 0:00