IT HAS RECENTLY become a trend to liken Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to his predecessor Vladimír Mečiar. Whether in the commentaries of opinion-forming dailies or through the statements of public figures, the claim that Dzurinda's behaviour is reminiscent of the totalitarian Mečiar is now widely used.
Admittedly, Dzurinda has mainly himself to blame. But the trend, intended to put Dzurinda back on a clearly democratic track, needs to be stopped before it does more damage than good by once again turning Mečiar into an accepted figure.
Under Mečiar, several phenomena characterised Slovakia, none of which, fortunately, can be matched by today's government.
Firstly, it was an era of wild privatisation. The process was not only corrupt, but left many companies ruined after owners from the ranks of the new Slovak "aristocracy" that Mečiar set out to create looted their new estates - and in most cases ceased to care for them.
Today the privatisation process, although far from transparent, in most cases puts Slovak companies into the hands of foreign investors and leads to gradual improvements in the firms.
The rule of Mečiar was a time when the opposition was given no voice, and most prominent opposition members were assigned by the Mečiar-controlled parliamentary majority to sit in the parliamentary committee for the environment, as an act of arrogance and a display of political muscle.
Today, opposition members head many of the parliament's committees, including one that supervises the work of the intelligence service. No opposition member was involved in this body under Mečiar, although there was more cause for concern about its activities.
Reports told of the incredible abuse of the intelligence agency - opposition members and independent journalists were not only monitored, but also intimidated and attacked; efforts were made to discredit the Catholic Church, special units were formed to prepare operations intended to stir anti-NATO sentiments in neighbouring countries and obstruct their integration, a man was killed, and the president's son kidnapped.
Today's doubts about the work of the intelligence services and hassles over appointments are nothing like the fear spread by Mečiar.
NATO and the EU may have some concerns about the recent developments, but those can hardly compare to the period when Slovakia's integration into both organisations came to a standstill.
People are now ready to accept the thesis that Dzurinda is like Mečiar not because Dzurinda's rule is as destructive and twisted as that of Mečiar, but because they have forgotten what Mečiar's rule was like.
And, to a great extent, it is Dzurinda's fault. For a number of years, Dzurinda has completely failed to deal with the transgressions of his predecessor. That stands in sharp contrast to his decisive and aggressive actions against people who for years stood by his side in the fight against Mečiar.
Moreover, in recent months the PM himself said that Mečiar and his party have clearly changed for the better, after Mečiar helped him out in the EU referendum campaign.
Few would now be surprised to see a minority government headed by Dzurinda and supported by Mečiar, something that would have seemed like a scene from an apocalyptic sci-fi film just a few months ago.
Although the public is tired of the present political fighting and behind-the-scenes intrigues, few public figures have higher credit than Dzurinda. Anyone drawing a parallel between Dzurinda and Mečiar therefore has to be careful not to help Mečiar, whose sins have been forgotten, rather than simply trying to hurt Dzurinda.
Mečiar's return to any prominent position would be a catastrophe, if perhaps not for Slovakia's economy and international position, than certainly for its morale.
6. Oct 2003 at 0:00