The opposition Smer party openly talks about its ambitions to join Socialist International (SI), an organization representing a global platform for left-wing parties. Smer MP Robert Kaliňák has recently stated that his party should gain full membership in the spring of 2004. Smer's affiliation with European socialists is also documented by the fact that those Smer MPs who have observer status in the EP are active in the Party of European Socialists, the ranks of which future Smer MPs will most likely join. The party has recently even announced plans to merge with the Socialist Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS). The only thing SDSS, which has no voter support at all, can offer Smer is its label. The fusion could also help Smer into the SI should all other attempts fail, because the SDSS is a veteran member of the organization. It is natural that European Socialists are tempted to collaborate with Smer, by far the country's most popular party. According to a survey done by the Public Opinion Research Institute of the Statistics Office in early October, Smer enjoys the support of 31.4 percent of voters.
The second-ranking Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) gained 14.7 percent in the same poll. Those figures are likely to reflect in the elections for the EP planned for next year, and although all Slovak parties combined will have only 14 seats in what will be a 726-member assembly of the EU, European Socialists must be aware that every vote counts. Smer needs international recognition and socialists need strong partners in acceding countries, so the two can help each other out. However, foreign partners that now grant Smer aid may be much surprised by its policies in the future.
On the domestic front, Smer has never openly declared its socialist orientation. Fico is known for saying that his party is "pragmatic" and ideologically in the middle, representing what he calls a "third way".
However, in an effort to gain points with local voters, representatives of the populist Smer often use nationalist rhetoric. Fico once again proved this during the debate on the amendment to the law on large-scale privatisation, when he said Slovakia must protect its "family silver". Smer MP Bohumil Hanzel even said "foreign investors are interested in sucking us out," using the example of his own company, which allegedly went downhill after he sold off the majority stake to a Dutch firm.
It is therefore questionable how long Smer will remain, and to what extent it is now, on the pro-EU track shared by European Socialists. However, conservative forces in the EU may also enter into some surprising alliances after the EU enlargement.
"In the European Parliament ... the [British] Tories seek to construct a new coalition with the right-wing nationalists of eastern Europe," warns Harvard professor Andrew Moravcsik in his analysis of the Conservative Party's political future published in Newsweek magazine.
In Slovak conditions, that would mean teaming up with the Slovak National Party (SNS), which seems to have overcome intense internal fighting and is steadily improving in polls. SNS representatives are widely known for their racist and anti-Hungarian attitudes. If such efforts materialize and turn into a general trend of the unification of forces who share nothing but dislike for a strong EU, the result could be that the overall standard of the conservative movement would be dragged down by extremist newcomers.
However, the problem runs across the political spectrum. For example, according to recent media reports, former TV journalist Eva Černá, a current MP for the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), is to be ANO's number one candidate in the EP elections.
ANO, whose MPs will join the European Liberal, Democrat and Reformist Party in the EP, was launched in 2001 by media mogul Pavol Rusko, mainly to serve his own political ambitions. Ideology most likely did not rank first with Rusko, who initially indicated that the new party would be leftist.
In the past, Černá made no secret of despising politics and ran in the 2002 parliamentary elections only following pressure from Rusko, who was well aware of the potential of the well-recognised Černá, who made a career in Rusko's TV station Markíza. The move worked, and Černá brought the party a fair number of votes.
Perhaps Černá has since come to like the political life, but it is more likely Rusko is just playing the same election trick. There is good reason to doubt her abilities and interest in the job.
The fact that there is an enormous difference between politicians and politics in the EU and in Slovakia can hardly be denied.
The latter can hardly rise to the level of the former in the foreseeable future. The question is whether the political forces in today's EU are strong enough to collaborate with their newly found "friends" from the East and, at the same time, not sink to their level. For the time being, it would perhaps be wiser if they just kept their distance.
18. Nov 2003 at 0:00