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FORMER DEFENCE MINISTER TALKS ABOUT HIS POLITICAL FUTURE

Šimko claims to return values to politics

THE SLOVAK Spectator (TSS): You have declared that Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) MPs who support your platform will act freely and based on their conscience. Will this freedom be full, or will you coordinate your voting in parliament?
Ivan Šimko (IŠ): The constitution says that all MPs should exercise their mandates freely and in accordance with their conscience. In our actions we should naturally be bound by what we promised the citizens in our election programmes.

THE SLOVAK Spectator (TSS): You have declared that Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) MPs who support your platform will act freely and based on their conscience. Will this freedom be full, or will you coordinate your voting in parliament?


Ivan Šimko (IŠ): The constitution says that all MPs should exercise their mandates freely and in accordance with their conscience. In our actions we should naturally be bound by what we promised the citizens in our election programmes.


TSS: Yes, but will you coordinate your specific steps?

IŠ: We will certainly be discussing them.


TSS: You say that you feel obliged by the party programme, but within a coalition it is not always possible to act in accordance with individual party programmes. To what extent will you respect agreements made within the coalition?

IŠ: An agreement is the cornerstone of a democratic society. If we agree on something, we will uphold that agreement, but that agreement cannot contradict our promises and our convictions. The very nature of an agreement is such that all parties have to consent. Only if someone has a mandate can that person also act on behalf of others.


TSS: And does the current SDKÚ leadership have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of your platform?

IŠ: As long as it promotes things that we have in our program, undoubtedly yes. If its steps contradict the program, then it does not.


TSS: What further developments in the SDKÚ and in your relation with PM Mikuláš Dzurinda do you anticipate?

IŠ: I will wait to see.


TSS: What do you think are the biggest mistakes Dzurinda has made since the elections, other than recalling Ján Mojžiš from the top post of the National Security Office due to what he called an absolute loss of trust in the security leader?

IŠ: The developments that preceded the recall of Mojžiš were more serious. I think the practices that were being used within the party - the secretive nature of decision-making without prior consultation - surfaced when the PM launched discussion of the "group" [that allegedly harms the state interest]. That was a typical example of a move that has nothing to do with democratic ways of exercising power; instead, it applies a conspiratorial perception of the world. This method is usually used by authoritarian regimes to threaten society and their political or other adversaries. It serves the current PM in a similar way. I see this as his most significant foul against the basic rules of democratic life.

This also gives me an opportunity to point out that internal affairs in the largest ruling party don't only concern that party. To a large degree, they influence public life in general. And that's why the internal affairs of that party should not be surrounded by secrecy, which currently is a problem.


TSS: Why did you not speak up back in August?

IŠ: People first noticed my resistance only when I spoke out publicly. I had voiced my objections before within the party and I asked the PM to meet with me during the summer for a serious debate. He promised to do so, but it never took place. That's how I tried to act before my voting. It proved ineffective, so I had to go public.


TSS: Do you think the SDKÚ has more problems than other parties?

IŠ: I don't think so. To be fair I have to say other parties have the same problems. The difference is that no other party has such a large share of power. If the strongest political party in government applies undemocratic methods internally, there are concerns that this party could abuse state enforcement agencies or intelligence services, which was exactly what we saw recently.

But there is also a second problem we should focus on. It's a problem that impacts people daily - the problem of how reforms are made. The reforms are undoubtedly necessary. But, at the same time, even positive reforms, if they are not properly coordinated, can cause greater problems than those they were intended to solve. The fact is that these reforms lack coordination.

As an example: It is good that the financing of schools is being transformed, and it is clear that we will need to close inefficient schools. That's one reform. It is also good that municipalities will administer schools. That's a second reform. If you launch them simultaneously, there are a lot of consequences, which leads to chaos. And that's a matter of the political leadership of the cabinet - for which the PM is responsible. The PM is not paying sufficient attention to this, and it creates a considerable degree of chaos in the country.


TSS: Under what circumstances would you leave the SDKÚ?

IŠ: The SDKÚ was an honest effort to start a modern party based on the values and teachings of modern Christian democracy and liberal democracy. Such a party does have a place in Slovakia. Those who voted for us in 2002 supported our basic political orientation and not some individual interests of SDKÚ representatives. That's why we should try to repair this environment rather than take the easier route of creating something new. However, it is possible that such a reform is not possible, and in that case anything is possible.


TSS: Are you interested in any posts in the administration or in returning to the ministerial seat?

IŠ: I'm definitely not considering that now. I must say openly that the things that I, along with many other officials, started at the Defence Ministry did have good prospects, and we put the ministry on the right track. But I see this as a closed chapter and I'm not currently eyeing anything of this nature.

I think it is now more important to bring values back into our politics. I know that it is a very general statement and I'm often told that we should be more specific about what these values mean. I can say that they are internal motives, as opposed to personal interests. These internal motives can be of a wide variety - freedom, solidarity, justice, as we have it in our programme, or they can be even less virtuous ones, such as decency and bravery.

When we started the Free Forum (SF), I mainly emphasized freedom, because I see that as the basis of a free and democratic society. There is always the threat of authoritarian forces that place interests over freedom.


TSS: You mentioned positive developments at the Defence Ministry. However, in recent days you have been a vocal opponent of the ministry's draft budget for 2004. Why?

IŠ: It is my duty, because I'm aware that Slovakia has a very serious obligation [towards NATO] to annually give 2 percent of GDP [to the army]. It's essential to try to reach that mark. It is about which league we will be playing in when we enter the alliance. However, because I'm a realist, I can also imagine that it will not be possible and we will have other priorities. But in that case it is very important that we find the strength to honestly admit it, not only to ourselves, but also to our partners in the alliance, instead of trying to fool them. Because then it comes down to an even more important matter - credibility. If we lost that credibility, it would not be good. Other countries sometimes give less, but they don't try to pretend it's otherwise.


TSS: Will you support the draft budget as a whole even if the amount for defence is not increased?

IŠ: I must stress that my attitude to this budgetary chapter [of defence] is not identical to my attitude towards the budget as a whole. That would not be adequate, because the state budget is too important for the country. My attitude to the budget as a whole will result from the final version, which will come out of the debates that are just ahead of us.


TSS: The budget was being prepared while you were still a member of the government; the cabinet held preliminary talks on the issue while you were still a minister. Why did you not demand an increase in funding for defence then?

IŠ: I did. Those demands are of a political nature, not of an economic one. The Defence Ministry will survive even if it receives a significantly lower amount. But then the reform will take longer and we will have a weaker position in the alliance. I waited for the opportunity to politically voice my demands. It was at a conference on foreign and defence policy organised by the SDKÚ in July, when it was obvious that the Finance Ministry would not give the 2 percent. There I very clearly said what the consequences would be if we didn't get the 2 percent. I naturally would have brought it up at the government's session, but I did not have the chance, because I was recalled.


TSS: You are increasingly being mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. How do you feel about running for president?

IŠ: I'm not dealing with it now. I find it much more important to offer an alternative to those people who are disappointed with the developments on the democratic side of our political field. That could have a long-lasting effect on our society, and if our reform efforts within the SDKÚ succeed, the impacts would be more significant than presidential elections.

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