PAINFUL social reforms are behind the corrosion of Slovakia's ruling coalition's popularity, led by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, analysts say when weighing up the past year in the Slovak political arena. Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think-tank; Soňa Szomolányi, head of the political science department of Comenius University in Bratislava; and Zora Bútorová, sociologist with the IVO, shared their outlooks in an interview with The Slovak Spectator.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Surveys indicate that popular support for the Dzurinda-led government plummeted over the course of 2003, with a recent poll showing that over 83 percent of the population does not trust the government. Does the ruling coalition deserve this mistrust of the people?
Grigorij Mesežnikov (GM): The people have mostly withdrawn their trust from the ruling coalition due to the social and economic measures implemented by the government. We know that these steps are unpopular, especially when they fail to have an immediately positive impact on the population's living standard. So it is a typical reaction, as pessimism is a part of the political culture in Slovakia. In this respect I would not consider this distrust justified, as the government does its best. On the other hand, conflicts between the ruling parties have been frustrating the majority of voters and harming the credibility of the whole coalition.
Soňa Szomolányi (SSz): The government does not deserve such distrust by the population. It was the media that contributed to this nose-dive of popular support - the way the press interpreted some key problems of the ongoing reforms, how the media does and does not inform the voters, what journalists emphasize and conceal.
Zora Bútorová (ZB): This government pledged itself to carry the burden of unpopular reforms - and on this point the population's distrust is not justified. Of course, there are also some shortcomings in the way the government communicates its actions to the public. The communication failures prompted a public impression that, instead of dealing with key reforms, the government has been preoccupied with party politics and the interests of specific groups formed within the coalition. All this has strengthened their negative stereotype as politicians who do business for their own good, who do not care about the man on the street. This is particularly true about the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. The other three parties of the coalition have more or less maintained their former support.
TSS: How would you assess the behaviour of the opposition parties? Have they been constructive enough in parliament?
GM: It depends what we mean by "constructive". The opposition parties unanimously disagreed with the way the social and economic reforms have been implemented by the government. I do not see this as a problem. It is a quite legitimate stand, as it is the opposition's task to criticize the ruling coalition. However, opposition parties have failed to provide any alternative solution of their own to the existing problems, which I consider a problem. The opposition used the public dissatisfaction only to criticize the coalition. In this respect, I would not call their work constructive.
SSz: In comparison with the behaviour of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia during the previous term in office of the Dzurinda-government, we can notice an evident shift to a constructive opposition party. On the other hand, I consider the [Robert] Fico-led Smer and its support of the early elections to be very non-constructive.
ZB: The opposition has worked more or less in a standard way. None of their actions harmed the government's operation, as they have not sidetracked the ongoing reforms. The opposition is taking advantage of the available means - now, for example, the petition for early elections. However, the opposition parties are not united, they disagree over many issues, they do not share a common vision for the future of this country, and these visions, if they exist, are not being articulated clearly enough.
TSS: What was the most surprising event, deed, or accomplishment in Slovak politics for you in 2003?
GM: For me it was a quite unpleasant surprise to see how some government officials used mechanisms of power to push through their own interests. The case of replacing National Security Office boss Ján Mojžiš proved that we, for the first time since 1998, are confronted with this type of power politics. [PM Dzurinda recalled Mojžiš due to what he called a "total loss of trust in the official", causing a major stir within the ruling coalition.]
SSz: It is a pity that the ruling coalition failed to resolve some of the conflicts that came about last year. For example, the case of the National Security Office, which could have been dealt with in a more consensual, less difficult way.
ZB: It was strange for me to follow the dispute over the abortion act. Instead of addressing this vital moral and cultural problem, the public discussion was conducted through pragmatic rhetoric on the cohesion of the government. I saw a lack of principal standpoints and some parties even tried to avoid taking a stance at all. For me it was the most interesting phenomenon in 2003. [The ruling coalition's liberal New Citizen's Alliance wanted to amend the original abortion law, which only allows abortions to be carried out until the 12th week of pregnancy.]
12. Jan 2004 at 0:00 | László Juhász