THE SLOVAK National Party (SNS) could perhaps benefit from EU entry more than any other party. It remains to be seen whether the extremist nationalists come to realise the opportunity, or waste all their energy on internal hassles, letting others ride the wave of nationalist sentiment.
Throughout its history, the SNS has had one primary aim - to protect the interests of ethnic Slovaks. Given Slovakia's turbulent history, the party often found wide support for its programme.
The SNS, which claims to be Slovakia's oldest party, builds on a long political tradition.
A party of the same name was first founded as early as June 1871 and remained the only Slovak political party until the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918
Those early years, during which some members of the SNS were represented in the Hungarian Diet, were marked by a struggle to preserve the Slovak national identity in the face of strong Hungarian pressure aimed against the nation's emancipation.
At the time, the concept of national self-determination promoted by the SNS was relevant. Moreover, it was very clear who posed the main obstacle to that ambition - the Hungarians.
In May 1918 the party representatives agreed that Slovakia's best prospects for further development lay in forming a common state with the Czechs.
The wish materialised later that year, following the end of World War I, when Czechoslovakia came into being.
However, the SNS soon realised that the common state, built on the fiction of a single Czech and Slovak nationality, did not meet its expectations.
In 1922 the party presented a memorandum in which it demanded administrative and cultural autonomy for Slovakia. Some 10 years later its representatives denounced the idea of a Czechoslovak nation.
Once again, self-determination was the topic of the day and once again the main threat was clear - the Czechs.
The SNS did not live to see the creation of the independent fascist Slovak state, formed in the spring of 1939, as it was forcefully merged with the newer, official state-party, the Hlinka's Slovak People's Party.
It was not revived in the years directly following World War II, and the communist rule that soon set in made it impossible for the SNS to restart operations.
That chance came only after the fall of the regime. The SNS held its founding congress in May 1990. The party gained 14.7 percent of Slovak votes in general elections that took place a month later, becoming the third largest party in Slovakia.
The SNS, again, had a clear mission - sovereignty for Slovakia was the party's core agenda.
At first, the party was alone in its separatist stance, as independence lacked appeal to a majority of the local population and most political elites. Despite this, the SNS demand was finally realised at the start of 1993.
Although SNS representatives supported the break-up, their relative political weakness - the party gained 15 seats in the 150 member Slovak legislature in general elections held in spring 1992 - prevented them from playing a key role in the division, orchestrated mainly by Vladimír Mečiar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).
The creation of the Slovak Republic meant an end to the struggle for national self-rule. Therefore, the SNS was pressed to find new threats to national survival that could justify the continuation of its existence.
The Hungarians, the Roma, and to a lesser extent NATO seemed to do the trick, at least for some time.
Nationalist and racist bashing ensured the party a more-or-less stable fan base in the early years of independent Slovakia. The SNS received 5.4 percent in the 1994 parliamentary elections, after which it became a part of the ruling coalition headed by the HZDS.
The 1998 elections brought the SNS as much as 9 percent, but the party was no longer a part of the ruling coalition.
In losing power, the SNS also lost a great deal of its cohesion. Further, the absence of common ideals and agenda, which ensures relative unity in standard political parties, became more apparent.
The party started deteriorating and eventually split up, not because of ideological disputes, as there couldn't have been any in the content-free SNS of that time, but purely due to personal ambitions, the only thing the party's leadership shared other than xenophobia.
The party went divided into the 2002 elections, each of the two warring factions gaining under 4 percent, well under the 5 percent required to make it into the legislature.
Once they were out of parliament, SNS top representatives lost what remained of their solidarity. The party's decay continued, leading to today's absurd situation in which no one seems to know how many nationalist parties there are, who is on which side, and who is in charge of what.
As long as there are no common objectives in the party other than a desire for power, the situation will hardly improve, as only a devotion to such objectives can be stronger than the vision of personal gain.
In issues such as EU and NATO entry, nationalist forces have a great opportunity to once again resume their struggle for the protection of national identity, the only objective that can bring parties of this type internal stability and voter support.
For several reasons, however, the SNS may never have a chance to benefit from partial discontent with EU membership.
Firstly, if internal fighting in the SNS goes on for much longer and with high intensity, it will leave the name and the faces completely discredited.
Secondly, the competition is wasting no time.
The ruling Christian Democratic Movement is using every opportunity to show its willingness to fight for Slovak national interests in an obvious attempt to become the party of choice for Christian and nationalist voters, including former supporters of the SNS.
In this fight, the KDH has a number of advantages. It has a representative in the European Commission, key seats in the government and, most importantly, a coherent set of principles.
There seem to be only two factors that could bring the SNS back to life - dramatically increased ethnic tensions between Slovaks and Hungarians or the Roma or extremely unfavourable developments within the EU.
By Lukáš Fila
26. Jul 2004 at 0:00