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EDITORIAL

Leftists struggle to rise from ashes

OVER the past couple of years, leftist parties in Slovakia have been trying to rise from their own ashes. Instead of a phoenix, however, all that emanated were worn out trials to unify the elfin leftist bodies devoid of public backing.
The leftist minnows are mostly offspring parties of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).
The only SDĽ spin-off party that has managed to win considerable popularity is Smer, established in 1999 by the ambitious Robert Fico, who turned his back on the SDĽ before their election ratings sank below 5 percent.

OVER the past couple of years, leftist parties in Slovakia have been trying to rise from their own ashes. Instead of a phoenix, however, all that emanated were worn out trials to unify the elfin leftist bodies devoid of public backing.

The leftist minnows are mostly offspring parties of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

The only SDĽ spin-off party that has managed to win considerable popularity is Smer, established in 1999 by the ambitious Robert Fico, who turned his back on the SDĽ before their election ratings sank below 5 percent.

Last week, Smer announced that it wants to take the lead in unifying the leftist parties in Slovakia.

After several futile attempts to invoke early elections, which Fico declared was the party's main agenda, the Smer boss has seemingly tried to widen the party lines to ensure that, come the next parliamentary elections in 2006, the party will not stand without allies.

Fico and his party have been leading the political popularity charts, but even if the one-man party wins the elections, Fico would stand without an ally with whom he can shape the next cabinet. During the last parliamentary elections, Smer gained 13.46 percent of the vote, securing 25 seats in parliament.

The unification of the left appears to be a move to boost the party's voter potential because the party would seem to have exhausted its expectations to exceed 25 percent.

In 2003, Fico still believed that a potential union with the liberal New Citizens' Alliance (ANO) would be a natural merger as liberal parties tend to feel closer to the centre-left than centre-right parties. Still, political analysts had a hard time picturing Fico and ANO boss Pavol Rusko in an enduring partnership.

Last year, Smer offered fringe non-parliamentary parties, the SDĽ, the Slovak Social-Democratic Party (SDSS) and the Social-Democratic Alternative (SDA) two alternatives for political survival: They could either merge with Smer or continue operating as independent bodies supporting the Smer political line.

However, doubts emerged as to whether Smer itself was internally unified over the leftist orientation of the party.

Political analysts insist that Smer has not managed to reach a clear ideological profile despite Fico claiming that the party has always been acting as a centre-leftist body.

Throughout its rise Smer was eager to use the "third way party" expression, which simply did not make any sense to the Slovak public. If anything it signified that the party was uncertain over its own orientation and was deliberately ambiguous in order to win voter support.

Fico took voters from the Slovak National Party by playing rough with the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK). Mikuláš Dzurinda and supporters of the HZDS, all of whom disliked the fact that Vladimír Mečiar was no longer the iron fisted critic of the ruling coalition, also switched to Smer.

The real misery of the leftist parties has been their inability to achieve a compromise, one that would harmonise economic growth with a generous social system.

Most of the leftist minnows have failed to come up with any realistic left-wing concept and instead have resorted to criticising the government's reform policies. Being rudderless they have lacked any substantial debate over the fate of the left in Slovakia.

Many consider the machinations of the SDĽ in Mikuláš Dzurinda's first cabinet, where it had to function together with right-wing parties, marked the beginning of the end of the leftist parties in Slovakia.

The SDĽ though remaining the richest party in Slovakia, has been sinking into political oblivion.

Between 1998-2002, the SDĽ has paid the highest price for the economic austerity measures that had to be taken to avert a collapse in the economy.

After the failed attempts by the reformists in the party, former Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerövá, Peter Weiss, and Milan Ftáčnik, to remove the politically spineless Jozef Migaš, it became obvious that Migaš would become the gravedigger of the SDĽ.

The SDĽ tried to win some support by waging a very formal campaign against corruption, which proved to be an onerous task given that the party's nominee, former Defence Minister Pavol Kanis, had to resign over his inability to explain where the money he spent on his luxury villa had come from. In fact Kanis said that he won the money through gambling.

Even while functioning within the ruling coalition, the SDĽ was often considered a Trojan Horse for the opposition at the time.

The media image of the party is not enviable either, as most journalists have been interpreting the pro-social and anti-corruption talk of the SDĽ as hollow and sanctimonious.

In 2000, the party still hoped to win back some influence and popularity by infusing young blood into the old communist veins. However, Deputy chairmen Ľubomír Andrássy and Braňo Ondruš have not seen these transfusions materialise.

Later, Ftáčnik, Migaš' main opponent, established the Social-Democratic Alternative only to see the party's popularity teeter around 1 percent.

Former deputy prime minister in the Mečiar cabinet, Jozef Kalman, also established a left-wing party called Left Block. But journalists suspected that Mečiar plotted the leftist plan simply to garner votes from the SDA and other left-oriented political bodies. The party however, remained almost unnoticed by the voters.

So far the only certainties about the leftist merger is that, if Smer and SDĽ merge they will be officially the richest party in town. Based on financial reports from 2003, the SDĽ is the richest party outright, with property assets worth Sk48 million. Smer owns property worth Sk21.7 million. Analysts now note, rather ironically, that all they have to do is to come up with a reasonable leftist agenda.


By Beata Balogová

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