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THE FORMATION OF REGIONAL COALITIONS BASED ON ETHNIC FEARS CAUSES CONTROVERSY

Parties to cut SMK clout

LEADERS of the opposition - Smer, the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) - announced October 28 that they would form a so-called "Slovak coalition" for the sole purpose of weakening the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) at the regional level.
The SMK believes that the planned formation is anti-Hungarian and would disrupt national politics as well, while defenders say it would reintroduce "balance" into local politics. Analysts call the reason behind the coalition problematic, even though they doubt whether such a coalition would endanger national alliances.

LEADERS of the opposition - Smer, the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) - announced October 28 that they would form a so-called "Slovak coalition" for the sole purpose of weakening the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) at the regional level.

The SMK believes that the planned formation is anti-Hungarian and would disrupt national politics as well, while defenders say it would reintroduce "balance" into local politics. Analysts call the reason behind the coalition problematic, even though they doubt whether such a coalition would endanger national alliances.

Robert Fico, the chairman of Smer, defended his party's involvement, saying, "It is necessary that these Slovak regions have a balanced development in the areas of education and culture."

He refers to the Nitra region, where the SMK holds a strong majority, and the Trnava region, where the SMK is the second strongest party after a coalition consisting of the HZDS, Smer, and the non-parliamentary Party of Civic Understanding.

"Smer has never been against Hungarian nationals [living in Slovakia] but it is against the SMK's policies," Fico said at a press conference following the meeting of the opposition parties.

He told the press that Smer, the KSS and the HZDS had agreed that the parties of the current ruling coalition, of which the SMK is a member, would be invited to join the "Slovak coalition" as well.

Playing a nationalist note, Fico said that because the SMK is supporting the interests of Hungarian nationals in southern Slovakia, it was legitimate for "Slovak" parties to join together to oppose them.

Vladimír Mečiar, the HZDS chairman, sides with Fico. "The aim [of the coalition] is to mobilise Slovak voters and provide an alternative to the regional policy of the SMK party," he said.

According to SMK Chairman Bela Bugár, the so-called "Slovak coalition" has nationalist undertones. If such a coalition is formed, he says, it would negatively impact the country's national politics.

Zsolt Komlósy, the head of the Republic Council, the SMK's top body, told The Slovak Spectator November 2 that overlap would be inevitable.

"Some regional politicians are also active in national politics. If these coalitions are created on the regional level, I think it would undoubtedly influence national politics as well," he said.

Komlósy said that the SMK is watching the efforts of the "Slovak coalition" with serious concerns.

"While the SMK was created with the goal of protecting the interests of Slovakia's national minorities, these [opposition] parties want to join against the SMK. In other words, the SMK was created to achieve a positive goal, while they just want to join against something," said Komlósy.

Komlósy chided the opposition parties, telling The Slovak Spectator that "their only motive is to prevent the SMK from being a dominant power in the Trnava and Nitra regions". He also criticised the opposition parties for creating an atmosphere that could easily grow into an ethnic and national conflict within Slovakia.

SMK Chairman Bugár agreed that the formation of a "Slovak coalition" could affect national politics. He pointed out that the planned coalition would be based on an ethnic principle rather than the shared vision of the participating parties' programmes.

The representatives of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union recently admitted that they would be open to talks regarding the party's possible entry into such a regional coalition.

According to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov of the Institute for Public Affairs, a think tank in Bratislava, the so-called "Slovak coalition" would indeed complicate the relationships on the national level.

Of the formation, Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator that it would disrupt the current ruling coalition "but not destroy it". Mesežnikov said that the ruling parties have too much in common on the central level for the creation of a "Slovak" regional coalition to endanger its unity.

However, said Mesežnikov, the formation of an anti-SMK coalition "would not ease the communication and the relationships on the national level either".

According to the analyst, efforts to form "Slovak coalitions" had several causes. One, he said, was related to the ongoing state administration reform and fiscal decentralisation.

"Parties finally understand that regional politics is important" he said.

Mesežnikov said he believes the efforts of the opposition political parties is driven by nationalist sentiments and that it is "evident that on the regional level" these parties are trying to cut the political influence of the SMK.

"The fact that opposition parties are uniting out of ethnic fears rather than the closeness of their respective programmes is problematic. Forming coalitions with the SMK would actually be much more advantageous to the opposition parties," he said.

Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator that the SMK is "a reliable and consistent" political party in the regions it represents. He said the party's strength lies not only in its large voter base in southern Slovakia but also in its experience in these regions.

The regional elections will be held in 2005 followed by the national elections one year later.

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