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EDITORIAL

The quiet first year

THE MEMORY of the masses is often short. Probably many have forgotten that the victory of Ivan Gašparovič over his former party crony Vladimír Mečiar in the second round of presidential elections was largely interpreted as the nation's choice between the lesser of two evils.

THE MEMORY of the masses is often short. Probably many have forgotten that the victory of Ivan Gašparovič over his former party crony Vladimír Mečiar in the second round of presidential elections was largely interpreted as the nation's choice between the lesser of two evils.

Gašparovič, during his first year in office, has managed to climb quite high on the ladder of public trust.

Today he is one of the most popular politicians in the country.

Observers say that after having a hyperactive president in the person of Rudolf Schuster, the public appreciate Gašparovič's abstinence from political conflicts and petty fights.

Perhaps Gašparovič understands that in Slovakia, presidential powers are not conferred to give the elected official license to act as a referee on the political playground, where liberal and conservative coalition parties and power-hungry opposition parties fight over every decision.

The president, first of all, should serve as a moral authority. Given the public's mistrust of politics, this is a truly tough task.

Fortunately, Gašparovič has not inherited Schuster's main passion: the refusal to sign laws that the parliament has approved, which, incidentally, is one of the very few real powers assigned to the president. It is a crucial power, however, especially when the president has strong arguments to stop legislation that might negatively impact the smooth functioning of society.

Analysts had expected Gašparovič's sentiments to drag him toward the leftist camp, given the support he enjoyed from opposition party Smer. Relationships with his former party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), remained completely frozen.

However, the HZDS did the president a great favour when it decided to keep aloof. Nothing would have damaged Gašparovič's international reputation more than if Mečiar and the HZDS snuggled up to him.

"We have no topics in common to talk about," Mečiar responded, asked about his relationship with Gašparovič.

Gašparovič has been less visible abroad than his predecessor was, which is not necessarily a negative thing, given Schuster's friendly relations with former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.

Analysts assume that Gašparovič will stick to official government policies when crossing the country's borders.

Gašparovič received points abroad by speaking at the Yad Vashem Names Memorial in mid-March. During the two-day visit to Israel, he admitted that he came from a country that "did not avoid the brown plague - as we call fascism - and, unfortunately, did not avoid deportations of Jews either. Of them, more than 70,000 never returned home".

Many considered the speech a brave gesture. The treatment of Jews by Slovaks during World War II is a sensitive topic that most Slovak politicians avoid.

After one year in office, Gašparovič can be credited for not trying to build up the Presidential Palace as an alternative centre of power, which was what his predecessor attempted - though not very successfully.


Beata Balogová

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