THE MEMORY of the masses is merciless and myopic. Even if a man donated millions to charity, he would be remembered for "stealing" Sk1,000 if he could not sufficiently explain its source to a curious public. It is truly fascinating to see how politicians are remembered, how their names go down in history.
Today, the Slovak public does not remember much about former defence minister Pavol Kanis except his claims that money won from gambling financed his lavish villa. Few remember Pavol Hamž#ík for his successful negotiations with the European Union; instead they link the name with suspicion of corruption and his department's misuse of EU funds.
Under Pavol Rusko's administration, several huge foreign investors discovered Slovakia on the map and opened their wallets. It is unfortunate for the boss of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) that his name will be associated with ministers forced to resign under suspicious circumstances.
Rusko certainly tried to polish his tarnished image by buying advertisement space in the dailies and publishing a letter to Slovak citizens entitled, "I have nothing to hide". In the end, Rusko's appeals to the public mainly inspired cynical speculations on how much it cost him to address the nation.
The financial daily Hospodárske noviny reported that, overall, the former Economy Minister has a balanced record as minister. Rusko certainly deserves credit for knowing how to use the advantages that EU accession gave to Slovakia.
Rusko himself takes credit for the decision made by several major corporations to invest in Slovakia: Getrag Ford, Visteon, Sky Media, Continental and Johnson Controls. He suggests that ongoing negotiations with Hankook Tire are his doing, and that he has helped speed up the construction of industrial parks.
Foreign investment, of course, has a lot to do with the progressive tax and business environment along with flexible labour laws in Slovakia - all of which are the collective achievement of the Dzurinda cabinet. Whether it was Rusko, the positive Slovak business environment or a combination of both that led to unprecedented foreign investment under Rusko's administration is arguable. Any way you look at it, though, Rusko was touched by success.
Foreign journalists that contacted The Slovak Spectator for breaking news on Rusko's demise were primarily interested in the former minister's failures. They wanted to know the public's reaction to the alleged corruption and whether there would be a criminal prosecution.
Many assume that Rusko will try to maintain his influence at the Economy Ministry through his ally, Vladimír Menich, who Rusko wants to see as his successor. Menich is relatively unknown by the public as the state secretary of the Transportation Ministry.
To an outside international observer, this might sound farfetched. Rusko's name is now not only associated with corruption but broken promises. Rusko pledged certain investment incentives to Korean tire maker Hankook that the Slovak cabinet refused to approve. Hankook promptly re-opened negotiations with Hungary and Poland.
Rusko's international image is not the only problem the ANO boss has to deal with. His most serious one, in fact, lies within his own party.
Rusko neither has the support of a majority of ANO deputies in parliament or his deputy chairmen. However, the situation is complicated because it is Rusko's money flowing in the ANO's veins. It is hard for many to imagine ANO surviving with its heart torn out.
Analysts say that ANO's greatest weakness at the moment is its lack of a strong regional structure, compounded by the fact that Rusko created ANO as a ticket to political life.
By founding private television station TV Markíza, Rusko made it to the public's consciousness before he entered politics. However, the image of him as TV mogul has never been very popular.
According to media reports, Markíza employees are intensely debating whether Rusko will return to television. Some say he should have never left it to begin with. The problematic situation with Rusko, according to several observers - including media analysts - is that he never truly left Markíza.
Rusko's opponents within the ANO do not have many choices. They could establish a new party, of course. But by doing this they risk introducing more confusion into the alphabet soup that is Slovak politics and bring down further hurt on the word "liberal."
The good news is that Slovakia's currency remains robust, the foreign exchange markets are chugging along and the international community declares that Slovakia's latest political tremor is nothing to worry about. At the end of the day, Dzurinda's cabinet might use Rusko as an example, showing an unconvinced public that the government's tolerance towards murky deals is low.
Perhaps journalists will start to believe anti-corruption rhetoric after a few more bigwigs step down.
By Beata Balogová
29. Aug 2005 at 0:00