ALTHOUGH the World Bank provided grant money to the Mikuláš Dzurinda cabinet to carry out research prior to formulating its economic reform package, the institution denies meddling in Slovak politics.
The institution gave the cabinet a $350,000 grant to test the population's mood. The research, based on which the cabinet prepared its structural reforms, polled for potential support among supporters of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union and the opposition Smer parties, according to daily Pravda.
Robert Fico of the opposition party Smer accused Dzurinda and his cabinet of defending the reforms with "instructions from abroad".
Fico virtually accused the Slovak cabinet of using the World Bank's strategic plan called "Communicating Reform" dating from August 2005 as a guide for promoting and defending its structural reforms to the Slovak public, the TASR news agency reported.
"It is surprising that the World Bank and US experts are helping the current Slovak government persuade Slovaks that they have a higher standard of living than they think," said Fico.
Fico also said it is surprising that the World Bank is interfering in Slovak domestic affairs in this way, and, along with US experts, "is providing instructions to the Slovak government on how to lie to people".
According to Fico, the most shocking aspect of the strategic plan is the fact that it recommends that the cabinet should "demonstrate that the opposition's aim is to overturn the reforms".
The ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party rejected Fico's allegations.
Its spokesman, Martin Maruška, said that the cabinet did not need any experts to tell them that the goal of the opposition is to overturn reforms.
"Fico speaks about it publicly," said Maruška.
In a statement, the World Bank insisted that its activities in Slovakia do not interfere with domestic political affairs and are fully in line with its overall programme.
Dzurinda issued a statement suggesting that the Slovak government and representatives of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and similar institutions have never focused on political tactics.
"I'm surprised that a party chairman with ambitions to lead this country can go so low," said Dzurinda.
Apart from the World Bank grant the Slovak cabinet came up with $117,000 of its own money to finance the research.
Two American public opinion research agencies, Greengerg, Quinan and Rosner and Markant, conducted the research. The former legal representative and partner of Markant, Tatiana Rosová, is Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's advisor. Currently, she is the head of the cabinet's Centre of Information Strategies, the body responsible for all public opinion research.
According to the daily SME, politicians disagree on whether the World Bank's research grant to the Dzurinda cabinet constitutes a political intervention.
The ruling coalition has used the research to create a strategic document outlining ways in which the ruling coalition should communicate the impact of the reforms to the public now that they have been implemented. Many believe this document has helped increase the public's support for the reforms. The opposition says this gives the ruling coalition an unfair advantage in the upcoming 2006 elections.
Ingrid Brockova, a World Bank representative, explained that the research derived from the grant does not give specific advice about the political opposition. Rather, it provides information about the people who are likely to oppose the reforms. The Slovak cabinet has used this information to direct its communication campaign.
A communication expert at Comenius University, Olga Skvareninova, says the context of the strategic report suggests that the authors talk specifically about the political opposition, the daily SME added.
Political analyst Samuel Abraham said that the World Bank did not endorse the strategic report; it simply gave a grant for public opinion research. Abraham also said that the report might lose its impact after the contents are revealed.
Beata Balogová and Martina Jurinová
17. Oct 2005 at 0:00