EDITORIAL

The mighty and the meek

SMALL nations are often wary of larger ones dictating the rules of international politics. Consequently, in the throes of national infighting, politicians on one side of the political fence often slip into rhetoric that reveals their fears regarding foreign influence - especially when it comes to accusing the other side of being under the control of international "predator" nations that ultimately seek to keep the smaller country in their wilful grip.

SMALL nations are often wary of larger ones dictating the rules of international politics. Consequently, in the throes of national infighting, politicians on one side of the political fence often slip into rhetoric that reveals their fears regarding foreign influence - especially when it comes to accusing the other side of being under the control of international "predator" nations that ultimately seek to keep the smaller country in their wilful grip.

Sometimes political regimes defend undemocratic methods by declaring that such means are necessary to resist hostile influences that would otherwise overtake the small country.

In fact, global powers (called predators by some), do have tools to enforce their interests even in remote parts of the world. They have been known to turn a blind eye to tyranny if and when tyranny suits them.

But few would suppose that a populist politician could protect a small nation from all foreign influence any more than his opponents.

Besides, international influence is not in itself an evil. Depending on what it offers; depending on who injects what policies into what regime and under what conditions, it can be either lifesaving or devastating.

Slovakia has a number of politicians warning about hostile foreign influences that are trying to prevent Slovakia from reaching its full growth potential.

It does not require any great feats of recall to remember the paranoia spread by members of Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in 1998 about a worldwide conspiracy preventing the HZDS leader from leading the nation down an "independent path".

Clearly the HZDS did not like the foreign community telling them that their way of privatization resembled policies of the Wild West more than those of a functioning democracy.

Robert Fico of the opposition party Smer recently accused Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda of defending his cabinet's publically acclaimed economic reforms with "instructions from abroad".

Fico says the Slovak government used a World Bank strategic guide called "Communicating Reform" to sell the reforms to the Slovak public.

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".

Given the fact Fico summoned several press conferences to tell the nation that once he gets to power he will put a resolute end to several structural reforms initiated by the government, Dzurinda did not need the World Bank to tell him about the opposition's aim.

The truth is that the Slovak government ordered the creation of a strategic plan to communicate and explain its reform agenda to the public.

According to the daily SME, which obtained the strategic report from governmental circles, the document resembles a guide for a pre-election campaign.

The existence of such a "guide" does not make Robert Fico a politician of higher moral standard or more refined manners than the targets of his criticism.

Perhaps it simply makes his targets more aware of the power of communication.

It is doubtful whether any strategic communication guide can make people blindly believe that their lives are dramatically improved if they have not, and that the thorny road that some walk in fact leads to Elysium if it does not.

Every government uses communication tools to put forth its message, and that message is to some extent propaganda. Systematic brain washing may have bolstered the political career of a few who neither had the moral fibre nor the intellectual capacity to justify their position, but it does not mean that propaganda can make miracles.

A seed of something has to be sewn - even if it is only hope.

Over the past few years, opposition politicians, includ-ing members of the Slovak Communist Party, have accused the Dzurinda government of being puppets that owe their existence to a more powerful entity.

The problem is that the parties ready with the accusations would have been ready to sell their symbolic soul to any foreign power if they had been given the opportunity.

The Dzurinda government is not squeaky clean, either. It has had problems with political morals and voters will make themselves heard during the elections whether or not they are willing to tolerate unexplained scandals.

But the government has achieved its successes, too, and these are not negligible. Thanks to the cabinet's solid communication efforts, voters should be clear on what these are.


By Beata Balogová

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