Hostages or hostage takers?

SLOVAKIA now has its local hostage drama, which potentially could have an international impact or at least that is what some Slovak politicians are saying. The public is now exposed to a blame game about who is the hostage and who is the hostage taker.

SLOVAKIA now has its local hostage drama, which potentially could have an international impact or at least that is what some Slovak politicians are saying. The public is now exposed to a blame game about who is the hostage and who is the hostage taker.

The drama started immediately after Slovakia's opposition parties, the Slovak Christian Democratic Union (SDKÚ) and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), said they would contain their affection for the EU's Lisbon Treaty unless Prime Minister Robert Fico's government withdrew a recent controversial revision to the Press Code, which has already garnered international criticism.

Parliament's third opposition party, the Christian Democrats (KDH), harbours little, if any, affection for the treaty as well, and also opposes the draft of the Press Code. The ruling coalition needs 90 votes in the 150-seat parliament to ratify the treaty, but only has 85 secured. The opposition says it is being held hostage to the ruling coalition's "arrogance", which stifles dissent. The Smer-led ruling coalition has called the opposition "blackmailers", who have taken the coalition hostage for the sake of their petty party goals.

Some say the hostage is actually the Lisbon Treaty, which will have to wait for a hostage negotiator to cool the tension.

Others suggest that there is no hostage taker other than the unrepentant stubbornness of Culture Minister Marek Maďarič, who refuses to admit his hand slipped quite a bit when drafting the Press Code revision.

Hostage dramas rarely have winners, so Slovak society is hoping that this metaphor is more of a media catchphrase than a reflection of the political reality.

The TA3 news station quoted Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs, who said that the Lisbon Treaty should not be a hostage of internal political squabbles during its ratification in the 27 member states. If the whole process starts with problems, it could have an unfortunate end, with all of Europe suffering the consequences, especially Slovakia, Leinen said.

However, political analyst László Öllős said that the current situation in parliament is not just a simple "internal-political affair" because the Press Code revision pertains to the freedom of speech and the press, which are among the freedoms the EU guarantees. If nothing is done, parliament could end up producing both a treaty that hails those rights and a press code that violates them, Öllős said.

Fico declared that "only a sick political mind" could come up with the idea of holding the treaty hostage. The opposition responded that there is no blackmail and that the solution to the situation is simple - withdraw the revised Press Code.

Firstly, this government, with its record of antagonising the Slovak media, should have never laid its fingers on the original Press Code. And the culture minister should have self-censored his response to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had serious objections to some provisions of the law.

The minister's response to the OSCE should have read as follows: thank you for warning us. We will study your concerns and make corrections based on the international community's recommendations.

In fact, Foreign Affairs Minister Ján Kubiš told TA3 that he wrote a letter to the OSCE's special representative for media freedoms, Miklós Haraszti, telling him that the Slovak government welcomed his comments and was willing to consult on the issue. However, after all the governmental discourse about how the OSCE based its report on unreliable information, Kubiš's letter looked like trying to smooth wrinkles with a cold iron.

So the opposition parties have found themselves in a political quagmire: they have to oppose a law that they actually fully support in order to kill legislation that they view as a threat to democracy. Not everyone might digest this explanation. Besides, the KDH's position on the treaty adds doubt to the claim that the opposition stands united, because in the end, the KDH benefits if either the vote fails or the coalition caves.

It all probably depends on if the SDKÚ and SMK are able to resist pressure from the KDH and explain to the international community that this whole situation is really about drawing attention to very unfortunate legislation that has no place in a democratic Europe.

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