Palko's Wonderland is the country's hard luck

IT IS one of the oldest stories in Slovakia's political book: ambitious MPs who have failed to ascend party ranks clash with the leadership or are sacked from their plum cabinet post, then break away to found their own petty party.

IT IS one of the oldest stories in Slovakia's political book: ambitious MPs who have failed to ascend party ranks clash with the leadership or are sacked from their plum cabinet post, then break away to found their own petty party.

Their usual lament is that their party deviated from all kinds of values: traditional, democratic, Christian or socialist. Far too often, they had not minded these "deviations" when they were getting what they wanted - a cushioned seat atop a ministry for at least one term.

And when they establish their dwarfish political faction, they often do it overnight, on the reasoning that there is an urgent need, or hunger, for their message. Several years ago, the number of political parties in Slovakia exceeded 100. The requirements for registration was tightened in 2005, which resulted in over half of the budding parties sinking into oblivion. However, almost every year a new political party joins this mushrooming family.

The renegade members usually announce their plans to found a party without first bothering to conceive of an agenda, a target constituency, or considering whether any significant group of people would vote for them.

This is one of the charms of democracy: these renegades have the right to break away and found their own parties, but for a country with a communist history, this is too often the farthest these political dwarfs get.

In order to make their case seem authentic, these parties would need a real agenda and the persistence to persuade voters that the issues they represent take precedence over the ambitions of the leaders.

Perhaps the reader can decide whether to add the story of the four departing Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) politicians - Vladimír Palko, František Mikloško, Pavol Minárik and Rudolf Bauer - to this list.

The KDH has seen unhappy members leave the party three times already. One of them was Mikuláš Dzurinda, who later founded the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, a party that was the core of the ruling coalition for eight years, and which is still the strongest opposition party in Slovakia today.

Other parties have had their breakaways too. For example, President Ivan Gašparovič left the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) after failing to be elected to a leadership post. On his way out the door, Gašparovič let the mud fly at his former boss, Vladimír Mečiar, whom he had served with exemplary loyalty for almost a decade.

The departure paid off for Gašparovič, but backfired for Ivan Šimko, who left Dzurinda's side after he was sacked as defence minister.

Šimko established a new party called Free Forum, but upon failing to be elected chairman, he quit it and established another: Mission 21 - New Christian Democracy.

This proved too theatrical, even for those who had understood Šimko's reasons for leaving the SDKÚ.

When stating his reasons for leaving the KDH, Palko said he could no longer stand the KDH's Janus-faced politics and its toying with the idea of a political marriage of convenience with Smer after the parliamentary elections in 2006.

Palko even went so far as to say the KDH was so power-hungry, it quit the Dzurinda coalition in 2006 to pave the way back into government under different circumstances.

Now Palko is promising to provide party-weary Slovakia with a new political grouping: perhaps a Party of Patriots.

"I don't believe patriotism should be left solely to the SNS," Palko said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator, adding that SNS represents the trend of spreading hatred towards Hungarians, which is a rather effective tool in Slovakia.

It seems Palko will try to appeal to nationalist voters, who find it hard to digest the thuggishness with which SNS chairman Ján Slota panders to them. But regardless of how Palko packages his message, it is still the same.

For example, Palko has never hidden his feelings on immigration.

"Those who come here will never go back to their Asian motherland and we see they are unable to integrate," Palko told the Slovak Radio in October 2007 in response to EU Commissioner Vladimír Špidla's suggestion that more foreign labour be let into the EU.

It is hard to believe that this is what he imagines the way back to traditional values looks like.

Mourning the loss of traditional values while ignoring Europe's reality creates a political Wonderland - an imaginary parallel universe for a narrow group of people.

Unfortunately, Palko's Wonderland weakens the opposition and as such injects a shot of steroids into the ruling coalition. And when the opposition is a 98-pound weakling, the whole political arena suffers.

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