“Is another era of anti-Mečiarism beginning?”
This self-pitying question was posed in April by the man himself, three-time PM Vladimír Mečiar. Notwithstanding the irony involved – thus might the burglar complain of people who locked their doors – it’s a question that deserves to be addressed, if only so Mr Mečiar can be persuaded to dry his tears.
By ‘anti-Mečiarism’, this aging autocrat was apparently referring to the wave of public resistance to his rule from 1994 to 1998. On this level, the answer is clear – it has been almost a decade since thousands gathered on Námestie SNP in Bratislava to chant “dost bol Mečiara!” Whatever people now think of the ‘father of Slovakia’ and his return to feeding at the public trough, they do it in private.
But that doesn’t mean the former furnace stoker can rest easy. Anti-Mečiarism may be dead or dormant, but Mečiarism, the cause of those massive public protests, is making something of a comeback under the present government.
Commentator Márian Leško defined Mečiarism in 1996 as based on four pillars: an unusual ability to believe one’s own lies, the production of senseless conflicts, a progressive loss of inhibitions, and a leader who is the head of his own cult. On at least two of these criteria, the Fico government resembles the 1990s Mečiar administration. For example, Fico’s ‘war’ with the media is being waged almost single-handedly by the pugnacious prime minister, occasionally aided by coalition colleague Ján Slota’s drivel about intellectual “scum” and Mečiar’s whining about bias. The government’s campaign against the second pension pillar and private health care companies has been equally aggressive, suggesting anything but a readiness to compromise. And the ruling coalition’s capture of the state administration has carried political conflict and confrontation into the lowliest district offices.
Halfway through the government’s term, signs are also appearing that the prime minister is losing what few inhibitions he had when he took office. His description of OSCE representative Miklós Haraszti as “some third-rate bureaucrat” recalls the language of the Mečiar government, which dismissed striking actors as “third-rate artists”, and disparaged then-US ambassador Ralph Johnson as a kind of diplomat “that we have any number of”. Ditto Fico’s claim that Alan Baldeyrou, the head of Peugeot in Slovakia – “a man whose name I can’t even pronounce” – was a “dirty and outrageous” liar. And the openness with which tenders are being fixed, state contracts awarded to friends, and courts stacked with sympathetic justices is truly startling.
There are many differences between the new ‘Fico-ism’ and standard Mečiarism, not least the absence of babky-demokratky and other cult trappings. But perhaps the biggest change is that politicians no longer even pretend to believe their own lies. As with Mečiar, lies remain the modus operandi, but Fico seems to have bet – and won – that people are either too weary, too cynical or too content to care.
23. Jun 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson