A REEKING land fund scandal in which lucrative plots were sold for a dime and which led to the dismissal of the agriculture minister, Miroslav Jureňa; a ludicrously lavish tender for cleaning works at the Defence Ministry which claimed the scalp of Defence Minister František Kašický; and a health minister who quit for personal reasons but immediately landed a plum public sector job. Just a few of the colourful political items in the baggage of Robert Fico’s government after two years in power.
Then there is the unresolved suspicion of insider trading associated with the resetting of the Slovak crown’s central parity, and the finance minister who denies there’s anything fishy about meeting the boss of an investment company on the boss’s private yacht in Monaco just days before the parity change.
The baggage also contains an item marked "Hungarian clown on a horse from Budapest" and another, shouting “this lady with dishevelled hair who could take more care of her appearance." Just a few of Ján Slota’s choicest comments, whose rare skill for stirring up international bad feeling remains unparalleled. Slota’s first remark referred to the Hungarian king St. Stephen; and the second was aimed at Kinga Göncz, Hungary's foreign affairs minister. During the past two years Slota has also called the leader of the Hungarian Coalition Party “a boor, a puke, and rotten manure.” Classy.
Though Fico has tried to deny any responsibility for these statements - suggesting that they are a private issue for Slota - the behaviour of the nationalist party boss appears on the report card of the Fico government because it has helped to make Slovak-Hungarian relations much frostier than is healthy for neighbours.
Yet Fico on July 1 announced that he has never regretted his choice of ruling coalition partners, while his partners have clearly never regretted entering the government with him. It was a way for the controversial leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, Vladimír Mečiar, to get back into power. Fico could, of course, have avoided making the statement about his coalition partners, perhaps out of respect towards those slighted by Mečiar or Slota. But he did not.
“If the ruling coalition continues with the same tempo and cooperation, it is highly probable that we will be thinking along the same lines at the next election period,” Fico said, according to the SITA newswire.
Does anyone regret this state of affairs? Obviously the opposition, which has been bleeding from multiple wounds and every party in whose ranks seems to be struggling with some internal problems. Also parts of the business community, as well as those who had hoped that a government which declared its commitment to a social-democratic agenda would have had a friendlier approach towards minorities, for example.
Certainly, a recent survey by the Business Alliance of Slovakia (PAS) of 200 companies suggests that companies think the business environment has worsened during the two years of the Fico government.
If the trend continues, it will be reflected in lower potential economic growth and in a slower rise in the living standards of the citizens of Slovakia, the PAS survey recorded.
Fico certainly has never declared that he wants to be a prime minister for businessmen. Last month he even let the corporations, especially in the energy sector, know that they should expect a tougher approach from the government which would now intensify its crusade for a so-called ‘social state’. And it seems that the voters are buying Fico’s “social-state warrior” performance and still prefer him to the alternatives, since his Smer party remains the most popular in Slovakia.
According to a recent poll by the Median agency, Smer would collect 42 percent of the votes were parliamentary elections held now; followed (far behind) by the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, with 14.9 percent, and Slota’s Slovak National Party (SNS), at 13 percent.
Understandably, in Slovakia the political thirst for a normal social-democratic force has been long unquenched and is where Fico’s rhetoric has found a ready audience, even if some of his actions are less socially-democratically convincing than others.
As for his partners, the social-democratic outfit is poor fit for Slota: but it is in any case obvious that the SNS boss is in government for things other than the social agenda. Vladimír Mečiar might have wider experience of deftly switching horses in the race for power, but he too makes a pretty unconvincing social democrat.
The prime minister’s evaluation of the work of his government came in a speech which, despite its impressive length, was light on the kind of self-reflection which might have led to acceptance, much less analysis, of the missteps of the past. In fact, he declared that over the past two years his government has not made any serious mistake in its economic and social policies and that nor has there been any failure on the part of democratic institutions.
Politicians who always remain unshaken in their own infallibility are typically the last to hear and see what others are saying.
As a result they are always the most politically dangerous kind.
14. Jul 2008 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová