THIS is not one of those simple tales of good and bad. There is no climactic battle in which the “good guys” face the “bad guys”. There is no pleasing finale in which the “bad guys” are driven from the town, the country, the Earth, or the galaxy (depending on breadth of your canvas). It is, instead, a political melodrama, and a pretty tawdry one at that.
It is also complicated. Not because the “bad guys” win and the “good guys” lose; rather, because it is extremely difficult to work out who the “good guys” are or, indeed, if there are any.
It was the leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Vladimír Mečiar, who decided that his close ally, Zdenka Kramplová, had to go: she who, in a colourful political career, had followed obediently in Mečiar’s footsteps, had sheltered in Mečiar’s shadow and had defended everything that Mečiar has ever stood for.
The HZDS boss asked Prime Minister Robert Fico to sack Kramplová from her post as agriculture minister for what he called non-transparent handling of public tenders and problems with party financing. And Fico did so, with as little fuss as possible.
Removing Kramplová, he said he was observing the letter of the ruling coalition agreement which blessed the HZDS with the agriculture department and thus the fate of its ministerial nominee. However, he was indiscreet enough to note that he was unable to detect any problems with Kramplová’s actual performance in her job.
Mečiar has left no doubt about who he thinks is the “good guy” in the whole Kramplová affair (at least, that is, in his version of it): immediately after learning of potential problems with a Sk900 million tender at the Agriculture Ministry, he rushed to Fico to ask him to dismiss Kramplová - in the name of probity.
Unsurprisingly, she has refused to play the “bad guy” role and says she was forced out because she refused to cancel a tender to supply IT services which had been won by a company called Columbex International.
She claimed that Mečiar had wanted to use the contract to back an HZDS supporter, with her as the means of achieving this.
One of the representatives of Columbex is Alexej Beljajev, whose firm last year lent Sk10 million (€332,000) to the HZDS. According to media reports, the party claims to have repaid the loan after receiving donations from an indebted businessman, Jozef Oceľ, and a pensioner, Rudolf Trávniček. Mr Trávniček’s Sk7 million cash donation was allegedly delivered in a Tesco carrier bag.
Journalists roasted the HZDS over its report on party financing, which was packed with such peculiar donors. Is it any accident that Mečiar ordered Kramplová to cancel the tender shortly after the media started focusing on it?
Would Mečiar have been so ‘principled’ had the tender slipped by unnoticed?
So the “bad guys” versus “good guys” model is best left to Hollywood. Trying to make it fit the HZDS is probably something only the likes of David Mamet or Sidney Lumet should attempt.
The truth is that Kramplová should have not been appointed a minister at all; especially not with the political baggage she has been carrying around on her back. In the weird logic of Mečiar’s ruling style he presumably thought that since it was he who brought Kramplová into the top level of politics, by appointing her foreign minister in the darkest days of his late-1990s government, then it was he who had every right to send her back into political oblivion.
This is the so-called “creator syndrome” from which party leaders who have turned their parties into their own personal vanity projects often suffer. But few would say that her fate was undeserved.
Kramplová and Mečiar deserved each other just as much as the two of them deserve Prime Minister Robert Fico, who now seems to have no problem replacing ministers nominated by his coalition partners as if they were on some sort of bizarre production line.
Of course he is not so resolute when it comes to Smer ministers: witness the defender of his ‘hard-line’ social policies, Labour Minister Viera Tomanová, whose ministry has witnessed a string of allegations that it favours Smer-friendly bidders for hefty social project subsidies.
Curiously, Fico has not shown the slightest unease over Kramplová’s statements that Mečiar tried to tamper with a tender involving hundreds of millions of crowns in taxpayers’ money.
According to the Sme daily, Fico’s message to the media was that he was not going to comment on Kramplová’s words because it would basically amount to “statement standing against statement”.
A pretty soft stance from the man who earlier declared that his iron fist would strike down in vengeance on anyone who abuses public posts.
It may be that Fico deserves Mečiar, whose intentions in sacking Kramplová do not seem to have been in the slightest bit genuine.
And they certainly both deserve Slovak National Party boss Ján Slota, who recently unleashed another of his now-trademark outbursts of verbal incontinence at the Hungarians.
The question remains, though: do we deserve them?
25. Aug 2008 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová