SLOVAKIA has integrated itself among the economically developed countries of the world and has also gained recognition through its principled international policy, Slovak president Ivan Gašparovič said in his traditional New Year’s address. His speech was broadcast by Slovak Television (STV), a publicly-owned broadcaster, on January 1.
Prime Minister Robert Fico praised Gašparovič for his speech. However, political analysts considered the address uninteresting since the president avoided more serious political issues. According to them, the head of state did so because of the upcoming presidential election this spring.
In his speech, Gašparovič expressed pride about Slovakia being a full-fledged and fully accepted member of European community as well as world groupings.
“We have opened ourselves to the world and the world has opened to us. We found the necessary courage for changes but also to correct their impacts,” Gašparovič stated in his address.
President Gašparovič mentioned only once the introduction of the euro, which took place in Slovakia on January 1: “From this day, we are members of the eurozone, which I consider a big success,” Gašparovič said.
On the other hand, he mentioned the global economic crisis several times. According to Gašparovič, “the U.S. entered a long and painful economic decline, which has affected the whole world” since last autumn.
In connection with the crisis, Gašparovič spoke in favour of greater control of market activities by the state: “The free hands of the market can be trusted, but as life has shown, its reliability has to be verified.”
According to Gašparovič, it is also necessary to evaluate much more prudently than in the past what rate of indebtedness Slovakia can afford and how to rectify it. In this connection, he stressed the measures that have been adopted by the government “to prevent a dramatic penetration of the crisis into Slovakia”.
Fico assessed Gašparovič’s words positively. In a statement provided to the media by his spokesperson, Silvia Glendová, Fico stressed that Gašparovič’s New Year’s address “was a promise that top state representatives of the Slovak Republic in this year can actively co-operate in reacting to basic negative impacts of economic development,” the SITA newswire wrote.
Gašparovič did not mention the worsening relations with neighbouring Hungary or between the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia and the Slovak majority.
The opposition Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) stressed in a statement provided to the media that what it called the ‘feeble’ address of Gašparovič is proof that “the Slovak Republic needs a new, more competent president”. According to the SMK, Gašparovič’s address did not contain any statesman-like messages to Slovak citizens; it was merely a summary of phrases and general observations.
The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), a junior member of the ruling coalition, also criticised Gašparovič. According to a statement provided to SITA by top HZDS representative Marián Klenko, the party’s dismissed the president’s address as being “full of noble phrases”. The HZDS said the speech contained unspecific calls and general references to solidarity. “Mr. President touched upon several issues, but apart from a conciliatory tone, it did not convey any substantial message,” the statement said.
The president’s spokesman, Marek Trubač, told The Slovak Spectator that President Gašparovič did not have any intention of bringing political analyses or political commentary on the current state of society.
“The New Year’s address of the president was prepared with the intention to wish citizens all the best,” Trubač told The Slovak Spectator. “It was meant to be a compassionate introduction to the new year,” he explained.
Gašparovič has been preparing a political analysis of current society in his report about the state of the Slovak Republic which he will present to parliament before the end of his term, Trubač told. He added that the president’s address has evoked very positive reactions from citizens.
In relation to President Gašparovič hardly mentioning the introduction of the euro in Slovakia, Trubač said that the head of state spoke about the need to fulfil all criteria for the launch of euro when it was necessary to do so. But since this is already a successfully completed process, Trubač underscored that : “We do not have to care about entering the eurozone when we are already in.”
Opinion of political analysts
Political analyst Rastislav Tóth the president omitted any opinion on last year’s domestic political issues. This is exactly the reason, according to Tóth, why the president failed to be “humane’, though he tried to be so in his address.
“If someone wants to be humane, he has to address the main problems of the common people and to appeal to politicians, be it coalition or opposition, to do something about them,” Tóth said for the STV.
Political analyst Miroslav Kusý characterised Gašparovič’s address as “toothless” in comments for The Slovak Spectator. “[It was] simply made to not harm anybody, to not touch anybody,” Kusý said. The reason why the address was drafted in this way is the fact that Gašparovič conceived it as an election campaign speech, he added. The next presidential election in Slovakia will be in March 2009.
“It [was intended to be] acceptable for everyone,” Kusý said. “He tried not to say anything where he could have been taken at his word.”
Political analyst Kálmán Petőcz stressed that from a stylistic point of view the address was worse than the essay of a secondary school student. However, according to Petőcz, this address “does exceed the usual standard that I have gotten used to with Ivan Gašparovič.”
Petőcz said he could not detect any focus on Central European co-operation in the president’s address.
The sentence calling for the market to be checked by the state is mistaken, according to Petőcz. “The state should be strong, but first of all strong in the sense of making laws and operating effectively,” Petőcz told The Slovak Spectator.
Petőcz further noted that it could have been inferred from the address that Gašparovič forgot that citizens of nationalities other than Slovak live in Slovakia. “The president called for national tolerance in his address but his actual steps in this sense are quite contradictory,” Petőcz stressed.
He gave as an example the fact that Gašparovič had not signed the amendment to the Education Act (see the story on page 2) which would have allowed textbook authors to use Hungarian place-names in books intended for use by schools in Slovakia which teach in Hungarian. And he mentioned Gašparovič’s statements concerning Slovak-Hungarian relations, which were, according to Petőcz, just as populist as the statements of representatives of the current ruling coalition.
“One would expect that the president would restrain the populist rhetoric coming from Fico or from politicians in the two other coalition parties from time to time. But it seems that he has been joining this wave,” Petőcz said.
“This is not dignified for a president – to behave like this on such a very serious issue.”