THE CANDIDATES who made it to the second round of the presidential election will now step out of the shadow of election slogans, say observers, suggesting that voters will now want to take a much closer look at who Ivan Gašparovič and Iveta Radičová really are. Analysts assume that the personal profiles of the candidates, along with their past histories, will now gain more importance than they had in the first round when seven candidates were in the running.
“In the second round, more than before, they will emerge before the electorate as two individual people with their own qualities, abilities, weaknesses and personal histories,” political analyst László Öllős told The Slovak Spectator.
Ivan Gašparovič: a president with a past
The incumbent president, Ivan Gašparovič, was born on March 27, 1941, in Poltár in central Slovakia. He studied law at the Faculty of Law of Comenius University in Bratislava, after which he worked as a prosecutor in Martin and in Bratislava. In 1968 he was appointed docent (equivalent to assistant professor) and started teaching at his alma mater in the department of penal law and crime. He continued his professional career there until 1989, when he became the deputy rector.
Between 1990 and 1992, he served as the General Prosecutor of Czecho-Slovakia.
Gašparovič was a member of the Communist Party from the age of 27. However, he started building his political career only after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
As a member of Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) he was elected speaker of the Slovak parliament and closely cooperated with Vladimír Mečiar, the HZDS leader and then prime minister.
He was a close ally of Mečiar until 2002 when he quit the HZDS after falling out with Mečiar over
the party's candidate list for the parliamentary elections, in which Gašparovič did not make it to one of the top positions. Gašparovič then founded his own party, the Movement for Democracy (HZD).
Two years later, as the HZD’s candidate in the presidential election, he faced Mečiar in the second round after an unexpectedly strong showing in the first. A large anti-Mečiar vote then helped secure his election as post-communist Slovakia's third president.
Gašparovič is the only Slovak president to have hosted a US president in Slovakia. George Bush visited Bratislava in February 2005 for a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin which was held in the Slovak capital. In 2008, Gašparovič met Bush again when he travelled for an official visit to the White House together with his wife Silvia. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II also visited Slovakia in 2008 during Gašparovič’s presidency.
Gašparovič’s political career in the 1990s is connected to some of the most controversial episodes in the early history of the Slovak republic.
“He went into this election with a significantly damaged past, not only when it came to his political background, but also because he personally played a very negative role as a politician,” political analyst Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator, referring to Gašparovič’s attitude towards Slovakia's first president, Michal Kováč (who served between 1993 and 1998), and the case of František Gaulieder an MP who was stripped of his deputy's mandate in controversial circumstances.
The so-called ‘Gaulieder case’ emerged as an issue in this campaign even before the first round and analysts have said that Gašparovič has not handled it well.
In 1996, Gašparovič, as speaker of parliament, facilitated a vote to strip Gaulieder, an HZDS MP who had voiced criticism of the party, of his deputy’s mandate. At that time, Gašparovič voted to accept a report from the Mandate Committee of Parliament which stated that Gaulieder had agreed to leave parliament, even though Gaulieder publicly denied doing so, the Sme daily wrote. Despite his protestations, Gaulieder was stripped of his mandate. In 1997 the Constitutional Court ruled that parliament’s decision was at odds with the Slovak Constitution.
“It’s natural that the president, who is supposed to be the main guardian of constitutional values in the state, is expected to behave accordingly, even in his past,” Öllős said. “And since he did not, it is very questionable whether he wants to or even can behave that way.”
Gašparovič and his wife Silvia have two children. Gašparovič is known as a big sports fan, especially of motorsports and ice hockey.
Iveta Radičová: the representative of change?
The challenger, Iveta Radičová, was born in Bratislava on December 7, 1952. After finishing her sociology studies at Comenius University in 1979 she started her career at the Institute of Sociology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) where she also received her doctorate and later PhD. She also worked at the departments of sociology, political science and social work at Comenius University and at the private Academia Istropolitana.
Radičová’s academic career has gone beyond the borders of Slovakia: she received a post-doctoral diploma from Oxford University in 1990 and in 2005 became a professor of sociology at the University of Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra. During her academic career she has been a guest lecturer at universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Austria and other countries.
In her research work Radičová specialised in public policy, social policy and employment, with a specific focus on the problems of the Roma community. She also studied European integration from the viewpoint of employment, social policy and free movement of workers.
Radičová worked as an expert on social policy at the Czechoslovak Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and as an expert on family affairs for the Slovak government. She contributed to creating the social programme of the Party of Democratic Left (SDĽ), a coalition partner of the first (1998-2002) government of Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Though Radičová has not had an long political career, she was engaged in political issues as early as 1989 when she signed a protest letter to then-President Gustáv Husák against the arrest of five dissidents in Bratislava. She was a member of Public Against Violence (VPN), the political party established after the revolution in 1989, but she only remained active in the party for two years.
More than a decade later she accepted an offer from the then-prime minister, Mikuláš Dzurinda, to become the minister of labour and social affairs. Earlier, she had worked as an advisor to her predecessor at the ministry, Ľudovít Kaník. Since the parliamentary elections in 2006 she has been an MP for the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
Radičová’s participation in Dzurinda’s second government, which faced accusations of buying the votes of MPs to maintain support for the government in 2005, has been cited by local media as a controversial point in her career. Radičová told the Sme daily that she was asked to enter the government as a non-partisan professional and that at that time she had no connections to the parliamentary political parties. She said that she had no connection to the suspicion of vote-buying and that she had entered a government which had not been doubted even by the president of the country.
Another event in her history is her work with the foundation S.P.A.C.E. (the Centre for Analysis of Social Policy) which received a subsidy of Sk1.8 million from the Labour Ministry in 2005, at that time led by Kaník. Radičová was the director of the foundation when it received the subsidy.
Radičová responded that at the time S.P.A.C.E. received the subsidy she wasn’t involved with the ministry. According to Sme, the money was returned to the ministry.
Radičová was married to Stanislav Radič, a popular Slovak satirist who died of a heart attack in 2005 and with whom she had one daughter. A year later, she met Ján Riapoš, a successful handicapped table tennis player who currently serves as the president of the Slovak Association of Physically Handicapped Sportsmen, who has been her partner since then.
“Radičová will surely stress, and rightfully so, that she entered the political arena quite recently and therefore she is a politician with a good image,” political analyst Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator, adding that she has never been a member of the Communist Party and she has no political connection with the Mečiar period.
“These are factors that should play for her and, on the other hand, against Gašparovič,” Kusý said.
Sources of biographical data: www.osobnosti.sk and volby.sme.sk.
30. Mar 2009 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani