ELECTION campaigns cannot help but attract melodrama. Emotions and plots are typically as subtle as a loud Broadway musical. But if a theatre performance leaves the viewer irritated, she is free to walk out, throw her programme in the bin and enjoy a good moan to the taxi driver on the way home about the waste of her time and money. She can guiltlessly forget the bum notes and contrived plot.
Unfortunately, the nation is not free to leave if it does not like the performance offered during an election campaign; worse still, if the weaker performer wins the laurels the nation has to face several years of dreary reports about their ineffectual foreign visits and speechifying.
Either way, let’s state the obvious: about half of the nation is not likely to get what they truly hope for in the second round of Slovakia’s presidential election scheduled for April 4.
Perhaps more, since only slightly more than 8 percent of the vote separated Iveta Radičová, the joint candidate of the opposition parties, from frontrunner Ivan Gašparovič, who is backed by the ruling Smer party and its junior coalition partner the Slovak National Party (SNS).
However, it might, after a certain time, be easier for those forced to live with a president they hadn’t voted for if that person had integrity and a set of values that did not change with the seasons.
It might also be easier if the president could actually speak a foreign language on those foreign trips, and was free of the heavy baggage of the past which the incumbent bears jointly with the man who pushed Slovakia to the brink of international isolation in the mid nineties.
By now it is clear that this is not the image that Prime Minister Robert Fico and his coalition buddies in the SNS envision for the country’s next president. And this should come as no surprise at all.
Ján Slota, who is notorious for his power to offend minorities and neighbours with a single sentence, played true to form when he panned Radičová for being the candidate of choice for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.
Never mind that Hungarian-speakers are legitimate citizens of Slovakia, with a legitimate right to vote.
If Hungarians were apathetic and avoided the polling stations or, alternatively, were rushing into the streets en masse carrying banners declaring ‘we will never vote for a Slovak president’ then the concerns of a Slovak politician would be understandable.
Of course some will say that all Slota does is to appeal to the most ignorant instincts of voters by identifying an enemy - and anyone who is unwilling to defame Hungarians will do for the SNS and its voters.
What is unsettling is that Slota makes these statements from within the ruling coalition.
Isn’t the presidential office about uniting and representing the nation regardless whether people greet each other “jó napot” or “dobrý deň” on the street of a particular village?
Apparently not, at least for Smer member Dušan Čaplovič, who glories in the title ‘Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights and National Minorities’. According to the Sme daily, Čaplovič declared that Iveta Radičová would “defend the interests of nationalist forces in the Hungarian minority”.
Why? Because she campaigned in southern Slovakia? Or because she talked to Hungarians?
Isn’t that how it should be in any country which claims to be committed to European ideals?
What is saddening is that these tactics still work, because they appeal to a deeply rooted instinct: the fear of others - those who speak differently, think differently, perhaps dress, eat or sing slightly differently.
But it is childish that not addressing a legitimate national minority within the country one aspires to represent can be portrayed as a virtue in a candidate.
To spice up the melodrama and his own search for enemies, Robert Fico on March 24 labelled a Slovak citizen a “provocateur paid by Radičová” during a public event he attended with Gašparovič in Trenčín Region. Jozef Ťažiar was protesting against what he believes was an unfair land settlement by carrying a banner that read “Stealing like under the totalitarian state, this is Slovak freedom and democracy”.
Fico did later apologise to Ťažiar, and even made a return trip to Trenčín Region to do so. But the fact, that he had no problem disseminating his “provocateur” theory and immediately using it against Radičová clearly shows that the voice of confrontation, accusation and the continual search for adversaries is ingrained in this government.
But if this is how the people that back Gašparovič behave, then perhaps Slovaks should stop to wonder whether it would be wise for them to continue to have access to all the levers of state power - and why they want this power so badly after all.