NATIONALIST rhetoric found its place during the run-up to the April 4 second round of the presidential election with at least one ruling coalition party using it extensively when campaigning for the re-election of incumbent Ivan Gašparovič.
Some backers of Gašparovič, such as the Slovak National Party (SNS), have appealed to the Slovak electorate to act ‘patriotically’ when going to the polls so as to not allow the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia to determine the next president. Gašparovič’s challenger, Iveta Radičová, who is officially supported by three parliamentary opposition parties, including the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), has faced attacks from the SNS beginning immediately after the first round on March 21. The SNS said it was concerned about the support that the Hungarian minority had demonstrated for Radičová, who was the highest vote-getter in southern Slovakia.
Overnight on March 27, hundreds of leaflets appeared in southern Slovak towns featuring a poor-quality photo of Radičová and the logo of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Sme daily reported.
The leaflet featured text in broken Hungarian saying: “Dear Hungarians living in Slovakia, if you vote for me and we are successful, I promise I will support your old desires for autonomy.”
Radičová and her election campaign team claimed no connection with the leaflets and they filed a criminal complaint against an unknown offender.
“After the recent events it is no longer just a question of the elections on April 4, but it is a question of peaceful co-existence of Slovaks and other minorities in this country,” Radičová said in reaction to the leaflets, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that the situation was serious.
Radičová said those who ‘play the Hungarian card’ and support dividing the citizens of Slovakia on the basis of their ethnicity should not qualify to serve as president and called on Gašparovič to publicly condemn such practices, SITA wrote.
Meanwhile, the SNS ordered advertisements in one regional weekly saying: “Do we want a president, who gained the support of the Hungarian Coalition Party in exchange for a promise of autonomy, or a president who defends Slovakia’s interests? Slovaks, let’s vote for Ivan Gašparovič – a Slovak president!”
SNS chairman Ján Slota admitted his party paid for the advertisements and that he would always support Gašparovič in this election, SITA reported. However, he said his party had nothing to do with the leaflets distributed in the southern towns.
As the Hungarian issue continued as one of the hottest points in the campaign it became the opening salvo in the first TV debate between the candidates broadcast on the private TA3 channel on March 29, in which Gašparovič said he never wanted to have a “south-against-north war” in Slovakia and that he treats all the citizens of Slovakia equally.
Radičová reminded Gašparovič that five years ago, when he stood against Vladimír Mečiar in the last presidential election, the map of Gašparovič’s election supporters looked just like hers on March 21.
“You won thanks to the voters in southern Slovakia,” Radičová said, mentioning the districts of Rimavská Sobota and Dunajská Streda, but also Bratislava where she was supported by a majority of voters in the first round.
“At that time no one mentioned these results as a problem on some map, that Gašparovič won thanks to the Hungarian card and because Bratislava voted for him,” she added, reacting to earlier statements by SNS representatives whose campaign literature also said that Slovaks should not let “rich Bratislava” decide for the rest of the country. Gašparovič has repeatedly claimed that he lost in Bratislava and in Košice in 2004. But according to the Statistics Office, he received more than 75 percent of the votes cast in both cities in the second round election against Mečiar.
In the debate, Radičová refused to accept the endorsement of anyone who is a supporter of Hungarian autonomy. Gašparovič did not distance himself from the SNS.
“The Hungarian card has always been played when somebody realised they did not have sufficient support or sufficient arguments,” political analyst Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “This card plays on instincts, emotions, and so-called patriotism.” However, he doubted whether this issue has the potential to mobilise those voters who had not yet decided whether they would cast their ballot.
According to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov from the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), the SNS reaches for the Hungarian card whenever they have the chance to, especially when it might increase their power, but that this time they went a bit too far.
“Playing the Hungarian or ethnic card is always unacceptable, but the way that the SNS is doing it this year crosses all the lines,” he told The Slovak Spectator, calling it a very primitive, hysterical campaign.
However, these campaign tactics could be counterproductive for Gašparovič, Mesežnikov concluded, as they could mobilise voters from the south to support Radičová even more.
6. Apr 2009 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani