“YOU must always stand united. One lonely rod is easily broken, but not three.” So spoke King Svätopluk, the greatest ruler of Great Moravia, to his sons Mojmír, Svätopluk and Preslav, as he lay on his deathbed.
While it is difficult to verify whether these words were actually spoken in 894, shortly before quarrels between the three sons led to the demise of the inherited kingdom, “Svätoplukove prúty” have come to symbolise unity and harmony in the Slovak psyche.
After Rudolf Schuster won the first direct presidential election in 1999, as part of his inauguration he organised a “putting-together of rods” with then-Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and Speaker of Parliament Jozef Migaš, meant to prove to the nation that all three top figures would work together.
No such ceremony was imaginable in 2004, when Ivan Gašparovič became head of state – seeing Dzurinda and the Christian Democrat Pavol Hrušovský, who had by then replaced Migaš, taking part in an embarrassing show with former-communist Gašparovič, who in the 1990s acted as number two to autocratic premier Vladimír Mečiar, would have made their voters feel nauseous, not enthusiastic.
Now there is a chance to revive the tradition – once again there will be perfect harmony between the heads of parliament and government, both of whom come from the Smer party, and the head of state, who isn’t officially a member, but “feels like one”. However, if there is a ceremony, the three rods should be held by Gašparovič, Prime Minister Fico, and Ján Slota, head of the Slovak National Party. The nationalists did the dirty work in the campaign – they scared people into believing that voting for Gašparovič’s opponent, Iveta Radičová, would mean if not the immediate annexation of Slovakia to Hungary, then at least a significant threat to national well-being.
With his slogan “Thinking nationally, feeling socially,” Gašparovič managed to blend Fico’s populist leftism and Slota’s right-wing extremism into a meaningless pseudo-philosophy which could be used to justify all manner of dangerous things.
In the upcoming months, the three Svätoplukove prúty will be united. If one turns on the citizens, the pain will be tripled.