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Reaping the harvest

THERE are many images that easily emerge from the psyche when one hears the name Ján Slota: Slota enraged over statements by some Hungarian politician; Slota erecting Lorraine crosses to remind Slovaks of their national pride; Slota calling on people to get in tanks and level Budapest.

THERE are many images that easily emerge from the psyche when one hears the name Ján Slota: Slota enraged over statements by some Hungarian politician; Slota erecting Lorraine crosses to remind Slovaks of their national pride; Slota calling on people to get in tanks and level Budapest.

However, Slota as a contained and controlled leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS) is a rather rare appearance.

Yet, Slota has had to swallow a couple of bitter pills over the past month in order to stay close to the well of power. And he did so without threatening even once to quit the ruling coalition.
Slota and his SNS absorbed it all: Prime Minister Robert Fico calling on SNS nominee Marian Janušek to resign from his post as minister of construction over the controversial bulletin-board tender; then the ultimatum that Fico pitched to Janušek’s SNS-nominated successor, Igor Štefanov. Fico said that Štefanov had either to kill the contract, which had already attracted unwanted attention from the European Commission and which the SNS had been defending so vehemently, or he would have to go.

The construction ministry contract was given to a consortium of firms that are reported to have close links to Slota after the original tender notice was advertised solely on an internal bulletin board at the ministry, in an area not normally accessible to the public.

Slota, however, did let off steam in parliament during an opposition attempt to have Štefanov sacked for what the opposition called a large share of responsibility for the flawed tender. The SNS leader likened his opposition colleagues to animals, caling them 'goats' - as well as 'bastards', according to the Sme daily.

It's fair to say April was a bad month for Slota and the party's business.

Environment Minister Ján Chrbet, yet another nominee of the SNS, has now moved into the spotlight and received a prime ministerial ultimatum as well. Fico told Chrbet to disclose the contract for selling excess Slovak emission quotas for only two-thirds of the price that the Czech Republic or Ukraine got for similar deals, or he will be asked to go.

More than a few people are wondering how these developments might affect the dynamics within the ruling coalition. But it appears that the SNS really has nothing to lose by its involvement in these scandals. Indeed Slota’s SNS could not care less about its international reputation, while its sympathisers in Slovakia are quite likely to overlook or forgive all these peccadillos once they get tossed something new to feed their frustrations with Hungarians or other minorities.

In fact the reaction of the boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Vladimír Mečiar to the recall of Miroslav Jureňa from the post of agriculture minister was somewhat more fiery by comparison. Jureňa was sacked after a suspicious deal involving land plots covering more than one million square metres and worth about Sk1.5 billion (€45.4 million), situated in the lucrative High Tatras. The plots were sold for Sk13 million to GVM, a company close to Mečiar. The HZDS boss immediately suggested that a possible crisis was knocking on the coalition’s door and, indeed, he made a couple of brave statements. But these evaporated soon after the next ruling coalition meeting: the prospect of staying in power was sweeter than engaging in more rhetoric.

Yet the SNS and HZDS want to harvest as much as they can before their reign is over. These parties have no guarantee whatsoever that they will make it into the next ruling coalition.

As for the prime minister, he has had a hard time convincing media and ethics watchdogs that his sudden display of principles was a result of anything more than the clear warning by the European Commission that Slovakia will simply not be sent any EU money for contracts which are awarded at odds with its rules.

The statement of the prime minister that EU funds are more important to him than the ruling coalition is a grand one, but his timing was flawed. It should have been said many months ago. Perhaps long before the SNS helped to keep Ivan Gašparovič in the presidential palace by its campaign appealing to Hungarophobia.

Fico has deserved Slota and Mečiar with all the baggage they brought to the government. He deserves the infringement proceeding by the EC, which doubtless damages the country’s international reputation, because he turned a blind eye to the problem in late November. The more painful aspect, though, is that it is not Fico personally who will bear the consequences but rather the whole nation in the form of a further decline of political morals.

Fico might still need the SNS and HZDS. Not as badly, of course, as he needed Slota to deliver support for Gašparovič, for example. No one assumes that such support in politics is ever free. But now that the bill can no longer be paid in non-transparent tenders, one only wonders what will come next.

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