The blemish spreads

JÁN Slota was always going to spell trouble for Robert Fico. Right from the very start, when an alliance with Slota gave Fico his long sought after opportunity to create a government in 2006. Journalists said it, observers said it, and Fico’s political opponents said it.

JÁN Slota was always going to spell trouble for Robert Fico. Right from the very start, when an alliance with Slota gave Fico his long sought after opportunity to create a government in 2006. Journalists said it, observers said it, and Fico’s political opponents said it.

In truth, one did not need a degree in political science to smell the rot that Slota would bring to national politics.

As the boss of the biggest political party, Fico thought he could discipline Slota who, until getting his four-year ticket to ride in this government, had often been viewed as a sort of political buffoon.

Before 2006, Slota’s had appeared in the media mainly because of statements he made which challenged people’s sense of decency, and had the potential to insult the country’s neighbours and all of its minorities. Trying to recall a meaningful idea or useful legislative initiative championed by Slota is a thankless, and quite possibly futile, task.

Fico thought that Slota would stray only as far as his ruling coalition leash would allow him to.
But as it turns out, the leash has been far too long. Besides, the problem with Slota and his ilk is that they simply cannot transcend their own characters, nor shake the manners and style of politics they got used to during the days of former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar – now Fico’s other coalition partner - back in the mid-nineties.

Under immense media pressure, Fico recently sacked two of Slota’s ministers: Marian Janušek had to resign over a controversial tender, which benefited firms reportedly close to Slota himself; and Ján Chrbet, who sold the country’s CO2 emissions quotas under suspicious circumstances and at a very generous price to a firm established shortly before the actual deal.

If Fico thinks that Slota will now restrain himself, he is wrong. In the midst of the noise surrounding these SNS-related scandals, Slota is happily riding around town in a Mercedes SLR McLaren, which as the Sme daily has noted he could not have afforded to buy even had he saved every penny of all his official salaries for the last 19 years. For the record, Slota claims the car belongs to his son.

Slota’s property, or rather the way he has acquired it, has been tickling the imagination of the media for the past decade or so. Slota’s explanations were always rather less complicated than, for example, Mečiar’s grand narratives about mysterious businessmen lending him tens of millions of Slovak crowns to finance his luxury villa in Trenčianske Teplice.

Slota’s frequent response was that his friends owned the luxury items that he was using. Those friends have been remarkably generous to the SNS boss; he in turn has been remarkably successful in attracting them.

Moreover, Slota’s high-roller lifestyle – he has access to a fleet of expensive cars, a yacht, a plane, a large motorbike and a luxury villa on the Mediterranean – has sometimes been overshadowed by the media frenzies over his verbal outbursts.

When pressed by the media for a statement on Slota’s lavish new wheels, Fico suggested that politicians should adopt legislation on proving the origin of property. But he also said something else.
“I am not a police dog and I never will be; there are other bodies for that task – tax, financial and others,” Fico announced, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

However, attempts to have legislation requiring citizens – including MPs – to prove the origin of their property have failed in Slovakia several times.

Neither Slota’s performance nor his new car fit Fico’s declared ‘social’ orientation, no matter how much imagination one applies.

That Fico’s coalition partner decides to show up in a new €650,000 car at a time of acute savings and a raging financial downturn merely rubs Fico’s – and everyone else’s – nose in it. The figleaf of filial ownership fools no one.

But it doesn’t need to. Last year, Slota’s underling Rafael Rafaj was caught signing the attendance book in parliament for his boss, allowing Slota to claim his attendance allowance despite being absent. The consequences? None.

Politics in Slovakia has a pretty strong digestive system. It can tolerate quite a lot without suffering fatal effects. But people like Slota are a dangerous infection whose behaviour can cause serious deformation of the system.

The story of Slota, his ministers and his luxury cars is not just a story about the arrogance of power but also the failure of Robert Fico. No matter how firmly he believed that his ruling coalition washing machine would somehow make Slota presentable to Europe and acceptable for the general public, he was wrong.

All that happened was that during the rinse cycle the stain of Slota has blemished everyone who chose to join him. It is no less than they deserve.

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