IF ANYONE thinks that Slovakia has suffered a profound trauma by posting the lowest turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, or that sociologists, spin-doctors, campaign professionals and political analysts are about to start writing case studies of the country’s poor election behaviour, they can think again.
Only 19.64 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls this year, with Slovakia the only EU member state whose turnout failed to reach 20 percent. But the statements by politicians after polling stations closed revealed no deep trauma.
There had been a brief metadiscourse about the lack of a European discourse in Slovakia, but it was quickly overshadowed by the ‘who-is-the-winner?’ discourse which involved both the country’s ruling coalition and all the opposition parties as well.
Besides, it was clear who Prime Minister Robert Fico blamed for the nation’s lackadaisical attitude towards sending representatives to Brussels. Shortly after casting his vote on June 6 he placed responsibility for Slovaks’ lack of interest in the elections squarely at the door of the media.
“I will be frank with you – it happened to me yesterday – I stopped a person I know and asked him whether he will go to vote,” Fico said, as quoted by the Sme daily. “He said ‘For what – for that Sk500,000 salary they will be making?’ Someone has created this image, so [the media] should do some self-reflection.”
But it should hardly need pointing out that it is not the media which has been treating the European Parliament as either a place to dispose of politicians whose ambitions party leaders regard as unhealthy, or as a reward for those who have tired of politics but are not yet ready to quit.
Of course, there are some exceptions. But of the 13 Slovak MEPs now on their way to the European Parliament it could well be that, at least for some, the announcement of their electoral success will be just about the last we hear of them.
It was also not the media’s decision, but rather that of Robert Fico’s ruling coalition, to spend most of the last campaigning day allowed in Slovakia before the EP elections dissecting and condemning statements by Viktor Orbán, the leader of a Hungarian opposition party.
Orbán, after a meeting with the leader of Slovakia’s Hungarian Coalition Party, Pál Csáky, fed nationalist fires in Slovakia and Hungary by claiming that the fundamental issue of the EP elections would be how many Hungarian MEPs were elected to defend “the interests of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin”.
The ruling coalition was eager to carry the torch of Orbán’s fire, hoping that – as has happened
many times before – playing the so-called Hungarian card would mobilise their voters.
But the Slovak National Party (SNS), normally the first to stoke the fires of anti-Hungarian sentiment, has been distracted by a series of recent scandals which have seen two of its ministerial nominees, Ján Chrbet and Marian Janušek, sacked over dodgy deals, and the third, Education Minister Ján Mikolaj, facing some awkward questions. Janušek was fired by Fico over the notorious bulletin-board tender, while Chrbet received the same treatment after he proved reluctant to disclose details of his controversial sale of Slovakia’s excess CO2 emissions quotas. Other media reports about SNS boss Ján Slota’s property, or rather the unexplained ways he has acquired some of it, have also mushroomed. None of this seems to have done the party’s prospects any good.
Scaring voters by playing the Hungarian card has previously appeared to work. Yet it hardly flatters the intellect of voters, since it assumes they believe it is only the SNS that can truly defend the nation from the secret supposed agenda of the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin.
Fortunately, it did not quite work this time.
The Slovak National Party, for whom anti-Hungarianism is virtually its raison d’etre, recorded a sharp fall compared to previous opinion polls, attracting only 5.55 percent of the votes. In recent polls the SNS had routinely scored around 8 percent. It still secured one seat – its first – in the EP, which this year opened its doors to several parties across the EU whose policies are characterised by distaste for minorities, immigrants, their neighbours or simply anyone else but themselves.
Obviously, during times of economic crisis nations are more vulnerable to extremism; and open discussion about things like diversity, shared cultural heritage, solidarity and even European identity, which are supposed to be values shared by the whole EU, tend to get drowned out.
Nations seem to yearn for times which are long since past – or which, in truth, never actually existed – and can tend to sacrifice an acceptable and achievable compromise for an unattainable illusion of independence and self-sufficiency. It is to the credit of the minority of Slovaks who did vote on June 6 that most of them saw through this illusion.
15. Jun 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová