WE ARE NOW reaching the point where ministerial posts could be made prizes in a national lottery in Slovakia. For guessing three out of five numbers the lucky punter could get a government contract, awarded by a ministry of the winner’s choice. Four out of five would land you a state secretarial post for six to eight months. Anyone blessed with lady luck and the winning ticket would get to be the country’s next minister of agriculture or environment. The record of these ministries under the government of Robert Fico has made this absurd scenario almost plausible.
The public has become inured to press conferences where the prime minister, with a grave face and in resolute tones, announces yet another departure of yet another failed minister.
Already ten ministers have fallen from Robert Fico’s ruling bandwagon, steered by what its passengers like to call “a socially oriented agenda” along an increasingly bumpy road.
It also seems that those ministers nominated by the Slovak National Party (SNS) are the least likely to be constrained by the seatbelt of political ethics: already, four SNS-nominees have been sacked based on suspicions of cronyism and unethical conduct.
Marian Janušek was sacked from the Construction Ministry’s top job for granting lucrative contracts worth €98 million to two firms, Avocat and Zamedia, which are believed to have links to SNS chairman Ján Slota. Jaroslav Izák had to quit the Environment Ministry in the wake of accusations of cronyism, leaving his post to Ján Chrbet, who himself put in only a brief appearance.
Fico sacked him over responsibility for a mega-scandal involving the sale of the country’s excess emission quotas at a price well below that at which Slovakia’s neighbours had managed to cash theirs in. Sceptics who had predicted a short ministerial career for his successor, Viliam Turský, were proved right.
Turský’s three-month ride ended after the media broke the story of a dubious contract for the removal of fly ash from state-run heating plants that he signed with a company which had submitted the highest bid. But this time the prime minister changed his normal routine of asking his coalition buddy to replace one failed minister with someone – anyone – who happened to be wearing the right party colours. Fico in fact ended Slota’s reign at the Environment Ministry and locked SNS nominees out of it for good.
Slota was shocked. So much so that he even eschewed his usual claims of a massive media conspiracy against him. Fico did say that he was aware of the risks of taking the ministry away from Slota. But in fact the move carried far fewer risks, if any, than for example the decision of his government to deny entry into Slovakia to Hungary’s President László Sólyom. The Hungarian head of state had wanted to attend an unveiling ceremony for a new statue of Hungarian King Stephen I in Komárno.
On a side-note, Slota, who is well-known for his critical and generally undiplomatic remarks about Hungarians, may well have been pleased by the sight of Sólyom being turned back on the bridge linking Slovakia and Hungary. But it seems that the SNS has lately been shifting its focus from Hungarians to a different minority: the Roma. In a move that will have struck anyone who has followed Slota’s statements about the Roma community as absurd, the SNS demanded the seat of deputy prime minister with responsibility for human rights and national minorities, as a form of compensation for the lost environment department.
Fico responded that the seat is not subject to any bargain and that Smer is happy with the performance of its incumbent nominee, Dušan Čaplovič. In the midst of growing anti-Roma sentiments which have affected the whole region, and rallies organised by various neo-Nazi and extremist groups against what they call ‘Roma crime’, giving the SNS responsibility for the ever-fragile issue of the Roma community is the last thing that Roma or Slovak society as a whole needs. Back in 1996, when in government with Vladimír Mečiar, Slota declared that what Roma required was “a small courtyard and a long whip”.
One of the last things this society needs is parties which produce short-lived ministers and long-lasting tensions with the neighbours, which further corrode the public’s trust in politics, and which resort to populist solutions that lay traps for future generations. But people often get what they want and not what they actually need. Many Slovaks indeed wanted the parties they now have in government – but it is doubtful whether they really need all the side-effects that their rule has produced.
31. Aug 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová