POLITICIANS with a dubious ruling style rarely change. Though they often have the capacity to metamorphose into some form that might better guarantee access to power, this does not mean that the way they will not promptly readopt their former methods – let’s say, of a decade ago – if the climate in society allows them to do so.
Vladimír Mečiar has not waited in vain. After knocking for more than a decade at the door of the European Democratic Party (EDP), a multi-party European Parliament grouping, Mečiar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has been let in.
It is hard to say whether the EDP decided to rely only on its short-term memory when scanning the HZDS’s past and deciding to swing its doors wide open to the politician who pushed Slovakia, between 1994 and 1998, to the edge of international isolation. Or if perhaps the EDP is simply in urgent need of members and will now give a ticket to anyone interested in a ride.
What benefit will Mečiar get from his long-cherished desire for EDP membership? Not that much in Slovakia. It’s true that he can now lean on the crutch that the HZDS is now a ‘normal’ European party – but that will hardly stop the sinking popularity of his party in Slovakia. Besides, those who like the HZDS and still see Mečiar as the ‘father of the nation’ could not care less abut EDP membership.
They have remained loyal to Mečiar for completely different reasons. Maybe for playing rough when it comes to the Hungarian issue, as he recently tried when he called for Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) deputies to be stripped of their parliamentary mandate for attending a meeting of the Forum of Deputies of the Carpathian Basin (a standing institution of the Hungarian Parliament).
This month has brought Mečiar another souvenir, one he has never received before, worth a cool €49,500: the HZDS boss was awarded damages in a libel suit against a publisher. Slovak publishing company Spoločnosť 7 Plus was ordered to pay Mečiar because it published a report in 2004 containing information about how – it said – the HZDS boss had financed his lavish ‘Elektra’ villa in Trenčianske Teplice, as well as referring to Mečiar’s mental health.
Elektra is one topic which has the potential to provoke Mečiar’s ire. The Slovak media has spent many years searching for an answer to the question “How did he pay for it?” And while the HZDS boss has given manifold answers none of them seemed to satisfy the journalists. Back in 2002, Mečiar got so fed up with Elektra-related inquiries that he tried to hit JOJ TV reporter Ľuboslav Choluj after he questioned Mečiar about the villa bill.
To round off Mečiar’s September trifecta, he managed to sack yet another agriculture minister – this one was Stanislav Becík, Mečiar’s third choice since 2006; number four is now in post – who obviously failed to impress his boss with his cross-country horse-drawn journey to study the life of Slovak farmers this summer.
Mečiar, it seems, expected something else from him: in particular, to defend the interests of the HZDS, anywhere and under any conditions.
But apart from the court trials and the drive to sack ministers which he himself appointed, Mečiar and his party have also done something else: brought back Štefan Harabin, who first climbed to the post of justice minister and did not stop until he made it to the chair of the Supreme Court.
Why is this a matter of concern? The 15 judges who wrote an open letter to the country’s president, prime minister and speaker of parliament could talk at length about it. Disciplinary proceedings under way against some judges critical of Harabin are being used as a tool for their removal or at least intimidation, the 15 signatories of the letter said. Opposition and political ethics watchdogs openly talk about the independence of the judiciary being at risk.
Politicians are often symbols and stand for a specific era, represent a specific way of thinking and a respect for specific values: this rarely changes. Mečiar stands for a time many hoped had gone for good.
Robert Fico brought Vladimír Mečiar back, along with all he stood for and all the baggage he has been carrying around for the past two decades.
One day, Fico will be remembered for something too and hopefully the people of Slovakia, among others, won’t forget who his ruling coalition partners were.
21. Sep 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová