THE STORY of Jozef Medveď is a fascinating one. One – rather charitable – interpretation of this tale is that Slovakia is a land of boundless political opportunity where the unimaginable can become real in the blink of an eye and the chance to make a difference can unexpectedly fall from the sky like rain in a summer storm.
Once upon a time Jozef Medveď sent his CV to an agency. The deputy rector of a private college, he wasn’t looking for a new job with any real urgency: but it doesn’t hurt to put yourself out there, he thought. Next thing, he got a call. Was he willing to assume a high-level state executive position? Not in politics but as an executive? Well, yes, he was! This is how, according to Medveď, Slovakia acquired its fifth environment minister in three years.
“I did not believe it could happen this way,” Medveď said in an interview with Hospodárske Noviny.
Well, nor did any of us. One would search Medveď’s CV in vain for strong environmental credentials in it. That said, looking back at the record of the Slovak National Party (SNS)-managed Environment Ministry since 2006, choosing a minister by pulling a CV out of a hat doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. Maybe next time they could try a ministerial lottery, where anyone meeting a series of threshold criteria would qualify.
Yet, anyone who remembers the SNS’s performance in the 1990s government of Vladimír Mečiar, or the highlights of party leader Ján Slota’s political record, could tell from the very moment the SNS got the Environment Ministry that the department was not going to be problem-free.
Jaroslav Izák was sacked on July 22, 2008, for what Prime Minister Robert Fico called “unethical conduct”: he cited a Sk200,000 (€6,638) subsidy that went to the mother-in-law of the head of the Environment Office. Juraj Smatana of the Ekoforum described Izák as the worst environment minister in the country’s post-revolutionary history, which is quite an achievement. Nevertheless, Izák served his mother party very well: according to the Sme daily he also approved subsidies from the Environmental Fund to SNS deputies Jozef Ďuračka and Jozef Minďáš, the head of the state forest company. Izák denied cronyism and said he did not even know the names of those lucky recipients.
Next was Ján Chrbet, who brought a full basket of dubious contracts and deals. The suspiciously low-priced – but still multi-million-euro – sale of Slovakia’s excess carbon dioxide emissions quotas to the Interblue Group has since made it into the dodgy deals hall of fame. Fico dismissed Chrbet on May 5 this year for failing to observe an ultimatum to disclose details of the quotas sales contract.
Chrbet’s successor, Viliam Turský, stayed hardly long enough to warm the ministerial seat, before he and the SNS were banished from the Environment Ministry as the quotas scandal dragged on and other crises erupted.
Dušan Čaplovič, who has served as interim minister since Turský’s fall, perhaps should not be counted as a ‘full’ minister on this absurd list since he was sent to the ministry only for a limited time to clean up. But the fact that the deputy prime minister for minorities, human rights and a knowledge-based economy had to be sent to clean up the huge pile of trouble deposited by Ján Slota’s acolytes left observers wondering about the criteria used to select people to manage the department.
All of which makes Medveď's presence and the way he describes how he was chosen rather more understandable. All he is expected to do is to stay in his office until the parliamentary elections next year. Or perhaps he can do a little entertaining, in the manner of former agriculture minister Stanislav Becík, who took to travelling around the country by horse-drawn carriage while penning doggerel in praise of farmers.
To be fair to Medveď he is not a man without any past: one highlight of his career dates back to the government of Vladimír Mečiar, when Medveď was the head of Banka Slovakia. The bank was renamed Privatbanka in 2005, the Sme daily reported. He also served as deputy chairman of the firm Carpatia Consulta – Mortgage, which went bankrupt in 2006 due to its long-term failure to meet contractual obligations, Sme also wrote.
Yet, while Robert Fico was celebrating his long-craved victory, his opponents warned that what he and his ruling coalition buddies lack are professionals and personalities who can lead even just the key departments. Perhaps the CV story as told by Medveď was an exaggeration or maybe just a cover-up of how he was really picked. But it does make an unintended point: what does picking a candidate without a strong environment background, via an employment agency, say about the portfolio of professionals behind a party or a ruling coalition? Very little that inspires confidence.