THE MEDIA and the opposition are indispensable to the government of Slovakia. If Robert Fico wills it, these bogeymen appear, in a thousand inimical guises, in the statements of the prime minister’s crew, bent on thwarting any or all of the government’s good intentions. The media and opposition can shake the pillars of democracy in this small central European country, as least according to Fico’s recent statements. Why would they do so? What would they gain? These are questions to which the reader will not easily find answers – at least not in this piece.
After yielding to pressure from disgruntled truckers, who expressed their opposition to the newly launched electronic toll collection system by blocking roads and even leaving, allegedly by accident, a heap of manure under ‘Fico’s window’ at the Government Office, the prime minister was quick to blame the opposition and media for supporting them.
This time, though, he was assisted by the other two figures who make up Slovakia’s trio of top constitutional officials: President Ivan Gašparovič, who secured a second, four-year presidential term last year; and Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška, whose last vented his spleen on the supposed evils of the opposition and the media ahead of last year’s celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
At the time, Paška warned of “media prostitution” after the press reported that some of the leading figures of the 1989 revolution were less than impressed by Paška’s decision to invite former communist bigwigs to the official state celebration.
“If someone incites violation of laws it is a road to hell,” Fico told a press conference, adding that this dangerous phenomenon is manifested in support for everything – even breaking laws, disorder and chaos – as a way of fighting against his government.
Then he called on the opposition and media to present an alternative to his government. It was all quite predictable. Though the prime minister has never learned to swallow media criticism, he has developed antidotes for himself such as suing the press or ‘blessing’ it with a Fico-style press code. What he has not been accustomed to until now are massive protests by the very people who he might normally expect to be among his voters. These have happened just a couple of months ahead of a general election, and have been targeted at the prime minister who has been trying to construct an image as a politician who supports a ‘socially-oriented state’. Using taxpayer’s money to buy a spectacularly expensive toll system that those who use it describe as unjust has not done this image-building effort much good.
But the toll-turmoil ended at least partly satisfactorily for Fico, since the truckers went home – with a promise of lower excise tax on fuel – and those who caused the chaos, the media and the opposition, were singled out and publicly condemned.
The government seems tempted to try the same antidote over the humiliating police foul-up in which high explosive was planted and then accidentally left in the luggage of a Slovak man who unwittingly carried it to Ireland on a commercial flight.
Fault has already been found with the opposition: the previous governments, including those led by the current opposition, trained sniffing dogs by planting explosives in passengers’ luggage as well, we are told.
And the media? Nothing could be clearer: they wrongly reported the number of explosives being used; exaggerated the event; mixed up Bratislava and Poprad Airports; etc, etc. Since the scandal made international headlines, however, these arguments will hardly cut it with the Irish, the audiences of international news channels, or the readers of the world’s press.
True, these groups are not very important for the government since few of them are potential Smer voters; and New York Times-reading, BBC-watching Smer voters are an equally select group.
Yet one of the “enemies” struck back: the publisher of the Plus Jeden Deň daily and the Plus 7 Dní weekly sued Fico on January 12 for his media-phobic statements in December 2009. The publisher is demanding an apology from Fico for accusing periodical publishers of mafia practices.
He claimed that the publishers of Slovakia’s major daily newspapers were plotting a unified campaign against his Smer party and then took his comments one step further by comparing Slovakia’s print media to the mafia. True to form, Fico and his cronies could not care less.
18. Jan 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová