EDITORIAL

This is it: the political basement

THE SLOVAK National Party obviously has a low opinion of the intellect of its own voters. The shameless billboard campaign that Ján Slota’s party chose was designed to appeal to the basest human instincts: hate, exclusion and aggression towards others. But one has to admit that anything other than images and slogans with an undertone – or, as in this case, a central theme – of fabricated patriotism, xenophobia and even racism would be somehow inconsistent with the SNS message.

THE SLOVAK National Party obviously has a low opinion of the intellect of its own voters. The shameless billboard campaign that Ján Slota’s party chose was designed to appeal to the basest human instincts: hate, exclusion and aggression towards others. But one has to admit that anything other than images and slogans with an undertone – or, as in this case, a central theme – of fabricated patriotism, xenophobia and even racism would be somehow inconsistent with the SNS message.

If Prime Minister Robert Fico had not known or if he mistakenly thought that Slota could have metamorphosed into something more acceptable to those who are guided by modern democratic principles, he was wrong.

Someone with such bad political instincts should not be leading a country. However, if he knew all along what he was doing and was willing to take Slota on board with all his baggage, then in doing so he legitimised everything that Slota stands for.

Politicians like Slota and his deputy Anna Belousovová are capable of temporarily adopting more civilised manners, reminiscent of those required in developed democracies. But they cannot maintain the pretence, because if they do so they risk digging their own political graves.

The reason? They have nothing else to offer beyond divisiveness. That message was epitomised by last week’s billboard, featuring a large, bare-chested Roma man whose image had been digitally altered to better fit the SNS vision of this particular minority – i.e. covered in tattoos and wearing a thick gold chain around his neck – and crowned with the slogan: “so that we do not feed those who do not want to work.”

As usually happens with politicians of the calibre of Slota and Belousovová, any attempted explanation or justification of the original slur only makes the situation worse. After local human rights and Roma rights organisations complained, suggesting they would sue the party on suspicion of inciting racial hate, Belousovová said that the billboard was not racist at all. That did not stop her from adding that it was all about statistics and that the “highest percentage of those who do not want to work and [who] siphon the most off the social system are the Gypsies”. Then the next day, as though she had forgotten what she said less than 24 hours earlier, she claimed that everyone who claimed that the person on the SNS billboard was a “Gypsy” is a racist.

“We are only naming the problem,” Belousovová said, as quoted by Sme daily. “The racists are the people who started writing that the SNS campaign is against the Gypsies.”

Belousovová also added that the man on the billboard is Slovak, that he has Slovak nationality and that Slovak society is hypocritical – and all her party had done was to draw aside the veil of hypocrisy. Belousovová also announced that from now on SNS billboards will feature a huge red stripe with the word “censored” on it.

Of course, here again the SNS is abusing the idea of free speech, something which hardcore Slota fans will no doubt relish, as their blood boils on their way to the polling station on June 12 to cast their vote for the party which dares to say openly that the Gypsies make up the highest percentage of those who do not want to work. It’s all about statistics – as Belousovová would say.

However, numbers can be a very unpredictable beast when used in a political fight. What if all the damage to the state that all those hard-working nominees of the SNS have caused while occupying senior public positions could be calculated and set against the “damage” to the state budget caused by people whom the SNS make the targets of their campaigns?

What an interesting statistic it would be. Some of those SNS nominees would in fact fit much better on the party’s own billboards.

There is no way Fico can distance himself from the SNS. He brought Slota's buddies into the government just as he did with Vladimír Mečiar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

He is responsible for the radicalisation of the political scene and the perversion of political discourse.

The SNS might just fail to win any seats in the next Slovak parliament, but Fico and his Smer will certainly make it in – and Fico still has a considerable chance of winning the next election.

He consistently tops the opinion polls, which is disturbing because it means that many people in Slovakia still do not judge politicians based on the kind of partners they choose to rule with.


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