EDITORIAL

Making scandal count

ROBERT Fico is wrapping up his four-year term in a kind of political isolation. His potential political brides are now limited to parties which have either been tarnished by their treatment of the state as a cash machine for their cronies – like the Slovak National Party (SNS) – or are heading slowly but surely towards their political grave – like the Movement for a Democratic Left (HZDS).

ROBERT Fico is wrapping up his four-year term in a kind of political isolation. His potential political brides are now limited to parties which have either been tarnished by their treatment of the state as a cash machine for their cronies – like the Slovak National Party (SNS) – or are heading slowly but surely towards their political grave – like the Movement for a Democratic Left (HZDS).

There is one other prospective bride, though a rather unlikely one: Fico’s description of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) as an extension of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party does not sound much like a serenade. But if Pál Csáky meant the difference between Fico staying in government or going into opposition, he might still find himself walking down the aisle.

As it is now, Fico has the partners he actually deserves: SNS leader Ján Slota more often than not levitates in the space normally reserved for political folklore, and no one with any sort of political credibility considers him a potential partner or anything other than a (bad) joke.

Then there is former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, who feebly attempts to make his dilapidated army of voters believe there is still some fresh blood flowing through the veins of the party, despite it having lost all relevance long ago.

Pál Csáky’s reluctance to say no to Fico comes as rather disappointing for several reasons: Fico has never acted as a minority-friendly politician and indeed four years ago took on board a party which has been sponging for the past decade or so on the hidden anti-Hungarian sentiments of part of the population.

Politicians are defined partly through the partners with whom they choose to rule. The argument that the SMK can never win elections on its own and must therefore keep its doors open to almost all other parties does not stand up.

Let’s say that Fico offers a four-year stint in government to the SMK. Csáky would in return have to somehow help him apply cheap make-up to cover his image as a minority-unfriendly politician.

Would Csáky be able to soften or influence Fico’s minority policies? No, he wouldn’t. Most Fico voters probably derived much joy from seeing the birth of the amended language law, and applauded when Hungarian President Laszló Sólyom was barred from entering Slovakia. And for Fico, very few things in politics are more precious than the love of the voters who can keep him in power.

But apart from all this baggage, there is something more important that Fico has been carrying all along and which has emerged now, only shortly before the national elections: suspicions about his party’s financing and the alleged offer to sell state positions for cash.

If nothing else, these suspicions are actually a serious reason to say no to Fico. They were enough for other opposition parties, most recently the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), to reject Smer.

Certainly, election mathematics and political calculation are always involved; political parties do not make purely ethical decisions, especially not in an environment tainted by such putrid political baggage as party financing and the effort to keep the smell and the rot under cover.

Smer co-founder Bohumil Hanzel said in an interview with Sme that Smer’s election campaign in 2002 carried a Sk284-million price tag and that the costs were shared by various financial sponsors.

He also claimed to have seen a copy of an agreement between Fico and five sponsors. The sum for election expenditure quoted by Hanzel would have exceeded the legal limit several-fold.


“It involved a lot of money and places on the party’s list of candidates,” Hanzel told Sme. “With this step he signed a deal with the devil.”

Party financing in Slovakia does have a rotten core and some might argue that it is merely part of the painful transition period. However, these links do not just disappear, just as a hefty loan that one might take from a bank does not evaporate.

By allowing such suspicions to remain simply juicy scandal in the newspapers, coming and going depending on whether or not it is election time, voters help this rotten tradition to survive – and even to become refined by elevation to a more sophisticated level.

If they are not kicked out from the governmental power machine, what politicians quickly deduce is that people do not care as long as they get some money – no matter how insignificant it is when compared to their overall financial misery – some football stadiums, and the occasional bold speech about protecting them from non-existent international threats.

As a former HZDS deputy said in response to criticism of the 1990s Mečiar government: the dogs bark and the caravan goes on.


Get daily Slovak news directly to your inbox

Top stories

Trails and tribulations: the important work of Slovakia’s unpaid hiking route markers

But veteran trail marker says hikers need to pay attention to more than just signs.

Stanislav Kučera

Threats have worked. People queued for COVID testing before the official start

The nationwide testing in Slovakia started with four districts in the north. Here is a report from the first day in Orava.

Bardejov

Day two of pilot testing in hardest-hit regions is off to a smoother start

PM Igor Matovič and Health Minister Marek Krajčí are helping the sampling teams, too.

Trstená, the Tvrdošín district

Foreigner's Police will be closed during the lockdown

Those who have booked appointments from October 26-30 must reschedule.

The Foreigners' Police department in Dunajská Streda.