WHEN Vladimír Mečiar, weeping, sang his farewell song “S pánom Bohom idem od Vás, neublížil som, žiadnemu z Vás” (I depart from you with God, I never hurt any of you) on public- service Slovak Television in 1998 after losing that year’s parliamentary election, not many would have believed how long his goodbye would last. Now, more than a decade later, Mečiar appears finally to be heading for the exit.
After 1998, it took another 12 years for Mečiar’s party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), to fall below the 5-percent threshold needed to make it into parliament and for Mečiar to hence be excluded from the centre of Slovak political life. The HZDS garnered only 4.32 percent of the vote on June 12; some political observers have suggested that a chunk of the party’s former supporters migrated to Robert Fico’s Smer party.
“The HZDS has not lost; it is Slovakia’s loss,” announced Marián Klenko, the head of the HZDS’ national council, shortly after the final election results were announced.
He added that Mečiar was analysing the results and would make a statement “when the time comes”. As this issue of The Slovak Spectator went to press, that time had evidently not arrived as Mečiar was yet to issue any public statement.
Survival deemed unlikely
Several of the first commentaries on the election results included farewells to Mečiar and Mečiarism – a term introduced into Slovak public discourse by journalist Marián Leško in a book he authored on the Mečiar era.
“It’s certainly the end of Mečiar,” political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “About Mečiarism, I’m not sure; it has now moved to another party,” he said, referring specifically to Smer.
Mesežnikov said HZDS is a dead party and that he is sure it will not survive in the form it has had until now, adding that Mečiar will have to leave the party soon as it would harm Mečiar’s self-portrayed image as ‘founder of Slovakia’ to remain at the head of a party whose support will most likely continue to drop.
“He was a less relevant politician in the last election term, but since he was a part of the ruling coalition he had some weight,” Mesežnikov said, adding that as a consequence of electoral defeat he would not rule out the possibility that HZDS might merge with Smer, as several other small parties have done.
American political analyst Kevin Deegan-Krause, whose expertise is in analysing support for political parties based on opinion polls, said the fall in support for HZDS did not surprise him but he nevertheless considers it a significant feature of the June 12 general election results.
“The day after the 2006 election I plotted out trend lines for the various parties’ parliamentary delegations and found that the trend line for HZDS pointed precisely at zero in 2010,” Deegan-Krause told The Slovak Spectator. He added that despite his own projections he believed until about two months before the election that HZDS would still manage to cross the threshold.
He identified three forces that will continue to work strongly against HZDS in its non-parliamentary incarnation: history, demographics and organisation.
According to Deegan-Krause, history shows that parties almost never return to parliament after dropping below the threshold and tend to be forgotten and sink even further. Regarding demographics he said that “HZDS already had the oldest electorate in Slovakia’s politics and it was aging about one year per year. Even if all of its voters stayed loyal – something that obviously did not happen between 2006 and the present – it would still have fewer voters than it does now.”
The only organisational structure that the party has ever known, with Mečiar ruling firmly from the top, will also work against the party’s resuscitation.
“The problem for HZDS is that Mečiar has systematically created a party that cannot live without him,” he said. “HZDS and Mečiar are inseparable and for that very reason both appear to be without a political future.”
Founder to marginal player
In 1998 Mečiar and his party suffered an election defeat similar to that experienced by Robert Fico and Smer this year. HZDS had the highest proportion of votes, 27 percent, but the centre-right parties who finished with lower vote tallies refused to form a coalition with it. Mečiar had served as prime minister of Slovakia three times between 1989 and 1998. It was Mečiar who in 1992 agreed with his Czech counterpart, Václav Klaus, to divide Czechoslovakia into two independent countries. He served as prime minister between 1994 and 1998.
Mečiar often refers to himself as the father of the current Slovak state and says that it was he who was present at the birth of the independent Slovak Republic. Critics of Mečiar point out that during his years as prime minister he brought the country to the verge of international isolation. After 1994, the country’s process of integration into NATO and the EU was slowed and the country’s foreign policy became more oriented towards Russia. The period was also marked by several notorious and yet unexplained events: the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr, the president’s son, to Austria; the murder of Róbert Remiáš, a go-between for a key witness in Kováč’s abduction; and shadowy practices undertaken by the government’s SIS intelligence service. A connection between prominent HZDS members, particularly Mečiar, and these incidents has not been definitively ruled out.
During the period of Mečiar’s rule, growth in the Slovak economy was stunted, with the unemployment rate reaching almost 20 percent, on average. Likewise, this period was characterised by what was called “wild privatisation” in which Mečiar’s government permitted or arranged privatisation of state-owned enterprises which critics say cost the country billions of crowns from deals lacking transparency and economic validity.
Leško’s Mečiarism is a term that includes nepotism, cronyism, and corruption, and also ‘tunnelling’ into public funds, coupled with nationalism stemming from HZDS’ alliance with the Slovak National Party (SNS).
“Mečiarism is a closed chapter in the country’s history,” Leško wrote in his analysis published in the Sme daily on June 14. “It should be said that it is not a chapter Slovakia can be proud of.”
21. Jun 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani