THERE is something theatrical about political party congresses regardless of their context, time or place. Communists, of course, developed their congresses into theatres of the absurd, often lasting longer than a week and involving nearly constant hand-clapping, endless parroting of party slogans and long-winded speeches by party leaders packed with scenarios that actually forced wild applause. While no longer weeklong events, Slovakia’s political parties still have their annual congresses with some of them preserving pieces of the melodrama from the communist-era marathons.
Over the past month or so Slovaks witnessed two party congresses: of the largest ruling coalition party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), and of the largest opposition party, Smer, both of which summoned their faithful delegates to choose chairmen, or rather to re-elect the current ones.
Neither congress brought a surprise: Mikuláš Dzurinda and Robert Fico both left their gatherings as they came, failing to draw any challengers, and being safely cemented into their posts – each for a different reason and in a different way; perhaps the similarities end right there.
Smer remains a kind of one-man party where there are no attempts to replace, alter, or metamorphose the party leader for a single overwhelming reason: Fico is able to resonate with a large segment of the population and persuade them that he is the political leader they need even if they do not know exactly why they should embrace him or what kind of programme he stands for.
Fico is so intertwined with the Smer brand that one day when his populist rhetoric fades, when his targets become resistant to further attacks, and all his imagined enemies dissipate like smoke from a pipe, he will drag Smer, along with all it is or is not, into political oblivion. It is one of those old maxims from the book of one-face parties and Vladimír Mečiar is perhaps the most notoriously known representative of this particular political process.
Mečiar’s political take-off, zenith, fall and eventual disappearance has stretched through the entire post-revolutionary era with the voters in 2010 delivering him, and probably his party, the very last blow when his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) failed to reach parliament.
The HZDS boss has been through it all: from the arrogance of running a ruling party with unshakeable faith that a large part of Slovakia would always love the Mečiar brand, the damaged pride of being rejected as a presidential candidate, and later serving as Fico’s coalition ally while being depicted as heavy baggage from Slovakia’s less than complete transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
Some political observers already see irresistible parallels between Mečiar and Fico, suggesting that it might very well be that Robert Fico has already reached his zenith. Fico is facing the task of keeping the financial backers of his party satisfied, an increasingly difficult task when facing four years stuck in opposition. It is a paradoxical situation because by his personal nature and rhetoric, Fico and Smer functions best as a confrontational party tailored for survival in opposition. Yet the party’s wealthy benefactors probably care very little about the nuances of political science and whether Smer sitting on the opposition benches rather than in the seats of government makes good political theory.
The situation within the SDKÚ is different. Even if Dzurinda no longer has the strongest footing within the party and even if the party is taking a “don’t scratch if it isn’t itching too much” approach, which likely is not the most ideal position for the chair of the largest party in the ruling coalition, there is a compelling difference: SDKÚ would not lose its face, voice or punch if Dzurinda left. And though the party might have difficulty in choosing his successor, it actually has a programme and a leadership circle constructed around several well-known faces.
After Smer’s congress Fico sent a message to the ruling coalition that is symptomatic of his style: if the coalition does not stop the “insults”, his party would start making use of “information” that it possesses.
“We were also in government; we have information as well,” Fico said on November 13, adding that his party would definitely respond to verbal attacks describing Smer as a “gang of corrupt communists”.
This is how Fico imagines the fragile political balance in the country: an equilibrium built on the withholding of potentially discrediting information which, if it exists, should have been long ago put in the hands of criminal prosecution bodies and not held like an ace up the sleeve of an opposition politician trying to claw his way back to power.
Hopefully, the parties of the ruling coalition will opt for confrontation rather than the very creepy and dangerous equilibrium suggested by Fico.
22. Nov 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová