SLOVAKIA saw its leftist prime minister, Robert Fico, move into parliamentary opposition after the general election this June. The four centre-right parties which managed to form a coalition government are expected not only to set the country on a path of reduced public expenditures and a smaller budget deficit but also to deal with numerous complaints about the condition of the country’s judiciary, improve transparency in public administration and attempt to heal what had become a tense bilateral relationship with Hungary.
Political analyst Kevin Deegan-Krause of Wayne State University despite that says the June election and the change in government did not bring about much of an alteration in international perceptions of Slovakia.
“The country has demonstrated its pro-Western international commitments and orientation well enough over the past decade that there are far fewer suspicions and more benefit of the doubt,” Deegan-Krause told The Slovak Spectator, explaining that the Fico government, despite its problematic coalition partners and scandals, did not fundamentally change Slovakia’s domestic or international orientation. “I suspect that some business and government officials are slightly relieved but I don’t think this was a make-or-break change as in, say, 1998.”
The atmosphere before the elections suggested that there were strong feelings against the Fico government among some groups of citizens. For instance, minorities felt many of the actions of the past government were directed against them.
High expectations among the voters backing the currently ruling centre-right parties focused on better control over public expenditures and more aggressive action against corruption.
First female prime minister
When evaluating the first 100 days of the government led by Iveta Radičová, the first female prime minister in the history of the country, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov said “society is directed towards liberal democracy; that is a fact that cannot be overlooked”.
But after the first 100 days there was not much else observers were praising about the new government’s performance, with critical voices saying the government had not been sufficiently active and forceful in overturning legislation that the parties had vehemently criticised while in opposition: issues such as minority-related legislation and the law on state language which brought tension between Slovakia and Hungary to a peak, as well as a previously modified press code which garnered criticism from the media and the international community.
Radičová and her ministers defended their government by saying it had to deal with several tough issues during its initial weeks in office: summer floods that hit large parts of Slovakia as well as European criticism over Slovakia’s decision not to participate in the EU loan package for Greece.
Tomáš Strážay of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association noted that the latter position has met with negative responses from Brussels and some EU officials but also with some sympathy on the part of the European public, experts and journalists, and therefore the threat that Slovakia’s position in the EU and its international image would be severely damaged by not participating in the Greek bailout were not fully realised.
“That was in my opinion the main determinant that made the new government different from its predecessor and thanks to which Slovakia made itself visible,” Strážay told The Slovak Spectator.
Slovakia gained importance within the V4 in 2010 as it took over the one-year rotating presidency of the group on July 1, when the Hungarian prime minister handed over the presidency baton to Radičová.
Communication between Slovakia and Hungary improved after new governments took power in both capitals.
“There has been a change of political climate, but it is questionable whether the change is permanent and whether it can be guaranteed not to be disturbed by problems – either past problems or new ones,” Strážay said, adding that there are many problems left unresolved from the distant and more recent past.
One such problem is the Hungarian law on dual citizenship which the incoming Hungarian government amended shortly before Slovakia’s parliamentary election.
The change permits ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia to acquire Hungarian citizenship in addition to their Slovak citizenship.
The previous Slovak government responded by passing an amendment to the Citizenship Act specifying that if any Slovak voluntarily took steps to obtain the citizenship of another country he or she would automatically lose Slovak citizenship.
The parties of the current ruling coalition heavily criticised the legislation when they were in opposition but to date they have done nothing to change the law.
Hungary will start granting citizenship under its new rules as of January 1, 2011 and as 2010 nears its end the Slovak counter-measure remains in effect.
The piece is part of the Visegrad Countries - Facing New Challenges, prepared by The Slovak Spectator with the support of the International Visegrad Fund. For more information on cooperation between the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia please see the following document.
13. Dec 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani