AT LEAST half of the nation has low expectations for the current president of the country. Very few Slovaks expect President Ivan Gašparovič to participate in any meaningful international discourse, solve a burning political conflict with his penetrating wisdom or to be a player in considerably refining the country’s political culture. But even those who did not vote for Gašparovič to stay in Slovakia’s White House for a second five-year term must have hoped that he would at least maintain some dignity for the institution of the presidency.
In an incident after the ice hockey match that Slovakia lost to Russia, Gašparovič did his best to bury any such expectation. “Don’t get in my way here,” Gašparovič told Prime Minister Iveta Radičová as he elbowed in front of an elevator at Bratislava’s hockey stadium, as described by Radičová’s adviser, Marian Baláž, to the Sme daily.
When Radičová spontaneously objected, Gašparovič’s reported response was, “I am angry because we lost”. Gašparovič’s spokesman was quick to explain to the media that the president meant it as a joke, adding that “it was absolutely witty”. When asked by Sme whether he plans to apologise, Gašparovič said that the person who invented the story should do so. Then First Lady Silvia Gašparovičová explained that it was only a “kind of Canadian joke” and that the president sometimes does that to her as well, adding that the atmosphere is different at a sporting event. Perhaps such a rationalisation would have at least given reason to smile if the president had elbowed an old-time buddy who could have pushed him back.
No one expects politicians to stop being human; it is only that they really should work much harder on developing better judgment and manners.
Radičová will face a much more difficult challenge than Gašparovič’s lack of manners when parliament votes by secret ballot on the next general prosecutor. The Constitutional Court ruled on April 20 that the rights of general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka were violated during two parliamentary votes late last year when MPs disclosed how they had voted by photographing their ballots or openly declaring who they had voted for. The court invalidated the results of votes held on December 2 and December 7.
The prime minister, despite the efforts of the ruling coalition to make the forthcoming vote public and recorded, has declared that it will again be secret, based on the court’s ruling, and that MPs will receive no instructions on how to vote. At the same time she restated that she will resign if Trnka returns to one of the most powerful positions in the country. The first time she issued this warning at least four coalition MPs voted with the opposition Smer party, pushing Radičová existentially close to facing the consequences of her words.
The parties of the ruling coalition have very little in the way of real guarantees that four or five of their MPs might not be capable of telling Radičová to “get out of the way”. Radičová raised the stakes very high when she hinged her future as prime minister on Trnka and now there is no way for her to go back.
“Will the government fall?” is being asked more frequently these days and even those who profess to have some faith in MPs’ responsibility to those who sent them to parliament – the voters – are no longer giving their “no” with resounding certainty.
The prime minister faces the question: Is it worth risking the government and the likely return of Robert Fico to power over the position of general prosecutor? Trnka made it easier for the prime minister to argue vigorously for his departure when he let off steam in a TV interview early in 2011 and made pejorative and derogatory comments about several elected officials. Trnka told a parliamentary committee on May 5 that the 38-minute interview had been manipulatively edited.
His crude television performance could have been a momentary lapse of judgement, of course, but the prime minister has even more compelling reasons to insist that Trnka does not again become general prosecutor.
And hopefully that handful of MPs who might still be tempted to vote for him will understand that, whatever they might see as their short-term benefits, such a vote will take a heavy toll not only on the faith of those voters who ushered in the governing coalition but on the perception of Slovak politics in general.