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EDITORIAL

Mesmerised by their own reflections

POLITICS can easily serve as a pool for the would-be Narcissus to marvel at his own image. Along with the opportunity to exercise real power, this is what draws him into politics: the power of his image and the ‘love’ he thinks it will arouse. But what makes politics different from Greek mythology is the fact that the poses and gestures of the political Narcissus have a real impact.

POLITICS can easily serve as a pool for the would-be Narcissus to marvel at his own image. Along with the opportunity to exercise real power, this is what draws him into politics: the power of his image and the ‘love’ he thinks it will arouse. But what makes politics different from Greek mythology is the fact that the poses and gestures of the political Narcissus have a real impact.

There is a type of politician who will never accept that politics is not about how cool and brave they appear in the roles they play for their loyal supporters, but about the consequences their decisions bring for all of society. But when they pine away and sink into political oblivion it is society that has to live with the consequences they leave behind.

Politics should not be about politicians’ euphoria over what they regard as brave decisions but about the cold reality of their consequences. Politics should not be just an adrenalin-sport with a minor headache the morning after, followed by the possibility of another ride 12 hours later.

Slovakia saw its centre-right pro-reform government collapse on October 11, after one of its members, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), refused to vote for the extension of the eurozone bailout mechanism.

Since Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, following several failed attempts to reach a compromise with SaS, made the issue a vote of confidence in her cabinet, SaS’ failure to support her led to the fall of the government.

Slovakia did vote for the bailout, but with the help of Smer boss Robert Fico. What is the price for Fico’s helping hand? The bill has already been delivered: early elections in March 2012.

Perhaps those who contributed to the fall of the current government should ask the judges who were brave enough to call for more transparency and were hoping for reforms to breathe fresh air into courtrooms how much they appreciate this liberal face-saving exercise.

Robert Fico is not known for his passion for judicial reform and now the doors are wide open for him to return to government: in recent opinion surveys his Smer party has consistently polled around 40 percent.

They should perhaps also ask the businesses that have invested in Slovakia whether they are willing to contribute to the bill for this hefty publicity stunt, given the prospect of yet another revision to the Labour Code or a full stop to reforms designed to bring more transparency to public procurement.

There is always more at stake than Facebook entries inflated by self-importance and responses from virtual groups proclaiming “Good job, boys!” Not all of Slovakia is on Facebook and people live their real lives outside the simulacra of internet communication. The decisions the next government makes will affect them more than any ‘cool’ political poses by now-marginalised political parties.

It is likely that even Fico, that grand master of populism, was taken aback by the sudden opportunity he was given to return to power – his bombastic statements predicting that the right-wing coalition would never be mature enough to rule the country notwithstanding. His sponsors are now starting their engines and lining up for state orders.

Where does the hope lie in all this? Perhaps with those who do not turn their back on the coalition parties, but more carefully consider who is worthy of their trust. This is not any easy undertaking. Part of the paradox is that Slovakia is in urgent need of new faces in politics, ones that are not burdened by the old Mečiar-style of ruling. But during this government the new faces used their matches to set the whole house on fire instead of lighting candles to bring more light. Some of them are still clapping their hands as though they have witnessed an amazing and entertaining bonfire, arguing that the accelerant was put out there by someone else, not them.

Some critics of SaS now comfort themselves that the party might just have dug its own grave. But for anyone who voted for the centre-right parties in Slovakia this will come as cold comfort, as they see their hopes fading away too.

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