THOSE with a strong disdain for aggressive Christmas marketing will suffer twice during this holiday season in Slovakia. This Christmastime Santa Claus and happy-faced families appearing on billboards and in television ads are not only selling beverages, high-speed internet connections and mobile phones: they are selling political points of view as well.
The Slovak electorate is already quite weary of political campaigning. People have not had much time to recover from last year’s parliamentary campaign and at least half the population has been struck with a severe case of disillusionment after realising that last year’s campaign slogans about unity and the dawning of a Fico-free era now ring quite hollow.
After the fall of the centre-right coalition, the promises of last year’s billboards being washed away by autumn rain, and Robert Fico again resolutely knocking on the door of political heaven, a large part of the population has become even more cynical about political gimmickry – seeing it as a waste of money when the nation is facing yet another round of belt-tightening.
And some parties and politicians never really stopped campaigning, treating their political careers as non-stop show business. This became far too evident in October when Slovakia prepared to vote on changes to the European bailout system, the particular vote that brought down the government of Iveta Radičová. Many citizens feel as if their government crashed because of a publicity gimmick that simply spiralled out of control.
But the gimmickry is not over yet.
The continuing problems within the eurozone, bringing pressures for tougher fiscal limits for eurozone countries along with the prospect of a new fiscal union that would shift some national autonomy to someplace where Eurosceptics do not want to see it, promise to bring additional doses of campaign insanity.
Combining electioneering with Christmastime means that the population will experience an orgy of political self-promotion. It has already become clear that just like beer ads, most of the political parties will not target viewers’ intellects. Sadly, they are right as a considerable part of the electorate – the core voters of one-man parties or populist groupings – care very little about climate change, education policy or even the details of the country’s pension system.
A paltry bonus that politicians regularly throw to pensioners just before Christmas, presenting it as a solution for their low living standards, often works more effectively than an elaborate idea to actually reform the system.
Only very few parties can sink as low as the Slovak National Party (SNS), which through a single billboard weaves a whole tapestry of issues that would repel most rational people from voting for that party. Perhaps fearing that the party’s phobia of advancing Hungarian domination will not be enough in 2012 because some of the nationalist vote could be snagged by other parties playing a strong Eurosceptic tune, Ján Slota added a little extra zest to the SNS campaign. Its billboard features the good Santa Claus, sporting a paramilitary-style armband featuring an SNS logo, giving little packages of money, pensions and education to Slovaks while the Devil, depicted as in old-time cartoons, wears the logos of Smer party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Most-Híd, obviously because of their support for the European bailout legislation.
Of course, given the main political theme of the SNS the Devil could have been depicted as a raging Hungarian – or it could have been even worse, as the party could have seasoned the ad with a pinch of racism as it did before the 2010 elections. Surely, many hope that Santa Claus will truly be generous to the nation and keep Slota and the SNS from getting a pass to parliament next year.
Smer has tuned its billboards more “positively” with one featuring the slogan “Let’s stick together not only during Christmastime” reminding one of mobile phone ad campaigns that encourage people to keep talking to their family members. Smer quickly noted that it does not consider its billboards to be political campaigning but rather as a demonstration of its “human attitude”. Obviously, Smer is getting ready to enter government next year, with recent polls indicating that the party might not even need to spend much money on dull billboards, though doubtless it will.
The SDKÚ has so far been using sentiments from the Velvet Revolution in its billboards but the party has suggested that it will soon “bless” the population with some billboards tuned to the holiday season as well. The centre-right parties have a much tougher sales job than Smer or the SNS since it is unlikely that their voters would respond to primitive devils or nationalistic Santas. But the right-wing parties will have to somehow convince voters that if another Fico-and-Slota-free government miraculously emerges in 2012, they will actually be capable of keeping it alive for at least four years.
12. Dec 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová