IF 2011 has taught us one thing, it is that nothing should be ever taken for granted in politics. Anyone who thought twelve months ago that the country was set to walk the road of common, everyday politics, free of major turbulence given that it had a pro-reform centre-right government with four ruling parties who claimed to share each other’s values, has had a rude awakening.
The country is now wrapping up the year with a caretaker government and with the nation facing early elections in March 2012.
At the end of last year, an Institute for Public Affairs survey suggested that there was less public perception of tension in social and economic areas. Market watchers talked about the country firmly taking the road of economic recovery and transparency watchdogs welcomed the justice minister’s drive to open up the judicial and prosecution systems. Observers hoped for a more balanced relationship with Slovakia’s southern neighbour, Hungary, and assumed that the State Citizenship Act, which currently strips Slovaks of their passports if they acquire the citizenship of another state, would be de-fanged.
But in just a couple of months the rosy predictions have evaporated, making way for gloomy predictions about a difficult year ahead. Some superstitious people might blame the bleak mood on the Mayan Calendar, which predicts that the world will end in 2012, but others argue that there would have been more hope if the country’s ruling politicians had handled the trust of at least half Slovakia’s voters, with which they were endowed just last year, with rather more care. Even readers of The Slovak Spectator will end the year with some unanswered questions.
Will, for example, the next government continue to pull back the curtains and let more light into the murkier corners of Slovakia’s courts and prosecutors’ offices? Or, on the contrary, will they suffocate the current reform initiatives, thereby helping those judges who have long since abandoned their integrity, allowing them to go on lowering the public’s trust in the system?
It is hard to say if Smer leader Robert Fico – who had no objections when his former ruling coalition partner, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), nominated Štefan Harabin as justice minister, only for him later to return to his current commanding position as head of the Supreme Court – will keep the reform initiatives alive if he wins the March race, or if he will suffocate them with a single nod to the army of Smer deputies who invariably vote any way the boss commands.
The fate of judicial reform and transparency issues will be one of the crucial indicators of what price the country has to pay for the fall of the current government, but the bill will come due only after the first results of the vote flow in.
The neurotic financial markets and the slowing economies of Slovakia’s largest trading partners make it even more obvious that any party which treats the crucial eurozone debate as a publicity gimmick will cause more harm than good with their easy-to-sell slogans.
As this issue of The Slovak Spectator goes to print, one of the largest enterprises in the country has already announced that it will switch to crisis mode in January, at the same time reducing the length of its working week. Yet Slovakia still hopes for the mildest possible economic scenario, with the stakes raised even higher when it comes to the ability to practise fiscal discipline during the next government.
Next year will be the year of elections and undoubtedly another round of belt-tightening, hopefully more so for the state administration than the population. If parliamentary elections were matchmaking, in which the would-be bride posts an ad, the text would perhaps read: Reliable, economic, honest and intelligent government wanted. Good temper with strong inclination to respect human rights and transparency strongly preferred. Egomaniacs, adventurers and abusive machos need not apply. Clean criminal record a must.
It is hard to say if people would be able to write their own advert for the next government if asked, or whether they will always just pick the same old faces, who for some reason appeal to them or who know the right words to say. Perhaps 2012 will bring a more fortunate turn for the voter and more responsibility for those who are chosen to lead the country – this time for more than just a year.
19. Dec 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová