THE CAMPAIGN machines of the parties are now marching across the country, hoping to win the support of anyone still willing to listen to any politician after the waves of disillusionment that have washed over so many Slovaks. The first wave came with the collapse of the centre-right government last October when the EU bailout vote killed the hopes of many citizens to see initiatives such as Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská’s efforts to sweep the cobwebs of secrecy from the judiciary come to full fruition.
Then Gorilla emerged from the jungle, with alleged wiretap transcripts showing high-level political corruption in 2005-6 that suggests that what voters thought could only be a storyteller’s exaggeration of how deals are done in Slovakia might actually be quite close to the truth.
If there are still some voters left who are willing to show up at campaign festivities for something other than a free beer or simply to actually see a live politician, then they really should not expect to hear anything they have not been promised in past campaigns.
The majority population is still better off than Slovakia’s minorities who during the “heat of the campaign” are the easiest targets for populist politicians who suddenly offer a myriad of “logical and radical” solutions to “solve the problem” which surely cannot be objectively fixed just before the elections.
The deputy prime minister for human rights and national minorities, Rudolf Chmel, has called on the parties to not serve up Roma citizens as scapegoats for society’s problems, speaking out against what he called “sponging on the poverty of the Roma community” not only by nationalist parties but also by parties that say they believe in democracy and liberalism.
Irena Bihariová of People Against Racism, a Roma rights group, told The Slovak Spectator that she was disappointed that the campaigns of mainstream parties are touching on minority issues under the guise of cutting social benefits.
“I consider it highly populist and misleading; first because they do not tell the majority voters that such measures will affect them as well, not only Roma citizens, and secondly because it will not solve the main problem that Slovakia has 400,000 unemployed and only about 9,000 jobs,” Bihariová said.
Many hope that this year’s campaign will not sink as low as the 2010 billboards erected up by Ján Slota’s Slovak National Party (SNS). They featured a large, bare-chested Roma man with the caption: “So that we do not feed those who do not want to work”. In truth, the man’s photo had been digitally altered by adding tattoos and a thick gold chain around his neck to better fit the SNS’ conception of Roma.
Anna Belousovová, Slota’s former deputy, who now is campaigning for her own Nation and Justice party, insisted then that the billboard was not racist while stating that those who “siphon the most off the social system are the Gypsies”.
So it came as no surprise that Belousovová showed up recently in Zlaté Moravce, where relations between Roma and non-Roma residents have been tense since a public brawl erupted earlier in the year that put eight residents in hospital.
Belousovová, who went to the town as the head of parliament’s human rights committee, a nomination that still puzzles many, told the media that “if it was a racist attack on the part of the Gypsies, it needs to be treated as such”. But surely with Belousovová’s SNS baggage, she could not be the right person to calm community tensions or find out what caused the incident.
As an indicator of how sweet the honey of such incidents is to extremists, the outlawed far-right Slovenská Pospolitosť group has now put the town on its activity map and plans a hate rally.
A court ruling finding that the primary school in Šarišské Michaľany discriminated against its Roma students by putting them in segregated classrooms has also brought bigoted comments from politicians which are surely connected to the fact that it is campaign time.
Problems within Roma communities must be addressed without slogans that are an easy sell in times of economic uncertainty.
Resisting the temptation to serve up Roma citizens as scapegoats for the real problems faced by society is what will create the dividing line in this year’s campaign between political responsibility and naked electioneering.