Dilemmas over a pile of dung

ANOTHER pile of dung has been thrown to further spoil political discourse in Slovakia. If some voters wish it was already March 11, the day after the elections, then it might not be because they are excited with the prospect of a new government most likely led by Robert Fico but because they hope that the election campaigning that has been eating away at any remaining faith they have in the integrity of their politicians will finally be over.

ANOTHER pile of dung has been thrown to further spoil political discourse in Slovakia. If some voters wish it was already March 11, the day after the elections, then it might not be because they are excited with the prospect of a new government most likely led by Robert Fico but because they hope that the election campaigning that has been eating away at any remaining faith they have in the integrity of their politicians will finally be over.

Richard Sulík, who two years ago was selling his Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party with the slogan “I am not handsome but I play fair” invited Marián Kočner, who has surfaced in various controversies in the past two decades, to screen some of the candidates for his party. Sulík also kept Kočner, said to be on friendly terms with former general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka, updated about decision-making within the ruling coalition as parliament prepared to choose either Trnka’s successor or return him to the post for seven more years.

Sulík was also covertly recorded in Kočner’s kitchen having a friendly chat and sharing his feelings about what he described as Prime Minister Iveta Radičová’s changing attitudes and mentioning that his party would be willing to support a government headed by Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš. When Radičová’s centre-right government collapsed after Sulík and other deputies from SaS failed to support the government in a confidence vote tied to support for the European bailout fund, the SaS deputies posed with posters in the chamber declaring they fully supported Radičová. How genuine was this?

Sulík has said he regrets his meetings with Kočner. And SaS has threatened to sue Kočner, denying the claims he has made about the party. But politicians who maintain contacts and use the ‘little services’ from controversial figures are tilling the soil for this whole subculture of unofficial ‘advisors’ who resurface more actively from time to time but always seem to be present no matter who heads the government. It is the citizens who come out as losers in these ‘transactions’ because the vote they entrusted to someone who they hoped would be a carrier of change evaporates into thin air or perhaps one might say into the underworld.

It can be expected that votes invested in the 99 Percent party this month will similarly evaporate. The party is a textbook example of how to brainwash frustrated voters by repeating simple populist slogans and declaring that it represents the ‘99 percent’. The slogan is not even original since it was coined by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US. But during its brief time on Slovakia’s political stage, 99 Percent has achieved some firsts: it ran an illegal campaign in the broadcast media according to Slovakia’s Licensing Council and now its petition to qualify for the election is being scrutinised by the police for forgeries.

The police examined 200 names which were reported as fakes by one of the persons collecting signatures and determined that they were all fraudulent, the SITA newswire reported. The main sponsor of 99 Percent, Ivan Weiss, responded that the petition sheets must have been manipulated and added that people who signed the party’s petition might feel intimidated by the police.

One does not need to be a political analyst to know that this is a very bad takeoff for a party that claims it will bring new, more transparent politics to Slovakia and says it wants to force the Gorillas, now a synonym in Slovakia for corrupt politicians, from their positions of power.

Many citizens are carefully considering their voting options: to cast their ballot for parties that have badly missed a chance for self-reflection, with leaders dragging them toward the political graveyard, or to give their vote to one of the parties that has not yet been fingered in any covert document suggesting corruption but risk that they have only succumbed to a campaign gimmick? Should they stay home and apathetically watch the return of a politician they really do not wish to see heading the country? Should they hope that even if that politician returns he will pick political partners other than nationalists or buffoons?

Those are tough questions. Though politicians claim they have some answers for the real problems facing the country, the truth is that their credibility has sunk disgustingly low as the country's citizens prepare to go to the ballot box.

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