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EDITORIAL

Leaving in silence

“MAY GOD be with you; I am leaving you; I have not hurt any of you.” So crooned soon-to-be ex-prime minister Vladimír Mečiar in 1998, giving a pathetic good-bye wave on national television after being voted out of office in that year’s decisive general election. Though Mečiar said he was leaving, no one really believed that he would give up the prospect of power. Yet many said he should have done so had he wanted to preserve some of the political myths that were attached to him: in particular ‘father of the nation’, the epithet that his apple-polishers liked to apply to him and of which he too was rather fond.

“MAY GOD be with you; I am leaving you; I have not hurt any of you.” So crooned soon-to-be ex-prime minister Vladimír Mečiar in 1998, giving a pathetic good-bye wave on national television after being voted out of office in that year’s decisive general election. Though Mečiar said he was leaving, no one really believed that he would give up the prospect of power. Yet many said he should have done so had he wanted to preserve some of the political myths that were attached to him: in particular ‘father of the nation’, the epithet that his apple-polishers liked to apply to him and of which he too was rather fond.

Now, following his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia’s (HZDS) dismal result of less than 1 percent in the March general election, Mečiar has announced he is quitting. There must be very few who now doubt that this time it is for real. Once the country’s leading political force – in 1994 it won nearly 35 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections – the HZDS is now a washed-up irrelevance.

After the 2010 parliamentary elections, in which Mečiar’s party received 4.32 percent of the vote and thus failed to clear the 5-percent threshold needed to win seats, Mečiar continued to fake some political activity. His party’s press department, for instance, adopted the habit of sending out simulated interviews with the boss in which he suggested that he held the key to solving various social and political ills, despite clear evidence that he did not even hold the key to getting his own party into parliament.

Mečiar had turned into a political hologram, a kind of three-dimensional image that simulated presence and influence in the political arena. But actually he had been absent for some time.

Ironically, for all the noise he once made, Mečiar is leaving in relative silence. Just as the pundits are diligently analysing the programme of Robert Fico’s single-party administration, which boasts an approval rating of over 40 percent, few editorials, analyses or long interviews are seeking to assess the role Mečiar played in the post-revolution history of Slovakia, despite his obvious significance. It is simply that he missed the chance to leave politics at a time when any substantial part of society still cared what he was saying or why.

Nonetheless, there are several active politicians who owe their career to the existence of Mečiar, the authoritarian democrat or the democratic autocrat, a person who somehow got stuck half-way on the transition from totalitarianism to freedom, the type of politician that only a society on its way from communism to democracy could have produced.

Mečiar’s erstwhile sidekick Ivan Gašparovič, for one, would hardly have become president in 2004 if the nation had not been confronted with a choice between him and Mečiar, whom a large majority did not want see return to power.

For years, anti-Mečiarism was a unifying force for some opposition parties and in some sense also the cradle of Mikuláš Dzurinda’s political career. Indeed, earlier this year Dzurinda was forced to reject comparisons between the fate of his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), which has seen its support tumble over the past year, and that of the HZDS.

There is still one aspect in which time is on Mečiar’s side: some of the controversies that surrounded him seem to be fading from the public’s memory. But of course the media should still point these out despite Mečiar’s political toothlessness.

Under the entry for the Mečiar era there should always appear such items as the suspected involvement of his government in the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr, the son of the former president; the murder of police go-between Róbert Remiáš on April 29, 1996; the controversial amnesties that Mečiar granted to protect unknown perpetrators involved in the case of the abduction; the period of ‘wild’ privatisation in which people close to Mečiar made fortunes overnight; and the abuse of the country’s intelligence agencies to harass journalists and political opponents.

Mečiar himself, being completely resistant to self-reflection, has not demonstrated much remorse for the way he wielded power between 1993 and 1998, and if there is any service he can provide for future generations of Slovak leaders, then it is as an example of all that can go wrong with a politician.

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