UNLESS the democratic community is unified in its approach towards leaders who like to make their own odd interpretations of universal human rights, these leaders will always find ways to garner symbolic support and tell their citizens that they have legitimate contacts in the international community.
“If they do not want us in the West we will go to the East,” is how past prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, who thankfully has now been consigned to political oblivion, responded in the mid 1990s to Slovakia's international isolation, a consequence of his undemocratic practices and cronyism.
This is why Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič, Mečiar’s onetime right-hand man, should have joined his Austrian, Bulgarian, Czech, German, Hungarian, Estonian, Latvian, Montenegrin, Italian and Slovenian counterparts and straight away refused to attend the proposed Yalta summit of central and eastern European presidents. These other countries – some more explicitly than others – boycotted the summit over Ukraine’s treatment of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
While Gašparovič is right that dialogue with Ukraine should not die, he failed to give an answer to the rest of the issue: when, with whom, how and under what conditions should such dialogue continue. To comfortably navigate in such sensitive areas the person who does so should be the bearer of the utmost democratic values as they seek to convince an autocrat to respect democratic values and human rights. Otherwise, the dialogue turns into only a festivity of empty gestures that can be easily abused by an autocrat.
There is no doubt that Gašparovič’s competitor in the 2009 presidential election, Iveta Radičová, would have been in a much better position to keep dialogue ongoing with Ukraine without spoiling joint international efforts. Shortly before Gašparovič was wriggling around on the Yalta summit, Radičová announced her departure from the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and all future politics, even though speculation about her return as a 2014 presidential candidate remains alive.
Without doubt her statement that she is “done with politics for good” reflects her deep disappointment with the partisan politics that have nearly strangled public discourse in Slovakia.
Radičová, however, has not hidden her intention to influence public discourse and told the media that her departure from the political scene does not mean she has become apolitical and promised that she will continue to speak out on public issues.
“I have been partisan only once – in the SDKÚ; my position as a party-affiliated person ends now,” Radičová stated on May 4, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
But a recent meeting between Radičová and Daniel Lipšic, the deputy chair of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), or rather some information published by the media, stirred the political waters and led Lipšic to deny that he had offered Radičová a post in what the media called a new party that Lipšic might form.
Nevertheless, Lipšic did confirm that he and Radičová agreed that the current situation on the right is quite bad, while noting, symptomatically, that the parties continue to quarrel. Both also commented that the parties on the right need a strong vision to recapture the public’s attention. Both the KDH and the SDKÚ pressed the two individuals for clearer answers about their future intentions. Lipšic said he would decide by the end of May; Radičová seems to have set her course.
Even though “what if” questions take one into the swampy land of speculation, the temptation of imagining what it would be like today if Radičová, the former SDKÚ deputy chair, had replaced Gašparovič in 2009 is just too strong to resist. He is the president who, for instance, has refused to appoint Josef Čentéš after parliament chose him as general prosecutor. A recent survey conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs found that 90 percent of the legal experts they spoke with do not approve of Gašparovič’s refusal to appoint Čentéš.
The fact is that Slovakia has two more years with its current president. Many hope that Gašparovič will only perform his symbolic functions, read his speeches with his occasional slips of the tongue, and forget about any ambition of making his mark on international playgrounds where he either does not know or ignores the accepted rules of behaviour.