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EDITORIAL

One hundred days of solitude in power

POST-ELECTION scenarios in Slovakia start with a prelude which is performed regardless of the genetics of the government coming to power. It consists of criticism of the previous government, ranging from official press releases about wasted state funds, through fiery press conferences offering catastrophic scenarios that would have taken place if there had been no change in government, to shocking revelations of what the new managers have discovered at mismanaged departments.

POST-ELECTION scenarios in Slovakia start with a prelude which is performed regardless of the genetics of the government coming to power. It consists of criticism of the previous government, ranging from official press releases about wasted state funds, through fiery press conferences offering catastrophic scenarios that would have taken place if there had been no change in government, to shocking revelations of what the new managers have discovered at mismanaged departments.

Of course, depending on the cast, the script is sometimes based on reality and sometimes on an ‘alternative reality’ that the new rulers want the public to believe so that it is easier to sell their power play. If the population is made to believe that the new government took over the country in a ruinous condition – this is Fico’s first instinct – then it is less likely that the blame for austerity measures (at least those that cannot be made to look nicer by wrapping them in political demagoguery) will fall wholly on those who just have taken over the country. Of course such an approach is tempered by the statements of outgoing ministers, who invariably say that they are passing on a fully maintained vehicle with a well-oiled motor.

Next, with almost no interval, come the sackings – a sort of crucial interlude between the prelude and the main work – which usually take place on a massive scale and reveal the misery of the country’s system of political nominations. If there were non-partisan professionals in many of these revolving posts in the state administration then it would not make sense to replace them – and of course they might perform considerably better than their present incumbents. But of course if that were the case then the government would lose its main opportunity to award party loyalists.

The fate of Ľuboš Lopatka, who was the highest ranking official appointed under the government of Iveta Radičová to survive the large-scale public administration reshuffle that took place after the change of government earlier this year but who has now been pushed to the point where he sees no other option but to resign, is a clear demonstration of how the system works. Lopatka decided to quit his job as the head of the national social security provider, Sociálna Poisťovňa, after he learned that he was going to be forced to reappoint as local SP branch chiefs the very same managers he had sacked less than two years ago – simply because Labour Minister Ján Richter said that there was “an interest to see them come back”.

Given the peremptory way in which the Fico government cut short the supposedly five-year term of the director of Radio and Television of Slovakia, Miloslava Zemková – who was not herself an openly political appointee – somewhat spoils the first 100 days of the government, at least as far as its approach to nominations to public positions is concerned.

Smer started its unprecedented period of one-party rule with a pretty straightforward declaration that it would abolish the flat-tax. This was at least consistent with its pre-election promises, albeit little comfort to those who cherished the 19-percent tax rate. As an international business person admitted recently, most of his peers are not really 19-percent flat-tax freaks; what really freaks them out is that they still do not see any guarantee that if they pour more money down the throat of the state, much of it will not end up being diverted, via various murky routes, into private wallets. The government has announced some anti-corruption promises but the public will obviously have to wait a little longer than those 100 post-election days before they are fulfilled.

The government’s tactics remain to repeat to voters that the time has arrived when the rich – foremost among them, those greedy multinational corporations – will be squeezed to demonstrate more ‘solidarity’ with the poor and carry a greater share of the massive burden of austerity measures. What about the middle class? So far the government has not given any very clear answers on this, other than to hint that those in the middle are actually rich enough to carry the austerity burden along with the super-rich.

The most significant changes floated so far are to the ever-trembling second pension pillar, with which Smer is trying to mend the leaking ship of the state-run social insurer. Since most Smer voters have presumably lost track of all the modifications that have been made to the country's pension system, something which is considerably more difficult to comprehend than statements about taking money from rich corporations, the party need not fear any penetrating questions about the long-term sustainability of pensions in Slovakia.

What about the first 100 days of opposition? Well, perhaps once the opposition parties heal their election wounds, resolve their internal spats and figure out what they actually represent in opposition, then Fico’s days in politics will not be so lonely – or shared mostly by his buddies.

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