EDITORIAL

A race to the bottom

WHILE most politicians are destined to slip into political oblivion, there are always some who manage to sear their names into the long-term memory of the public by getting involved in the kind of dark or comic episodes that their more able or more honourable colleagues avoid. When foreign media outlets attempt to characterise Vladimír Mečiar, they invariably mention that he was the three-time Slovak prime minister who drove his country to the verge of international isolation in the 1990s, and during whose term the son of his arch-foe President Michal Kováč was abducted with – allegedly – the involvement of the state intelligence service.

WHILE most politicians are destined to slip into political oblivion, there are always some who manage to sear their names into the long-term memory of the public by getting involved in the kind of dark or comic episodes that their more able or more honourable colleagues avoid. When foreign media outlets attempt to characterise Vladimír Mečiar, they invariably mention that he was the three-time Slovak prime minister who drove his country to the verge of international isolation in the 1990s, and during whose term the son of his arch-foe President Michal Kováč was abducted with – allegedly – the involvement of the state intelligence service.

After Mečiar’s party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), was voted out of the parliamentary political arena in 2010, its leader made some feeble attempts to have his voice heard, mostly through paid content distributed via newswire services. Today, no mainstream media outlet asks the 70-year-old Mečiar for his take on politics any more. Not because he is old, but because he has nothing relevant or interesting to say.

It seems that Ján Slota, the notorious leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS), who has spent his career doing his best to debase the national political discourse just as his party has added a series of incontestable trophies to the collection of dubious state deals, is now walking in Mečiar’s footsteps on the road to irrelevance. He stepped down as party chairman on October 6, settling for the post of honorary chairman. “I am not leaving politics,” Slota said as he passed the leadership of the party, which failed to make it into parliament at the general election in March, to Andrej Danko.

Slota’s switch is happening just as those very politicians who once took pride in being seen to play a more dignified political game than him are piling into the public discourse with ‘solutions’ to the Roma community’s problems that sound eerily reminiscent of Slota’s favourite strategy of blaming minorities for all Slovakia’s ills.

Some of them may be more skilled at sugaring their ill-willed proposals with words like discipline, law and order, but they seem to believe that the frustrated masses are still keen to taste Slota’s recipe.
One year after the fall of the government of Iveta Radičová, the right-wing parties are still involved in petty infighting, while at the same time hoping to persuade anyone that will not vote for Robert Fico and his ruling Smer that they can be trusted. They seem to be failing completely at the latter task.

Marking the anniversary of the fall of the Radičová government, Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) MP Radoslav Procházka commented that the right-wing parties have not learned their lesson from that event, the SITA newswire reported. He suggested that one of the lessons the right needs to learn is that a fight pushed to the very limits often ends with the total defeat of both parties. Procházka also suggested that if the parties prefer an ego-driven fight to a joint search for strategic goals, they will continue stumbling from one defeat to another.

The way that Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), led by Richard Sulík, has been contributing to the discourse over growing tensions between the Roma and non-Roma communities shows that his party is now struggling to be remembered for something other than being the trouble-making coalition partner that brought the government down before it could carry out its promised reforms. But with the Roma debate evolving into a race to come up with the harshest solution – one which will resonate with those frustrated citizens who are paying the price for a series of governments that have brushed the problem under the carpet for years – SaS might end up even worse off.

After her cabinet collapsed over Slovakia’s failure to approve changes to the eurozone bailout scheme on October 11, 2011, Radičová announced that she would no longer seek high office or even a seat in parliament. In fact, her withdrawal from politics was an act that is hard to imagine Slovakia’s normal one-man-band politicians, who seem to be glued to their political posts for life, ever taking. She brought some decency into the public discourse and her enduring popularity one year on suggests that she has little need to worry about her legacy. Other politicians would do well to pay heed and note that decency occasionally pays political dividends.

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