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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

František

JUST because he got elected doesn’t mean I will appoint him, says Ivan Gašparovič in a joke that appeared on Facebook within minutes of the announcement that the Vatican had found a new leader on March 13. Fortunately for Pope Francis (František in Slovak), the Slovak president hasn’t been granted the power to block his instalment. Then again, that didn’t stop him in the case of Jozef Čentéš, who is still waiting to become general prosecutor. But let’s assume the boss of the Holy See will be able to keep the job. He will then be one of just a few Františeks in the recent past to play a prominent role in Slovak public life. And the fate of all of them has somehow been tied to that of Gašparovič.

JUST because he got elected doesn’t mean I will appoint him, says Ivan Gašparovič in a joke that appeared on Facebook within minutes of the announcement that the Vatican had found a new leader on March 13. Fortunately for Pope Francis (František in Slovak), the Slovak president hasn’t been granted the power to block his instalment. Then again, that didn’t stop him in the case of Jozef Čentéš, who is still waiting to become general prosecutor. But let’s assume the boss of the Holy See will be able to keep the job. He will then be one of just a few Františeks in the recent past to play a prominent role in Slovak public life. And the fate of all of them has somehow been tied to that of Gašparovič.

There is František Mikloško, an iconic figure of the anti-communist Catholic dissident movement and a long-term member of parliament for the Christian Democrats. In 2004 Mikloško ran for president, and if it weren’t for his candidacy, Gašparovič would never have become president – Gašparovič made it into the second round only because right-wing vote was split between three candidates. Eduard Kukan, the most successful of them, failed by just 4,000 votes to beat Gašparovič. And Mikloško received nearly 130,000. It was an easy victory for Gašparovič in the second round, where he met his former boss from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the authoritarian former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, who was widely perceived as the greater of two evils. Now, a year ahead of the next presidential election, the fragmented right should take heed of this strategic mistake, which led to a decade of Gašparovič. Sadly, the number of candidates will probably be large again. This time, Mikloško is not running, but he heads the petition committee of another Christian Democratic legend, Ján Čarnogurský.

Then there is František Gaulieder, a former member of the HZDS, who in 1996 left the party and was stripped of his parliamentary mandate as a result. Along with the kidnapping of President Michal Kováč’s son and a marred referendum, the event represents one of the darkest points in the history of independent Slovakia. At the time, Gašparovič was speaker of parliament, and a key figure in the process of ousting Gaulieder. The episode proves that the current president is no novice when it comes to breaching the constitution and that his political career can flourish nonetheless.

And there is also František Šebej. The veteran of conservative politics broke ranks with his OKS party in the fall of 2011 and supported the government of Iveta Radičová. Sadly, it wasn’t enough and early elections not only brought to power Robert Fico and his Smer party, but also gave new self-esteem to the president. After the failed vote of confidence the powers of the president were increased to prevent a power vacuum, and Gašparovič felt confident enough to block Čentéš, which would have been unthinkable had Radičová continued.

No one knows how long Pope František will run the Catholic Church. But we know exactly when Gašparovič’s term expires. Let’s hope that in a year’s time, Slovakia’s nationwide conclave will have a luckier hand than in 2004 and 2009.

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