AGITATED men in suits fighting over a cardboard cutout of Prime Minister Robert Fico wearing a green soccer uniform; dozens of empty liquor bottles in a parliamentary trash can with journalists chasing ruling party deputies who refuse to undergo breathalyser tests; and a half-empty discussion hall. This is the Slovak parliament’s latest performance.
Some people might have found the skirmish over Fico’s effigy entertaining. Perhaps there were voters who got a good laugh from leader of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities group (OĽaNO) Igor Matovič, who suffers from excessive political exhibitionism, or his colleague Jozef Viskupič, who allegedly ended up in the hands of the parliamentary emergency medical facility after an altercation with five Smer deputies, who, Viskupič says, smelled of alcohol.
But this kind of entertainment might prove rather expensive, since Slovak deputies are paid approximately three times the average Slovak monthly salary, plus bonuses for representing the interests of their voters. It is unlikely that fighting and boozing are listed in their job description.
But perhaps the parliamentary debate over what Daniel Lipšic, the leader of the non-parliamentary NOVA party, called the “largest corruption, financial and economic scandal in the history of Slovakia”, reveals more about the state of Slovakia’s politics than even in-depth analyses would.
Petty, meaningless fights, this time over a life-sized cutout of Fico, instigated by people incapable of containing their egos, overshadowed the merit of the debate, which was largely ignored by the person it actually concerned the most: Robert Fico. He even used the failed no-confidence motion to serve Smer voters another dose of populist rhetoric, telling them that he would happily face a vote to sack him every week if it lowered household gas prices.
Would the sympathy of his voters diminish if the opposition’s claims that the deal, which Fico says will keep gas bills low, was masterminded by the very financial group that is to sell its stake in the major gas utility to the state, were true? Sadly, developments around the purchase of the 49-percent stake in Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) from the Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH) will have no considerable impact on how the hardcore Fico voter feels.
It only deepens the despair over the state of Slovak politics for those who would never vote for Fico and would have never voted for Slovakia’s former three-time prime minister, Vladimír Mečiar, who at times pushed Slovakia to the verge of international isolation. One wonders to what degree the image of parliament is a reflection of the nation? What pressure would it take to make the parties more cautious when picking people for their list of candidates?
How can the voters trust that their parliamentary representatives are working in their best interest, if accusations of excessive boozing are flying around and the speaker of parliament is unwilling to investigate them?
In response to OĽaNO’s Matovič inviting the press for a peak into a trash can filled with empty bottles of alcohol which he claimed were from Smer’s deputy faction, Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška told the Sme daily that he does not intend to investigate whether the deputies were intoxicated, arguing deputies are not regular employees.
“Parliament is not a factory where you come in the morning and punch [your time card],” Paška told Sme, adding he is not entitled to make deputies take breathalyser tests.
Well, the deputies are employed and paid by the public. They were hired after elections and they should indeed live up to an even higher ethical and social standard than regular employees.
If people thought that drunkenness in parliament would simply disappear with the departure of Ján Slota, they were wrong. There is also much irony in Slota’s former party, the Slovak National Party (SNS), releasing in the paid section of a newswire a statement calling on parliamentary political parties to “start behaving in a dignified way”.
“I am not a gossip girl but I would be able to talk about opposition politicians who were crawling here on their knees,” Fico said when contributing to the discussion on parliamentary boozing.
Indeed, parliamentary no-confidence motions in Slovakia have often degenerated into a theatre of the absurd, leaving many ministers who should have been shown the door in place. However, this time the theatre was a tragedy telling the real story of Slovakia’s politics.
23. Sep 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová