BACK in 1998 there was hardly a week without Vladimír Mečiar, the then prime minister, dominating the news either personally or indirectly through reactions to his controversial tenure and its colourful tapestry of cronyism, corruption, abduction, human rights violations and worse.
Fifteen years later, it appears to be difficult to find anything out about the whereabouts of the man who in the mid 1990s pushed Slovakia to the brink of international isolation. It was the Sme daily which on September 26 ran a front page story telling its readers that it has actually been 15 years since Mečiar was shown the door by voters. Although at the time the boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) actually won the elections, he was not able to form a government and, thus, power went to a coalition of anti-Mečiar parties.
Before anyone suggests that perhaps the fact that nobody really cares what Mečiar, who grew tired of losing elections and seeing his party slip into political oblivion, is doing these days is a good sign for Slovakia, perhaps one should remember that the three-term prime minister might simply be enjoying his lavish properties and possessions, the origins of which he has never been able to properly explain.
Sme reported that the Office for the Fight Against Organised Crime has wrapped up its inquiry into the origins of Mečiar’s property, finding nothing illegal.
Mečiar moved into the reconstructed Elektra villa in Trenčianske Teplice back in 1999, while the local media reported the bill for his new home at around Sk40 million (€1.1 million), with Mečiar becoming increasingly edgy whenever journalists brought up the issue. So much so, that in 2002 the former prime minister tried to punch a television reporter, who asked him where he got the money to pay for his sprawling Elektra, while using obscene language. Before the national elections in 2002, he offered the public the explanation that he got the loan from a Swiss businessman, adding that he would pay the loan back.
While Mečiar deposited his own party into the political scrap heap, there is a whole army of politicians, public officials and deputies who carry on the heritage his rule has established. Those who rule still tend to pay for political loyalty with state jobs, and hire cousins, nieces, brothers and sisters for attractive jobs. Even those who are caught doing this remain glued to their seats while parliament is seemingly powerless to remove them.
Mečiar’s style of politics has often been likened to that of a steamroller because of the way he treated his political opponents in or outside parliament. Is the ruling Smer party really treating its bold majority in parliament any differently from this when, for example, scheduling a no-confidence motion, initiated by the opposition to discuss a key energy deal involving the state and a lot of money, for late at night, even as its leaders mostly ignore the accompanying debate?
Hasn’t the way Smer handled nominations to crucial oversight bodies or the appointment of the new general prosecutor instilled the public with a nasty sense of déja vu that suggests much more of the steamroller style has survived than people realise?
Mečiar, at times unknowingly, united his political opponents - conservatives, liberals, leftists and ethnic Hungarians. Some of these politicians are still around.
Some, unfortunately, have also since fallen victim to the Mečiar spirit and were infected by the idea that their tenure in power or leadership should last forever, and that in order to keep this influence, sacrificing some of the principles they swore to respect was allowed, or even necessary. In doing so they have failed to nourish a healthy generation of politicians who are ready to take over and sweep out these ghosts of the past.
30. Sep 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová