A reflection of reality

Like it or not, this is where Slovakia stands in 2016 – and the government reflects that.

The cabinet met for the first time this week. It is already possible to see the best and the worst of how they will likely operate.The cabinet met for the first time this week. It is already possible to see the best and the worst of how they will likely operate. (Source: TASR)

Though it is not popular to say so the current coalition government was the best case scenario for Slovakia. As a group, the four parties involved are an accurate reflection where the country is right now. In a post election scenario where voters gave no indication of what direction they want the country to move, this represents the status quo and offers relative stability through the EU presidency in the latter half of the year, while marginalising extremist and erratic elements elsewhere in parliament. 

Smer is a political machine capable of getting things done, a moderated Slovak National Party (SNS) reflects the sort of conservatism common in rural parts of the country, Sieť is vaguely pro-capitalist and mirrors positions held by the Bratislava elite, while Most-Híd represents one of the country’s biggest minority groups. Few people find this setup ideal, and how these groups can work together is an open question – but the mix is representative of Slovakia.  

As the government’s work gets underway, the cabinet met for the first time this week, it is already possible to see the best and the worst of how they will likely operate – occasionally at the same time.  

Health Minister Tomáš Drucker, a Smer nominee, has shown early positive signs that the government will look to reform a system that is consistently among the top public concerns in opinion polling. Drucker has already cancelled an €18 million contract that was shadily signed in the days between the election and the new government taking office. In an even bigger change, Monika Pažinková is out as the director of the Health Care Surveillance Authority (ÚDZS) – an inspectorate meant to keep tabs on the health sector but widely seen as complicit in the corruption of recent years. 

This is a pleasant surprise given Drucker is a Smer nominee and Smer has had a major hand in corrupting the country’s health care system. It is likely to have been part of the coalition deal. Because that deal remains secret this is pure speculation, but the same deal very well may include promises that former friends of Smer like Pažinková will not be prosecuted for wrongdoing. This is an imperfect arrangement, but could yet lead to improved transparency in the future.  

At the same time, such moves also shed light on the kind of backroom dealing that is necessary to keep this government together. There are other examples too, even in these early days. 

Last year a court ruled that the city of Martin owed a developer some €8.4 million for a real estate deal gone bad. At the time, Mayor Andrej Hrnčiar (also deputy chair of Sieť) asked the national government to help foot the bill, which was left over from a previous mayoral administration. Given the huge sum involved and the fact that Martin’s current leadership was not responsible for the original problem, this seemed reasonable.  

However, Prime Minister Robert Fico refused and accused Hrnčiar of playing a “game… with the public”. And yet now that Sieť is part of the government the money has begun to flow, with €2.5 million in financial assistance so far. In short, when Hrnčiar and Sieť were viewed as a threat they got nothing – the fates of Martin and its residents secondary – but now that they are part of the government they get help.  

Much like a decision to look the other way on past theft in the health-care sector, this is a clear example of politics trumping principles. Though such dealings can lead to small successes, too many is the very thing that disgusts voters and risks pushing even more of them to non-traditional parties, including the extremist People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS). 

Though outside of the government it is impossible to ignore the ĽSNS. In a sign that they are unlikely to take attempts at marginalisation quietly, one ĽSNS member showed up to his parliamentary swearing in ceremony with a gun. The very same day party leader Marian Kotleba unilaterally censored a theatre performance in his home region of Banská Bystrica (By the way, why did the performers listen to him?).  

More recently, ĽSNS member Milan Mazurek was appointed to parliament’s human rights committee. On paper a neo-Nazi being charged with monitoring human rights looks like a problem, but such fears are predicated on the assumption that the committee was actually looking out for human rights to begin with. Any number of incidents over the years, most prominently the repeated refusal to move troubling reports of rights violations brought by Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová, are an indication they didn’t. Like it or not, this is where Slovakia stands in 2016 – and the government reflects that.

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