Victim or clown?

In characteristic fashion, Igor Matovič may be felled by his own hubris - but still manage to make himself look like the victim.

OĽaNO-NOVA leader Igor MatovičOĽaNO-NOVA leader Igor Matovič (Source: Sme)

In its recent story about student-organised anti-corruption protests in Slovakia, the New York Times described opposition OĽaNO leader Igor Matovič as “a member of Slovakia’s Parliament whose small party was formed seven years ago to combat corruption”.

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Leaving aside the fact that “small” OĽaNO won the third largest number of seats in last year’s election, that plucky image is not quite how most Slovaks would characterise the relentlessly self-publicising Matovič. What no one can deny is that Matovič sure knows how to make a lot of noise. The way that this previously unknown businessman, who used editorials in the advertising freesheets his firm distributed to Slovak households to catapult himself into national politics, illustrates this well enough. After securing the last four places – i.e. typically, the no-hopers’ slots – on the 150-candidate slate of the then-greenhorn Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, he used his weekly opinion pieces to get himself and three allies into parliament in 2010 based on preference votes – an unprecedented achievement. Those same four MPs, with Matovič the undoubted star, proceeded to found their own ‘movement’, which has remained a fixture on the Slovak political scene ever since – again, no mean achievement.

Read also: Will Matovič leave parliament? Read more 

Over seven years, Matovič has inserted himself into nearly every controversy that has emerged in Slovak politics. For instance, has has accused the prime minister and his wife of having millions in a bank account in Belize – but then failed to provide any of the evidence he promised; and he has helped to destroy the political (and very possibly, nascent judicial) career of one-time presidential contender Radoslav Procházka by secretly recording their conversations.

So to characterise Matovič as an “anti-corruption fighter” does not really do justice to this very colourful politician.

But a politician he is, whatever he may claim as he stands proudly on the castle hill, against blue skies and the white parliament, in a smart black coat and trademark everyman jeans (as the New York Times chose to depict him).

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He has certainly been tireless at pointing fingers at other politicians, from across the spectrum, and accusing them of corruption and lack of transparency. Just last week he and his party colleagues revealed that parliamentary officials have been opening, reading and withholding MPs’ mail, supposedly for security reasons. He blames the speaker, a key figure in the governing coalition.

In keeping with his rebellious image, Matovič now faces being only the second MP in modern Slovak history to be stripped of his parliamentary mandate. The previous ejectee, František Gaulieder, lost his seat in the 1990s in a move that was later ruled unlawful by the Constitutional Court but marked a significant moment in Slovakia’s Mečiar-era flirtation with authoritarian government.

Unfortunately for Matovič, his case is very different from Gaulieder’s. As one veteran of the Mečiar era, journalist Marián Leško, pointed out in an opinion piece for the Trend weekly, no one has helped put Matovič in this predicament more than Matovič himself. For some unfathomable reason, he made the mistake of having his business licence active while he was an MP – not once, but twice. Is that enough of a reason to expel him from parliament? Strictly speaking, it is – although no one seems to be arguing that he actually did any business while an MP. At the end of the day, it will be up to his fellow MPs to decide if he deserves leniency or not.

So now, after seven years of grandstanding, buffoonery, non-conformism, and generally acting the big-mouth, enfant terrible of Slovak politics, Matovič is facing what is basically unprecedented in Slovak politics. Smer, which has been building the case against him through the media – and employing underhand tactics involving police investigations and leaked tax documents to which it has privileged access – faces its own dilemma: should it force the expulsion from parliament of one of its noisiest critics (and in the process lend Matovič more fuel for his own self-stoked fire of victimhood), or make the whole issue go away more or less silently and deny Matovič another reason to point his accusing finger?

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