Testing the Teflon

A year after the Bašternák case began, nothing seem to be sticking to the interior minister. Yet.

Protests against Kaliňák, summer 2016.Protests against Kaliňák, summer 2016. (Source: Gabriel Kuchta)

“Not even Lexa faced an onslaught like Kaliňák now does.”

When Culture Minister Marek Maďarič, a member of the governing Smer party, said this about his fellow cabinet member Robert Kaliňák during a live debate organised a few days ago by the Denník N daily, one could even detect in his tone a sense of genuine sympathy for the interior minister. In fact, Maďarič went on to admit that if he were in Kaliňák’s shoes, he would already have quit.

It is unorthodox, to say the least, for a ruling politician to compare himself or his peers to the notorious Mečiar-era spy chief Ivan Lexa, who faced charges for nothing less than ordering the kidnapping of the then-president’s son. Kaliňák will probably not thank his colleague Maďarič for this comparison.

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But, unlike Maďarič, Kaliňák is not giving in, despite the allegations – never satisfactorily addressed – surrounding him in connection with the now infamous Bašternák case that he has; despite the student-organised protest by thousands in the streets of Bratislava; and apparently despite even the latest accusations that he illegally ordered the major reconstruction of a building for Bratislava’s long-awaited client service centre without running a public tender first, after his ministry had legally, but questionably, rented it without a preceding public tender.

Kaliňák is made of harder stuff than Maďarič, it would seem. Or if not harder, than definitely more persistent and more slippery: this is a truly Teflon-coated minister.

In Slovakia, every time a politician faces accusations of misconduct and fails to explain them but also refuses to step down, commentators usually sigh about the lack of political culture in the country, some attributing it to the immaturity of Slovak democracy, others simply claiming that politicians are too arrogant and too self-righteous to act otherwise.

Yet it is not like nobody has ever resigned, even for things that seem like petty mistakes compared to the claims that Kaliňák has been facing for a year now. This goes for Smer politicians too. We do not need to go into the CT-scanner scandal that brought down Smer’s second strongest man, Pavol Paška, who was speaker of parliament at the time.

In 2015, Pavol Pavlis who served for a short time as the economy minister in Robert Fico’s Smer-only second government, resigned after it turned out his ministry had hired the company of his brother-in-law for cleaning services. We should note that this does not appear to have disqualified him from public office: Pavlis ran for parliament on Smer’s slate last year again and was subsequently appointed by the current government to lead the public measurements office.

Cleaning services also ended the ministerial career of Smer’s first defence minister, František Kašický, who quit in 2008 but later went on to become Slovakia’s envoy to NATO.

For now, let us recall these ministerial fails from Smer, which after all runs the kitchen, rather than pointing fingers at its opponents, as Fico routinely does when he ‘defends’ his minister by pointing to the alleged failings of the parties now in opposition.

As any chef knows, Teflon pans come in various qualities. With cheap ones, the non-stick is sure to start failing pretty quickly; with proper Teflon pans that cost you a lot the effect can last for years. But even the finest coating will eventually decay, when subjected to enough abuse, or sufficiently rigorous cleaning. And the longer the owner takes to replace the pan, the more dirt will stick.

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