It is the silly season in Slovakia.
If it was the cucumber season, as the slow news period over the summer is referred to in Slovak, we would now be staring at pictures of Peter Sagan on the front pages of the national newspapers, with feature stories from unusual holiday locations plus how-to articles on ways to avoid madness when your air conditioner breaks down.
But it is the silly season. Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko must recently have learned the term that the British use for the slow news season, and interpreted it, as he often does, in his own way. Out of the blue, he announced that he no longer believes in the coalition agreement and wrote a letter to his partners, Mr Fico and Mr Bugár, telling them that, as of September 1, the coalition agreement is void.
The question of the week is: why? Not even the top politicians from Danko’s Slovak National Party (SNS) were able to give any clear answer on Monday, when Danko sent his break-up letter. Since then, there has been talk of Danko having taken offence at his treatment by some people at the Government Office, or of the SNS not being treated well by its coalition partners (Danko: “This is not how I imagined effective government”).
Many commentators and analysts have sought to intuit the real reason why Danko made his move.
The most straightforward answer is that he is trying to cover up the scandal at the Education Ministry, an area gifted to the SNS by the coalition agreement. In fact, the scandal has acquired monstrous dimensions over the four weeks since it first appeared in the press, and not only the Slovak police but also the European Commission are now looking into the ministry’s distribution of almost €600 million from EU funds earmarked for science and research.
But the truth is that while many citizens of Slovakia, in the midst of their holidays, are likely to care very little about the complicated allegations reported in the press, a coalition crisis has the power to attract the attention of even hardened holidaymakers. So if Danko’s aim really was to bury a scandal at one of his ministries, he fully deserves to be branded ‘a political amateur’ (as political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov has called him in an interview with the Sme daily).
Probably the most frequently voiced answer is that Danko is trying to grab more power for himself and for his party within the coalition, where Smer holds the reins as the senior partner. Statements by SNS politicians suggest Danko does not wish to leave the coalition altogether and leave Fico and Bugár to their fate, thereby forcing them to seek support for the government from other parties in the parliament; instead, he merely wants to redefine the rules for cooperation between the three parties in the coalition.
In this scenario, Danko would appear to be the raging teenager who comes home and tears an important document to pieces. The coalition talks that are set to continue on Friday are taking place behind closed doors, and we can only imagine the parents in this metaphor, Fico and Bugár, trying to talk sense into their unruly charge. After their first round of talks, it seems that they will find a way to put the coalition back together – perhaps by agreeing to a different division of power in the regions, or by dropping a minister or two (including Education Minister Plavčan?) from the current cabinet.
However, some of the wilder guesses among commentators suggest that Danko might actually be aiming to bring the government down, in order to trigger early elections. They argue his party is losing support and might want to recast the political scene altogether. But elections now are not widely seen as a probable outcome as they would go against the interests of all the coalition parties. Simply put, no reasonable politician of the ruling coalition could possibly wish for an early poll at this point.
But Danko has not made a reputation for himself by being a predictable or reasonable politician.
And it’s the silly season, after all.