Andrej Danko stands in front of a television screen, watching Robert Fico as he demands the resignation of his ministerial nominee. For many, including Danko, that picture will remain the symbol of a summer in which the government almost fell apart.
The gravity of the situation lies in the fact that the “almost” in the previous sentence might very soon become superfluous.
The story of the picture is one every journalist would like to tell as their own: reporters from the Týždeň weekly were interviewing Danko at the very moment that his coalition partner Fico announced he wanted Education Minister Peter Plavčan to resign because of suspicions over the distribution of EU funds. They witnessed live Danko’s immediate reaction to Fico’s words, which were relayed via a TV in the room.
“He betrayed me. He only tightened the trap that he set for us,” Danko says, in Týždeň’s account, as the interview draws to an end, with Fico announcing in the background that Danko’s own minister must resign. It then ends abruptly with Danko saying “I need time”.
And he did take his time: first he spent four days beyond the reach of cameras and dictaphones with his family. Even after he was expected back, he did not exactly rush to talk to his partners.
Slovakia is still waiting to see if time really can heal the rupture that, almost without warning, tore apart the fragile relationships binding the ruling coalition.
“Perhaps I expected more understanding [from people] that it is not easy to be in a government with Robert Fico,” Danko said in his interview with Týždeň, shortly before he became living proof that it is indeed not easy to be Fico’s ally. If there is one thing that observers agree on these days, it’s that Fico wiped the floor with Danko after the latter completely over-reached.
Fico, and the third coalition partner, Béla Bugár (who comes out of this performance pretty well, by giving the impression of being the rational antithesis of Danko throughout the show), have been in politics for so long they might as well have been born there. Danko, on the other hand, is still a new arrival and has not given the voters – or his partners – any reason to think he is much more than a hopeless greenhorn. He now seems to recognise that, calling for “elementary respect” between coalition partners.
Another thing that is apparent from the interview he gave to Týždeň, as well as from the long press briefing he held in response to Fico’s call for Plavčan’s resignation, is that the nationalists in the SNS still remember the first Fico government. At that time, in the wake of a particularly egregious CO2 emissions trading scandal at the SNS-controlled Environment Ministry, Fico got angry and took the ministry away from the SNS, which was then headed by Ján Slota.
Slota is no longer an SNS member (after Danko kicked him out) and the party claims it has changed and has little to do with its previous, scandalous self, but it is apparent that the bitterness remains. And Danko and the people around him remain alert to it in their dealings with Fico.
“I have been through a life experience that teaches me that in some situations one must act differently,” Danko told journalists on August 17, before he said he would leave for a few days and contemplate if he should stay in politics at all.
This time last year, polls ranked Danko as the country’s most popular politician, and he did not hesitate to admit he was aiming for the prime ministerial position. He was perceived as a rising star, despite his rhetorical clumsiness. But with a series of communication errors, particularly about his military rank and his office’s practice of opening MPs’ letters, his upward path quickly turned into a downward spiral. It remains to be seen if he will take the government with him.
23. Aug 2017 at 13:48 | Michaela Terenzani