Catharsis or a Headache? Parliamentary elections in Slovakia
March 9, 2012 - Kazimierz Popławski - Articles and Commentary
The fast-approaching early parliamentary elections in Slovakia will bring changes on the political scene and along with it either a national catharsis or a huge headache. Everything will be decided on the March 10th.
For several months, the current Slovakian government has been low on luck. In the autumn of 2011, as a result of rejecting the proposal to increase the country’s participation (from 4.4 billion euros to 7.1 billion) in the European Financial Stability Fund, the government of Iveta Radičova collapsed, the parliament was dissolved and early elections were announced. On top of this, a huge political scandal broke out earlier this year, when journalist Tom Nicholson published secret documents of the Slovak security agency (SIS) under the pseudonym “Gorilla”. These files contained analyses of corruptive dealings between businessmen and politicians, and the affair involves leading figures of Slovakian politics, including the current Foreign Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Were it not for the approaching elections, the January revelations, which, after all, concern events from 2006, would have fizzled out. But this coincidence is definitely favourable for the largest opposition party – the left-wing Smer (Direction–Social Democracy), for which the polls predict a 40 per cent support. The party’s leader, Robert Fico, is almost certain of becoming the next prime minister.
The affair also helped the newly established populist parties – Ordinary People of Igor Matovič (7 per cent support) and the “99%” party (polling at 3% per cent support). These two parties are the main stars of the current election campaign, although it may turn out that the “99%” party will vanish as fast as it appeared, killed by its own bullet. The party based its campaign on the slogans of fighting corruption and vested interests, but it turned out that on its register documents, there allegations of false signatures.
Nevertheless, comparing the political programmes of the parties, we should expect that a populist government will be formed.
The polls predict that the ruling Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKU) of Dzurinda and Radičova, supported by just four per cent of the voters, will not even be represented in the next Slovakian parliament, dealing a painful blow for Dzurinda, who has long been one of the main actors of Slovakian politics.
Mráz verzus hnev
It is not only the political elites who are aware that this shock therapy will bring the Slovakian society either a catharsis or a huge headache. The Gorilla affair awakened the apathetic Slovaks from their slumber. A page called “Kauza Gorila” (Gorilla Cause) was quickly created on the Facebook and protests were organised. The action “mráz versus hnev” (cold versus anger) attracted thousands of protesters both in Bratislava and in smaller cities. The participants of the protests turned up at the main squares in order to express their dissatisfaction and frustration with the current political situation.
The organisers of the protests announced that the demonstrations will continue until Election Day and so far they have kept their promise, but the last stretch of this marathon of discontent is getting tiring. The anti-political protests have lost their significance within a matter of weeks, with many Slovaks believing that the matter has been publicised enough.
The organisers of the protests also gained a reputation of being naïve idealists rather than genuine leaders. Many believe that that those in charge of protests were accidental – being at the right place at the right time. “Let’s create a document in Google Docs where every Slovak will be able to put forward his or her ideas for reform,” one of the protest leaders proposed at a February meeting in Bratislava.
In fact, the movement has not put forward any ideas but rather utopian slogans about changing the political and economic system whereby “people who are competent in something” will be responsible for that “something” and money will be replaced by a barter system. This revolution was to be exported to the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, etc. But it seems that it quickly will be forgotten after the Saturday elections. The social capital it has generated will most likely fade away.
In the first weeks of the protests some commentators compared the popular unrest to the Arab Spring but Jaroslav Daniška, a columnist writing for the conservative weekly Týždeň, finds only one similarity. “The Anti-Gorilla Movement wanted to change politics and it did, from bad to worse! The emergence of the new populist parties on the political scene makes Robert Fico and his party the lesser evil.”
Nevertheless, the protests will clearly have an impact on the election results. Smer and the new populist parties will gain and the SDKU, hardest hit by the revelations contained in the “Gorilla” files, will be ousted from parliament.
Hope for change
Although the protests are fading, you can still sense a mood for change in the system. Slovaks are hoping that politicians return to the path of transparency and European standards of democracy. The amount of attention given to the corruption scandal clearly illustrated this desire for change. During the debate on the “Gorilla” files held in the popular Bratislava club KC Dunaj, the author of the whole “commotion” Tom Nicholson sat opposite the head of the national police corps, Jaroslav Spišiak and the room was filled with young people.
Interestingly, at the meeting of the protest organisers mentioned above, the average age of the participants was about 40-50 years, while the debate in KC Dunaj was attended by twenty-year-olds. One may wonder about the reasons for this reversal of the roles – the middle-aged became revolutionaries, while the younger people sat down for a peaceful debate?
The main issue discussed at the debate was why the files were released so late and basically only one reason was identified – a defective system, in which neither the security services nor the prosecutors have any motivation to reveal irregularities. Exposing an affair often means acting against ones own interests, for prosecutors or secret services officials are largely nominated by politicians. As the police chief Spišiak said, “Some things you don’t talk about, you just do them”.
Let’s hope that Slovakia’s elections will be the first step towards changes for the better.
Kazimierz Popławski is a graduate in International Relations from Warsaw University and specialises in Central and Eastern European affairs.