>Slovakia: It’s politics, but not as we know it, Jim…

> Colleagues specializing in Slovak politics have been reflecting on the Slovakia’s new populist/nationalist/sort-of-Social Democrat coalition. Most are dispirited and rather shocked without necessarily seeing developments as an automatic re-run of the Mečiar period , despite the structural similarities in the coalition (dominant party with charismatic leader – this time Smer’s Robert Fico – with two much weaker and more radical partners).

Despite the equivocations and divisions of the Slovak Christian Democrats (KDH) over whether they wanted to work with Fico – still tearing the KDH leadership apart according to the Slovak press – it seems that Fico wasn’t that keen on working with them or indeed anyone else in the outgoing centre-right coalition. A majority coalition with the Hungarian minority party and the rump of Mečiar’s HZDS was apparently an option, but Fico’s Smer seem very rapidly to have opted to work with HZDS and the extreme Slovak National Party instead, who are more economically anti-market and probably more controllable as neither has anywhere to go (except into marginal opposition).

As Karen Henderson suggests (Sme 28 June 2006) CEE politics constitutes a kind of parallel universe – there are Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and liberals in familiar kind of settings, but politics is as they say in Star Trek “not as we know it Jim”. For her a Czech style liberal-Social Democrat coalition – burying the hatchet after knocking six bells out of each other in the election – or indeed a German style Christian Democrat/Social Democrat coalition is preferable and still possible if and when HZDS and SNS start misbehaving.

The problem is that in the Czech and German politics Grand Coalitions or left-right power sharing are a pis aller, rather than an option of choice. In Slovakia, there are too many options and Robert Fico seems to have gone for a different one. As she notes in a forthcoming briefing for the Sussex European Institute, parties are divided into three blocs: nationalist-populist camp (SNS, HZDS), a ‘social democratic’ left inclined to a rather brute economic populism (Smer) and a centre-right camp with the usual division between liberals (SDKÚ, ANO, Free Forum) and conservatives/Christian Democrats (KDH). In Czechia the former – represented by the Communists – is less nationalist and (economics aside) less populist – and excluded from the political game. The Social Democrats – despite Paroubek’s admiration for Fico – and some old left concerns about globalization and multi-national capital do not need (or want?) to play at being rampant populists defending the people against the elite (a line more typical of the Czech right and its disparagement of liberal intellectual elites).

Karen also noted Fico’s performance in a first TV interview as PM, where he responded to criticism from the Party of European Socialist by suggesting that he was being targeted by the vested interests of multi-national companies – working though the PES, one presumes. I watched this on the net. It was indeed a rambling performance even by the less than high standards of the region and from the body language and style it was hard not to think of him as a younger Mečiar

As Karen’s newspaper article notes, he does have other coalition options, but the question Tim Haughton asked in 2002 as Fico started his political ascent still seems open. We still don’t know if he is a man to be trusted or feared.

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