>Do Slovak and Czech Christian Democrats have a prayer?


The continuing dominance of Robert Fico’s SMER in Slovak politics – ably tracked and analyzed by Kevin Deegan Krause in the excellent Pozorblog – is aggravating an ongoing crisis of the sundry liberal and Christian parties that held sway amid a blaze oneo-liberal welfare and labour reform between 1998 – 2006. The splits and rivalries, seem basically about personal ambitions and rival personalities, but are punctuated by calls for generational renewal (is there a Slovak Barack Obama in the house?) and seem to also have an ideological/politcal subtext centring on one issue: about how to confront the populist/national-populist left, whose poll ratings and (worringly) dislike of NGOs and desire to heavy-handedly regular the press have uncomfortable echos of the dominance once exercised by Vladimír Mečiar and his HZDS (now seemingly relegated to a bit part in Fico’s coalition government).
The core of the Slovak centre-right is notionally Christian Democratic – there two mainly parties using the tag, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which has roots in the Christian dissidence before 1989, the more (socially) liberal Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), formed as something of a personal vehicle for then Prime Mikuláš Dzurinda, although various neo-liberal technocrats seems to have hitched a ride with KDH too. The woes of the various stripes of Slovak Christian Democrats have interesting echoes in the current travails of the Czech Christian Democrats who, squeezed between powerful free market right and social democratic and communist left, have never had the whip hand in government and never been able to integrate liberal forces to broaden their appeal. The closest they came to a breakthough was in the ill-fated Quad-Coalition (4k) project in 1999-2001 when the two big parties of left and right were cosying up to each other. The exit from poilitics of the adroit Josef Lux in 1998 after being diagnosed with leukaemia (he died in 1999) finished KDU’s prospects of being as much more than a niche party for Catholics in rural regions and confused centrist voters with nowhere to go. Despite good poll rating the fraught 4K project collapsed and split much like the Slovak Democratic Coalition, which indirectly it and spawned Dzurinda’s SDKÚ
There followed faction fighting between more liberal (Bohemian-based) and more conservative (Moravian-based) elements in KDU; consequent frequent changes of leader (none, however, very personally commanding) and the lack of a clear strategy as to what Czech Christian Democrats actually stood for and whether they were of the left, right or centre (a perennial dilemma for small parties in a system with well established large parties) has seen the party’s support dwindle to its core electorate leaving it hovering dangerously over the 5% threshold that spells political oblivion.
The directionlessness of the party was gruesomely illustrated by the sudden initiative of then KDU leader Miroslav Kalousek in 2006 to enter a Social Democrat-led minority coalition government with Communist support (it never materialized – he was sacked after an internal revolt) and its turning in desperation to newly elected Christian Democrat Senator and small town mayor Jiří Čunek, whose staggering popularity in the 2006 Senate election stemmed from expelling local Roma with chronic rent arrears from municipal housing in the town centre and re-locating them in the outskirts of town. Rapidly embroiled in corruption allegations stemming from his mayoral term(s) and squeezed out ministerial office (he was Minister of Local Development), but not the KDU leadership Čunek’s small town populism has proved inadequate to re-launch his party. As highlighted in other posts the Civic Democrats – behind in the polls to the Czech Social Democrats (who, nevertheless, have not reached Fico-like levels of support) – are effectively marking time to see which of their minor allies, the Greens or the Social Democrats, will implode first and which they might somehow absorb to bolster themselves ideologically and electorally.

Ironically, KDU’s long and detailed 2006 election programme, which, rather in the Slovak style, combined neo-liberal fiscal and welfare prescriptions (toned down to suit Czech tastes) as well as the usual social market, family protection, communitarian stuff was widely praised by experts as more realistic and better through through than the Civic Democrats’ shot-in-the-dark version of flat tax-led neo-liberal reform.
And generational renewal? Commentators and politicians in CEE are always harping on about this, but it’s hard to see quite how newer or younger will necessarily mean better. Such comments are, usually a disguised call for in political renewal or cleaner, better, more liberal government – amen to that, but even though there is no primaries system there is ample scope for new parties to emerge or young technocrats to parachute themselves into organizationally weak, elite-led parties. The Slovak experience suggests that many voters don’t want renewal of this kind, but stability. Is the Slovak Barack Obama actually Robert Fico?

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