Slovakia: Hm

Last month I posted about the elections in Slovakia. Robert Fico’s “Smer” party — leftish nationalist-populists — had beaten the center-right technocrats.

Well, Fico and Smer have formed a government. And it’s… interesting.

They chose two coalition partners: the right-wing hyper-nationalist, vaguely racist Slovak Nationalist Party (SNS), and the aging ex-Communists of Vladimir Meciar’s HZDS. (You may remember Meciar as the sort of Milosevic/Lukashenko wannabe from the ’90s.)

This is a rather creepy combination. It is rather, well, nationalist socialist. The xenophobic SNS is best known for making hateful statements about Hungarians and Roma and is also associated with anti-Semitism and homophobia. The HZDS is a bunch of sleazy ex-Communists best known for looting state assets under Meciar.

They’re not exactly natural allies, either. HZDS and Smer can get along okay — Fico is in some ways a younger, smarter, slicker Meciar — but SNS is really a party of the far right. (Which is why, a month ago, I thought they were the least likely partner for Smer. D’oh.)

The combination has attracted some attention. The European Socialists have already suspended Smer’s membership (by a vote of 32 countries to 2 — the two being Slovakia and the Czechs). EUS leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said that the presence of SNS in Slovakia’s government was “unacceptable”. Meanwhile the US has said that, while it accepts the results of the election and recognizes the new government, it will be “watching”. And the European People’s Party (of the EU Parliament) has created an informal committee to “monitor” the new Slovak government.

So. Is this as bad as all that?

Maybe not. Here’s one positive aspect: Fico and Smer are unquestionably in charge. Although they hold only 60% of the government’s seats (50 out of 85), they hold 11 of the 16 cabinet positions, and all but one (justice) of the five most important ministries. Meciar and Jan Slota, the SNS leader, are being kept firmly out of power. And on all major issues so far, the government is taking Fico’s position, not anyone else’s.

The most positive interpretation is that Fico chose these two parties /because/ they’re marginal and skeevy. He’s their only remote hope of having any power at all. They need him much, much more than he needs them. He can push them around, and there’s not much they can do about it. If this is correct, then he’s buying power for himself and stability for his government at the cost of some international respectability — a bargain that, from his point of view, makes a lot of sense.

That’s the positive interpretation. It’s possible to be a lot less upbeat. We now have an EU country governed in part by a party whose leader (Slota) has made statements like these:

“Hungarians are the cancer of the Slovak nation. Without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation”
“Jozef Tiso is one of the great sons of the Slovak nation.” (Tiso was the leader of the Slovak Axis puppet state during WWII. Under him, 60,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps. He was executed as a war criminal in 1946.)
“We are negativist only in saying that parasites have to be eliminated, and parasites are simply those who don’t want to work, and the fact that among those people are 95% of all Gypsies is just reality.”
“The best policy for [Gypsies] is a long whip in a small yard.”

Under the circumstances, it’s surprising how little attention this has generated. I think this says something about the standards that new members are being held to, as opposed to old.

But anyway. Now we all get to wait and see.

22 thoughts on “Slovakia: Hm

  1. Just deleted a comment, from an American white supremacist who seemed to think the liberals were “introducing” diversity into Slovakia.

    I very rarely delete comments. What tipped me was that he couldn’t spell “Slovakia”.

    Doug M.

  2. So how far is Slota from Haider?

    It may be the EU learned that formal sanctions are not so productive, while raising the heat in general on the government is.

  3. My impression is that, in rhetoric at least, Slota is well to the right of Haider. That’s why I’m a bit surprised at the lack of reaction.

    On the other hand, it’s Slovakia.

    Doug M.

  4. Politics sometimes produces strange bedfellows. But looking back at your prior posting, I cannot see why Fico chose SNS rather than the ethnic Hungarians for his coalition partner – both SNS and the Hungarian party have the same number of seats and therefore each one is just as good, so to speak.

  5. My tentative hypothesis is that SNS is easier to push around.

    The Hungarians would want to be treated with a certain amount of respect. SNS… at some level, they know they’re pariahs. They consistently get around 10%-12% of the vote, but they have, shall we say, strong negatives. Lots of people in Slovakia hate and despise them, and the international community… well, we’ve seen the response there. SNS is lucky to be in government at all, and they know it.

    Supporting evidence: Fico has been able to get their support for just three lousy ministries (education, construction and environment). The Hungarians, with fewer seats, got four ministries out of the previous government.

    Doug M.

  6. My tentative hypothesis is that SNS is easier to push around.

    The Hungarians would want to be treated with a certain amount of respect. SNS… at some level, they know they’re pariahs. They consistently get around 10%-12% of the vote, but they have, shall we say, strong negatives. Lots of people in Slovakia hate and despise them, and the international community, well, we’ve seen the response there. SNS is lucky to be in government at all, and they know it.

    Supporting evidence: Fico has been able to get their support for just three lousy ministries (education, construction and environment). The Hungarians, with fewer seats, got four ministries out of the previous government.

    Doug M.

  7. I guess Fico really knows the score 🙂
    (If you’re not in the United States, you probably won’t get that joke).

  8. “They’re not exactly natural allies, either. HZDS and Smer can get along okay — Fico is in some ways a younger, smarter, slicker Meciar — but SNS is really a party of the far right. (Which is why, a month ago, I thought they were the least likely partner for Smer. D’oh.)”

    I think you are mistaken. Your main problem is in your thinking “racism = extreme right = opposite of the left”. Actually SNS is just as leftist as Smer, especially in economic areas. They get along very well since Smer isnt exactly liberal either and noone in Slovakia was surprised (dissapointed, but not susprised) that SNS made it into the goverment. They are very much compatible.

    And the fact the Fico chose SNS and HZDS because it gives him more power isnt exactly a “positive interpretation”, its downright scary.

  9. Re Slota vs Haider.

    I guess when you see a German-speaking nationalist, and from Austria to boot, its always scary. On the other hand a nationalist from Slovakia, thats just awkward. Or pathetic. In this case, both.

  10. Knowing the local situation I can share the reasons why Slovaks support SNS and Slota. The Hungarians still didn’t get rid off the idea of the great hungary. Believe me when I say, they are situations when a director of school in one of the southern regions in Slovakia pushes students to learn in hungarian language ONLY. Not giving an option to choose between Slovak and Hungarian language. My friends I’ve been discussing this and similar kinds of issues a lot with Slovaks. And my feeling is that Slovaks don’t have any PR. So in case they are pushed, you obviously wouldn’t get to know about it. Hungarians, in the oppposite, they have build a strong community which aims for getting a positive discrimination for their minority. The conslusion is following: see the things from both sides.

  11. Re: Goerge I dont know…

    Lemuel, my opinion is based on staying in southern Slovakia. Yes, the most popular seems to be SNS in the north, but that is the region with Slovak roots. Despite the fact of south regions consisting of >50% Hungarians.
    I believe there has to be NO positive discrimination, cause this kind of decree will always produce negative side effects.

    I’ve had the same opinion as you, before I faced the propaganda – printed maps “”big hungary” and other stupidities with southern part of Slovakia called “Felvidek”. Btw. take a look at http://www.felvidek.ma/ and you will realize… A shame you don’t understand hungarian.

    Yeah, Slovakia is a complicated country…

  12. Having the local civil service multilingual is a great boon for the Hungarians (and the local Slovaks). I assume that this is the case because that is only natural in an area were you have >50% and so i don’t see any need for any positive discrimination

  13. Knowing the local situation I can share the reasons why Slovaks support SNS and Slota.

    Eh. SNS got about 11% of the vote. That’s less than (for instance) anti-Hungarian nationalist Vadim Tudor gets in Romania.

    And, as noted, Slota’s support seems to be strongest in areas where there are /few/ Hungarians.

    Greater Hungary is dead. Yeah, doofus Hungarian nationalists will be peddling maps and singing “Nem, Nem, Shoha” for the next five hundred years. So?

    I can buy a map of Greater Armenia that stretches from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, including much of modern Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iraq, and about a third of modern Turkey and. Does that mean Armenia is an imminent danger to Turkey?

    Come /on/.

    I swear, sometimes it seems the best friends of idiot nationalists are other idiot nationalists. “They’d slit all our throats if they could! Look, here’s a map!”

    Then Lemuel:

    the fact the Fico chose SNS and HZDS because it gives him more power isnt exactly a “positive interpretation”, its downright scary.

    All politicians want power, or they wouldn’t be in politics. A key question is whether they only want power, or whether they also want to do things with it.

    I think it’s positive because it’s not Fico thinking, mmm, these guys, they’re good guys… I like these guys… they’re my friends. No, he’s treating them as total tools. If they have to be in government, then that’s the least bad way.

    My suspicion — and, okay, my hope — is that Fico will allow the partners a certain amount of barking and yapping and acting out, but will keep them far from the levers of real power, and will not enact any of their policies unless it suits him.

    This won’t be pleasant, but it could be much worse. Pause to imagine a Fico who liked and respected his partners, and who gave Slota and Meciar cabinet positions and listened carefully to them.

    Doug M.

  14. Meanwhile, here’s a question for our Slovak readers.

    In Romania, the Hungarian party has been part of every government since 1996.

    This is probably a good thing for Romania. However, it’s probably not so good for the Hungarians. The party has grown really fat and stagnant. So much so, that a lot of Hungarians are really sick of it.

    There was a movement before the last election to create a new, breakaway Hungarian party. But the majority party succesfully suppressed it. Partly this is because Romania has a 5% minimum threshold for representation in Parliament, and the Hungarians are only about 9% of the population. So splitting the ticket could easily result in *no* Hungarians getting into Parliament. At the end, the Hungarian minority sighed and went with the devil they knew. But the result is that the party continues to become even more complacent and stagnant.

    So, my question: how is the Hungarian party in Slovakia handling its time out of power? I gather the Christian Democrats (the fourth small party) are in some disarray, but what are the Hungarians up to?

    Doug M.

  15. Doug, is there also an ethnic German party in Romania?

    I seem to remember reading a profile of a mayor of a medium-ish city in Transylvania who was bringing the classic German virtues to bear on the job. He’d been re-elected twice, I think, and he ran on the ticket of this German party, which was drawing far more votes than there were actual ethnic Germans in the area. It was interesting that the German party had come to stand for something other than just ethnic attachment. So I’m wondering if this is a purely local phenomenon, or if there is actually a German party that’s more widely active. And if there is, how they’re doing given that there are so few Germans left in Romania.

    (Also interesting that the Albanian minority in Macedonia can support at least two parliamentary parties, while the Hungarian minority in Romania can’t. A function of proportions, sure, but still interesting. Are there multiple Hungarian parties at local or regional levels in areas with larger Hungarian shares of the population? After all, if the Antall government taught us anything back in the day [and I’m not all that sure that it did], it’s that “We are all Hungarians” only gets you so far as a party platform.)

  16. Doug, is there also an ethnic German party in Romania?

    Not really, no. There simply aren’t enough Germans left. They are less than 0.5% of the population now.

    I seem to remember reading a profile of a mayor of a medium-ish city in Transylvania

    Klaus Johannis, Mayor of Sibiu. Which used to be a German city. Even there, Germans are less than 5% of the population now. But Johannis has been a great success as Mayor, and he won re-election in a landslide.

    I’m wondering if this is a purely local phenomenon, or if there is actually a German party that’s more widely active.

    Local. There is a German party, which calls itself something like the “Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania”. And it does claim to be nationwide. But in national elections, it never gets more than 1% of the vote. In fact, I think Johannis is its only big-town Mayor.

    There is one German in the lower house of Parliament, because all recognized ethnic minorities are guaranteed one seat. There are about fifteen of these. Of all the ethnic minority groups, only one — the Hungarians — is big enough to have more seats than that one. (Though the Roma probably could, if they ever got their act together.) Hungarians and Roma excepted, all the minority groups together are less than 2% of the population. However, the minority members make up about 5% of the ~300-strong Chamber of Deputies.

    Interesting aside: it’s the ~15 minority members — the German, the Albanian, the Serb, the Greek, the Jew, the Turk and so forth — who provide the swing votes for the current government, which has a very narrow parliamentary majority. So, formal minority rights are fairly well protected in Romania.

    However, this recently led the government into deep waters, when the Hungarians plus the other minority members proposed a new, expanded bill of minority rights. Tudor’s party went into spasms of nationalist outrage, and the rest of the opposition jumped on the bandwagon… even though, when they were in government (2000-2004), they’d been tolerably supportive of minority rights, and had included the Hungarians in the ruling coalition.

    Also interesting that the Albanian minority in Macedonia can support at least two parliamentary parties, while the Hungarian minority in Romania can’t. A function of proportions, sure, but still interesting.

    I’m not sure it’s a function of proportions. There may be cultural and historic roots for this. One, the split seems to reflect the division between peacemakers and warmongers back in 2001-2. Oversimplification, but I think that’s part of it. And two, it does seem like Albanian politics are naturally fissiparous, while the Hungarian minorities seem to be pretty well organized.

    Final point: I think that having one party represent a large minority is probably a bad thing in the long run. Though it may be a less-bad solution, if the alternative is that minority getting no representation at all.

    Doug M.

  17. I was going to say that statistically speaking there are no Germans in Romania anymore, but that didn’t sound very nice. Thanks for filling me in on the one-per-minority seat. Any chance of the Szekely agitating for one on the grounds that they are not Magyar?

    Klaus Johannis, yes, I remember now. Interesting case.

    Agree with the final point. Though it’s not unlikely that a one-party situation will produce factional in-fighting. If there’s something like competitive primaries, the effect may be similar to two-party or multi-party systems.

  18. “All politicians want power, or they wouldn’t be in politics. A key question is whether they only want power, or whether they also want to do things with it.”

    Exactly. I am really scared what Fico might do with it. He certainly doesnt have the Chinatown mentality to do “as little as possible”.

    “how is the Hungarian party in Slovakia handling its time out of power?”

    The fact that the Hungarians have been in power since 1998 has been the main, in fact the only campaign slogan of the SNS with the “its time to get them out” slogan added for the less sharp voters. But the Hungarians have remained surprisingly scandal-free when compared with others. And they seem to be happy together, no threat of splitting or internal strife. Anyway, after they so shamlessly threw themselves at Fico in hope of keeping the SNS out of power, unsuccesfully, they dont seem to have any regrets about it – unlike the Christian Democrats, who as you mentioned, are still confused over the fact that morality and politics dont go together.

  19. Smer also takes full responsibility should things go wrong. I see he is backtracking on campaign promises that got him elected.

    Fico should understand that it is the Meciar voters who parked their votes with him, as a result in part of the boycott organised by the usual meddling outsiders. If he disappoints his voters he will find that these voters will turn to Meciar again. Remember that Meciar’s government was really the best one ever. They had record growth rates that Dzurinda could not touch, and they didn’t give away Slovakia’s assets at fire sale prices, unlike Dzurinda. That, of course, is why the boycott was organised.

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