More offensive oppositional actions expected
The chairman of the opposition SDK, Mikuláš Dzurinda, announced that his party would present a new team of experts in September 2009, indicating that the party is able to cope with the economic crisis. “We want to have stronger influence, because in 1998– 2006 we showed that we could lead Slovakia out of a crisis situation. We pulled Slovakia out of 20-percent unemployment when there was no money in the banks, when the interest rates for small entrepreneurs were reaching astronomical percentages. We feel the responsibility to use our experience” – Mr. Dzurinda said.
The SDKÚ party also announced that on a website it published a list of what it calls the “32 most scandalous cases” under the current ruling coalition that the party says has deprived the state of over EUR 2.65 billion. Mr. Dzurinda said that Prime Minister Robert Fico often accused the opposition of economic treason. But the SDKÚ leader argued that if this term were currently used, then it would apply precisely to the waste of the incumbent government. Dzurinda added that this money could have been spent for social programs, thermal insulation of buildings, and assistance to families or could have been spent on incentives to stimulate the economy at the time of the economic downturn.
If Robert Fico did not mean his statement that Slovak National Party (SNS) chairman Ján Slota has illegally enriched himself while his party is in the governing coalition, he should apologise; if he did mean it, he should kick SNS out of the coalition, said Christian Democrats (KDH) party leader Pavol Hrušovsky. The politician reacted the PM who had said earlier that there were politicians who had illegally enriched themselves while in government but that he lacked evidence to support it. Mr. Fico named his predecessor Mikuláš Dzurinda, former Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš (also from SDKÚ) and Ján Slota, head of the SNS party which is in coalition with Fico’s Smer party. Mr. Dzurinda is attacking the government with similar rhetoric as Mr. Fico.
Analysis and forecast (↑ increasing risk)
Mr. Dzurinda is attacking the government with similar rhetoric as Mr. Fico did before 2006 parliamentary elections when he was in opposition. Populism sounds quite unusual from the former PM, but marks his party’s campaign direction: the aim is to present the scandals mostly related to the coalition partners as cases connected to the whole government, in this way undermining the trust in the PM’s party. EU elections marked that the Smer’s position may be weaker than polled: only 32% voted for the leading governing party when Median’s fresh survey still displays an above 46% support (regarding the 19.6 % turnout, the data should be handled carefully, however the distance between the polled and the EP figures are more than significant).
The opposition probably perceives that worsening economic environment can favour tougher oppositional rhetoric, on the other hand the SDKÚ is trying to position itself as a strong, potentially governing power (e.g.: team of experts). The mentioned three items mark that more offensive oppositional actions are expected which – parallel with the worsening economic factors – can end up in forcing the government to a defensive position.
Source: Median Agency
Hungarian-Slovakian relationship keeps strained
The amendments to the Slovak Language Act stirred controversies from the moment they were proposed. The first notable change to the Act is that Slovak-language location names would have to be used not only in official correspondence but also in other nonprivate areas: media and public announcements. The amendment would also impose a fine ranging from EUR 100 to EUR 5000 on violators.
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) voiced its concerns immediately. They emphasized that such a move would only strain the already tense Hungarian-Slovakian relations, not to mention that an amended act may be regarded as a direct threat to the Hungarian ethnic minority. The party also pointed out that the amended act may contradict the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages signed by the Slovak Republic as well.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also weighed in the debate. In the opinion of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the amendments are discriminative and are against the relevant OSCE norms. According to the organization, the problems will only get more pronounced once the transition to the digital media platform is finished as the digital age will bring significantly more TV and radio channels.
The Slovakian government accepted the proposed amendments on 11 March 2009 and the Parliament voted in favour and approved them for a second debate. The government has taken some of the criticism to heart and during the session of the cultural and press committee they altered the proposal to alleviate SMK’s fears. The amended text still fell short of the Hungarian Coalition’s expectations, calling it only one step in the right direction. This has not deterred the governing coalition and the act was passed in the National Council by a safe majority: out of the 136 MPs present 79 voted in favour of it.
Analysis and forecast (↑ increasing risk)
The debates over the Hungarian-Slovakian affairs will become stronger as the 2010 parliamentary elections draw closer, since the governmental parties regard these topics as mobilizing factors. In all the electoral campaigns in the past this nationalistic behaviour became more pronounced, as seen recently in European elections and the last presidential elections in which Ivan Gašparovič was re-elected for a second 5-year term. All three parties of the governing coalition played the Hungarian card readily when their popularity dipped.
The split of SMK can further complicate the Slovakian-Hungarian relations. Statements from the Hungarian Coalition try to diminish the significance of the new formation (Bridge, founded by former SMK leader, highly popular Béla Bugár), but the expected inter- Hungarian disputes will not help the articulation of Hungarian interests. The governing parties now have a greater chance to pit Hungarian against Hungarian, and splitting their votes can lead to the end of Hungarian representation in the Parliament.
In brief, Hungarian-Slovakian relationship will keep strained for at least a year regardless of cordial joint statements by the leaders of both countries. With Fidesz, the likely winner of the Hungarian parliamentary elections in 2010, chances of a better relationship between the two states are even slimmer. Mr. Fico has accused Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán of stirring revisionist ambitions with his statements several times. This animosity was further fuelled by Mr. Orbán’s statements on the eve of the European elections, which prompted Slovakian political leaders to hold an extraordinary Parliamentary session. The disputed comment in Mr. Orbán’s speech was that “the European elections will decide how many Hungarians will represent the Carpathian Basin”. The adopted resolution rejects the “recurring nationalistic rhetoric of Viktor Orbán and other politicians that incite tensions that could lead to threats to the territorial integrity of the Slovak Republic” among others. With the very likely possibility of their concurrent governing from 2010, the strained state of Slovakian-Hungarian relations may remain unchanged for years to come.