The NYT had a review of the Slovaks' options in the second round off
presidential elections comingg up this weekend. The article is below.
votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
x x x
Past Haunts Future in Slovakia's Election
by Mark Landler, NYT 4/11
For this upwardly mobile Central European country, still in its gawky
adolescence as an independent state, this spring should have been a proud
coming of age.
Slovakia was admitted to NATO this month, after a delay of several years.
On May 1, it will join the European Union, along with Poland, the Czech
Republic, Hungary and six other countries.
But a ghost from its political past has reappeared, casting a pall over
the celebration and reminding Slovaks of the intractable pull of history.
Vladimir Meciar, the autocratic former prime minister who led Slovakia
after its split with the Czech Republic in 1993, has unexpectedly become
the favorite to be the country's next president.
On April 3, he won the first round of an election while the candidate of
the governing party failed to attract enough votes to qualify for a runoff
election on April 17, which sets up Mr. Meciar for a victory.
Mr. Meciar, a hulking former boxer with a charismatic speaking style,
turned his country into a near pariah state in the mid-1990's with his
virulent nationalism and trampling of human rights.
Crony capitalism rotted the economy, driving away foreign investors and
leaving Slovakia impoverished.
"This is a disaster for our country's image," said Grigorij Meseznikov,
the president of the Institute for Public Affairs, an independent research
organization in Bratislava, the capital. "He represents people who are
anticapitalist, isolationist and nostalgic for the past. He's not a
politician of the future."
Monica Benova, a member of Parliament from a leftist populist party,
likens Mr. Meciar, 61, to Kurt Waldheim, the former president of Austria,
whose past as a Nazi officer, and his subsequent amnesia about it,
consigned his country to a political purgatory while he was in office.
"How can we be sure he won't abuse the powers of his office, like he did
the last time?" Ms. Benova asked. "He's trying to sound different, but
it's just a mask. He's still the same person."
Mr. Meciar (pronounced METCH-yahr) won 32.7% of the vote in the first
round. In a surprise attributed to a low voter turnout, the governing
coalition's candidate, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, finished third,
narrowly beaten by a former close associate of Mr. Meciar, Ivan
The runoff, commentators here say, is a choice between two evils. Mr.
Meciar declined a request for an interview.
In Slovakia, as in Austria, the presidency is mostly a ceremonial job. The
president can hold up legislation passed by the Parliament, which can
override his veto.
While he appoints ambassadors and senior military officers, he is supposed
to stick to the prime minister's recommendations.
As head of state, however, Mr. Meciar would be a symbol. It is a role he
would no doubt relish, having virtually personified Slovakia's birth as a
In one of history's wrinkles, the current Czech president, Vaclav Klaus,
was the prime minister with whom Mr. Meciar negotiated the Czechoslovakian
Now the two leaders, each known for his bruising manner and deep
skepticism about Europe, may find themselves together on a dais,
celebrating the integration of their sister lands into Europe.
It is unlikely, however, that Mr. Meciar will be invited to the White
House. The United States is inclined to spurn him, said a Western diplomat
here, who spoke anonymously as is standard practice when dealing with such
European leaders may do likewise, although the diplomat predicted that the
European Union would not impose sanctions, as it did on Austria after the
party of the right-wing leader, Jrg Haider, joined its government.
"Brussels recognizes that the sanctions on Austria backfired," the
diplomat said. "The Slovakia of 2004 is also not the Slovakia of the
Still, for a minority of Slovaks who live in the isolated, rural east,
Europe looms as a threat. They fear that Slovakia, overshadowed for
centuries by the more prosperous Czechs, will be swallowed up in a vast
union its 5.4 million people a drop in an ocean of the union's 450
"People are afraid of rising prices, of lower wages, of foreigners coming
in and buying all our property," said Stefan Lukacovic, 54, as he hurried
home through the winding streets of Bratislava's old town.
Mr. Meciar speaks to these disenfranchised people. They vote reliably for
his party, ignoring accusations that he profited from the sale of state
companies, or that he was involved in the kidnapping of the son of a
former Slovak president in 1995, or even that Slovakia was rebuffed in the
first round of NATO expansion because of Western distaste for his rule.
For Mr. Meciar's critics, the only consolation is that his voters tend to
be older, which means they are dying off.
"Some changes are not reversible," Mr. Meseznikov said. "He hasn't
changed, but the country is changing."