- Eastern Europe a Decade LaterSlovakia’s Democratic Awakening
As the clock struck midnight on 31 December 1992 and Czechoslovakia officially ceased to exist, the anthems of its two successor states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were played on television screens in Prague and Bratislava, respectively. The Slovak anthem, originally a patriotic song composed during the “Slovak Revival” in the first half of the nineteenth century when Slovakia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was now sung in full, including its second stanza, depicting Slovakia as a “Sleeping Beauty” needing to be awakened. On that night, the words of the national anthem signified the culmination of national aspirations—the creation of an independent Slovak state. Sleeping Beauty had been awakened, and now the task, metaphorically speaking, was to choose a dress for her to wear.
Almost five years later, in the September 1998 parliamentary elections, the citizens of Slovakia made it clear that they did not like the attire that the new state had been wearing. They rejected the ruling coalition’s authoritarian political tendencies, which included disrespect for the rule of law, favoritism, corruption, the intertwining of crime with politics, and a confrontational nationalist policy. The voters were [End Page 80] also expressing their dissatisfaction with a 14 percent unemployment rate, rising crime, the deterioration of the health care and education systems, and the problems young people faced in finding housing. “Change” was a key buzzword in the election campaign, which attracted a remarkably large number of voters to the polls. The turnout of 84 percent was 9 percent higher than in the 1994 elections and higher than that in recent parliamentary elections in Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic.
The yearning for political change was a reaction against the rule of autocratic prime minister Vladimír Meciar, the charismatic populist leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Except for a brief nine-month interruption by the government of Jozef Moravcík in 1994, Meciar had been in power ever since the creation of the independent Slovak Republic in 1993. After the 1994 elections, Meciar’s HZDS—a broad clientelistic movement marked by nationalism, populism, and authoritarianism—ruled in coalition with the far-right, extreme nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) and a populist radical leftist movement, the Association of Workers of Slovakia (ZRS). The HZDS predominantly represented the older, less educated, rural, and less reform-minded part of the population.
The 1998 elections brought victory to the opposition. Although the HZDS got the most votes of any single political party (27 percent), an alliance of four opposition parties—the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP)—captured over 58 percent of the vote. Of the HZDS’s two former allies, the SNS won 9.1 percent of the vote, but the ZRS failed to reach the 5 percent required to enter parliament. This time, unlike in 1992 and 1994, the votes of Meciar’s opponents were not wasted on parties that fell below the threshold. 1
The new ruling coalition is in fact a “coalition of coalitions” consisting of 10 parties. The SDK, the strongest party with 26.3 percent of the vote, was originally created in 1997 as a coalition of the conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the liberal Democratic Union (DU), the conservative-liberal Democratic Party (DS), the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS), and the Party of Greens in Slovakia (SZS). It was officially registered as an “electoral” party just four months before the elections in response to a controversial electoral law imposed by Meciar and his allies.
The SDL, a party of former communists and a member of the Socialist International, is the second strongest member (14.7 percent) of the new ruling coalition. The third strongest player (9.1 percent) in the ruling coalition is the SMK, which itself consists of three members: the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement (MKDH), Coexistence, and the Hungarian Civic Party (MOS). Finally, the smallest (8.0 [End Page 81] percent) member of the ruling coalition is the SOP...