>Czeching out Slovak politics

>Chewing over themes for an upcoming event on the Czech-Slovak elections via email, I realize just how tricky meaningful comparison of the two halves of the old Czechoslovakia is these days. Apart from a large academic sub-genre on the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1990-2, the more standard pairing (as seen in dozens of US PhDs) is to compare Poland and the Czech Republic, but perhaps because the whole Mečiarism episode and the Hungarian minority dimensions produces a line up of parties making neat comparison difficult.

My initial thoughts were about a discussion on the politics of flat taxation, but from a Slovak angle this is too passé –influenced by my own preoccupation with the Pyrrhic victory and subsequent humiliation of the Czech Civic Democrats as their Blue Chance programme disappeared down the political plughole. The Slovaks meanwhile have done flat taxation and the Greens – wild cards in the Czech election pack – are as non-existent in Slovak as everywhere else in CEE. That leaves perhaps a discussion of contrasting Social Democratic hardmen Robert Fico and Jiří Paroubek (pictured). The Slovak PM and Czech ex-PM are the both fighting successful rearguard actions against neo-liberalism (say fans) or liberalism (say detractors) by trying to manage and work with some radical forces not beloved of the liberal West – Czech Communists, Slovak Nationalists, and Mečiar and his depeleted party …

A colleague also suggests that the now increasingly fashionable issue party patronage and the state – subject of a recent special issue of the Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics. Interesting but is damn hard to measure The Czech Republic and Slovakia are often paired in the literature as having high levels of state politicization and as late reformers in state transformation despite their different trajectories in 1990s with Klaus/Zeman and Meciar as the principal (pantomime?) villains of the piece. The new ODS government, which squeaked into power in the Czech Republic last month and still faces a confidence vote in October it is likely to lose, has still not wasted anytime replacing various officials and government nominees on public bodies… But I’m not sure quite what the comparative angle is here. Clientelism? Party patronage? Well, yes there’s a lot if it about, but how might it be different in the two countries? To cap it all, I find the Slovak party system hard to categorize. Even saying that it is unstable and fragmented seems too much of a generalization too far now Robert Fico and Smer have stacked up almost 30 per cent of the votes and got in the driving seat, although whether they will have the rubberish resilience of their Czech comrades at the end of four years in office.remains to be seen.

The gory details of the ongoing Czech political imbroglio (to date) will shortly appear as briefing paper on the website of the European Parties Elections and Referendums Network. Karen Henderson’s excellent briefing on the Slovak elections and their shorter, sharper outcome appears is just below.

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