IgorMatovic2020. Photo: Tomáš Benedikovič

IgorMatovic2020. Photo: Tomáš Benedikovič

Election Slovak Parliamentary Elections 2020:  Drugs, Computer Games and Islamophobia

On Sunday March 1, Slovakia woke up to a new political era. Slovaks showed to former ruling parties (SMER – SD, Slovak National Party and the Bridge) that there were fed up with their empty promises and all the corruption, scandals and nepotism. They decided to give a chance to Matovič and some of the other opposition parties.

Published on balticworlds.com on March 2, 2020

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Slovakia woke up to a new era. Yesterday, SMER – SD’s rule in the country, which with a short break lasted almost 12 years, came to an end. A new era has begun. The era of Igor Matovič and his party. Ironically, there weren’t many, who would expect such results just months ago. At the end of last year, his Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) frequently had only around 5 % in election opinion polls. However, gradually, Matovič became the leader of the opposition, emerging as a winner in the race.  OĽaNO successfully stole votes from  Marian Kotleba’s People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) and with 25, 02% of all eligible votes, came first. While Matovič has good reasons to celebrate, there is probably far a worse mood now in SMER – SD that has demonstrated the worst results in last 12 years. 18, 29 % is a debacle for a party that is used to winning national elections. However, this time it was not just about OĽaNO and SMER-SD. Among the parties that made it to the parliament are also Boris Kollár’ s We are Family (8,24%), Kotleba’ s People’ s Party Our Slovakia (7,97%), , Richard Sulík’ s Freedom and Solidarity (6,22%) and Andrej Kiska’ s For the People (5,77 %). Overall, Slovaks chose 6 parties that will represent them for the next four years. On the other hand, to some political parties this year’s election probably came as a nightmare. For the Slovak National Party, Christian Democratic Movement and Bridge- Hungarian minority party, the doors of the parliament remained shut. This must feel very painful, considering, that all of them were part of the previous government. The prospects of the future coalition are unclear at the moment as Matovič seems to have at least two options. But meanwhile, we can take a look back at the campaign, which brought us notable changes in styles and strategies of political marketing.

Marijuana, marriages of convenience and “five grams of white stuff”

What were the major changes when compared with the parliamentary election that the country held in 2016?  We can observe two main developments and these are an increased number of relatively new strong political subjects and a notable change in campaigning tactics and techniques used by some parties. First of all, we can note a slight increase in the number of political parties standing for the parliament as well as the formation of relatively new strong political subjects.  Whereas in 2016, there were 23 political subjects interested in making it to the country’s national council, this year election´s witnessed 24 rivals. Although, the majority of them were well-known characters with a long tradition in Slovak politics such as left – wing  SMER- Social Democracy (SMER – SD) , populist  Slovak National Party (SNS), enter- right  Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) or neoliberal  Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), many new parties emerged as well. Among the most prominent political newcomers were For the People (Za ľudí), led by the country´s former president Andrej Kiska and a left-right marriage of convenience between Progressive Slovakia and TOGETHER (Progresívne Slovensko a SPOLU). In their programs, all of these parties promoted more liberal values calling for a greater tolerance towards minorities, pro–EU orientation and in the case of Progressive Slovakia and TOGETHER also for the decriminalization of marijuana and other soft drugs. Regarding Progressive Slovakia and TOGETHER, especially, this latter issue caused a general uproar after it came to light that the PS leader Michal Truban and another prominent party member Martin Poliačik had during their university studies rich experience with drug experimenting. Moreover, Truban faced yet another “drug scandal”, when the media published a post that he put on the web portal blackhole.sk in 2007. In the post, he said, that “he needed to sell five grams of white stuff”. Although, he repeatedly described the situation as a joke, many disbelieved him.  Unsurprisingly, this issue was frequently used by their political rivals. For example during his appearance on V politike TV show broadcasted by Slovak TA3 TV channel  the SNS party leader and the former parliamentary speaker  the Slovak nationalist Andrej Danko claimed that Truban regularly shaved his head to avoid the possibility of his hair being tested for drugs.

Candy and computer games, and the kindergarten cross

Apart from new liberal political subjects, there were right – wing newcomers as well. Probably, the most visible newly- created political party on the opposite side of the spectrum was Homeland (VLASŤ). Led by Štefan Harabin – an unsuccessful presidential candidate and a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Slovakia, the party repeatedly claimed that they were for “normal” Slovakia without the LGBT ideology, immigrants and with an orientation towards Russia. During the campaign, the party´s leader Harabin frequently traveled across Slovakia in a bus called Harabiňák painted in traditional Slovak blue, red and white and distributed Harabinky- candy bars bearing his name. What´s more, the party was often in the spotlight of the national media, thanks to its leader´s publicly expressed distrust in the results of opinion polls. Although, the official polls predicted that Homeland would get around 2 % of all eligible votes, Harabin throughout the whole pre-election period nevertheless claimed that the surveys were manipulated and that his party would eventually make it to parliament.  Similar situation happened also last year, when he ran for the presidential office.[1] Although, he didn’t even enter the second round, yet he boasted about winning the whole thing.

The second notable change, as compared to previous election campaigns, could be observed in the methods and techniques that some political parties started using. Whereas in 2016, conflicts among the political rivals limited themselves to political discussions, and individual social media pages, this year, some parties favored a more aggressive approach. SMER-SD- a long time leader apparently sensed that their electoral base was eroding and rather than offering realistic solutions, built its campaign on targeting the opposition parties. During the whole campaign, SMER – SD made use of modern technologies, publishing short videos, songs, sketches and even video games, which featured prominent members of the opposition. Their main message was to warn people against a possible government formed by the leaders of the opposition. Andrej Kiska, a former Slovak president and the leader of the political subject For the people became the most frequent target of these, being portrayed as a threat to those who are not in favor of immigration quotas and the so-called “gender ideology”. In particular,  Robert Fico – the SMER-SD leader, who in 2014 lost the Slovak presidential election to Kiska, found relish in both on TV  and online attacks against the  former president. Perhaps, the most controversial video made by SMER- SD was the one depicting the members of the opposition parties as children in a kindergarten.[2] The video, which quickly became viral, portrayed Fico as a teacher mentoring small children who were dressed up as the members of the opposition. It showed Progressive Slovakia and TOGETHER´s leader Michal Truban smoking a joint (an allusion to his drug experiments) or Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) leader Alojz Hlina with a cross in his hands desperately trying to recite the Ten Commandments. As a leader of the Christian party, Hlina faced a major embarrassment when unable to recite the Ten Commandments at the TV show host’s request. Although, the video received mixed reactions, it managed – in a humorous way – to draw people’s attention to the weaker sides of the opposition leaders Additionally, among other popular SMER-SD inventions in this year´s campaign were online games. One of them depicted fights among various members of the opposition, whereas another featured the former president Kiska chasing an old lady in a wheelchair, trying to rob her of her pension. (One of the pillars of the SMER-SD´s social policies is the 13th month pension guarantee, which Kiska and other opposition members see as a populist move). [3]

As for the use of modern technologies, the most memorable situation arose during the final TV debate, which hosted the nine strongest parties ‘leaders. In the middle of the show, Marian Kotleba-the leader of ĽSNS (an extreme right party which some call “neofascist”) left his place and started to distribute mini tablets among his political rivals.[4] This gesture, which received mixed reactions, was a sarcastic follow up on the previous night when both Andrej Kiska and the OĽaNO leader Igor Matovič criticized Kotleba for what  could have looked as reading answers from his tablet. In response Kotleba told Kiska and Matovič that if they envied his device, he could later buy them one.

Yet another change this year was the door to door campaigning. Some parties adopted the strategy of visiting their potential voters in their homesand introducing them to their political programs in a more informal way. Among the parties that favored this strategy were the allied Progressive Slovakia and TOGETHER.  Truth be told, however, this strategy was not an entirely new to Slovakia. It was sometimes used during the 1998 election campaign, when some political activists wanted to prevent the former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar to return to power.   Although this approach is common both in Western Europe and in the US, in Slovakia it is novel and unusual.

Islamophobia, multicultural pigsty and the Slovak national identity

Although this year´s election certainly brought with it certain interesting innovations, chiefly in campaigning instruments and strategies as well as many new political parties, nevertheless, much of the political agenda remained unchanged. For example, similar to the previous election (2016), immigration and Islam remained among the lynchpins of political programs. Just like in 2016, among those who devoted the most attention to these topics were People´s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), We are Family (SME RODINA) and SMER-SD. The rhetoric of these parties´ top members and the visual images they used to frame these issues in their campaign barely changed.  (The country’s former Prime Minister and SMER-SD leader Fico declared again that there was no place for Islam in Slovakia and posted party videos that alleged that the former president Kiska wanted to bring thousands of immigrants.

People´s Party Our Slovakia also stuck to their previous statements about the need to protect Slovakia and Europe against “the Muslim invasion”.[5] Additionally, they even came up with a few innovations. For example, last year, they made a trip to London, where they made interviews with the local Slovaks.[6] These claimed that Muslim community was allegedly very problematic, and that the London Muslim district was a dirty ghetto full of dangerous criminals. The message of the video was clear: multiculturalism, especially when it involves Muslims does not work and the party is ready to prevent it at all costs. In another video called “We won´t let them to make a multicultural pigsty out of Slovakia”, the party’s leader Kotleba, claimed that Muslims were a threat to the Slovak cultural identity.[7] He stated that Muslims living in Germany banned Christmas trees in the country and that similar things were happening in the whole of Europe. Besides the parties that have traditionally benefited from this agenda, there were also newcomers who found migrants and Islam to be a promising source of political capital. Among the most visible ones was Homeland led by the populist candy distributor Harabin. Thus, he warned that immigrants were a recipe for the ancient European nations if they wanted to go extinct.

There were also other well-known campaign topics which were once again “resurrected” in 2020 such as the 13th pension guarantee, social security, the Roma minority issues, the  culture wars of the traditional family vs the “LGBT ideology” corruption,  infrastructure and health care reform – as well as foreign policy and the country’s geopolitical orientation.  In a somewhat surreal exchange between Andrej Danko of SNS and Marian Kotleba each of the two right-wing nationalists tried to present himself as having a stronger connection with Moscow than the other, bragging  about having received  invitation letters from the Russian State Duma (lower parliament chamber) and taking turns accusing each other of lies. Although memorable, the exchange was an example of political desperation.

What next for Slovakia?

On Sunday Slovakia woke up to a new political era. Slovaks showed to former ruling parties (SMER – SD, Slovak National Party and the Bridge) that there were fed up with their empty promises and all the corruption, scandals and nepotism. They decided to give a chance to Matovič and some of the other opposition parties. Also a relatively high voter turnout (65,8 %) is a clear sign that the majority of the country wanted  change. On the other hand, it is currently hard to guess, how exactly this change is going to look like. Matovič himself is quite a complicated personality and has also been seen as controversial thanks to his conservative allies, in particular by parts of the Slovak “liberal bubble”.  He now seems to have two options to form a coalition. One of them involves teaming up with the populist Boris Kollár, a self-confident nouveau riche who is sometimes called the “Slovak Trump“. Just how far Matovič is prepared to go in order to secure a constitutional majority for himself is something that we should find out in the coming weeks.

Official Election Results

Name of the Party Election Result
Ordinary People and Independent… 25,02 %
SMER-SD 18,29 %
We are Family 8,24 %
People’ s Party Our Slovakia 7, 97 %
Freedom and Solidarity 6,22%
For the People 5,77%

 

References

[1] See A. Kazharski, “The ‘Good’, the ‘Bad’ and the ‘Ugly’. Anti-establishment populism and the Slovak presidential election”, Baltic Worlds Online Election Coverage, published April 1, 2019. Available at: http://balticworlds.com/anti-establishment-populism-and-the-slovak-presidential-election/.

[2] See the film “Smer vydal ďalšie satirické video. Predstaviteľov demokratickej opozície stvárňujú deti v škôlke”, published on Youtube December 11, 2019:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owDQLb-TpCM.

[3] See the website for Novy Smer: https://www.strana-smer.sk/hry/Babi/index.html.

[4] See “Marián Kotleba rozdáva tablety, diskusia 26.2.2020” at Youtube February 26, 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYABjZLN3HY.

[5] A. Kazharski, “Frontiers of hatred? A study of right-wing populist strategies in Slovakia”, Journal European Politics and Society, Vol. 20, 2019, no. 4: Multifaceted Nationalism and Illiberal Momentum at Europe’s Eastern Margins. Published January 16, 2019. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23745118.2019.1569337?fbclid=IwAR3mA2wfaLINt6cKYOShoemGorkqArCcwcgzcTmBjgqMgPHqFAjFU4qce-Q.

[6] See “REPORTÁŽ: V Londýne sme navštívili slušných Slovákov aj nebezpečné getá” published December 8, 2019 at Naše Slovensko.  Available at: http://www.naseslovensko.net/cinnost/reportaze-z-akcii/reportaz-v-londyne-sme-navstivili-slusnych-slovakov-aj-nebezpecne-geta/.

[7] See Kotleba: “Nikdy nedovolíme, aby zo Slovenska urobili multikultúrny chliev, aký je na západe!” uploaded at Youtube by Mário Vidák December 17, 2019. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8gO_n-tUis.

  • by Michaela Grančayová

    PhD student at the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences of Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. In 2015, she graduated from the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University in Bratislava, where she studied English and Arabic. In her PhD thesis, she deals with the role of Egyptian women in the democratization processes within the Arab Spring. Among the topics of her interest is the Arab Spring, Arab feminism, Egypt, Arabic diglossia, modern trends in Islam, radicalism, populism, Islamophobia and Muslim women in European politics.

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