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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EUROFILE: Bullying Can Help Meciar Stay in Power

Slovakia is a country situated at the geographical center of Europe, yet it lies on the fringes of European consciousness. Anyone who cares about democracy and stability in central Europe ought to pay close attention to recent events in Slovakia.

For example, would it be normal in a healthy democracy for the prime minister to spread rumors that his political opponents are out to kill him? No, but that is what Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar of Slovakia has done.

Is it normal for a prime minister and his security service to be implicated in the kidnaping of the son of a head of state? No, but the accusation has stuck to Meciar since the 1995 abduction of the son of his sworn political enemy President Michal Kovac.

The list of "abnormal" happenings in Slovakia is long and troubling. Meciar caused a storm in relations with neighboring Hungary last year when he proposed a "population transfer" that would have rid Slovakia of its entire ethnic Hungarian minority, viewed by Meciar as disloyal to the Slovak state.

Not long before that, Meciar defended a history textbook which denied that the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia established in 1939 had persecuted Slovak Jews. About 70,000 Jews lived in Slovakia before the war. Fewer than 10,000 were alive by its end.

As these examples suggest, Slovakia's biggest single problem, since it became an independent state in January 1993, has been an immature political culture. This culture has allowed Meciar and his supporters to manipulate the country's public life, neutralize their opponents and feed lies to the people to maximize the chances of winning elections.

Side effects have been disastrous: exclusion from first-wave membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, and failure to keep up in political and economic terms with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Yet Meciar, like Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade and Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, seems not to care.

Indeed, he appears to believe that the more permanent Slovakia's condition of political crisis, the better his chances of staying in power indefinitely. Hence the maneuvering which ensured last week that the Slovak parliament failed for a second time to elect a president in succession to Kovac, whose term expires March 2.

If the parliament cannot overcome its deadlock, most presidential powers will automatically devolve upon Meciar. That will delight Meciar, but it will be no good for Slovakia. The nation's next chance to remove Meciar from power legally does not arrive until a general election in September. Current polls suggest that voters would like to seize that chance.

But if Meciar holds temporary presidential powers for six months before the election, he will be in a strong position to rewrite the nation's electoral law to his opponents' disadvantage. No doubt he will bombard the public with warnings of the dire fate awaiting Slovakia if he and his party lose the election. This bullying strategy could succeed.

The United States, the EU and Slovakia's former communist, newly democratic neighbors seem at a loss over what to do. A freeze on entry into NATO and the EU is already in place. Meciar is already unwelcome in Western capitals.

More should be done. The Slovak opposition needs and deserves help from Western political parties and private organizations. Meciar's successors must be as strongly placed as possible to put Slovakia on the fast track to normal democracy.