Slovakia: “The govern­ment failed.”

Slovakia is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic in Europe. After MP Matovic and several ministers resigned, liberal oppo­si­tion politi­cian Michal Simecka demands a fast solution to the govern­ment crises.

Slovakia has the highest infection levels in all of Europe, although the govern­ment had the entire popu­la­tion tested as early as November. What is the reason for this?

Michal Simecka: Unfor­tu­nately, we have been the hardest hit country in Europe since the winter, both in terms of infection and death rates. In the first wave last year, the govern­ment responded well. There are several reasons why the situation has dete­ri­o­rated so dras­ti­cally. Our health system is nowhere near as good as in other EU countries after the previous govern­ment let it dete­ri­o­rate for years. Many doctors and nurses have left the country. In addition, the highly conta­gious dangerous mutation from Great Britain is very wide­spread in our country. But a very important reason is the government’s inability to manage the pandemic. I say this not only as an oppo­si­tion politi­cian. Since the summer, it has made a series of wrong decisions instead of preparing the clinics and the whole country for the second wave. Prime Minister Matovic has put all his hopes in the mass tests. To date, there is no clear data on what effect they had on the spread of the virus. But one effect was that people felt too safe. When the numbers went up, the govern­ment imposed a lockdown too late, not until the beginning of the year. That was the crucial mistake.

The govern­ment itself is deeply divided over how to deal with the pandemic.

Simecka: That is the reason why it is not able to present a common plan, agree on measures and implement them. Because of this chaos, the citizens no longer trust her or the measures. And no longer follow them. The govern­ment and parlia­ment are paralysed after a number of ministers resigned, including the Minister of Health and now also the Minister of Economy and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Sulik. The situation is very critical. We have a double crisis — Corona and a govern­ment crisis.

Is the four-party coalition, led by the conser­v­a­tive-populist prime minister, at an end?

Simecka: It’s hard to say. There is strong pressure on Matovic to resign. He says he is ready to do so, but he makes this condi­tional on the other coalition partners and Sulik. At the moment, the govern­ment is unable to act.

Should the whole govern­ment resign?

Simecka: In the current tense situation, where the hospitals are full, the economy needs more aid and the vacci­na­tion campaign still has to be imple­mented, it would be better if the govern­ment crisis were resolved quickly so that the situation is somehow managed. The President has therefore also called on the govern­ment to end its squab­bling. Everyone wants a stable govern­ment that acts. That is also the priority for us as oppo­si­tion at the moment.

What is the mood in the country like?

Simecka: According to polls, 80 percent of the citizens want the prime minister to resign. He has put himself in a position where people distrust him completely.

Could the coalition agree on a new head of government?

Simecka: That would be necessary. But the timing is most unfor­tu­nate, in the middle of the second wave. The coalition still has a broad majority in parlia­ment, it could agree on a govern­ment reshuffle. However, leading coalition politi­cians do not rule out a new election.

Why has Sulik resigned now?

Simecka: It is mainly due to personal animosi­ties. Matovic has treated him brutally and insulted him, he behaves in a hostile way towards the coalition partners. He has shown even before the Corona crisis that he is not willing to compro­mise and listen to others. However, there is also evidence that Sulik has tried to torpedo some of the Corona measures, including Matovic’s high-handed procure­ment of the Sputnik vaccine from Russia. Sulik’s party has now decided to no longer partic­i­pate in a govern­ment under his lead­er­ship. In principle, however, it is sticking to the coalition.

Her prede­cessor as vice-chair of Progres­sive Slovakia, Zuzana Caputova, won the pres­i­den­tial election in 2019. That, too, was already an expres­sion of protest against Matovic. Why did your party never­the­less not win a single mandate in the 2020 parlia­men­tary election?

Simecka: Unfor­tu­nately, we missed entering parlia­ment by 900 votes. In polls we are at eight percent, which is quite good for an extra-parlia­men­tary party. The situation for the oppo­si­tion is very difficult. On the one hand, there is Smer, the party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico, which is completely discred­ited because so much has been revealed about its corrup­tion and links to the mafia. It has to be acknowl­edged that Matovic did a lot to make sure that this was cleared up and judges and pros­e­cu­tors were able to look into it without political inter­fer­ence. Politi­cians, judges, police officers and leading busi­nessmen were brought to justice. They had hijacked the state and they were all connected to Smer and Fico. In oppo­si­tion, he is becoming more and more radical. His party is also at eight percent, but no one wants to form a coalition with him. Renegade former Smer members have gone to another party under the lead­er­ship of the last prime minister, Pelle­grini. They call them­selves Social Democrats or “Smer light” and are at 20 per cent. There are also fascists. The govern­ment therefore has it easy because there is no common oppo­si­tion to it.

The chances for liberal forces do not seem to be very good.

Simecka: The mood changes very quickly. A few weeks before the 2020 parlia­men­tary election, Matuvic’s party was only at six percent. Then in the election it got 25 per cent. Predic­tions are therefore difficult. There is a need for a social, liberal, ecolog­ical alter­na­tive and I think that we as Progres­sive Slovakia fill this gap well. In an early election we should have good chances, because there is a lot of discon­tent not only about the Corona policy, but also about the fact that the current govern­ment did not seize the oppor­tu­nity for a political change after the Smer govern­ment was voted out, even though it has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Do you cooperate with liberals in other EU countries?

Simecka: We cooperate with Momentum in Hungary and have good contacts with the Neos in Austria. In the European Parlia­ment we are part of the Group of Liberals and Democrats.

As liberals, do you feel suffi­ciently supported by forces in Western Europe?

Simecka: The situation in Slovakia is different from that in Poland and Hungary. Despite all the government’s mistakes, espe­cially in the Corona policy, democracy is not in danger here. There are no attacks on the judiciary, freedom of the press or demo­c­ratic insti­tu­tions. On the contrary, in the fight against corrup­tion and oligarchs, the govern­ment is acting well. But now it is failing.

Michal Simecka is the Vice President of the oppo­si­tion party Progres­sive Slovakia which is also the party of President Zuzana Caputova. He is one of two MEPs of the social liberal party and studied politics in Oxfrod and Prague, was a fellow and jour­nalist with the Financial Times.


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