Miroslav Lajčák, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and a popular politician domestically, is facing possible resignation after losing support from the Slovak government on the UN Global Compact on Migration, which he worked closely in developing. V/I spoke with Grigorij Mesežnikov, a political analyst living in Bratislava about the unfolding events.
V/I: How would you explain the game of Slovak politics when it comes to the voting on the UN Compact on Migration?
Grigorij Mesežnikov (GM): As it has ever been in Slovak politics, when it comes to any topics related to migration or refugees, most Slovak political parties are positioning themselves as defenders of a unique national, cultural character of the country which is against any aliens. This is not only about the ruling party SMER-SD, or the nationalists and extremists, but also unfortunately even about the better part of the political spectrum which also present themselves as defenders of the “character of Slovakia” vis-a-vis foreign intruders.
When the Refugee Crisis was at its peak in Europe, Slovakia was avoided by migrants/refuges. Today, three years after the crisis, whenever this topic arises among political parties in Slovakia, politicians are actively engaged in it as they see it as a possibility to gain some political capital.
Why may Miroslav Lajčák, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, resign?
These threats are coming from Lajčák’s chairing the General Assembly of the UN last year and this year and from his involvement in elaboration of the Global Compact on Migration, so this questions his personal dignity.
In addition, SMER, the party which nominated him as Minister of Foreign Affairs, even though Lajčák is not a member of it, now de facto expresses non-confidence in him. In contrast, earlier SMER was putting pressure on Lajčák to run in the next elections for the Head of the State of Slovakia. He was constantly rejecting it as he is obviously not very skilful in domestic politics.
Now, the situation is changing: while the SMER party is showing its distrust in Lajčák to defend Slovakia’s national interests, he is the most popular candidate for the potential presidency – at least according to opinion polls – where he is winning against all other possible candidates.
If Lajčák resigns, it could bring a new start for his political career and a new challenge for SMER. Without Lajčák, SMER won’t be capable of justifying some practical steps in Slovak’s Foreign Policy since it was expressed by the former Prime Minister, Robert Fico, and members of his party.
And this says nothing about the Slovak National Party whose policy is perceived as very controversial including those of Andrej Danko, Speaker of the Parliament, who has been recently been accused of plagiarism and is known for his enthusiastic and openly pro-Russian views.
Slovakia might be an example of how it is possible to be a popular politician while confronting a populist tie against migration.
Andrej Kiska, the soon-to-be-exiting President, is known to be the only significant voice from the V4 political elite supporting European policy on migration and accepting refugees. Do you think this could become a successful model for Lajčák in his potential bid for the presidency?
If this happens, it will be unbearable for most of the population which is critical about migrants coming to Slovakia. Although there are only hundreds or even dozens of asylum-seekers in Slovakia – which makes the country almost untouched by the refugee issues – most of the population see this issue as one of the most pressing problems.
De facto, Slovakia is represented by a multicultural society where 15% of population belongs to different ethnic/linguistic minorities. Slovakia has always benefited and should keep benefiting from the flow of people from different countries. There are some analyses showing that immigration is a solution for the demographic problem of our aging indigenous society as well as the lack in the labour force for some specific professions. And so, Slovakia can be saved only with people coming from abroad.
So one can represent decent humanist values and be a popular and electable politician?
Andrej Kiska, the current President, came to the power with a very ambitious yet planned out ideas on resolving several social problems.
He has been elected with a huge support of population defeating Prime Minister Robert Fico with a margin of 20%, which was an unbelievable victory.
Now, there is no certainty about the upcoming presidential elections and whether the migration issue can be used in it. However, I’ve analysed the results of the 2016 parliamentarian elections on the matter of correlation between the gains of political parties and their statements on migration issues: those parties benefited from electoral campaigns which positioned themselves in a negative, rejective manner.
So, the softer parties were defeated and the strongest – de facto won. However, that was the case in parliamentary elections. Probably, in presidential elections people assess the personal qualities of candidates in different schemes. We will see. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Lajčák is going to resign and, as a result, lose support in his bid for the presidential elections. What is more, there is no certainty if he is even going to run for presidential elections. Today, it is very difficult to predict the results.
Playing the polarisation game and scapegoating migrants are not always winning tactics?
I don’t want to generalise; however, since March 2018, after the murder of Ján Kuciak, there is a change in the country divided in some sequences chronologically and on issues.
One may see a gradual continuation of changes – personnel changes in the government, changes in criminal investigations. Before, it would be difficult to imagine that people with such names as Kočner and Bašternák can be sentenced to prison.
Then, the results of local elections should be mentioned as well. SMER lost in favour of independent candidates which were involved in civic manifestations after the murder.
So, one may see a definitive shift in favour of liberal democracy, civil society and rule of law. Not inevitably beneficiaries mean opposition parties. From my point of view, those parties are still not persuasive enough. However, every loss of SMER is good for them as it remains to be a main competitor in parliamentarian elections. However, local elections give me a kind of optimism as each of us can see a better mobilised part of the society.
This interview is part of the #DemocraCE project series run by Visegrad/Insight and the Res Publica Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as well as editors of leading newspapers across Central Europe.