Syed Hamad Ali: Longing for past may open way for Left

The "Velvet Divorce" of 1993 is how the history books remember it. For decades Slovakia and the Czech Republic had existed side-by-side as part of the former Czechoslovakia.

But when the communist government collapsed in 1989 greater political freedoms began to sweep the region. At the same time new forces were emerging. There had existed for sometime a feeling among a section of Slovak society that they would be better off going it alone. There was resentment towards the wealthier Czech part of the country where the industry was more advanced and unemployment rate not as high.

Then in 1992 elections took place and there was a noticeable split. The Czechs had gone for right-wing candidates while the Slovaks had voted in left-wing and separatist parties. It was the beginning of the end.

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Today Slovakia is governed by a coalition of centre-right parties led by one Iveta Radicova, 56, the country's first female prime minister. She is a believer in a different kind of politics. "I am not an iron lady like Margaret Thatcher," says Ms Radicova. "She brought really important changes for Great Britain in the face of citizen protests. It was not an easy time with the railways and miners protests. Somehow it is very similar to the present situation because of the crises and protests of citizens all over the world, especially in Europe. But we are not in the same time. What is common without any doubt is the attempt to do responsible politics and to consolidate the country."

No doubt many would disagree about Thatcherite politics being categorised as "responsible" - and it seems even so in Slovakia. Her own party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, hold just 28 of the 150 seats in the country's parliament. It contrasts strikingly with the opposition of former left-wing prime minister Robert Fico's Social Democrats which had won the largest share in elections in June last year with 62 seats. Yet he failed to form a government because of lack of coalition partners.

So Ms Radicova came to power on a coalition of four mostly centre-right parties. However she faces a formidable opponent in Mr Fico who remains a popular man in Slovakia. Among his foreign policy initiatives had been the withdrawal of Slovak troops from Iraq and siding with Russia in opposing the presence of a US anti-missile shield radar base in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Does Ms Radicova feel threatened by the man? "He is doing his job. He is always saying something which, according to my point of view, is very far from the truth. It is not my style of politics. He is speaking and I am doing."

She feels that part of Mr Fico's appeal comes from her people's longing for the past. "Twenty years after transition and still more than 40 per cent of inhabitants have nostalgia towards the former regime," says Ms Radicova.

At times, when she is speaking, Ms Radicova comes across less as a prime minister and more a professor. In fact, not too long ago she used to be professor of sociology at Comenious University in Bratislava. She did her doctorate at Oxford. Her husband Stano Radic was a famous Slovak comedian and actor who died of a heart attack in 2005. At the time he was driving in Bratislava with his daughter. She somehow managed to stop the car and call an ambulance but he could not be saved.

Her government has won praise for taking a tough stance on transparency and against corruption, including placing all public procurement contracts online. Yet Mr Fico remains a headache. "He is populist politician," admits Ms Radicova. "During his government the deficit of Slovak Republic in two years was 8 per cent but people are not thinking in the category of deficit. They are thinking that Mr Fico gave them, I don't know, support when a child is born. We are also giving support to the families but we have problems in communicating to the citizens. Maybe they expect more or they are not prepared to the cuts in public finances."