BRATISLAVA – For years, foreign observers of Slovakia – like me, guilty as charged – have put the puny, post-Communist country on the couch.
The diagnosis: suffers an inferiority complex. Never before independent. Bullied for centuries by the Hungarians. Little peasant brother of the Czechs.
What a difference a decade makes. The new Slovak government is flexing its muscles, as brawny Slovak men tend to do. Except in this case, the face of forcefulness is a woman. Iveta Radičová, the first female prime minister to wield power in Communist-turned-EU-member Central Europe.
The significance here is only partly that a woman has smashed the ceiling to the highest office. (Though, some women in the region are content with proving that sex still sells: during a Czech election campaign this year, six female candidates for Parliament posed skimpily for a calendar. And won.)
Instead, the story is that Radičová leads Slovakia’s one-man rebellion over the pricey EU bailout of Greece, revealing just how influential – or disruptive – the new eastern members can be.
No sooner was Radičová sworn in July 8 to lead a center-right, four-party coalition, than she swung a right-hook at Brussels. She denied the 27-state union a final “yea” unless her new government could renegotiate Slovakia’s staggering contribution: 4.4 billion of the 110 billion euros ($148 billion).
(It didn’t help matters when the public here caught wind of the inconvenient fact that Greek pensioners live much more comfortably than their Slovak peers.)
Radičová also continues to defend Slovakia’s pro-Serbia stance on Kosovo, bucking Brussels in its recognition of Kosovo statehood. (The bogeyman brandished by Slovak hard-liners is less Slavic solidarity than the threat that the heavily ethnic-Hungarian south of Slovakia one day breaks away.)
In December, the spotlight was again on the new premier. But this time, to be a calming voice for markets rattled by the Slovak parliamentary speaker’s call for a “Plan B”: withdraw Slovakia from the troubled, 16-member Eurozone; return Slovaks to their beloved koruny, or “crowns.”
Slovakia had achieved another milestone in January 2009, when it leapfrogged neighboring Czechs, Hungarians and Poles to become the first in Central Europe to jettison its national currency for the Euro. Today, though, Western media is awash with speculation about Slovakia: “Last in, first out?”
Slovakia “hasn’t for one second” considered defecting, Radičová told media. “Our task is to stabilize the euro. Any thoughts about alternatives are weakening the stabilization mechanism and I consider them extremely risky.”
Scrappy Slovakia, with Radičová leading the charge, is worth watching in 2011.