The European Union and Democratization

By Paul J. Kubicek | Go to book overview

3

The ambivalent influence of the European Union on democratization in Slovakia

Kevin Deegan Krause

During the 1998 parliamentary election campaign in Slovakia, an animated television commercial used by the leader of the country's governing coalition featured a scene of gold stars on a deep blue background closely resembling the flag of the European Union. The image was not a positive one, however. In the animation, lines quickly appear between the stars, revealing the constellation of Leo the lion, which lashes out at passing Slovak children but fails to anticipate their clever evasion. Although the attitudes of Slovakia's population did not differ dramatically from those of neighboring democratic success stories such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the behavior of Slovakia's institutions and political parties did differ sharply. The differences involved not only Slovakia's apparent turn away from democracy during the mid-1990s but also the tense relationship between the government and the EU. Thus, the EU's role in Slovakia's reluctant democratization deserves particularly close attention, as it offers insight into what the EU (and other international actors) can and cannot accomplish in their democratization efforts, and particularly into the unintended consequences of international factors on domestic political life.

This chapter looks briefly at the course of Slovakia's democratization and then at the public efforts made by the European Union during the same period. It then traces the connection between its efforts at the elite and mass levels and the response by the Slovak government. The analysis demonstrates that the EU faced significant barriers in its attempt to encourage the democratization of the 1994-1998 government of Vladimir Mečiar. Despite its active presence - and claims made for the success of its efforts - the EU did not play an indispensable part in the electoral success of Slovakia's opposition in 1998. Nor, however, did its criticism of Slovakia's democratization prove ultimately counterproductive. There is little evidence to support charges that EU criticism actually helped the Mečiar government gain support from those who were outraged by EU "meddling."

Political developments in Central and Eastern Europe during the era of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union provide ample evidence that democratization may depend heavily on what happens elsewhere. Once external barriers that inhibit democracy have disappeared, however, the question that remains is

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