Conference Notes: Social Democracy after the 2006 Elections in Slovakia

Thanks to Michael Petras and Martin Muransky for organizing a fabulous conference:Below please find a few notes from various speakers and at the bottom, the conference schedule in Slovak.

Social Democracy after the 2006 Elections in Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia, 23-24 May 2008
Organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Social Policy of the Slovak GovernmentJuraj Draxler, Center for European Policy Studies Brusel

Basis of social protection

Correcting for demographics and unemployment, Slovak averages considerably below the Czech Republic and Hungary and even below Poland.

What does this really mean? What is a social state? As viewed in the media, it is “redistribution,” it is “charity.” It also serves other important purposes:

  • Minimize externalities
  • Solve social problems
  • Smooth out economic cycle

When formed it was not just an altruistic effort but also supported by the entrepreneurial sector. In Scandinavia it is extended to system of minimizing risks for individuals, hence large emphasis on unemployment insurance.

Economic background

Slovakia is exceptionally dependent on international market, exceptionally open. We cannot talk about endogenous growth but about influence from abroad. Employment (2004) is to a larger degree than in UK and Germany in small firms. Economic value, on the other hand, is in the larger firms. Slovakia profits from productivity of big firms Small expenditure on research. Natural emphasis on rapid adaptation to western maket. There is a lack of experience that the state has a role in minimizing risk. There is a large population of long-term unemployed.

Not in a typical “industrial state” in which workers spend entire lives in one firm. Now there is an expectation (requirement) of far greater flexibility. Currently there is a big debate related to working with “znalost,” knowledge workers.

Experience of long-term unemployed in UK suggests that this is becomes a culture question which, once created, is difficult to eradicate.

Who creates social policy in Slovakia.

  • Unions? In West, unions play a role, classic tripartite-model, whereas in Slovakia this is not the case. Every kind of activity—strikes, organization—is lower than in the West.
  • Electorate? Only through parties
  • Governing parties? Slovakia has centralized, paternalistic state. What the center decides is done. This can have some advantage: only one system, easy to change. But because so centralized, system is dependent on government/parties that are in charge.

Places of conflict?

  • Negotiations of interest groups
  • Public debates
  • Technical/Technocratic debates.

Smer’s Voters: A Sociological PortraitOľga Gyarfášová, IVO a Vlado Krivý, Sociologický ústav SAV

Adherents before 2006 elections

Charts show growth in voters for “left” and center-right parties

Smer voters not distinct in their views of the direction of the countries—not overwhelmingly dissatisfied with direction of the country (more like SNS than KSS and HZDS). It is not to that extent much of a protest parties.

Value orientation does not look overwhelmingly different from average (slightly more opposed to reform and church but not much else).

Left from a socioeconomic perspective but lacks anything else.

On left-right axis slightly greater in weak left and weaker in weak right on self-declared. On latent (ascribed values) almost identical to population as a whole.

Smer has shifted somewhat to the east and overwhelmingly to smaller towns, rural space.

In 2002 party did best in big (but not the biggest) cities. In 2006 party did best in smallest communities, 2nd best in 20k to 49k. Smer won lots of votes from HZDS, KSS and HZD.

Voters of Smer in 2006 and supporters in 2007

In 50 categories, Smer differed from population only in 14, 8 of which were regions. Otherwise, Smer did better only in only low education, small towns, lower occupational class, and worse only in both higher and basic education and those with lowest wages.

No clear gain from other parties (mainly from novoters, first voters, undecided) Most Smer voters stayed in Smer.

Fico second most popular individual for both SNS and HZDS (Slota is third for HZDS, Gasparovic is 3rd for Smer while Kalinak is second). Leaders have much higher value among current governing parties than among current opposition parties.

Comparative study suggests that slovakia has smaller right and larger center than other countries in the region but no smaller leftand about average number of “unknowns”

Compared to other “Left” parties, Smer has lowest level of left voters. Smaller by 13 points than CSSD, by 27 points than Poland’s LiD, by 31 points than MSZD and by 15 points than SZDSZ.

National left and right are closer to each other than to similar parties from other countries. National context is more important than ideological one [though if reduced to a single axis, with “abortion” removed, this effect disappears.]

Oponent – Pavol Marchevský, UVVM

Researchers must work with the work they have.

4 Points relevant to the presentation

  1. Value orientation of Smer, most mainstream (visible in publications as well)
  2. Difference between self-declared and latent values. In self-declared, most are center. In “real terms” they are much more to the left”
  3. Smer—party that got 29 percent in election now has 43. First time voters support them overwhelming. National values are more important than economic values in shaping left and right
  4. Lacks a time-perspective. Need to use long time-series. Qualitative change. Structure of the electorate shifted toward different kinds of voters [more disciplined ones]. Before the 2002 elections, Smer had only 4 among the oldest voters (the ones who go and vote). In January 2006 they had 25 percent, and those voters go and vote. Notion is that Smer is general without army, and that Smer would get 1/3 less than before. But UVVM knew that Smer really had the voters. Already 1 year after creation, Smer had 20, by a year before 2006 had 40. But the voters earlier were less disciplined, diametrically opposed. Now Smer has numbers over 40 percent. (Means in practice that university educated still prefer Smer 2-1)

Social weakest are voters of KSS and HZDS more than Smer. They also do not go and vote.

The National Pillar in the Politics of SmerPavel Hynčica, Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Jana Evangelisty Purkyně v Ústí nad Labem

More unites Smer a SNS than divides them.

National appeals in the party Smer. Increase of national appeals has its deeper roots.

Early in the party’s existence a variety of efforts about Roma, made party closer to the SNS. After election 2002 the left-right scale strengthened. Profiled mainly on socioeconomic lines. Reflected in support for HZD candidate Gasparovic in presidence and cooperation in elections.

Oponent Peter Weiss, Ekonomická univerzita Bratislava

One problem, perhaps basically, comparison of program shows difference. But must compare to other parties. Other parties, too, show that their programs are similar, including also KDH. Must look at other parties—HZDS, KDH and compare also to those other parties. Must look especially to HZDS for comparision.

Must look also at “HSLS” history and role it plays in current parties.

Must look also at position of Smer toward Tiso, toward Holocaust which is quite different from SNS.

Dislikes Smer’s approval of Hlinka as father of the nation which undermined leftism of party (whether for genuine or “marketing” reasons.

Problem of immigration and “different” social groups could become an issue, even if it is not yet. This would strengthen conservatism in Slovakia.

After its founding in 1999, Smer proved capable of getting not only voters of SDL but those of HZDS; without national appeals it couldn’t have done it.

Populist Appeals in Slovakia’s PoliticsKevin Deegan-Krause, Department of Political Science, Wayne State University

Please contact me for the full text. I will try to post it soon.

Thanks to all of the participants for their great questions. Here’s a rough summary.


  • Is it licit to treat parties as unitary actors, particularly SDK and MK before 1998. These parties are really multiple actors?
  • Does the ‘dominant position of the leader’ really belong within concepts of populism. Is it necessary? Personalization and ‘presidentialization’ seem to be the common trend these days.
  • Should all of these elements have equal weight in the creation of the scale?
  • Can the
  • What is the role of the media in this? Do they play an independent role?
  • To what extent did Smer set out to build a social democratic party or to what extent did they set out to build an electorally successful party and later opted for social democracy as the key to that success?
  • What explains the rise of populist appeal scores for SNS?
  • Many of the parties in Slovakia’s governments have been new parties with highly populist appeals that then die off: ZRS, SOP, ANO. To what extent will we expect such a pattern to contrinue?
  • Shouldn’t features such as “making promises that cannot be fulfilled” and “close following of public opinion, popular preferences” be included as elements of populism?
  • Is there a long term “populist type” of voter, somebody who regularly votes for new parties? Does this mean a long-term populist issue divide?

Economic Policy in Slovakia and its Impacts—Comparison with the V4
Zdeněk Lukáš, Wiener Institut fuer Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche
What do the V4 have in common

  • Average incomes
  • Average wage levels
  • Overall price levels

Fully in line with lower degree of development and therefore lower labor productivity

Low in comparison to V4 but rapidly catching up

Incomes PPP

  • CZ from 69 in 2002 to 81 in 2007
  • SK from 51 in 2002 to 69 in 2007
  • HU from 54 in 2000 to 61 in 2007
  • PL from 48 in 2007 to 54 in 2007

Wages in EUR

  • CZ from 400 in 2002 to 800 in 2007
  • SK from 270 in 2002 to 600 in 2007
  • HU from 300 in 2000 to 700 in 2007
  • PL from 480 in 2007 to 700 in 2007
  • Austria, for comparison form 2390 in 2000 to 2762 in 2007

Slovakia remains very attractive for foreign investors

Price level compared to EU

  • CZ from 40 in 2002 to 60 in 2007
  • SK from 40 in 2002 to 60 in 2007
  • HU from 45 in 2000 to 60 in 2007
  • PL from 45 in 2007 to 60 in 2007

Difference is still marked

Also in common—improving trade balance in spite of catching up of wages and prices

Not quite in common: Improving financial balances. CZ, SK and PL all in balance, Hungary far below.

Other policy features in common: emphasis on attracting foreign direct investment, priority of reforms on social security

Admiration for Anglo-Saxon/Hayekian approaches

Heading for Slim states

  • CZ from 55 in 2002 to 47% in 2007
  • SK from 48 in 2002 to 50% in 2007
  • HU from 53 in 2000 to 47% in 2007
  • PL from 47 in 2007 to 38% in 2007 (major difference coming in around 2003)
  • EU 15 average is 46.2%

What are the differences

Average income

Discrepancy between rich and poor (social inclusion and exclusion: periphery and poverty). Bratislava v. far eastern sections

Problems with transport net but in respect to the west, is functional

Reform radicalism—more in some countries than in others

Influence of populism—not much seen in Slovakia between 1998-2006

Ideas about the role of the EU—Euroskeptics in CZ (now) and (until recently) PL


  • In the end the V4 transition was a success thanks to exchange rates which secured competitiveness
  • Within the EU there is plenty of space for economic success or poor performance, e.g. Ireland vs. Greece, Sweden v. Italy, Slovakia vs. Hungary and plenty of space for good and bad policies
    • Slovakia has success in part because of Fico’s continuation of Dzurinda’s economic course. It would have been difficult to do anything differently since this was the locomotive of current growth. If Dzurinda government had continued after 2006, it would have engaged in the same generous social policy as Fico because it finally would have had the means.
  • Some V4 experiences contradictory to rule that low interest rates provokes inflation

Slovakia’s economy, now and later

  • Slovakia remains an attractive location for foreign investment
  • Could overheating push prices and wages too high, create labor market shortage in some segments? (probably has not been a major problem with inflation, because of greater increases in productivity than wages)
  • 10.4% growth plus 2.8% inflation is remarkable and raises concerns about future in inflation, particularly in goods and services for those with below-average income.
    • In Slovakia there is a major competition in supermarkets and similar stores unlike, for example, Slovenia, which should keep some Euro risks lower.
  • For country with 10.$ growth, budget deficit was rather high (2.2% of GNP). This does not look alarming in light of relatively low government debt (29.4%)

Will government have sufficient funds, even if lower GDP growth

Key tasks:

  • Upgrading educational system (a key for future success)
  • Upgrading infrastructure (a key for future success)
  • Fight against impoverishment and social exclusion)
  • EU cofinancing requires domestic resources and skills

Questions from the audience

  • What explains the sharp drop in government expenditure in Slovakia in 2003? Growth in the economy? Drop in generosity of social benefits? What is the state of productivity?
  • Productivity of work has regularly (though not always) exceeded rise in prices.
  • Spain is an interesting case for comparison in regard to “approximation”
  • Can you compare foreign investment between the Czech and Slovak direct foreign investment? Is not it greater in the Czech Republic ? Does the investment have to do with reforms or with cheaper but still qualified workers?
  • Can you talk about automobile industry. Is not making the greatest number of cars per capita about like making the greatest number of tanks per capital. How much time do we have for the next transformation of industrial production?

Party Smer: Populist or Just Popular?
Karen Henderson, University of Leicester -I do not want to do deep analyses of populism or Smer’s program, but rather about how populism became part of Slovak political competition.

Noteworthy in the press that the expression “populism” is used against Smer by every party. If even SNS and HZDS use it then it can only mean “enemy.”

Two parts. First part will analyze use of ‘terminus technicus’ “populist” and “popular” and in the second part I will focus on the fact that the term populism hides more than it reveals. It hides the ‘social democratic’ side of the party Smer. Opposition parties use ‘populist” in order not to deal with the fact that they are not popular.

Populism has a sufficiently brief definition: ideology which sees society as divided into 2 homogenous groups: a pure people and a corrupt elite. They say that “the elites are corrupt. We need better politicians. Need to trade in current elites for somebody new.

Most of the new parties created anew since 1990 have been marked as ‘new’ party. In this sense, populism is simply a political strategy for getting elected and one with a relatively short lifespan once parties get into power. There is the claim that reject complexity, prefer simplicity.

In Slovakia in the last 20 years only 2 politicians have asked “what do voters want” and tried to give it. That is why they get labeled as populist. In many cases this /is/ a problem (majority of Slovaks favor the death penalty). But, political discourse in Slovakia which marks Smer as populist is problematic. On one hand, people criticize Smer as populist; on they other hand they criticize it for not fulfilling its social promises. (The discourse is complicated by the fact that )

One definition suggests that populists have an aversion to representative democracy and prefer direct democracy. Interesting that Dzurinda criticized Fico as populist when both (quietly) cooperated in shifting the argument to economics (right v. left) and then criticized Fico as a populist.

Very typical for leftist parties in Central Europe to have leftist economic position and conservative cultural position.

The hidden question of Slovakia’s current debate is that the current opposition has been incapable of appealing to voters, to figuring out what they want?

Mudde talks about the “populist zeitgeist.” Are politicians today more corrupt than they were before? Maybe there are always new populist parties in Slovakia because the politicians really are corrupted. Everybody thinks that politicians take those positions in order to distribute state property to those close to them. Every government party attacks every other as corrupt.

Oponent Petr Učeň, doktorand na Katedre politológie UK
Karen says that it is important to distinguish between populism and popularity. Peter Levin wrote: “why is there so much discussion of populism in Europe when similar American politicians are regarded as mainstream.”

Karen talks about “eastern” form of social democracy where political leftism is not combined with liberal cultural values and that Smer started as populist but has ended up somewhere else.

It is a populist project which survived, which selectively adopted a leftist economic agenda, and also a social conservative agenda to the extent that it would help the party. Karen says that Smer is a programmatic party. In at least relaxed version, programmatic party is one that refers to its program, and by those standards, Smer is programmatic, but they realize the problems in implementing their program and have preferred to engage in symbols (even if relatively strong ones) such as Christmas gifts for retirees.

Content-based approach at finding core of populism does not lead anywhere. Laclaou: “every discussion of populism leads to an “avalanche of exceptions”

Is populism an ideology or an electoral strategy. Frieden argues that “ideology” is a map of politics, a way of interpret politics. By those standards, populism is an ideology but it is a “thin” (stihla) one. It only talks about one thing. People are not where they should be, politically, and that must change. Populism talks about 4 basic things: political structure divided, fatally antagonist, moral apologetics for public influence on politics. Populism needs, therefore, a compound. It needs to be joined with something else. It is an “adjective” rather than a noun.

Kalinak, Paska are not populists. They can help their leaders but this is not their primary skill.

Interesting that Fico continues to succeed in using anti-establishment rhetoric despite the fact that he is in the elite.

Program odbornej konferencie


„Sociálna demokracia po voľbách 2006 na Slovensku“

Piatok 23.5.2008

13,00 – zahájenie Michael Petráš, FES, moderovanie Darina Malová

Sociálna politika slovenskej vlády

Juraj Draxler, Center for European Policy Studies Brusel


14,00 -Voliči Smeru – sociologický portrét

Oľga Gyarfášová, IVO a Vlado Krivý, Sociologický ústav SAV
Oponent – Pavol Marchevský, UVVM


15,15 – prestávka

15,45 – Národní pilíř v politice SMERu

Pavel Hynčica, Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Jana Evangelisty Purkyně v Ústí nad

Oponent – Peter Weiss, Ekonomická univerzita Bratislava


17,00 – Smer v komparatívnej perspektíve európskych politických strán

Kevin Deegan-Krause, Wayne State University
Oponent – Lubomír Kopeček, Masarykova universita Brno


cca 18,30 – recepcia, spoločné neformálne posedenie

Sobota 24.5.2008

09,00 moderovanie Oľga Gyarfášová

Hospodářska politika na Slovensku a její dopady – komparace s V4
Zdeněk Lukáš, Wiener Institut fuer Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche


10,00 – SMER: od pragmatizmu k sociálnej demokracii

Luboš Bláha, Politologický kabinet SAV a Robert Žanony
Oponent – Peter Horváth, UCM Trnava


11,15 – prestávka

11,45 – Strana Smer-SD – populistická alebo populárna?

Karen Henderson, University of Leicester
Oponent – P. Učeň, doktorand na Katedre politológie UK


cca 13,30 – záver a spoločný obed

April 2008: Poll Averages

Overall Monthly Report

FOCUS has just released its March and April numbers and as usual, not much has changed. Indeed the sheer absence of change makes me note (and regret) that I mentioned about an absence of change even in months with much bigger jumps. Though the various polls show some change (as this weekend’s post on poll comparisons should show), these average out to almost nothing.


As the bands above and below show, the “4 band” (Smer, SNS/SDKU, HZDS/SMK/KDH, all other parties) model continues. Not since November of 2006–over a year and half–has a party crossed the line from one of these groups to another. With regard to specific parties, (on which more later), it is worth noting only that HZDS has recovered from its dramatic drop earlier in the year and that despite major intra-party struggles and defections, none of the current opposition parties has seen its preferences alter in a meaningful way, suggesting, perhaps, that these parties have are relying only on their core support base, those who will not go anywhere else (except a new and compelling but otherwise programmatically identical party) no matter what happens.

Multiple-poll+average+ for +all+parties+ for the most recent +4+months+ in Slovakia

If the current opposition parties have indeed fallen to their core, they can take little solace in the fact that that core gives them only 1/3 of Slovakia’s overall electorate, as the graphs below suggest.

Multiple-poll+average+ for +coalition+support for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

This long-term graph of poll results for coalition and non-coalition parties shows @@@

Multiple-poll+average+ for +coalition+support for the most recent +4+months+ in Slovakia

The party “bloc” story is similar and actually reinforces the fact that among non-Hungarian voters, the support of the current opposition is no larger than support for the current coalition’s more nationally-oriented parties. Even if much of Smer’s currently unprecedent support consists of a large number of relatively passive voters who may change their minds before the next election, it is difficult to imagine any coalition that did not include the “left” or any coalition involving the “right” that did not involve either the “left” or parties from more than two blocs. That is not impossible to imagine–indeed it is a mainstay of Slovakia’s politics: Slovak National+Left (1992-1994, 1994-1998, 2006-) or Right+Hungarian National+Left (1994, 1998-2002)–but it underlines the exceptional nature of the 2002-2006 government (Right+Hungarian National).

Multiple-poll+average+ for +party+blocs+ for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

Multiple-poll+average+ for +party+blocs+ for the most recent +4+months+ in Slovakia

Although the results meant a bit of reshuffling within opposition and coalition, the overall proportion of seats has remained highly stable in the last year (with the never-ending caveat that elections are different than polls).

Multiple-poll+average+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +1+month+ in Slovakia

Multiple-poll+average+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

As always, the actual polling numbers are available online at Google Docs:

Below I attempt (for the first time) to insert these in tabular format (using “iframe” which may not work on all browsers).