Minority minorities and the majority (or “party like it’s 1995″)

matrioskaToday’s SME reports “Ministry: Representatives of minorities supported amendment on the state language (http://www.sme.sk/c/4994369/ministerstvo-predstavitelia-mensin-podporili-novelu-o-statnom-jazyku.html).  We learn in the article that:

Predstavitelia chorvátskej, rusínskej, nemeckej, bulharskej, poľskej a ruskej menšiny na dnešnom zasadnutí Rady vlády SR pre národnostné menšiny a etnické skupiny vyjadrili podporné stanovisko k prijatej novele zákona o štátnom jazyku.

Which translates roughly as:

Representatives of the Croatian, Rusyn, German, Bulgarian, Polish and Russian minorities in today’s meeting of Slovakia’s Government Council for national minorities and ethnic groups expressed a supportive position to the passage of amendments to the law on state languages.

Without wishing to pass direct judgment on this story, I want simply to note that it is strikingly reminiscent of the efforts of Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia to justify its own language law (and all of its other nationality-related policies) in the mid-1990’s.  The argument is a rather clever one: most nationalities do not mind the law, so why should the Hungarians (and sometimes Roma).  We love minorities (we even have a council for them) and minorities love us (they support the law), so Hungarians’ refusal to support this policy is a sign that they do not play by the same rules.

What the argument omits, of course, is that while from a technical standpoint, Hungarians (and Roma) are minorities when compared to the majority Slovak population, not all minorities are created alike.  Hungarians constitute more than 10% of Slovakia’s population and in some parts of Slovakia, they are the dominant population (something similar same can be said, though in slightly different terms, for Roma). The same cannot be said for the minorities listed above all of whom, according to the 2001 census, together total 35,868 people which is less than 0.7% of Slovakia’s population and 7% of its Hungarian population.  Unlike Hungarians (and Roma), Croatians, Bulgarians, Germans, Poles and Russians do not live in communities that would lead them to expect that they could lead lives in their own language without constant translation to and from Slovak.  (For Rusyns it is perhaps a bit different, but the language is close enough to Slovak that the translation is less difficult) and so the language law (and one can take a variety of views on its advantages and flaws) is not particuarly relevant.  Not so for Hungarians, in particular.  So knowing what Slovakia’s small minorities think about the language law is not particularly useful for making an assessment of the validity of the claims of larger minorities with what American congressional-district designers would call “majority-minority” communities.

I am curious whether this particular exercise of treating unequal things as equals (a strategy taken to its height in the US by columnist David Brooks) will go any further in Slovakia.  For Meciar’s HZDS, “treating all minorities equally” (a laudible goal unless there are reasons not to) was the mechanism by which the government marginalized Hungarian claims:  If a right could not be given to Rusyns or Germans, it would not be fair to give it to Hungarians.  If the state couldn’t support a Croatian-language university, it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to establish a Hungarian-language university, and so on.  The HZDS government even went to the extent of publishing (with EU funds) a publication called “Nationalities News” in which identical stories appeared in Hungarian, Rusyn, German and Slovak.  (That many of the stories focused on the perfidy of Hungarians, including one on the Hungarian troops that crossed the border of Slovakia during the August 21, 1968 invasion was simply to add insult to the rather significant injuries that became possible once all nationalities were regarded as equals.)

In addition to the political ramifications, all of this points at two rather significantly different understandings of the relationship between Slovaks and Hungarians.  Many Slovaks hold the opinion that Slovakia belongs to them, ethnic Slovaks.  It is named after them, and they are the state-forming (statotvorny) nation.  Others are, if not guests (and even many with strong national views would not go that far), at least minorities, and to make distinctions among them would be inappropriate as well as politically inexpedient.  At the other extreme are Hungarians who argue that Hungarians are also a state-forming nation in Slovakia and should be entitled to all the advantages of living in a country in which one constitutes a majority.  (Actually, of course, there is a more extreme position that Hungarians in Slovakia should bring about their majority status by bringing the territory under the political control of Hungary.  For my part, however, I have never met anyone in Slovakia who would admit espousing this position, though I’m willing to admit that without speaking Hungarian I probably wouldn’t be likely to meet such people). It is notable, that those who claim Hungarians’ statotvorny status do not usually extend it also to Roma or Rusyns or Germans, and in that resemble their ethnic Slovak counterparts.

I will also be curious to see, as tensions rise, whether the philosophical justifications go as far as they did 14 years ago.

Euroblindness, again, briefly

EurovisionDouglas Muir at A Fistful of Euros has interesting things to say about a Radio Free Europe report that “Azerbaijani Authorities Interrogate Music Fan Over Eurovision Vote For Armenia” So maybe my unhealthy interest in Eurovision isn’t completely irrevant.  (Update: even the New York Times finds this interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/arts/television/31iht-eurovision.html?_r=1)

In any case, it is an odd coincidence that an article about this particular interest should come to me on the same day (I’m a bit behind in reading my RSS feeds) that my inclination toward graphic design blogs led me toVisual Complexity’s article about Baris Gumustas’ visualization tool for Eurovision voting.  The static images are quite striking but the animated visualization is even more remarkable, far more beautiful than the show itself:

Wanted: Effective journalism in Slovakia

Median logoI know Slovakia’s journalists are overtaxed with all that is required of them, but there are things they could do to make things better without too much extra work.  Case in point: today all major Slovak news sources today report, almost word for word, a press release from the firm Median reporting poll results from July:

The reports differ a bit, of course: SME and TA3 have a graph, Pravda has a table with past results from Median, HN relates the results (with no actual evidence) to the effect of recent scandals.

What none of them does is to answer the important question about Most-Hid.  Median, for reasons that are not clear, does not report on parties that do not cross the 5% threshold, and all the papers report that fact.  What they do not do is to say just how well Most-Hid actually did.  Here’s where journalism comes into play.  If the role of journalist goes beyond simply typing (or in this case probably pasting what others send to you) then it may be to try to find answers to important questions.

So here’s my suggestion: call Median and ask them 

If Median won’t answer, ask them why.  Focus reports its polling results with an extremely detailed and effective one-page report.  UVVM used to do the same.  There is no reason the papers should print Median’s results unless they are willing to rise to the same (bare minimum) standards. If Median won’t play that way, write a story about the fact that Median won’t provide necessary information):

If Median won’t answer and you still want to figure out something about Most-Hid’s initial support (a quite important detail), here’s my second suggestion: do some math.

If you add up the total support for the parties listed by Median in past polls, you get a consistent result of about 97% for May and June.  That means other parties are getting about 3% (specifically 3.1% in May and 3.3% in June).  If you add up the total support for July you get 92.3%.  That means other parties got 7.7%.  Of course this doesn’t tell you how well particular parties did, but it’s worth reporting that the “Other” number rose by 4.4% and citing the FOCUS numbers which show that support for below-threshold parties actually did not change systematically during the same period (9.0% in May, 12.5% in June, 10.2% in August), meaning that a large share, of not all of the 4.4% probably went to Most-Hid.

Total cost of these important details: one phone call and/or 2 minute 3o seconds of addition and subtraction.

If this lack of effort applies in this specific area, it’s probably also true in areas where I do not read.  It’s time for Slovaks to demand better journalism.

August 2009 Poll Results: Bending The Mold

Poll results, last 12 monthsThe pattern looks familiar and the lines haven’t changed much, but there are a few ways that this month’s results by FOCUS change our understanding of the current political competition.

I have actually been fearing this change for a long time–not because of the actual politics involved but because of the emergence of a new party.  The graphs in this blog are the product of a long and complex process of fighting with Excel to produce results that can be read by Google’s chart API (about which I understand little, but which is quite remarkable).  That process has produced an elaborate set of calculations which are, unfortunately, based on the presumption of a certain set of parties (and only those parties) gaining election to parliament.  This month holds quite a few big changes in public opinion and one of those–the emergence of Most-Hid with just over 5% of the vote–means that my old systems won’t work anymore.  This is good news, in a sense, because it gives me the impetus to find a solution that will not require as much work (calculating in Excel, creating the google charts, posting separately to Google Docs), but for the moment it makes things more difficult.  I will therefore resort to Excel charts for awhile.  And now, after that pointlessly detailed introduction (I buried the lead again), the graphs and then some thoughts on anybody should care:

Poll results, last 12 months

And the same graph without the distorting scale effects of Smer:

Poll results, last 12 months minus Smer

1. Most-Hid might make it into parliament
This may not be a surprise (Bugar is quite popular among Hungarians) but it is important, and the way the numbers fell is important in several ways:

  • Most-Hid v. SMK is not exactly a zero-sum game.  This month’s 5.3 score for Most-Hid came at relatively little cost to SMK which has dropped only about 1 percentage point in the last 4 months.  Of course SMK has dropped quite a few percentage points since Csaky became party chairman (and even before while Bugar was still chair) but it would appear that the party has brought disaffected Hungarians back into the political system rather than stealing directly from SMK.  As a result, Hungarian parties combined scored the best public opinion result that Hungarian parties have received in almost 5 years (since January 2005).  All of the opposition’s gains this month can be traced to that single re-mobilization.
  • Both can get into parliament.  There has been some discussion about whether the two parties might split the vote down the middle (as SNS and PSNS did in 2002) and lose representation altogether.  The results from today suggest that a 50-50 split is actually an ideal result for the Hungarian population in Slovakia.  More worrisome would be a 60-40 split, cutting the Hungarian representation nearly in half.  Of course there are some who suggest that infighting among Hungarian parties could disaffect enough to push Hungarian turnout so low that a 50-50 split would deny representation to both, but this month’s good results come after bitter conflict, so it is hard to imagine how bitter the conflict would need to become to provoke the worst case scenerio.
  • Things are far from over.  It may be that these two parties split the Hungarian vote.  It is more likely that one will tend to prevail over the other, either Most-Hid because of more dynamic leadership or SMK because of stronger organization and tradition.  This is one of the keys to the outcome of the next election so it bears considerable watching.

2. SaS has a (small) chance
This is something of a stretch because the party is only at 3.4%, but unlike the other small parties on the “right” it shows a positive trajectory.  KDS has stalled below 0.5%, and Liga appears stillborn (in eight months of polls the party has racked up a total–not average, total–of 1.4%).  OKS and ANO are effectively dead and DS and Misia21 exist only on paper (and barely there).  The big loser in this is probably Slobodne Forum which looked to be doing well in late spring, but SaS’s much better performance in the Europarlament elections appears to have given it the edge.  We have too little data to tell if it is a meaningful pattern, but SaS’s growth so far has been almost perfectly proportional to SF’s decline.

3. Smer’s recent decline continues
There is no real cause for gloom in the party (it is still almost three times the size of the next largest alternative) but it has dropped by nearly 10 percentage points from its (admittedly unrealistic) peak of early this year (when it was four times the size of the next largest alternative).  Since the 2006 election the party has peaked and waned five times, so the variability is nothing new, but this is the first time that the party has dropped sharply from a plateau rather than from a peak.  Of course it is safe never to rule out the possibility of recovery to new heights, but it is more likely that the weight of a poor economy and a large number of corruption scandals, some perhaps not so minor, have begun to take away some of the luster.  This may not be a huge loss for the party as many of those shifting away are likely the supporters who wouldn’t bother to turn out to vote for it (as they didn’t in the Europarliament elections).

How it adds up (Smer’s threshold for success)
The big question is the intersection of the points above:  the emergence of Most-Hid creates two parties that may or may not pass the 5% threshold.  SaS adds a third.  HZDS is the fourth (the party got a slight reprieve this month but even with that the 6-month, 12-month and 48 month trendlines show it dropping below the 5% threshold by spring and only the 24 month trendline puts above by about 0.5 percentage points, though the party’s loyal base also makes it necessary to adjust the numbers upward a bit in its favor).  Since each of these parties could dispose of between 3% and 6% of the overall vote and since the magical 5% makes or breaks the party’s parliamentary representation, a lot will be riding on the results.  My preliminary calculations suggest that in a worst case scenario for Fico–if SaS, Most-Hid, SMK and HZDS all made it into parliament–Smer would need 41% to be able to form  a two-party government with SNS (assuming that SNS’s preferences do not also continue to decline), though it could also settle for a three-party coalition identical to the current one (and it could sustain that coalition even if its own preferences dropped as low as 31%).  If HZDS failed to pass the threshold, Smer would gain some seats from the redistribution but not enough to overcome the loss of a potential coalition partner:  if HZDS falls and both Hungarian parties and SaS survive, Smer would need all of its current 38% to form a two party coalition with SNS.  Of course it is unlikely that all three of the smaller opposition parties would succeed.  If one of them fails, Smer could get by with 33% and if two of them fail, the Smer could form a majority two-party coalition even if it got only 28%.

This all deserves more thought and calcluation.  With any luck I will have opportunity to do just that.

Infinite Recursion

This headline is from Vice Premier Dusan Caplovic is too piquant to ignore:

“Protirómsky extrémizmus je importovaný od susedov”

Literal translation:

Anti-Roma extremism is
imported from neighbors

Metaphorical translation:

Foreigners are the cause of all of our problems
including our xenophobia.

Slovak national extremists apparently are keen to learn from their Hungarian counterparts.  Could this be the beginning of a new era of cross-national understanding.  The mind reels.

Fico on Dzurinda: What it’s all about.

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I translate Fico’s statement as follows (and would appreciate any better translation):

My political conscience cannot be a person like Mikulas Dzurinda, who lies from morning until night.  He gouged us, surrendered our economy to foreign monopolies, evidently bought members of parliament.  A person who never wanted Slovakia, did not vote for the constitution of Slovakia or for sovereignty.  I will never respond to such a person, ” said Fico

“Mojím politickým svedomím nemôže byť človek ako Mikuláš Dzurinda, ktorý od rána do večera cigáni. Vydieral nás, spôsobil odovzdanie ekonomiky tohto štátu cudzím monopolom. Preukázateľne kupoval poslancov Národnej rady SR. Človek, ktorý nikdy nechcel Slovensko, nehlasoval za Ústavu SR, zvrchovanosť. Tohto človeka nikdy nebudem komentovať,” povedal Fico.,Pravda, 6 August 2009 

I have no interest in taking sides in this controversy, but the nature of the comment is worth some attention because, as sometimes happens (quite often in fact), a politician’s off-the-cuff remarks do an excellent job of summarizing how they think—and we too should think—about political competition.

Fico’s response follows this structure:

  1. A resolute moralism: “Dzurinda cannot be his conscience.”  Fico is a man of strong moral opinion.  He not only identifies his opponents as wrong, but also as morally flawed.  This is not particularly unusual among politicians, but it is strong in Fico’s case.  His is a tone of righteousness.
  2. An emphasis on corruption.  Fico’s first observation about Dzurinda is that “he lies”  Two phrases later, he reminds us of the scandals that were part of Dzurinda’s own period of government.  These are important:  not only was corruption an important theme for Fico (especially in 2002 but still to some extent in 2006) but his government’s own corruption scandals have caused the party to increase its emphasis on how bad corruption was under Dzurinda as a way of minimizing the current problems.
  3. An emphasis on economic injustice: “He gouged/stole.”  Fico’s best theme has been the overreach of Dzurinda’s economic reforms.  He has played this well and here he ties it in with the lying so that Dzurinda’s economic reforms presented not simply a different and incorrect economic formula but one which Dzurinda used for his own gain and with wanton disregard for (or indeed active malice against)  the average Slovak.
  4. An emphasis on patriotism.  Dzurinda not only hurt the economy but he did so deliberately to the benefit of foreign interests.  Two phrases later Fico suggests an even deeper lack of national feeling in Dzurinda dating back to the early 1990’s.  Dzurinda did not vote for the constitution (the final formal step toward independence), did not support “sovereignty” and did not even “want Slovakia” (phrasing which implies an even deeper antipathy than saying that he did not want “want an independent Slovakia.”  The vehemence of this critique should not surprise me, but it does, as it is so deeply resonant of the critiques of Dzurinda’s then-party, KDH, in the 1990’s by Meciar’s HZDS (back when Dzurinda was a minor player), and particularly the word for sovereignty, “zvrchovanost” which had a particularly strong resonance for Meciar and his supporters.  Meciar sometimes (though admittedly less frequently) applied similar critiques of lack of patriotism toward Fico’s then-party, SDL (back when he was a minor player).  Now Meciar is all but out of the game, and it is Fico who is applying the critiques to Dzurinda. 

All of fits nicely with what many of us have discussed and claimed:  Slovakia’s party system has at least two dimensions—one economic, one national—and the last 20 years have been a competition to see which one would be most important.  Meciar turned the axis in the direction of the national and held it there for most of the 1990’s.  Dzurinda turned it back primarily to the economic and held it there for the first half of the 2000s, with Fico providing a big assist.  Now in government, Fico has sought to shift the basis of competition by a half turn, linking the economic with the national so as to produce a single axis of competition between pro-national, economically statist parties on the one hand and non-national, pro-market parties on the other hand.  The positions of the players differ slightly: The Hungarian parties push hard on national issues and care little about economics (but tend to be a bit more market oriented, a legacy from its past coalition partners and internal debates) whereas SDKU pushes some economic questions and stays away from national issues at all costs.  On the other side SNS pushes hard on the national side and cares little about economics whereas Smer still pushes economic questions and plays slightly softer and more socially acceptable national issues.  Whether this is permanent is an open question (like all questions I ask about Slovakia’s future…I’ve been wrong too many times), but for the moment Fico has hit on a winning formula and has no need to change it.

Other issues fight for prominence—some in KDH and all in KDS would like to see an emphasis on moral values, new parties and some in Smer continue to emphasize corruption—but these have yet to take hold in a fundamental way.  The values question probably has too little traction, for most Slovaks outside the (demographically declining) population of believers.  The corruption question is too hard to sustain because parties that get into power have a difficult time staying clean (and would have a difficult time persuading voters that they had stayed clean even if they could).

 Finally, two off-topic (but maybe not so minor) points:

  • It may or may not be a coincidence that he uses almost the same formulation—“from morning until night,” that Hungarian premier Gyurcsany used to describe his own party’s actions.   Comparing Dzurinda to a Hungarian would be a nice touch, but it may simply be a coincidence.
  • I am slightly shocked by Fico’s use of the word for lying—“ciganit”—which, though I may be mistaken, I do not recall hearing often from the mouths of politicians.  Not only is this particularly rough language but its relationship to the slang term for Roma, “cigan” makes it potentially problematic.  I know the word has taken on something of an independent existence in Slovak (much as “gyp” did in English) but it is hard to avoid the connection and it seems to be a word to avoid using.  It is perhaps particularly troubling to me because at a language law rally outside of parliament in 1995 I overheard a Meciar supporter talking to a friend about Dzurinda (at that moment speaking on the floor of parliament against the restrictive language law) and saying “Did you know he’s a Gypsy? (“cigan”).  Fourteen years later Slovakia has a new, relatively restrictive language law and Dzurinda is again likened to a “cigan” in the worst sense of the word.

African Democracy Project Mozambique

adpm-wordmark-small.jpg In October my university will be sending a number of remarkable students and faculty members to Mozambique to watch elections in one of Africa’s vibrant democracies, and I have the great good fortune (especially great in light the distinct absence of references to Mozambique in my professional work) to help coordinate the trip.

Aside from the excitement of travel and learning something very new, I am also geeked about some new software tools, mashups, fixes and workarounds for active, project-based learning as pioneered by the remarkable Michael Wesch of Kansas State. His digital ethnography course is a model for what upper level undergraduate education can do, and so I can do no better than follow his lead. As a result, our course will be us a netvibes page to link all of the various streams of effort which I hope will include multiple blogs, social bookmarking, video uploads and whatever else we can imagine. Remarkable tools are available and it has taken only one afternoon to get them in shape for our course and cobble them together (all the same tools are probably hidden somewhere in Blackboard along with a corkscrew, a nail file and a jar of mayonaise, but Blackboard is the equivalent of Terry Gilliam’s “27B-6” though “Brazil” is not the former Portugese colony I have in mind).

For those who are interested, the key elements of the project will come together at http://www.netvibes.com/adpm and we will be using the tags “adpm” and “adpm09” to label what we find across the web.